This paper was delivered as part of a panel called “Hollywood on the Air” at the 2011 Society of Cinema and Media Studies annual conference. The panel centered on the relationship between Hollywood film and the broadcast radio industry throughout the 20th century. My paper, “The Same Old Songs,” examines the role that Hollywood films played in revising of the cultural meaning of the pop music of the fifties that coalesced around the FM broadcasting format known as “oldies.” In particular, the paper explores the peculiar phenomenon of 1980s films featuring characters lip-synching to oldies songs. Similar to the cover versions of rhythm and blues records popularized by white artists in the fifties, these lip-synching figures in 1980s films embody 1950s cultural forms, not only “covering” over meanings that characterized the songs in their original context, but also investing them with new social and political resonances. The transformation of rock ‘n’ roll from “race music” to the safe alternative for white bourgeois males in the face of the emergence of new wave, punk, disco and hip hop, reflected in the establishment of oldies radio formats and revival tours, was aided and abetted by oldies soundtracks to Hollywood films. This redefinition of fifties rock, however, was neither simple nor homogenous, as I will indicate in this paper’s last section, which will focus on a lip-synching scene that operates to de-familiarize and estrange the sounds of seemingly safe oldies fare.
The text of this talk, and the accompanying slides, are available for review at the link HERE. Use the password ‘arcadia2013’.