Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Curtis, Scott. “The Sound of Early Warner Bros. Cartoons.” In Sound Theory/Sound Practice, edited by Rick Altman, 191-203. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Short animations function differently from the feature length films currently focused on within the field of film music research, but examining how music works in these animated shorts can encourage us to rethink our conceptions of feature film music as well, including vocabulary and techniques. Image/sound hierarchy, the separation of soundtrack into dialogue/music/effects, and the diegetic/non-diegetic separation are all difficult if not impossible to apply to animation. There is also an economic angle to animations—Warner Brothers, anticipating the success of “talkies,” bought up several music publishing houses and strongly encouraged its workers, including those in animation, to use these in-house songs or works within the public domain. Hence, early Looney Tunes cartoons used all available songs to their full potential, leading to the “Merrie Melodies” series of cartoons using both hit music such as 42nd Street and flops like Manhattan Parade. The division of cartoons into a separate music-based series was not specific to Warner Bros.; Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” followed the same pattern, chipping away at the traditional hierarchy that placed image above music. Songs from musicals were often used in singing and dancing routines, where it becomes difficult to distinguish between dialogue and music. Likewise, rather than referring to a diegetic/non-diegetic distinction, it is often more useful to think of animation as isomorphic/iconic.

Works: Warner Bros. (studio): Young and Healthy (193), Shuffle Off to Buffalo (193), Three’s a Crowd (195), You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’! (195, 198), Hamateur Night (196), Rhapsody Rabbit (196), What’s Up, Doc? (196), Sinkin’ in the Bathtub (196), Hold Anything (198, 200), Smile, Darn Ya, Smile (198), Petting in the Park (199), Red-Headed Baby (201), Big Man from the North (201-2); Oskar Fischinger: Motion Painting No. 1 (202).

Sources: Mervyn Leroy: 42nd Street (193, 195); Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (202).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Emily Baumgart

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