The Sounds of the Dystopian Future: Music for Science Fiction Films of the New Hollywood Era, 1966-1976

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From 1966 to1976, science fiction films tended to depict civilizations of the future that had become intrinsically antagonistic to their inhabitants as a result of some internal or external cataclysm. This dystopian turn in science fiction films, following a similar move in science fiction literature, reflected concerns about social and ecological changes occurring during the late 1960s and early 1970s and their future implications. In these films, "dystopian" conditions are indicated as such by music incorporating distinctly modernist sounds and techniques reminiscent of twentieth-century concert works that abandon the common practice. In contrast, music associated with the protagonists is generally ... continued below

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McGinney, William Lawrence May 2009.

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  • McGinney, William Lawrence

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From 1966 to1976, science fiction films tended to depict civilizations of the future that had become intrinsically antagonistic to their inhabitants as a result of some internal or external cataclysm. This dystopian turn in science fiction films, following a similar move in science fiction literature, reflected concerns about social and ecological changes occurring during the late 1960s and early 1970s and their future implications. In these films, "dystopian" conditions are indicated as such by music incorporating distinctly modernist sounds and techniques reminiscent of twentieth-century concert works that abandon the common practice. In contrast, music associated with the protagonists is generally more accessible, often using common practice harmonies and traditional instrumentation. These films appeared during a period referred to as the "New Hollywood," which saw younger American filmmakers responding to developments in European cinema, notably the French New Wave. New Hollywood filmmakers treated their films as cinematic "statements" reflecting the filmmaker's artistic vision. Often, this encouraged an idiosyncratic use of music to enhance the perceived artistic nature of their films. This study examines the scores of ten science fiction films produced between 1966 and 1976: Fahrenheit 451, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX-1138, A Clockwork Orange, Silent Running, Soylent Green, Zardoz, Rollerball, and Logan's Run. Each is set in a dystopian environment of the future and each reflects the New Hollywood's aspirations to artistic seriousness and social relevance. The music accompanying these films connoted an image of technological and human progress at odds with the critical notions informing similar music for the concert hall. These film scores emphasized the extrapolated consequences of developments occurring during the 1950s and 1960s that social activists, science fiction writers, and even filmmakers regarded as worrisome trends. Filmmakers drew on the popular perceptions of these musical sounds to reinforce pessimistic visions of the future, thereby imbuing these sounds with new meanings for listeners of the contemporaneous present.

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  • May 2009

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  • Sept. 23, 2009, 2:51 p.m.

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  • Nov. 16, 2009, 1:29 p.m.

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McGinney, William Lawrence. The Sounds of the Dystopian Future: Music for Science Fiction Films of the New Hollywood Era, 1966-1976, dissertation, May 2009; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc9839/: accessed January 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .