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Trailer music and setting the narrative: a fellow’s use of the David O. Selznick collection

By Marissa Kessenich

James Deaville (Carleton University) discusses his research interests in advance of his visit to the Ransom Center.

Deaville is supported by the Dorot Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Jewish Studies.

Tell us about your research, “Succumbing Attractions: Music and Sound in Film Trailers.”

“Succumbing Attractions” proposes to study documents in the David O. Selznick collection to understand the aesthetics and practice of the soundtrack in cinematic trailers from the 1930s and 1940s. Music set the pacing for the visual editing of these appealing audiovisual texts. Fortunately, the collection preserves over 40 files that relate to the studio’s trailer production, including documents that illuminate Selznick’s ability to balance aesthetic and market concerns.


What initially drew you to this topic?

My intersecting interests in music and short media forms drew me to this topic. I have been interested in the use of music in commercial contexts since the early 1990s, when I began teaching film and television music courses. And then, in the early 2000s, I encountered Moulin Rouge, with its unconventional trailer that suppressed certain narrative information, and I wanted to know how that worked musically.


Which collections at the Ransom Center are most relevant to your research?

The David O. Selznick collection and promotion files.


Are there specific questions you hope your research here will answer?

How was music used in Selznick trailers? What went into producing the sound and music for those trailers? What do the sources tell us about procedures and practices at the studio? How do they fit into trailer production in general from the late 1930s and 1940s?


Why is it important that you visit the Ransom Center to work on-site with original materials?

The large quantity of unpublished musical sources for the trailers (scores, parts) would make their reproduction prohibitively costly. Also, I need access to the musical materials for the films themselves, for the sake of comparison.


Outside your primary research interest, are there other collection items at the Ransom Center that you hope to see?

I’m interested to see any items that relate to the films for which trailer materials exist.


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