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Music as a Procedural Motive in the Filmmaking of Darren Aronofsky, Sofia Coppola, and Paul Thomas Anderson


In this dissertation, I argue that the late 1990s and early 2000s represent a particularly musical moment for certain emerging American screenwriter-directors who both integrated music throughout their creative processes and framed their preoccupation with music as a way to define themselves as filmmakers. Scholars across disciplines have presented various overlapping criteria by which to group these filmmakers; I analyze the musical aspects that emerge in these groupings without strictly adhering to any one parameter. Specifically, I show how Darren Aronofsky, Sofia Coppola, and Paul Thomas Anderson challenge the boundaries between original and pre-existing music, among musical and film genres, and between the very media of music and film. I focus on the collaborations of Darren Aronofsky and former punk front man Clint Mansell on Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010); Sofia Coppola and punk drummer turned music supervisor Brian Reitzell on The Virgin Suicides (1999) and Lost in Translation (2003); and Paul Thomas Anderson and pop-rock music producer Jon Brion for the scores of Magnolia (1999), which Anderson consistently describes as an “adaptation” of Aimee Mann’s songs, and Punch-Drunk Love (2003).

Significantly, Aronofsky, Coppola, and Anderson consistently refer to their filmmaking approaches as “musical.” I do not suggest that these self-conscious descriptions offer an especially reliable interpretation of the films, but rather I turn to them for insight into the filmmakers’ public image cultivation. Further, I show how these filmmakers approach music as a procedural motive in their work by collaborating from early stages in production with non-classical composers, writing musical cues and notes into their screenplays, and structuring their films in a way they understand to be musical. Thus I put forth the screenplay as well as the filmmaker’s public descriptions of their creative methods, neither of which is usually considered in the study of film music, as necessary tools in understanding these “musical” films as multi-layered texts.

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