BA Film Studies and History of Art / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
A Score is Born: History and Ideology in Hollywood Film Music

Course unit fact file
Unit code DRAM20711
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course explores the use of music in Hollywood Cinema up to the present day.  Our focus will be on how music has worked to both support and undermine the dominant ideology of Hollywood Cinema. We will discuss the concept of the Classical Hollywood Score and how it has functioned in partnership with the Classical Hollywood Narrative. Key developments and composers in Hollywood film music will be studied and particular emphasis will be given to the themes of gender and Black American music. Case studies include Fantasia, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Vertigo, Odds Against Tomorrow, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Do the Right Thing and The Empire Strikes Back. Students will be encouraged to work on a piece of music editing to the film of their choice in the final assignment. You do not need to be a musician to do this course! The emphasis will be on music's ideological function rather than musicological analysis.




Pre-requisite units

DRAM10031: The Art of Film


Co-requisite units

Any L2 core Drama module – Practitioners in Context 1; Practitioners in Context 2; Screen, Culture and Society



  • To explore the development of film music in Hollywood cinema
  • To develop awareness of the semiotic function of film music and how it can be put to ideological use to encourage students
  • To apply an awareness of the necessary aesthetic strategies and ideological implications involved in using music for their own practical work

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate awareness of the principles of the classical Hollywood score and how certain films have challenged and subverted them
  • Identify and describe the way in which music functions ideologically in terms of race, gender and sexuality
  • Show familiarity with the style and function of key composers and idioms (particularly Bernard Herrmann, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the use of Black American and atonal music in film)
  • Show awareness of and be able to account for any social and historical factors that contribute to the development of film music
  • Translate an awareness of film music into individual research for seminars, essays and practical projects

Intellectual skills

  • Critically analyse and interrogate films, scores and related sources (posters, trailers, reviews, industry documents and soundtrack recordings)
  • Contextualise historically films, scores and practitioners, and to draw on contextualisation to develop understanding
  • Critically evaluate a series of films, scores, practitioners and genres in relation to key moments of socio-political change in relevant territories
  • Synthesise theoretical terms and concepts and apply these to analysis, argument and creative practice

Practical skills

  • Research academic and non-academic materials, and evaluate the effectiveness of these materials as supporting evidence for individual essays, seminar presentations and creative projects
  • Plan, undertake and evaluate independent critical and creative work
  • Use relevant software to collect, compile and present audio-visual material for presentations and remix projects
  • Communicate research material both verbally, audio-visually and in writing
  • Develop and/or acquire skills in digital editing

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively with others about intellectually demanding concepts, topics, materials
  • Demonstrate an ability to draw with accuracy, focus, detail and precision on complex materials in independent work
  • Demonstrate an ability to effectively present – through discussion and in writing – complex topics, drawing convincingly on oral, written and audio-visual media as appropriate to the topic

Employability skills

Employability skills that students can expect to gain from successful completion of this module include: A good level of critical thinking and problem-solving skills An ability to develop detailed, planned and multi-layered approaches to tasks An ability to work productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex challenges An enhanced ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to different audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Seminar Presentation






Final Essay or Practical Project (audio-visual remix)




Feedback methods

Feedback Method

Formative or Summative

Seminar Presentation - oral


Essays – oral and written

Formative and summative

Practical Project – oral and written

Formative and summative

Consultation on essays and practical projects - oral

Brown, Royal. 1994. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music. Berkeley and Los

Angeles: University of California Press.

Butler, David. 2002. Jazz Noir: Listening to Music from Phantom Lady to The Last Seduction.

Westport: Praeger.

Cooke, Mervyn. 2008. A History of Film Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cooke, Mervyn and Ford, Fiona (eds). 2016. The Cambridge Companion to Film Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gabbard, Krin. 1996. Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema. Chicago: The

University of Chicago Press.

Gorbman, Claudia. 1987. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. London: British Film Institute.

Kassabian, Anahid. 2001. Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary

Hollywood Film Music. London and New York: Routledge.

Ramsey, Guthrie. 2003. Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop. Berkeley: University of California Press.



Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Supervised time in studio/wksp 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 134

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David Butler Unit coordinator

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