October 23, 2008


You Are What You Remember: A Pathbreaking Guide to Understanding and Interpreting Your Childhood Memories. By Patrick Estrade. Da Capo. $16.95.

Global Soundtracks: Worlds of Film Music. Edited by Mark Slobin. Wesleyan University Press. $34.95.

     “Memories serve the same purpose as dreams.” This is but one startling statement in You Are What You Remember by French psychotherapist and author Patrick Estrade. Drawing on the works of Freud and his onetime colleague (and later rival) Alfred Adler, Estrade argues cogently that most people can unlock early childhood memories – and, at least as significantly, the feelings and emotions associated with them. Memories, according to Estrade, have both manifest and latent content: “A memory’s manifest content arises from the relationship between reality and our conscious (one thing makes me think of another via a chain of connections or via linked thoughts). …A memory’s latent content emerges from the search our unconscious initiates for a memory corresponding to an actual internal emotional state or perception, rather than to a predictable framework.” This analysis can be tough to follow for anyone not undergoing analysis, although those who are in therapy are likely to find it more transparent and useful than will the general population. The translation (by Leah Brumer) reads clearly but makes no attempt to simplify or gloss over the complexities of Estrade’s thoughts. Estrade seeks to combine Freud’s notion of dreams as fulfillments of repressed desires with Adler’s view of them as problem-solving opportunities (Estrade approvingly quotes from Adler: “The aim of the dream is the feelings it leaves behind”). Using examples from his own therapeutic files, Estrade explores “core nuclear relationships in memories” and offers a basic guide to interpreting your own recollections. He also discusses, although not at length, false memories and mental manipulation – as well as trauma, guilt and other negative mental affects that memory can elucidate. Deciphering memories is not easy, Estrade states emphatically: “Every interpretation is based on the assumption that reliable information and a stable foundation support the analysis. However, like dreams, memories are eminently subjective creations.” The reason for Estrade’s deep delving into memories is that “wounds of the spirit heal if we treat them,” and memories can be a way of understanding those wounds and making healing possible. Estrade is a thoughtful guide through a difficult subject; his book may be most useful if read while undergoing therapy and discussed with a therapist who has also read and absorbed it.

     Film can have the characteristics of both psychoanalysis and memory – indeed, some directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, have famously exploited the relationships. But it is surprising how often the memorable elements of film are not visual but aural. Soundtracks reinforce the action and pull it in the direction the director seeks – if you doubt that, try watching any action or romantic movie with the sound turned off. But music is used very differently in films from around the world. The essays collected in Global Soundtracks give some idea of film music’s evolution over the past century while showing the many different ways in which music is incorporated into films from particular parts of the world, or those of specific directors. Editor Mark Slobin, a professor of music at Wesleyan University, is also a major contributor to the book, offering three fascinating chapters on Hollywood film music in the time of Max Steiner (“who largely is credited with making the filmscore work”) and afterwards. Slobin also writes a final chapter called “Comparative Vistas” that neatly and even elegantly assembles the themes of the book: “Music and storyline are like threads from two different balls of brightly colored yarn. Filmmakers weave them together, and sometimes tie knots to fasten the narrative, as well as the viewer’s attention.” Indeed, for the general reader (rather than the film student), Slobin’s chapters will be the most intriguing sections of the book. Everything else is a great deal more specialized: “Music in Indonesian ‘Historical’ Films,” “Diversity and Orality in Euzhan Palcy’s La Rue Case-n├Ęgres,” etc. Some chapters hold more interest than others: “That Bollywood Sound” by Greg Booth, for example, provides considerable detail on the technology, economics and, yes, sound of the highly productive Indian film industry. Other chapters, though, are clearly for specialists only. Global Soundtracks is scarcely a comprehensive study of film music, globally or otherwise, but it dips into some fascinating elements of the field – albeit generally from an academic or “insider” perspective that may at times be difficult for non-students to follow. It is as an introduction to selected trends in the global film-music industry that Slobin’s book is most effective and, in its own way, memorable.

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