Epic Sound: Music in Postwar Hollywood Biblical Films by Stephen C. Meyer

By Stephen C. Meyer

Lavish musical soundtracks contributed a unique grandeur to the hot widescreen, stereophonic sound motion picture adventure of postwar biblical epics equivalent to Samson and Delilah, Ben-Hur, and Quo Vadis. In Epic Sound, Stephen C. Meyer exhibits how song used to be applied for numerous results, occasionally serving as a motor vehicle for narrative plot and now and then complicating biblical and cinematic interpretation. during this manner, the soundscapes of those motion pictures mirrored the ideological and aesthetic tensions in the style, and extra commonly, inside of postwar American society. by means of reading key biblical movies, Meyer adeptly engages musicology with movie stories to discover cinematic interpretations of the Bible through the Nineteen Forties throughout the 1960s.

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The Philistine soldiers that march into the first scene of the film refer to Miriam as a “jug of Danite wine that we have not yet tasted,” while in the subsequent scene Samson speaks of his potential marriage partners as figs that he will consume. This particular confrontation between Miriam and Delilah, however, opens up a different way to interpret the characters, not merely as objects of male desire but also as (potentially) desiring subjects. Indeed, this scene suggests feminine desire as the primary motor of the plot.

The account that Lasky gives in his autobiography is interesting for the light that it sheds on Miriam’s character: The one part that hadn’t been and apparently couldn’t be cast was the hometowngirl-next-door, the honest Hebrew maiden that Samson should have married. She had to look like what any Jewish mother would choose for her son, practical, religious, unglamorous, and marvelous about the house. 11 Lasky was friends with the Jewish actress Olive Deering and presented her to DeMille as a “walking synagogue” who would be ideal for the role.

Each stage of this history is accompanied by appropriate images and sound effects. The first image of the film—a spinning globe, partially shrouded by clouds—recalls similar mid-century cinematic gestures. The spinning globe (without clouds, to be sure) also accompanies part of the voiceover to Casablanca; and it appeared as well during the 1930s and 1940s as part of the introductory logo for the widely viewed Universal newsreels. In Samson and Delilah, as in these other instances, it serves to contextualize the subsequent diegesis, investing it with world-historical importance.

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