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· 9 min read


Music has been an integral part of Hollywood films ever since the 1930s. Musical figures can be used in many ways to enhance the movie narrative by bringing additional information to the on-screen picture, providing emotional qualities, and better shaping a character’s image and mental activities. Franz Waxman’s score to Sunset Boulevard, which won the Best Score at the 1951 Oscars, is a great example to explore how music components in a movie make up another layer of art on top of photography, writing and acting. This article mainly focuses on the scene where Joe Gillis first moved into Norma Desmond’s guest room above the garage, and explain how Waxman used musical components to present the symbolic motifs and underlying plot of the movie. This scene starts at Chapter 6 at 24:00 minutes and ends at 28:30, which is pretty early in the movie. There are three score excerpts associated with this particular scene and there are clear pauses in between the excerpts. I will go over each excerpts consecutively in the following paragraphs.

First Excerpt

The first score excerpt is non-diegetic and it appears in the scene from 24:00 to 24:22, where Joe follows Max to get settled down in the guest room after Joe Gillis’ first encounter with Norma Desmond, who forced him to stay overnight to help her finish the scripts. While they are walking upstairs to the guest room, the double bass plays pizzicato over Joe’s leitmotif, which first appears in bebop style at 2:50 when the narrator takes the audience to where Joe used to live in — an apartment house above Franklin and Ivar. The transcribed score is below :