Banner: The Hope for brass band, organ, choir, and percussion

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 23

Thread: What makes a good film score? A discussion of WHY you love your fav. film scores

  1. #1
    Junior Member Zuo17's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Posts
    24
    Post Thanks / Like

    Question What makes a good film score? A discussion of WHY you love your fav. film scores

    Hello fellow film score enthusiasts,

    I know we've seen all the different posts on "What's your favorite movie music?" or "What's your favorite film score?"

    However, I want to present a new discussion that might involve some thinking and meditation. After reading the humongous lists of every forum member's favorite film music, I wonder how does a film score become so great? What is the defining line or traits if you will, that separates a mediocre film score from a wonderful film score? What musical traits do we see in the music of John Willams, Howard Shore, Danny Elfman(to name a few), that make their music stand out?

    In essence, instead of asking WHAT your favorite film scores are, I am asking WHY you enjoy those film scores and WHY they stand out as film scores.

    In my humble opinion, one of the important things I think a film score should do: It captures the essence of the moment it is composed for. If you think about, the music is the main influence for the mood of the "scene". How can one experience fright when listening to the Jaws theme, or adventure when listening to LOTR? It's the sad truth, but film scoring isn't all about the music. It has to cater to the film itself and the director's vision(I hate saying that,lol)

    I look forward to your thoughts on this!

    Until again,
    Zach

  2. Likes Capeditiea liked this post
  3. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Posts
    162
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Zuo17 View Post
    In my humble opinion, one of the important things I think a film score should do: It captures the essence of the moment it is composed for.
    I would agree, but-- the key word here is "essence," and disagreements over this or that score will arise if the essence of the scene, or even of the entire film, is still a matter of dispute. What appears on the screen at any given moment may not be the essence (the heart, the core) of that moment, because what matters is the underlying emotional and/or intellectual truth of the shot, the scene, or the film. Most film scores do not do this, however enjoyable the tunes may be or however peppy the orchestration is, etc.. So I would modify your position: one of the most important things a film score should do is express the reality underlying the appearance on screen.

    Examples, better and worse:
    Better: Joseph Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is, on the surface, a romantic comedy which happens to include a ghost. Yet Bernard Herrmann's score is, from the very first notes, brooding and melancholy, seemingly quite inappropriate for the subject matter. Yet as the film unfolds it becomes clear that one of the themes, unspoken yet omnipresent, is that of the fleeting character of earthly life, of the sadness inherent in contemplating the passage of time. Herrmann intuited this, and gave it expression is a superb score, one which enriches the film immensely.
    Worse: Robert Wise's I Want to Live! starts with a typical 50s jazz score by Johnny Mandel. At first this seems appropriate, as the central character of the film is a party girl living the wild life. But once she ends up being accused of, and sentenced to death for, a murder she denied committing, much deeper currents begin running than the music can possibly express (Wise recognized this, and used ever less music as the film progressed). The music has dated badly, and does not carry the weight needed.

    Most movies are one dimensional, and thus most film scores, likewise one-dimensional, are perfectly appropriate (the dramatic brass-driven scores for 40s horror films, for example). Generally speaking, weak films don't inspire composers to do their best work, though many a minor film has been redeemed by its music (the director Sidney Lumet says that "Almost every picture is improved by a good musical score."). But the best films can call forth very impressive music indeed (think of Prokofiev's score for Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky). Conversely, films which use pre-existing classical pieces are often simply piggybacking on the power of those pieces, and very rarely show the same quality as their music, and there is usually a sense of aesthetic imbalance for musically sensitive people watching them (especially since such films often use snippets rather than entire pieces, as with Kubrick's use of Richard Strauss in 2001:A Space Odyssey). The reverse is true when serious films use, usually at the end, pop tunes, as these end up trivializing what has gone before.

    Music is too often added in haste late in the production process, and it shows. It is a tribute to the emotional power of music that it can still so often work as well as it does.

  4. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    Northern VA
    Posts
    760
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by LvB View Post
    Conversely, films which use pre-existing classical pieces are often simply piggybacking on the power of those pieces, and very rarely show the same quality as their music, and there is usually a sense of aesthetic imbalance for musically sensitive people watching them (especially since such films often use snippets rather than entire pieces, as with Kubrick's use of Richard Strauss in 2001:A Space Odyssey).
    Films may do a good job in introducing many people to classical music, but you make a great point. When a classical piece is used in a film, when it wasn't originally composed for use in the film, it hinders people's perspective of the piece if they've never heard it before. Now, before someone enters in playing the devil's advocate, I am not saying everyone is expected to perceive a piece of music as the composer originally intended (if it isn't perfectly obvious from the title or suite/opera/symphony or time period from which it came). Films work to provide people an emotional and/or visual backdrop for the piece--despite the origins of the work.

    (Ok, get your curser on the quote button, because I am about to say something somewhat provocative)

    It would be a perfect (note emphasis) world for classical music if whenever someone heard the opening to Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra or the waltz from Shostakovich's Jazz Suite they didn't automatically picture an opening scene from a Kubrick film, or hear Barber's Adagio for Strings and picture Willem Dafoe being shot down in a field in Vietnam. I am not speaking against Kubrick or Stone, both of whom are great directors and [most likely] had the best intentions. Rather, I am making the point of how playing 30 to 60 seconds (if that) of a large original work during a scene in a film has the [un]intended effect of providing to people a "context" for the work. However, it isn't an unexpected outcome in a fast-paced, money-driven society where "snippets" replace narratives and aesthetics outweigh quality. My guess is that the question which is in the mind of many people in Hollywood is: Why hire an original film composer when you already have a vast library of music from which to choose?

    To relate this to the topic of the thread, a good film score should successfully convey the emotions of the film, however if the score is not original it should not replace the general emotional backdrop of the work if one is already firmly established.
    Last edited by Rondo; Jul-13-2009 at 02:45.
    Op. 109

  5. Likes Capeditiea liked this post
  6. #4
    Junior Member Zuo17's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Posts
    24
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Rondo,

    Thanks for your wonderful insight. What do you think of the relation between the movie script/ plot and the score? Is there a significant connection?

    Until again,
    Zach
    What can music be, but of passion, love, and life?

  7. #5
    Senior Member Yoshi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Posts
    400
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Zuo17 View Post
    In my humble opinion, one of the important things I think a film score should do: It captures the essence of the moment it is composed for.
    That's exactly what I think
    I don't even have to add anything else

  8. Likes Capeditiea liked this post
  9. #6
    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Mancunia
    Posts
    1,755
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    If the film is good, the music should be it's servant.

    If the film is bad, don't waste good music on it.

    If the film is mediocre, put some good music in it and it may become a good film.

    Paradox?

  10. #7
    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Posts
    134
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Well there are practical considerations, like avoiding certain frequency ranges while diagetic sounds are occuring, most often, dialogue. Korngold supposedly wrote out dialogue in musical notation and scored his music just below it - a bit like opera. And as with all music, you must find the right balance between variety (not boring the viewer) and understandability/repetition (not over estimating the viewers attention span or memory capacity).

    I would say that making the music appropriate is a must but it's not always true. I would say that Leia's theme doesn't really capture her feisty, independant nature... it's just a love theme. The same is probably more true of Marian's theme in Raiders of the Lost Ark (essential identical to Leia's theme). But who would criticise those two soundtracks???!

    I think you need to choose compositional techniques very carefully. Williams is famous for his usage of leitmotif, if you can call it that. And sometimes it works like in Star Wars, and in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love the awe-inspiring theme for the Ark and I love the fact that its theme plays quietly in The Last Crusade when they walk past a painting of the Ark and make slight mention of it. Wonderful trivia for the musical viewer

    However, I really dislike the theme usage in The Temple of Doom. "The Slave Children" have a march to represent them. It's great music but there's nothing particularly suggestive of children in it. So when he weaves in the "children motif" for the first time, to coincide with Indie's first glimpse of the slave labourers, it doesn't really have any effect.. We don't link the music with its subject till its grand performance, accompanied visually by a screen-full of slave children, and this happens at the END of the film!!

    I think its much more useful to have themes that represent feelings or thoughts or ideas, rather than just people. Like in "Catch Me if You Can", when Frank looks at a pilot's uniform in a shop window, we hear the sentimental version of the "pilot theme", showing us he misses his flying days. Without this musical aid, any attempt to suggest this visually or vocally would be a bit too blatant.

    Another great Williams example is in the Empire Strikes Back where Vader tells Lando something like "I'm altering the deal, pray I don't alter it any further". Lando walks off disgrunteled and we here a variation of the Rebels' Fanfare, confirming that he's getting disillusioned with the empire and being drawn to the Rebels' cause.

    Well, this ended up as a rant on very specific examples. I hope someone found this vaguely interesting. I want to see what everyone else says on the subject, since I seem to have failed at giving general guidance to judging film music!



    Quote Originally Posted by Rondo View Post
    (Ok, get your curser on the quote button, because I am about to say something somewhat provocative)
    LOL
    Last edited by Ignis Fatuus; Nov-03-2009 at 23:36.

  11. #8
    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Posts
    9,587
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I think a good film score conveys the psychological drama in an effective way. The music can connect us, for example, with what is going on in a character's mind. So the music is not just a soundtrack, but an integral part of the film, just like the visuals are...

  12. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Posts
    201
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I think film music should be capable of standing on its own without the movie, just like a good opera score. One example off the top of my head is Bernard Hermann's music for Taxi Driver.

  13. Likes QuietGuy liked this post
  14. #10
    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Posts
    134
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by kmisho View Post
    I think film music should be capable of standing on its own without the movie, just like a good opera score. One example off the top of my head is Bernard Hermann's music for Taxi Driver.
    Why do you think this? I don't think the analogy with opera is a strong one.

  15. #11
    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    7,433
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    9

    Default

    I think film music should be capable of standing on its own without the movie, just like a good opera score. One example off the top of my head is Bernard Hermann's music for Taxi Driver.

    I question this myself. I film is a complex work of art combining multiple elements. I don't know that I would expect the music to be able to stand on its own any more than I would expect the screenplay to be able to stand on its own as a work of literature... or a libretto from an opera to be able to stand on its own for that matter. There are instances in which the music in a film rises to a level where it can stand on its own but I don't know that such is a necessity for it to work within the film as a whole.

  16. #12
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Posts
    201
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignis Fatuus View Post
    Why do you think this? I don't think the analogy with opera is a strong one.
    It's true that the performers participate in the score, unlike in movie music. But if you can't thoroughly enjoy an opera without the stage sets and performers walking around on stage and acting, I don't think you have a very good opera. The music should be capable of standing alone, interesting in and of itself.

  17. #13
    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Posts
    134
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by kmisho View Post
    It's true that the performers participate in the score, unlike in movie music. But if you can't thoroughly enjoy an opera without the stage sets and performers walking around on stage and acting, I don't think you have a very good opera. The music should be capable of standing alone, interesting in and of itself.
    I guess it depends on the definitions of "good soundtracks" and "stand alone". For me, I can imagine music which would bore me when devoid of visual accompaniment, but when played with the video (and diegetic audio), the interactions between the two components make for a breathtaking whole.

    My favourite soundtrack is probably Morricone's "For a Few Dollars More". And it's nice enough music but I wouldn't give it too much attention if it was writen without the film. If you know the film, you know it's an extreme case of story/soundtrack interaction.

  18. Likes Headphone Hermit liked this post
  19. #14
    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Mancunia
    Posts
    1,755
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignis Fatuus View Post
    I guess it depends on the definitions of "good soundtracks" and "stand alone". For me, I can imagine music which would bore me when devoid of visual accompaniment, but when played with the video (and diegetic audio), the interactions between the two components make for a breathtaking whole.

    My favourite soundtrack is probably Morricone's "For a Few Dollars More". And it's nice enough music but I wouldn't give it too much attention if it was writen without the film. If you know the film, you know it's an extreme case of story/soundtrack interaction.
    I have the For a Few Dollars More soundtrack along with a few other Morricone/Leone film soundtracks on CD and can see what you mean. It repeats the pocket watch theme a lot and doesn't have anywere near the same emotional impact when separate from the film but it is still a very enjoyable listen.

    Having seen the movie before listening to the soundtrack on it's own you build a relationship between the visuals and the music. Then when you listen to the music on it's own you remeber bits of the film and the emotions you felt whilst watching that particular scene. This enhances the listening experience for me.

    One of my favourite films is Once Upon a Time in America. In that film I like how often the music is coming from characters in the film, either Cockeye playing the pan pipes or a jazz band in the speak easy playing a swing tune, which even further ties the music to the visuals.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum is something like 2001: A Space Odyssey which even though it uses pre-existing music, I can't imagine it with a different score, it's probably the best thing about the film. The inclusion of Ligeti and Khachaturian makes sense but who would have thought a Viennese waltz or a Romantic tone poem intro would fit so perfectly with the themes of space and time, but fit they do. I am not sure whether it's a good thing to be exposed to music unrelated to a film via the film first or to hear the music on it's own and generate emotions and opinions on it beforehand, but at least it exposes great music to people who wouldn't have normally heard it.

  20. Likes Headphone Hermit liked this post
  21. #15
    Senior Member Ignis Fatuus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Posts
    134
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Argus View Post
    One of my favourite films is Once Upon a Time in America. In that film I like how often the music is coming from characters in the film, either Cockeye playing the pan pipes or a jazz band in the speak easy playing a swing tune, which even further ties the music to the visuals.
    Yes, it's a great mixture of diagetic and non-diagetic music (another brilliant example is the Dunkirk scene in "Atonement"). And if you were listening to it without knowedlge of the film you would be forgiven for asking, "what's the point of that wailing harmonica? It doesn't fit with the orchestration!" It's only the film setting that allows this piece - the harmonica MUST stand out because it's the only instrument that appears in the film.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum is something like 2001: A Space Odyssey which even though it uses pre-existing music, I can't imagine it with a different score, it's probably the best thing about the film. The inclusion of Ligeti and Khachaturian makes sense but who would have thought a Viennese waltz or a Romantic tone poem intro would fit so perfectly with the themes of space and time, but fit they do. I am not sure whether it's a good thing to be exposed to music unrelated to a film via the film first or to hear the music on it's own and generate emotions and opinions on it beforehand, but at least it exposes great music to people who wouldn't have normally heard it.[/QUOTE]

    2001 really gets some people in a twist. I'm not too bothered if people associate the blue danube with spiralling spaceships. I don't think their taste has been misdirected in any way. I mean, most people, notable Bernard Herrmann, will tell you that film music must be specifically composed for it's visual partner... and yet he stole many extracts from his Sinfonietta for use in Psycho, perhaps the most praised soundtrack in history.

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •