Listening to the Detectives: Towards Holistic Analysis of the 1940s B Movie at RKO Radio Pictures

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Drawing on materials from the RKO Radio Pictures Studio Collection at UCLA, this paper considers the role and significance of archival sources in film musicology, focusing in particular on the interface between process documentation and critical analysis of the film itself as primary text. This relationship is not always straightforward: the differences between the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of film music analysis can also highlight longstanding tensions between the celebration of film scoring as artistic endeavour and full acknowledgement of its commercial and collaborative roots.
This discussion of methodology is situated within a more practically-focused consideration of the 1940s adventure serial, a favourite of Hollywood studios and audiences during an era where double-bill exhibition created a continual demand for entertaining and cost-effective ‘B’ movies. ‘The Falcon’ series was a staple of the RKO roster during the first half of the forties, following its debonair investigator across thirteen high-drama, all-action, romance-filled instalments. Analysis of RKO’s (incomplete) archive allows the partial reconstruction of scoring practices and personnel in the studio’s music department – a mixture of contract composers and freelance musicians who carefully balanced economics and aesthetics. The tight budgets of B serials make them an ideal vehicle to trace the effect of these organisational practices on studio output, situating textual analysis of The Falcon’s adventures within a close reading of their industrial and commercial context.
Period24 May 2018
Event titleMusic and the Moving Image XIII
Event typeConference
Conference numberXIII
LocationNew York, United States, New YorkShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational