Soundtracks of RKO’s film noir

A UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield lecturer is heading for Hollywood.

Dr Catherine Haworth has a research speciality in music for film and TV, including the soundtracks that made a crucial contribution to the noirish atmosphereof crime dramas made during the 1940s by RKO Radio Pictures, one of the main Hollywood studios of the period. Its output ranged from famous features such as the Hitchcock classic Notorious, to a long sequence of B-movie thrillers that echoed the anxieties of the age.

Now, Dr Haworth – a Senior Lecturer in the University’s Department of Music and Drama – has been awarded more than £37,000 by the Leverhulme Trust, part of which will enable her to base herself in Tinseltown for several weeks while she delves into the RKO archive, kept at UCLA – the University of California, Los Angeles. It contains not only music scores for movie soundtracks but a wide variety of production notes and administrative documents.

The archive will provide Dr Haworth – whose project is named Sounds Criminal – with the evidence she needs to complete her investigation into the musical dimension of RKO’s output, and a book will be the result.

Before receiving her latest grant, which covers a year of research, Dr Haworth was also awarded funding by the British Academy and by the University of Huddersfield itself that enabled her to pay earlier visits to Los Angeles. This laid the groundwork for Sounds Criminal, which is the culmination of research she has been carrying out since studying for her doctorate.

The distinctive dimension of her project is that in addition to analysing music and its role in movies, Dr Haworth will also carry out research into industrial aspects of a studio in the golden age of Hollywood, analysing elements such as the roles of employees and how musical collaborations took shape.

The RKO Archive at UCLA has been widely consulted by researchers interested in high-profile films such as Citizen Kane, Top Hat and The Informer. But Dr Haworth is breaking new ground with a focus on the studio’s B-movies as well, such as the Falcon series, starring George Sanders as a suave sleuth.

She teaches a University of Huddersfield musicology module titled Scoring the Silver Screen, that ranges from music for silent movies to contemporary sound design and pop scores. Dr Haworth’s research has also included an analysis of the music for the James Bond films.

But she retains her powerful fascination for the soundtracks of mysteries, thrillers and films noirs of 1940s Hollywood, especially RKO’s output. The films “connect explicitly with anxieties around personal and national identities during the WWII era”, she says, adding that: “these soundtracks articulate and help to negotiate often challenging issues of gender, sexuality and ethnicity in striking and inventive ways”.

On her latest visit to Los Angeles, Dr Haworth will also visit the Margaret Herrick Library – known as theOscars Collection – in Beverley Hills. She is also keen to collaborate with UCLA on making the RKO Archive more widely accessible.
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  • Dr Catherine Haworth
  • RKO Radio Pictures

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