Jeff Smith





6150 Vilas Hall

Professor Jeff Smith

Office Hours:

  • Mondays, 1:00 – 3:30 PM
  • Thursdays, 1:00 – 3:00 PM
  • And by appointment

Current and Future Projects

  • Book on the way filmmakers use cognitive biases and heuristics as an aspect of cinematic storytelling, particularly as they concern characterization and viewers’ inferences.
  • Book on music in Hollywood films in the 1930s. I trace the history of the classical Hollywood score, its uneven development, its sometimes complicated workflow, its concatenation of popular music and orchestral dramatic cues, and its evolution from a product or pooled labor to a more organic expression of a single composer’s vision.

Expertise and Activities

My research focuses on questions and issues arising from the study of film music/sound, cognitive film theory, and the American film industry. My first book examines the changes in the film industry that aided the development of the film soundtrack album as a vehicle for film and music cross-promotions. Additionally, the book also examines the effects of this industrial shift on the style of music that appeared in Hollywood films after 1960. My second book is a metacritical study of film criticism in relation to the Hollywood blacklist, and attempts to trace the historical development of a particular set of interpretive strategies that have been applied to film texts of the late 1940s and early 1950s. More specifically, my research focuses on two particular critical lenses used to analyze these texts: propaganda and allegory. I also examine the way in which Hollywood’s postwar production cycles influenced the operations of these two critical lenses, especially the way that genres themselves offered filmmakers codified narrative templates, which they then used as vehicles for overt and covert political commentary. For my next book, I am returning to my earlier research on music in film, this time looking at Hollywood film scores of the 1930s. Much of the previous scholarship on film music of the 1930s focuses on the work of a handful of great composers who worked within the studio system, such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, and Aaron Copland. I argue that this “masterpiece” approach has skewed our understanding of the norms of classical Hollywood film music practice. These composers typically worked on more prestigious, bigger budget projects for the studios, and consequently were given more time and resources than more “run of the mill” films. More importantly, the focus on the work of individual composers also obscures the degree to which staff composers worked collectively to write music for films. In attempting to provide a more comprehensive portrait of this period, I pose a rather different question: how would a ‘bottom up’ history of Hollywood film music of the 1930s alter our understanding of the development of classical scoring practices? In seeking a “bottom up” approach, my study takes a page from David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson’s groundbreaking The Classical Hollywood Cinema by analyzing a randomly generated sample of films alongside acknowledged masterworks. In contrast to most histories of film music, my methodology for this project aims to take in a much larger sample of films that includes more routine studio productions, programmers, and B films. In addition to doing close analysis of about dozen individual film scores, I also employ “cinematic” analysis of data collected from more than 640 different cue sheets.


  • Ph.D. Film, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1995
  • M.A. Film, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1989
  • B.M. Music, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 1985


  • The Sounds of Commerce named runner-up for Best Book-U.S., International Association for the Study of Popular Music, 1998


  • 2009. “Bridging the Gap: Reconsidering the Boundary Between Diegetic and Non-diegetic Music.” Music and the Moving Image, 2, no. 1,
  • 2005. “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Christian: The Strange History of The Robe as Political Allegory.” Film Studies 7, 1-15.
  • 2005. “The Edge of Seventeen: Class, Age, and Popular Music in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock.” Screening the Past, 18,
  • 2003. “Black Faces, White Voices: The Politics of Dubbing in Carmen Jones.” The Velvet Light Trap 51, 29-43.
  • 1991. “‘It Does Something to a Girl. I Don’t Know What’: The Problem of Female Sexuality in Applause.” Cinema Journal 30, No. 2, 47-60.


  • 2014. Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist: Reading the Hollywood Reds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • 1998. The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music. New York: Columbia University Press.


  • 2021. Pop Music, Processing Fluency, and Pleasure: Film Songs as Both Hype and Memento,”
    The Oxford Handbook of Cinematic Listening. Edited by Carlo Cenciarelli. New York: Oxford University Press: 469-488.
  • 2020. “Once More Into the Breach: Interrogating Ben Winters’s Nondiegetic Fallacy,” Voicing the
    Cinema: Music and the Integrated Soundtrack. Edited by James Buhler and Hannah Lewis.
    Urbana: University of Illinois Press: 260-277.
  • 2019, “Our Lives in Pink: Sofia Coppola as Transmedia Audiovisual Stylist,” Transmedia Directors: Artistry, Industry, and New Audiovisual Aesthetics. Edited by Lisa Perrott, Holly Rogers, and Carol Vernallis. New York: Bloomsbury Academic: 75-91.
  • 2017. “The Fine Art of Repurposing: Scoring ‘B’ Films in the 1930s,” Routledge Companion to Screen Music and Sound. Edited by Miguel Mera, Ben Winters, and Ron Sadoff.  New York: Routledge: 228-239.
  • 2016.  “Bringing a Little Munich Disco to Babelsberg: Giorgio Moroder’s Score for Metropolis,”
    Today’s Sounds for Yesterday’s Films: Making Music for Silent Cinema. Edited by K.J.
    Donnelly and Ann-Kristin Wallengren. London: Palgrave: 107-121.
  • 2015. “Film Sound in the Hollywood Renaissance, 1968-1980.” Sound: Dialogue, Music, and Effects (Behind the Silver Screen Series), Kathryn Kalinak New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 83-106.
  • 2015. “Filmmakers as Folk Psychologists: How Filmmakers Exploit Cognitive Biases as an Aspect of Characterization, Narration, and Spectatorship.” The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Approaches to Literature, Lisa Zunshine New York: Oxford University Press, 483-501.
  • 2014. “A Whisper Campaign on Catfish Row: Sidney Poitier as Porgy.” Poitier Revisited: Reconsidering a Black Icon in the Obama Age, Mia Mask and Ian Strachan New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 97-128.
  • 2013. “O Brother Where Chart Thou: Popular Music and the Coen Brothers.” Popular Music and the New Auteur: Visionary Filmmakers After MTV, Arved Ashby New York: Oxford University Press, 129-156.
  • 2013. “The Tunes They are a-Changin’: Moments of Rupture and Reconfiguration in the Production and Commerce of Music in Film.” The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies, David Neumeyer New York: Oxford University Press, 270-290.
  • 2013. “The Sound of Intensified Continuity.” The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics, John Richardson, Claudia Gorbman, and Carol Vernallis New York: Oxford University Press, 331-356.
  • 2008. “Ancillary Market — Recorded Music: Charting the Rise and Fall of the Soundtrack Album.” The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry, Paul McDonald and Janet Wasko Malden, MA: Blackwell, 143-152.
  • 2008. “Music.” The Routledge Companion to Film and Philosophy, Carl Plantinga and Paisley Livingston New York: Routledge, 184-195.
  • 2005. “From Bond to Blank: “Live and Let Die’ in Grosse Pointe Blank.” Pop Fictions, Steve Lannin and Matthew Caley London: Intellect, 129-137.
  • 2002. “Popular Songs and Comic Allusion in Contemporary Cinema.” Soundtrack Available: Essays on Film and Popular Music, Arthur Knight and Pamela Robertson Durham: Duke University Press, 407-430.
  • 2000. “‘A Good Business Proposition’: Dalton Trumbo, Spartacus, and the End of the Blacklist.” Controlling Hollywood: On Movie Censorship, Matthew Bernstein New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 206-237.
  • 1999. “Movie Music as Moving Music: Emotion, Cognition, and the Film Score.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion, Carl Plantinga and Greg Smith Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 146-167.


  • CA 552 – American Cinema Since 1970
  • CA 613 – History of the Hollywood Film Score
  • CA 613 – Film Sound: Theory and History
  • CA 613 – Film Noir
  • CA 665 – Contemporary Film Theory
  • CA 613 – The Coen Brothers and Their Influences
  • CA 664 – Classical Film Theory