Monday, 8 July 2013


Film scores are an integral part of any film. A score may serve to underscore the solemnity of a particular scene, emphasise the resolution of a conflict and generally provide the emotional backdrop on which a film scene is based on. Think of the last time you watched a film scene with no narration, or actors for that matter. It was the film score that established the tone of the scene, and linked it to the next one to form a cohesive whole.

Since its inception, film has been inexorably linked with music. The emotional quality of the film is determined almost solely by its music. Music pulls the strings necessary to immerse the audience fully into the film, allowing them to partake in the same emotional journey as the main characters and thus ensuring that a bond is formed between the viewers and the film.
Being a great musician does not necessarily translate to being a great film composer.  A film composer must not only know the art of music, but must also understand visual subtlety and tone, to accentuate a scene rather than overpower it. The music is not tacked onto the film, it is a part of it. A great example would be the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic,Psycho. The screeching violins would end up becoming as famous as the scene itself, and are instantly identified even today.
Music may even transcend the film it was composed for, to be used in other works of art. Continuing with the Psycho example, most people today probably haven’t ever watched Psycho in their lives, or might not even have heard of it, but would definitely have heard its theme before. The same holds true for almost all of John Williams’s compositions, which end up becoming iconic in their own right. Regardless of whether you’ve watched Star Wars or not, I guarantee you’ll be humming along when you hear its theme playing.

While music does shape the film and underscores its defining moments, the reverse is true as well. Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic, famously used Ride of the Valkyries in its opening scene where the American soldiers attack a Vietcong base sheltered in a tiny village. No other composition has been as closely identified with war as Ride of the Valkyries has. However, it was originally used as an overture in plays, to get the audience excited for the show. The music would build up to a crescendo until the curtains would be pulled back to reveal a meeting of the Valkyries. No bullets, no Apache helicopters. Not even some friendly stabbings. Just a meeting. And a fairly boring one at that.
Most films that use classical music end up shaping the way our minds interpret the music when we listen to it later on. We always associate certain emotions with certain compositions (think Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro), which certainly becomes helpful when we have no idea what the song is about. The Marriage of Figaro was written as an opera buffa, or a comic opera. While it may have been intended to be interpreted as something comedic, nobody who watched the Shawshank Redemption will be laughing.

Film compositions have been created in various ways. The films may be handed to the composers after the primary shooting is complete, allowing the composer to watch the scenes and add what they feel is required. Another way, which many directors such as Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg prefer, is to provide the composer with a vague idea of the script (major themes involved in scenes, major character development, plot twists etc.) and allow them to create a series of motifs which can be inserted whenever required into the film. This provides the composers with a lot more freedom, as it allows them to break away from sticking to a highly rigid structure. These motifs also tend to be associated with a certain character or a certain emotion in the film, as opposed to being associated with a single scene. Thus, when they are invariably used again in the film, the audience is provided with an idea of what can be expected from the scene, which completely changes the way they view the film as well. Consider Hans Zimmer’s Lion King score. The same progression is repeated, albeit with a few changes in tempo or instruments, whenever Simba undergoes any form of character development (the scene where he “remembers “who he is once again, for example). Upon his triumphant return to Pride Rock, the music plays once more, providing closure not only to the characters but to the audience as well.

 Film scores don't just add an extra dimension to the film, they are essential to it. No movie watching experience is complete without taking the score into account. It transports us to a world far removed from our own, a world the characters of the movie inhabit. I don't really have a proper conclusion for this article, so I think I'll just ride off into the sunset