Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Lost without a Cue: The Progression of Music and Masculinity in Detective Film Noir
by Neuhauser, Hannah Emily, M.A., California State University, Long Beach, 2020, 77; 27961012
Abstract (Summary)

Film noir started in the early 1940s and has continued to today with adaptations that reflect modern society. The style of film noir, influenced from German expressionism, has stayed consistent with its stark shadows and tilted camera angles. While film noir divulges into multiple categories, such as Gothic romance, psychological horror, and science fiction, a narrative standard of this genre is detective film noir. Despite updating the cultural characteristics and adhering to traditional visual elements, rarely do variations occur in the character archetypes found in this genre, particularly with the film noir detective. The classic noir male private eye is often described as hardboiled, detached, and separated from the world of domesticity as he remains lost in the streets in a never-ending cycle of emptiness and lies. He exists only to be manipulated in the plot or, most commonly, by the femme fatale.

Noir’s archetypal private eyes typically do not have a leitmotif. The primary musical theme of the film is often a love theme shared with the femme fatale. Once the dangerous case is over and the villainess female has been revealed for her true intentions, the music ceases and the private eye returns to his silent, lonely life with his stoic nature intact. I posit that the private eye does not have his own theme because the character was created to embody the emotional standards and fears following the events of World War II. The growth of the private eye archetype has been limited by a lack of musical themes that demonstrate his masculinity and isolated disposition. However, this is not to say that private eye never gains a musical theme or a moment of vulnerability. As evidence to prove this point the themes for the private eye in five films are examined in this thesis: The Maltese Falcon (1941), composed by Adolph Deutsch; Laura (1944), scored by David Raksin; Vertigo (1958) by Bernard Hermann; Chinatown (1974) by Jerry Goldsmith; and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) by Alan Silvestri.

The five films were chosen because of the prominence of the film and its position in history, the quality of the musical score, and the depiction of the private archetype. This study will illuminate the underlining progression of masculinity and music in detective film noir. This research will be a contribution to both music and cinema studies, while touching on important social issues– namely gender performance throughout detective film noir. It is in high hopes that the spirit of this research shall provide comprehension of the private eye archetype and their musical themes, while inspiring potential creators of the continuing post-modernism genre of film noir to grow from these negatively constructed male characters.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hickman, Roger
Commitee: Lindau, Elizabeth, Briggs, Ray
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 82/4(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Music history, Film studies
Keywords: Masculinity, Music, Noir, Private eye
Publication Number: 27961012
ISBN: 9798684688928
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