Movie scores: they're doing it wrong.

Yeah Barry, what's that
song the kids are listening to?
We should totally add it
to the soundtrack.

I miss the good old-fashioned film score. Where did it go?

More and more in recent times, filmmakers are letting us down. I don’t want to hear a trendy play list when I watch a film. I want Ennio Morricone. I want Bernard Hermann. I want Johnny Greenwood.

Consider the Oscar-winning score for The Social Network. The score perfectly conveyed the themes of the film, not just in terms of notes or instruments, but of its very choice and role. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross chose to write haunting, electronic music.

This might seem like a simple choice. But notice how it perfectly mirrors the film’s themes of isolation in an electronically social world. The wonderful juxtaposition is perfectly represented by the dark score. They respect the art and know they must fit the score around the story.

Similarly, Angelo Badalamenti is a frequent collaborator of David Lynch. Badalamenti has a very unique and primal way of writing. Often, Lynch describes a scene while he sits at the piano. Badalamenti will improvise, allowing the images to take him where they want.

This is natural musicianship, and a pure way to work. Badalamenti has always had an ethereal quality to his work, and it’s down to allowing the story or image to have an impact on him. Then, he can ensure he helps the film have an impact on us.

Compare that to the simple and gaudy choices by some lesser artists. It’s all too common these days for music in film to tell you how to feel. It should instead follow or represent the emotion inherent in the action.

The prime example is Todd Philips of The Hangover franchise. At every chance, Philips loads his films with over-the-top music to reach a wider audience, to seem “hip”, and to tell us how to feel.

For example, his recent film Due Date has its two leads driving across country. Amid their constant squabbling there are some high swooping shots of the car driving and the surrounding landscape. Trying to add some depth to the characters and scenario, Neil Young’s Old Man plays. Old Man is a beautiful and moving song, and its choice here is exploitative. If there is no charm involved in the characters, then putting a moving song over it is unfairly tugging at our heart strings. You can not play us a gorgeous song and ask us to care.

And then, without exception, he’ll move on to the hippest song of the year to ensure he keeps the trendiest bums in their seats.

Think about how many times Scorsese has put Gimme Shelter in his movies? I rest my case.

Let’s understand the story. Let’s add to it. Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s create.

Conor O’Hagan is an Irish Freelance Writer. He enjoys getting lost in a good book, film or whiskey. Find him at www.conorohagan.com.

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