The first film score of independent artistic merit and dominant coloration of the dramatic action was not Duke Ellington’s famous score to Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), but Miles Davis’ score to Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), a lesser known film that is nonetheless a paragon of French film noir. Evidently, Malle projected the film and Miles improvised the entire score. Elevator to the Gallows demonstrated how a score could envelop an entire film in subtle shifting atmospherics, paving the way for the spiritual marriage of film and music in masterpieces like 8 1/2, 2001, and Koyaanisqatsi. Here’s “Generique,” which is the very sound of the wet Parisian streets at dusk.

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David Ross

Dr. David A. Ross is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is senior lecturer in English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of A Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats (2009) and the co-editor/co-translator of The Search for the Avant-Garde, 1946­–1969 (2012), the descriptive catalogue of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. He edits the Southeast Review of Asian Studies and has served as president of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. His enthusiasms include high modernism, modal jazz, Chinese ink-brush painting, and really well-made pizza.