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Claudia Gorbman, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus
Campus Mailbox



Romance Languages
University of Washington Seattle
Romance Languages and Literature
University of Washington Seattle
University of Washington Seattle


Dr. Gorbman is retired, but can be reached at

Armed with a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literature and passions for cinema and music, I have taught and written about film. Much of my research involves film's auditory dimensions, particularly music in all its forms. Two seemingly simply questions have driven this research: what is music doing in the movies (in general)? and what is music doing in particular movies, kinds of movies, directors' work, historical periods? My 1987 book Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music was among the first academic studies to address these questions, and the second edition is nearing completion 25 years later. I have also published about 60 articles and book chapters since 1974 about aspects of film and TV music, audiovisuality, women in film, French and American film. Most recently I co-edited, with John RIchardson and Carol Vernallis, the Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics (2013). I have translated four books by composer Michel Chion: three about what he calls "audio-vision" in film, and one about Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

UW Tacoma has allowed me to develop and offer a very full range of film courses to enthusiastically receptive undergraduates: courses on film history (silent film through contemporary world cinema), film genres (most frequently the western, documentary, melodrama, musical, and film noir), individual filmmakers (too numerous to mention), national cinemas, aspects of film theory, film sound and film music, movie acting, genre and gender, writing film criticism and intro to film studies. As cinema becomes one part of the larger audiovisual spectrum in the 21st century, these courses are evolving to embrace not just the silver screen but all the screens in our daily lives.

Current Research

For 2013-14, I am revising my book Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Indiana University Press, 1987) for a new edition. Much has changed since this study first appeared. Most notably, the normalization of popular songs in movies has entirely changed the ways we relate to film stories and characters. The worlds of Tarantino and Scorsese and the Coen Brothers and David Lynch, Jack Black in High Fidelity and many other characters we get to know through their taste in records: movies establish identity, taste and politics through the particular ways characters relate to songs. In the 1980s it made sense to call my book "Unheard Melodies" (a phrase borrowed from poet John Keats) to refer to film music, since most of it was orchestral background music--a kind of ethereal substance that onscreen characters weren't aware of; but in the 21st century, much music is quite emphatically "heard" in our experience of "watching" movies. Many of today's filmmakers not only like to delineate their fictional characters with the help of music, but they also have a different attitude to "background music" itself--they like to show their own musical tastes, to define their auteur universe, through their choices in music.

Moreover, movie genres are changing rapidly, and so is film music, in the digital age. An obvious example is the Hollywood musical. The musical evolved greatly through the 20th century, to be sure--from song-and-dance spectaculars of Busby Berkeley, and Fred Astaire's light romances with tap and ballroom dancing, to the splendidly talented stable of talent at MGM in the 1950s, through the hippie musicals of the 60s and 70s and to the popular animated musicals of the 90s and 00s. But since the 1980s, the music video (as well as digital technology in general) has revolutionized the relation between music and moving images, and YouTube has led to a proliferation of ways the audio and visual can be married--from DIY mashups and parodies, to interactive and crowd-sourced videos, to long-form music videos, to the "songifying" of speech through AutoTune and related technologies. And scholars are only beginning to think and write about the role of music in games.

I am interested in all these rapid permutations in music's relationship to images and narrative. Some of this--the "heardness" of film music, and its rapid evolution among genres and formats, is finding its way into the second edition of Unheard Melodies. This year I am also studying the films of Paul Thomas Anderson--an interest that arose during a course I taught last year at UW Tacoma. I'm preparing a paper on The Master, a film so wonderfully strange and indigestible to me that I keep returning to it--and to the voice of its costar Philip Seymour Hoffman in particular.

Film music has long captivated me because we pay so little attention to it even as it is shaping our emotions, allegiances, identifications and values. Does anyone remember the music that played under the news of the first Gulf War, coverage by CNN that catapulted cable news to a new position of preeminence? (I do. Somewhat fanatically, I recorded some of CNN's reporting every day, and found that the music introducing the news segments about the war began with dark, ominous, low-register stuff as the Allied troops invaded, and segued to triumphant, major key music dominated by trumpet sounds as Iraq's troops retreated.) Music is so powerful: the less we attend to it, the more capable it is of influencing our feelings about moral forces, militarism, nation, gender and other basic categories of the values by which we live.


In 2013-14 I am teaching film courses central to a good education about cinema:

  • Contemporary World Cinema
  • Film Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
  • French CInema
  • Film History 1950-2000 (or possibly, Writing Film Criticism)

I teach a wide range of film courses, covering genres in American film, periods in American and foreign film and directors (recent years: Hitchcock, Spike Lee/Ang Lee/ Mike Leigh, P.T. Anderson, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Agnes Varda, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang).


  • Society for Cinema and Media Studies
  • Music and the Moving Image
  • Volunteer for political campaigns, social and environmental movements.

Academic Service

Manuscript reviewing for university and professional presses, and for academic journals in film studies. Have worked with some local theaters and film festivals to present, lead discussions about, write about and/or judge movies.

Honors and Awards

  • UW Tacoma Distinguished Research Award, 2009.
  • Music Library Association's 2010 Richard Wall award for best book in English about film for 2009 went to Film, A Sound Art (by Michel Chion, translated by Claudia Gorbman, Columbia University Press, 2009).
  • Rayson Huang Visiting Professor in the Humanities, Hong Kong University, March 2013.

Scholarly Interests

View Claudia Gorbman's content in our Experts Gallery