Film Noir Music: Signifier vs. Signified

19 Jun

Here’s a little experiement. Quick, picture music to a noir film in your head.

Everyone i ask replies the same, the exact same. The music is slow, with an acoustic bass, maybe an echoey trumpet, sparse, maybe some lightly brushing drums.

Everyone pictures the same thing. And if you’re going to do a piece of music that will signify film noir that is basically what you should do if you want the image to get across. However, here’s what’s interesting: that is NOT the actual music in any classic noir film. At all. Ever.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Classic film noir uses a hollywod orchestra. Lots of cheesy strings. Lots of orchestral tension motifs, but NO small, lonely jazz bands. NONE. EVER. OKay, sure they get used for RETRO noir films, that is films made after 1958 when class film noir officially ended. So some 70s movie trying to be noir might use the small jazz band, but what’s fascinating is that everyone pictures the exact same motif for the classic films and this motif DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST.

Sure, jazz WAS the music of the day. In the 40s jazz was king. But movie soundtracks used orchestra and a particular movie orchestra sound and thus this was never heard in an actual classic noir film:

See, that last vid is exactly what we all picture and yet at some point post era it was retrofitted to the genre. Isn’t that really interesting?


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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Uncategorized



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