Favourite Soundtracks No 4.
What’s that? You don’t remember Favourite Soundtracks 1, 2 and 3? Just run a search and you’ll find this was a series I started in 2015 and then…just forgot about. Film scores have always interested me because they ameliorate narrative. Some composers overpower visuals (John Williams, Michael Nyman), others are too generic (sign of a bad action film, too much percussion) but there’s a sweet spot where certain composers create a perfect meld of audio for the visual.
When did you first decide what you liked to hear, prioritising your choice over listening to what your peers wanted you to like? I tried to fit in at school and listened to Led Zeppelin (fine at 15) but became passionate about classical music, partly because we had a good library that lent records.
I thought I’d found my niche, but then heard modern Minimalism, which spoke to me in a way the classics did not. On the way I discovered soundtrack scores. There was a strong overlap between the two for years because so many Central and Eastern European composers ended up scoring films.
A horror film doesn’t have to sound like a horror film; ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is based on a nursery rhyme, an idea stolen by many composers since. ‘The Wicker Man’ is built around folk songs and harvest chants. ‘Midsommar’ sounds hippyish and sumptuous. Some films have their entire scores removed and rewritten – for example, there are two entirely different scores for ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’.
In recent years composers have developed from the club scene or from indie bands to bring something fresh to scores. Craig Armstrong, Daniel Pemberton, Neil Hannon and Dan Jones spring to mind, although I wonder why I can name the only female practitioners on one hand?
Two examples of how scoring has changed; Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer, orchestrator, conductor, and former trumpet player, has written scores for over 400 films and over 100 classical pieces. Traditionally of his works many sound like this, from ‘The Best Offer’, a brain teaser about an unscrupulous art dealer who falls for a beautiful agoraphobic woman.
It’s what you’d expect, elegant and traditional – the subject is classical art, after all. Then hear soundtracks for ‘The Social Network’, ‘Molly’s Game’ and ‘Steve Jobs’, composites of classical and jazz motifs merged with techno.
The film ‘Victoria’ (directed by Sebastian Schipper, who acted in ‘The English Patient’) makes this connection explicit as if follows a young woman who studied classical piano through a night of clubbing in Berlin. The film was shot in one single take and incorporates the heroine’s piano performance as well as the club music.
Musicality helps writers immeasurably. When you set the rhythm of words to music in your head, you find the natural shape of sentences.