The Film Library and How It Grew

Iris Barry
1969 Film quarterly  
Iris Barry was first curator, then director of the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York (originally known as the Film Library of the Museum). Born in England in 1895, she became an American citizen in 1941. She was made Chevalier of the Legion d-Honneur in 1949, and now lives in retirement in Fayence (Var), France. That it could begin at all seemed, at the time, altogether a miracle. Now, thirty-four years later, it is difficult indeed to believe that in 1935 the vacuum
more » ... ich existed could have been so great or that it could ever have been filled. Nevertheless there were then virtually no means in existence anywhere of seeing any films other than those in current distribution by commercial 19 the history of film music only to the extent that it represents a trial-and-error groping toward a satisfactory aesthetic, and I have cited outstanding examples of film music only to the extent that they throw light on that aesthetic. In describing examples of film music, I have tried to be as specific as possible short of using musical technicalities that would be unfamiliar to the layman. 2. "Ambient" is the least ambiguous term I can find to describe music which forms an integral part of the sounds of a scene. 3. There is an objective physical basis to this variety, since tone color depends on the particular pattern of harmonics (subsidiary notes higher than the main note) produced by each musical instrument. The organ sounds fuzzy because most of its pipes produce sounds rich in harmonics. The flute, by contrast, has few harmonics, and Mc-Laren's artificial music virtually none. Nevertheless, association is probably more important than acoustics in determining the effect of tone color in film music. 4. Stevens's error is in relying on the literary connection between the title and libretto of the oratorio and the content of his film. The association aroused by the sound of "The Messiah"
doi:10.2307/1210306 fatcat:v7q7fqqi3vgzfkoz5oox3mzv4i