Call for Book Chapters
Styles and Functions of Music in Comedy Cinema
Edited by Emile Wennekes and Emilio Audissino
Historically, the examination and theorisation of the use of music in films has addressed its presence in dramas – ‘serious’ films – while fewer accounts are available on what types of music is utilised in comedies and what functions it performs. As Hollywood cinema has been the benchmark and principal terrain of inquiry, this factual unbalance can be partly due to the scarce presence of music in the classical Hollywood comedies – for example, the iconic 1930s screewballs – compared to the fantasy/adventure/drama films of the same era, in which the fathers of Hollywood music – Steiner, Korngold, Newman… – thrived and set the foundations of the practice, and from which the first film-music scholars launched the discipline. The lack of scholarly attention, can also be due to the fact that comedies, having to deal with laughter and lighter situations instead of the graver and more existentially compelling narratives of dramas, have been seen as less reputable objects of study, less worthy of being taken seriously by academics – a point raised by Brett Mills in his monograph on the sitcom (Mills 2008). Recent analyses of the music’s agency in cinema in general have, as per tradition, preferred dramas – for example, Audissino 2017 and Lehman 2018 – while comedy is taken into consideration mostly in focussed publications – for example, Lochner 2018 or Evans & Hayward 2016. This collection of essays aims at investigating the presence, nature, and function of music in the comedy film from fresh perspectives, in order to contribute to a re-evaluation of film-music studies by casting more light on the more neglected comedic department.
By the term ‘comedy’, this book adopts a wide definition, welcoming contributions ranging from farce, slapstick and physical comedy, absurdist comedy, parodies, rom-com, to dark-humoured dramedies. The music addressed is equally non-discriminative in terms of genre, style, pre- or newly composed. The book’s focus is on cinematic comedy, thus excluding comedy for television – given the recent contribution on this area (Giuffre & Hayward 2017) – and it is focussed on music, not on sound/sound design more generally. The book, also because of its Film Studies/Musicology editorial duo, aims at adopting an interdisciplinary approach. Three overarching and interwoven questions are subtended to its general design:
1) What cinematic devices produce humour?
2) What musical devices produce humour?
3) In what ways do musical and cinematic devices interact within film comedy?
Ideally, contributions are encouraged to consider all three aspects in their reciprocal interaction. Yet, chapters are also sought that engage specifically in questions of music theory and analysis, addressing primarily the second question or more film-studies-oriented chapters that tackle the other two combined questions – What cinematic devices produce humour and how musical and cinematic devices can interact in producing film comedy?
The book aims at covering two main areas, ‘Taxonomies and Theories’ and ‘Case Studies.’ In the former, contributions are welcomed that address how music can employ its devices to (a) depict humour and the comic (e.g., the use of pizzicato strings, syncopated rhythm, timbres and colours like those of the bassoon and the tuba, the orchestra’s ‘clowns’, or the use of unusual instruments, scored surprises, parody, etc.) or (b) how music creates humour and the comic by teaming up with the cinematic devices (for example, the use of ‘serious’ repertoire or original music combined with editing to create comic effects, as in Kubrick’s sardonic use of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ at the end of Dr. Strangelove, or the quotation of the Jaws theme in the fake-excrement scene in Caddyshack). In the ‘Case Studies’ section, contributions are encouraged to focus the analysis on exemplary films, composers, or directors, as well as the use of music in national cinemas other than Hollywood, to provide a much welcome international outlook.
Indicative areas and topics are the following (though they are not limited to these):
– Comedy film composers (e.g. Elmer Bernstein, Theodore Shapiro, John Morris, Mark Shaiman…)
– Non-comedy film composers writing for comedy (e.g. Jerry Goldsmith or Hans Zimmer)
– Case studies of single films
– Music and the theories of Humour (Superiority Theory, Release Theory, Incongruity Theory, Cue Theory…)
– Psychomusicology and humour in film music
– The musical depiction of the Comic and Humour: how musical structures convey humour
– ‘Serious’ music for comic effects
– Repertoire music, affiliating identification, and comical effects
– Cartoon music
– Involuntary comical music (e.g., today’s perception of the classical Mickey-Mousing in dramas)
– Musical parody and film parody
– Pop music and comedy
– Comic music in musicals
– National music, national cinemas, national comedies
– Monty Python and music (and songs)
– Music in Mel Brooks’s cinema
– Music and the Marx Brothers
– Music in the films of Louis De Funès
– Music in the films of Totò
– Music in the Carry On… films
– Comedy Italian-style and music
– Music in the films by Álex de la Iglesia
– Music in the Fantozzi film cycle
– Historical pastiche in Rustichelli’s music for L’armata Brancaleone
– Music in the films by John Landis
– Laurel and Hardy and music (songs)
– The use of original comic songs (e.g., Monty Python’s ‘Penis Song’)
– Music and the rom-com
Palgrave MacMillan has expressed a strong interest for the project, which will be featured in their series ‘Palgrave Studies in Audiovisual Culture’ (Series Editor, K. J. Donnelly). We are preparing a formal book proposal, and we are now looking for submissions in the form of 300-word abstract. The final chapters should have a length in-between 5,000/6,000 words.
– Deadline for abstract submission: 1 November 2019.
– Communication of selected contributors: 31 December 2019.
– Delivery of the first draft: 1 September 2020.
– Communication of editorial reviews: 1 November 2020.
– Deadline for final draft: 31 December 2020.
– Publication is projected in Autumn 2021.
Please send your 300-word abstract (also indicating an estimate of the number of illustrations/figures you would plan to include, if any) plus a 150-word bio to both firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 1 November 2019.
EMILE WENNEKES: Prof. dr. Emile Wennekes is Chair Professor of Musicology: Music and Media at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. He has written on a broad range of subjects, including a co-published book on contemporary Dutch music available in six languages. His work has been published, among others, by Oxford University Press, Routledge, Michigan University Press, and Brepols. Most recently, he edited the volume Cinema Changes: Incorporation of Jazz in the Film Soundtrack (Brepols 2019) together with Emilio Audissino. Wennekes founded and chairs the Study Group Music and Media (MaM) under the auspices of the International Musicological Society. He coordinates its annual conferences.
EMILIO AUDISSINO: A film scholar and a film musicologist, Emilio Audissino (University of Southampton) holds one PhD in History of Visual and Performing Arts and one PhD in Film Studies. He specialises in Hollywood and Italian cinema, and his interests are film analysis, screenwriting, film style and technique, comedy, horror, and film sound and music. Notably, he is the author of John Williams’s Film Music (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), the first book-length study in English on the composer, and Film/Music Analysis (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017), a method for audiovisual analysis that blends Neoformalism and Gestalt Psychology. He is also an active and award-winning screenwriter.
Audissino, Emilio. 2017. Film/Music Analysis. A Film Studies Approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Evans, Mark and Hayward, Philip (eds.). 2016. Sounding Funny: Sound and Comedy Cinema. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing.
Giuffre, Liz and Hayward, Philip (eds.). 2017. Music in Comedy Television: Notes on Laughs. Abingdon/New York: Routledge.
Lehman, Frank. 2018. Hollywood Harmonies. Musical Wonder and the Sound of Cinema. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
Lockner, Jim. 2018. The Music of Charlie Chaplin. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company.
Mills, Brett. 2009. The Sitcom. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.