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.


12 comments on “Favourite Soundtracks No 4.”

  1. Mike says:

    Always appreciated film scores.
    The music so rarely overwhelms the dialogue.
    Wish I could say the same about tv shows, documentaries etc.

  2. Brian Evans says:

    Hitchcock had it right: “Good film music shouldn’t be noticed”

  3. SteveB says:

    I loved the Morricone / Leone combination

    Also I enjoy fantasy and Morricone’s music for Secret of the Sahara is great

    Somewhere in Time is one of my favourite films and John Barry’s music (and the Rachmaninov) is a big big part of that. Allegedly Barry turned down For Your Eyes Only to work on SiT instead.

    (Hope Admin forgives / allows the links!)

  4. Ian Luck says:

    Film music to be noticed: ‘Get Carter’ of course.
    Tristram Cary’s score for ‘Quatermass And The Pit’. Mike Vickers’ trendy theme for ‘Dracula: AD 1972’. Barry Gray’s score for ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’. John Barry’s (wait for it) score for ‘Seance On A Wet Afternoon’. Roy Budd’s score for ‘Puppet On A Chain’. Ralph Vaughn Williams’ score for ‘Scott Of The Antarctic’. Arthur Bliss’ score for ‘Things To Come’. Georges Auric’s scores for ‘La Belle Et Le Bète’ and ‘The Wages Of Fear’. Not forgetting the ‘Electronic Tonalities’ created for ‘Forbidden Planet’, by Louis and Bebe Barron. Once heard, never forgotten.

  5. Bob Low says:

    Agree with all of Ian’s choices, and would add Philip Glass’ incredible score for ‘Candyman’

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Alright, but why are there film scores? Remember the bandstand on the field in Blazing Saddles? You don’t have string sections hiding in the bushes or trumpeters in the back hallway so why does music in a film not bother us? I used to say that live drama doesn’t have music but then I discovered that my son was doing a “soundscape” for someone’s play. Do we need more than sound effects?
    Not that I don’t enjoy music and actually remember some from a few movies – like that pounding stuff from Chariots of Fire and I agree about Mr. Williams, especially the Star Wars score, although it did set the scene. Indiana Jones, too. The music is part of the action in those two but otherwise why?

  7. chazza says:

    John Barry’s “Ipcress File” , Jacques Loussier’s “Dark of the Sun/The Mercenaries” and Vangelis “Blade Runner” soundtracks do it for me every time…

  8. Roger says:

    Harrison Birtwistle’s score for The Offence – the only film music he wrote. I don’t know whether the film was such a popular failure that he was never asked back or whether his music was blamed for its failure.
    Duke Ellington’s score for Anatomy of a Murder.
    Robert Altman experimented with the soundtracks for his films, just as he did with every other aspect – listen to Thieves Like Us and the The Long Goodbye.
    The entertaining thing about film music is that avant-garde or modernist scores which would inspire outrage at best or indifference at worst in concerts are happily accepted and enjoyed – as well as Morricone, there’s Bernard Herrmann.

  9. eggsy says:

    Hitchcock rather fluffed it with his choice for Psycho, then.
    Agree with Roger about film scores being an open door for the avant garde – I suppose because of the lack of an expected template – ears can accept as soundtrack/effects/incidental what they would reject as symphony.

    Ooh – Miles Davis – Lift to the Scaffold.

    Helen’s point: why accept non-diegetic music? (Lovely word – the diegetic world is that experienced by the characters – in this context at least).
    Apart from narrative assistance (THIS is how this bit feels) and covering lulls (ever watched the opening titles of Star Wars without Mr Williams’ contribution?) – I’d be tempted to say people just want to be entertained. Silent movies had their piano or organ accompaniment. Film producers are aware that people watch pictures for more than simply narrative.
    Its a bit like the birth of opera I suppose – throw many types of creative endeavour at the audience and it will get bums on seats…

  10. Helen Martin says:

    It’s a total experience, then? Hopefully positive.
    You’re probably right, eggsy, and I know that I don’t have negative feelings about the music. Music used to set an emotional tone gets your mind in the appropriate receptive frame right from the beginning but I still have the sneaking hunch that it shouldn’t be necessary. Except that you have to have something.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    I think cinema audiences were used to the silent movies being given ‘voice’ by musical accompaniment, and expected it when sound was introduced (I can never remember if ‘City Lights’ or ‘The Jazz Singer’ was the first), and expected the same things from it: cues that told the viewer something was going to happen. Micro themes for characters that crop up, and are used when that character is on screen. Music for action scenes – Lalo Schifrin’s ‘Shifting Gears’ for the chase in ‘Bullitt’; Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’, from the climax of ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’; John Williams’ ‘The Truck Chase’, from ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’. All inconceivably dull without that thrilling music.

  12. Augustina says:

    Richard Wagner wrote music for the story of his dramas, but also music that was specific to characters. To introduce the character, and to get the audience more familiar with the character in a way that only music can.

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