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GraceAnne is a curator for the music section of Art+Culture; Taien Ng-Chan curates the film section.  We decided to interview each other on how we see the relationship between music and film.  Here is an edited version of our initial dialogue: 

GraceAnne:  I'm going to sound slightly controversial with this, but actually, I tend to hate the way music is used in film!...until, of course, I'm blown away by a particular score or creative use of music and/or foley editing. And when that happens, well, then I change my mind until...the next film...and so on. I think that part of my difficulty stems from the fact that many directors want the music to just be like an 'operatic backdrop': creating emotional 'signs' like cartoon arrows to pointing to different emotional states. Personally, and quite frankly, I think that that's lazy-but many people enjoy this, so I would never advocate the removal of film composers. Think of all those jobs lost ;-)

I'd almost rather not hear any music at all, and if there is any extraneous 'musical sound' required, then when it occurs, it does so with very little pomp and circumstance, is repetitive and not highly orchestrated. On the other hand (I have many) my favourite 'big film scores' include Morricone's (The Good, the Bad & the Ugly), Zimmer's (Gladiator, Dark Knight, etc), Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare before Christmas), Nico Muhly (The Reader) and Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream). I hated Howard Shore's score for Lord of the Rings. Over the top. For editing, I'd have to say The Matrix (1st) is one of my favourites, along with Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and Aronofsky's Pi. I think that the editing for Tropic Thunder was great. Total irony. There are other examples, of course, but these ones come immediately off the top of my head. 


Taien Ng-Chan:  I actually agree with most of your points here. I also hate the way music is used in many Hollywood movies, which tend to be an indicator of how one is supposed to react to a scene. Terrible!  Many indie films also use too much music, but instead of cinematic orchestral scores, they overuse indie bands that might have given "street cred" but instead overwhelm or annoy. Paul Greengrass is one director who rarely uses much music in his films, for example, since his aesthetic is very documentary-like, and I say Bravo to that! In his brilliant film Bloody Sunday, the sound editing is more like soundscape, no music whatsoever, until the end, anyways, when it faded to black and the credits started to roll. Oh no, I thought, there’s going to be a U2 song now. And there was! Why is that bad?  Well, it was quite jarring, and it took me a moment to realize that the song was, what else, Sunday, Bloody Sunday.  I have trouble taking U2 seriously after they became ironic rock stars, then at some point, seemed to lose the irony.  But then I remembered that I used to love this song when I was a teenager and was really into U2, and of course, the song and the movie share the same subject matter!  So on some level, it made sense, though I still found it jarring.  Oops, sorry for the digression!  Other directors I like for sound are Robert Altman, who is great at using sound editing in his overlapping dialogue to direct your attention around the screen, helping the viewer do the work of picking out the action.  And Jacque Tati’s classic 1953 film, Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, is nearly devoid of dialogue, but rich in comic sound effects and a wonderful ragtime score.  Sound can be used in so many creative ways, more than simply directing emotion.

Taien’s blog is located here:


1/ Nico Muhly and The Reader


2/Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut (Gyorgi Ligeti’s "Musica Ricercata II: Mesto, Rigido e Cerimonale"


3/Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


4/Hans Zimmer and The Gladiator (listen for echoes of Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets Suite) 

link for Last FM audio track of Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planet Suite is here











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