21 April 2009

Music In Movies - Alfredo Sauce or a Dash of Oregano?

This article at Variety brought up an interesting point. American movies, especially recent ones, tend to feature wall-to-wall music.

For me, music is one of the most important parts of a finished film. It can either ruin or enhance what's on the screen in ways that words have a hard go of defining.

I'm a huge fan of classic films - I grew up watching them, and my first film-viewing memories are of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" playing over the credits for Bela Lugosi's 1931 Dracula. Though it only played over the title credits, it left an indelible mark, and whenever I think of that film, it's invariably that title sequence that springs to mind.

But, what drives me nuts about a solid 75% of films (throughout their 100+year history) is the more is more, wall-to-wall kitchen sink deluge of music that serves as nothing except background noise or two-hour long music videos.

Music should be the dash of spice that enhances the flavor of the film. Not sauce poured over top to make an entirely different meal.

Fine Italian dining vs. Olive Garden. That's the current struggle in modern film music. Why do I need a boatload of inedible salad and breadsticks (though I confess to being semi-addicted to those) when a dash of oregano will do?

Below is one of my favorite recent uses of music in film, from Wong Kar-Wai's beautiful film, In the Mood For Love. This theme shows up a few times, and only in the moments where it will have the most impact. That's fine dining.

Then, of course, there is Once Upon a Time in the West, where a good chunk of the score was actually written at the script stage, and you see the composer become the third writer of the film (screenwriter, director, composer).


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