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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Soundtracks and Film Scores

What do BIG FISH, BATMAN, THE CORPSE BRIDE, GOOD WILL HUNTING, SPY KIDS, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and a very long list of other titles have in common? Danny Elfman. From Gray Matter to major motion picture score composer. Who would have thunk it, back in 1983? Elfman’s scores are distinctive; his work goes nicely with Tim Burton’s strange cinematic visions and in all his compositions one can see how the playful, off-kilter music of Oingo Boingo morphed into Elfman’s motion picture compositions.

A few months ago, Elfman was interviewed on NPR on the subject of film scores. The interview was fascinating and Elfman said something that, for those of us unaccustomed to paying attention to movie scores, was quite interesting. He said that a score should enhance a movie – but not distract from it. Many movies have scores that made the movie even more famous – of course, the shrieking violins in PSYCHO or, arguably the most famous movie score (moment) ever – the droning cello in JAWS. Dun dun. Dun dun dun dun. It gives us all a more or less instant memory of the movie.

The Wave-inatrix is no expert on film scores or soundtracks but it is my belief that screenwriters should familiarize themselves with all aspects of filmmaking so that we are at least somewhat conversant in many areas. After all, don’t screenwriters, by default, love movies?

First of all, what’s the difference between a film score and a soundtrack? Well, in the most general terms, a film score is generally music composed especially for the movie and/or a musical composition used for the film. Versus a soundtrack – a compilation of songs either written for or used in the movie. The Academy Awards has a category for Best Original Score and Best Original Song each year. Last year, best original score went to BABEL and best original song went to “I Need to Wake Up” by Melissa Etheridge from AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

I recently saw what I think what should win Best Picture in 2007 – THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Talk about a movie with an interesting score. I noticed it even as I was watching the movie – which I really shouldn’t have – but it was interesting to say the least. Different styles, even different musical periods seemed to be represented. It definitely drew attention to itself. Later I leaned the movie was scored by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. But then, we are talking about PT Anderson here, one of my favorite directors. In fact, one day while on the picket line with the guild writers, I got into a conversation about Anderson with a writer who said: "Wes Anderson has vision but PT Anderson has genius." Interesting, and hard to say I disagree.

Rouge Wavers know that it is a very bad idea to indicate songs or music you’d like in your script – please don’t do that. Unless you are PT Anderson, it’s so not up to you that it’s beyond discussion. It makes a screenwriter look amateurish in the extreme.

How aware of the score are you when you watch movies? Right off the top of my head, because it stands out in my memory so much, THE CONSTANT GARDNER had a score that drove me nuts. It was so loud and intrusive, that it took me away from the movie. NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a movie I loved but I do recall being very aware of a very loud score. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN had a luscious, beautiful score, without which the movie would not have been the same. THE PIANO had an unforgettably beautiful score, composed by Michael Nyman. How about CHARIOTS OF FIRE, with a score composed by Vangelis? You know it, it annoys you now but – can you forget it? How about the soundtrack to HAROLD AND MAUDE? Good stuff.

In fact, here are, just off the top of my head, a short list of movie soundtracks or scores that I loved so much that I added to my collection:

Into the Wild
Before Night Falls
Garden State
Buena Vista Social Club
The Piano
BrokeBack Mountain

How about you, Rouge Wavers? What film scores or soundtracks do you love? Hate?

ShowHype: hype it up!

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AJG said...

A few come to mind that even just a few notes make my arm hair stand on end every time:

Back to the Future
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Amityville Horror

Guilty Pleasure Soundtrack:
Valley Girl

Anonymous said...

The Hours
Edward Scissorhands
The New World
Dances With Wolves
Gods and Monsters
Thelma and Louise

Frau Direktor said...

Hope you are feeling better, Julie! I've been battling bronchitis, so I feel ya'!

Thanks so much for bringing this up! My fiance is a sound editor/designer, so I'm very familiar with every sound aspect of a film. I always remember that "talkies" got popular for a reason.

24 Hour Party People
Con Air (meh movie, but love the score)
The Nightmare Before Christmas--heck, any of Danny Elfman's scores for Tim Burton's movies
The Craft
Most Merchant-Ivory productions' scores
The Hours
The Fountain
High Fidelity

Marie Antoinette--liked the movie--80's Britpop on an 18th century period piece completely took me out of it
The Golden Compass--mixed so loud I couldn't hear myself think

Luckily, that's about all I can think of that I don't like.

As single songs, I love the Star Wars theme and the Imperial March. Also, love the opening theme of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Christian M. Howell said...

Revenge of the Sith - the greatest score ever. It was like another character, haunting yet reminiscent, bold yet understated. Wow.

Christina said...

Cameron Crowe over does the music in Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown. It's like, "Oohh... and look at this cool song I got the rights to." I can't watch his films now.

DougJ said...


The Moderns
The Mission
Most John Williams scores
Most Danny Elfman
Cape Fear

scotty said...

The most recent score/soundtrack from a film that I really enjoyed was for Southland Tales.

Moby composed the score and Richard Kelly chose a few tracks from other artists.

Juan Sebastian said...

21 grams
garden state
the fountain
station agent