Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Scores of Scores

I start again with another apology - sadly real life has got in the way again (new semester, moving out, the piles and piles of reading that comes with studying for an English degree...) and I haven't updated the blog in a long time. I'm fully aware of this, and I do want to be able to write more, but for now it's difficult to find times to regularly post. That, and the fact that I'm so rarely going to the cinema now (boo to being poor!) that I don't have anything to write about really any more.

However, saying that, I have missed writing for the blog, so I'm thinking of new things to post, instead of just film reviews. I had some free time and motivation for once this evening, and also some inspiration. I've been listening to film scores all day, and thought I should do a blog about them.

Film scores are not to be confused with film soundtracks. Whilst the latter are also an integral part of many films, I'm talking about all the orchestral music. I don't know how many times I've mentioned film scores to someone and they've replied "Oh yeah, I love that track that Person X did for that blah blah blah" and I've had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming at them. I know that all the covers say "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" but it's not a soundtrack. They are NOT the same, and don't piss me off by confusing them.

Any regular reader of mine knows that I frequently mention a film's score in a review I post here, and for good reason. It's one of the things that I always listen out for in a film, if I haven't heard it before I even see the film, which I sometimes do. To me, the score is something complex and underappreciated in a film, when actually it's a very integral part. I may be making assumptions here when I say that people tend not to pay much attention to it, but I've found that this seems to be the general consensus: I never hear people coming out of a screen and commenting on the score, but rather the bigger picture - the acting, storyline, etc - whereas most of the time I'm thinking about all the little things. Maybe this is down to having a keen interest in the detail, or studying film to a certain extent on my course, but the more "minor" details like the cinematography, editing and scoring all seem to stand out to me just as much as the big details that most other people focus on.

Yes, it's always in the background, occasionally coming to the forefront in particularly poignant or epic moments, but what would a film be without it? I've watched films before where I've thought, what would this be like without the score? I think about the actors filming with no music going on, and realise just how different it would be. Imagine Harry and Voldemort's final battle in the war-torn grounds of Hogwarts just as it was filmed - it would just be some random yelling and the sound of sparks. Or the sinking of the Titanic - just some splashing around. The score is subtle, altering and emphasising the mood and tone of a scene in such a way that most people don't even notice half the time, but often feel the effects of. There are minimalist scores (Alien) and extravagant scores (Titanic). A score can make you sad (Atonement) or happy (The Artist), or can fill you with the indescribable feeling you only get when thinking of your favourite film. They can emphasise the grandeur and spectacle of a scene (The Dark Knight) and have you on the edge of your seat with tension (Jaws or The Shining). People may be pre-occupied with what they can see on screen, but they miss out on the fact that it's what they can hear that makes a film so special and heightens the movie-watching experience.

Of course, a good film doesn't always have a good score, and vice versa. X-Men: First Class and 2009's Star Trek were great films really let down by their scores, which were mediocre and forgetful, whereas Tron: Legacy was an average film (only critically - I love it anyway) with a brilliant score by Daft Punk that was actually cheated out of an Oscar (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network), with all due respect, jog on). However, a film has to work harder to achieve the same affect on an audience when it doesn't have the adequate score to support it.

There are obviously plenty of well-known scores that have become ingrained in culture, at least for certain tracks. I was having a conversation a while ago with my wonderful friend and regular blog-reader, Garen, where we discussed remaking the Harry Potter films, and we said that the most difficult thing about it would be the music because the theme is so iconic. It's the same for many other films or film series, such as James Bond, where society just knows the music without even having to think about it, or having seen the film. Think of Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Titanic, Psycho and yes, Harry Potter and Bond. I would bet that most of you could hum most of these tunes, but I would bet that it would only be the one track.

Scores pull many emotions out of me: I can listen to the WALL·E score and laugh at certain tracks, and of course, scores like Pan's Labyrinth and Black Swan have been known to make me cry. There was a time about 18 months ago where I cried in public listening to a score and couldn't even explain why because people would find me even stranger than I already seemed. I know I am an extreme case, but I don't think people take enough time to listen to scores as they do to other music. "Normal" people get excited about their favourite band's new album coming out; I get excited about a new film score - in fact, over a third of my iPod is taken up by scores. I just think that if people gave scores a chance then they would get the appreciation they deserve.

Going off topic slightly, they are also fantastic to work to (hence the reason I've been listening to them most of the day). I know several people who say they can't work in silence and have to have music or television on in the background for them to be able to get anything done, and I'm the same, except I can't focus on my work if I have any kind of words being spoken at the same time, or I end up writing what I'm hearing instead of what I'm thinking. I've read back through essays on more than one occasion in the past and seen lyrics in there (that don't make sense, otherwise I'd have left them in for a laugh), so it kind of rules out listening to more traditional music. But that's where scores are lovely, because they allow my mind to focus on the work as the music just washes over me. Only very rarely do I get distracted if I have a score playing, and that's usually only if I pause to appreciate a particular part of it.

So when people ask me what type of music I'm into, I always reply with film scores (and usually get a blank look in reply). You can keep your Adeles, your Rihannas, and *shudder* your One Directions, if you are that so way inclined (if your response was "yes" to the latter then please leave this blog, you are unwelcome). I'll take James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat and Thomas Newman any day of the week.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourite tracks from my favourite scores for you to peruse at your own leisure...

Encom, Part II, from Tron: Legacy, by Daft Punk


Perfection, from Black Swan, by Clint Mansell
A Nova Vida, from Breaking Dawn, by Carter Burwell
Denouement, from Atonement, by Dario Marianelli

Lily's Theme, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, by Alexandre Desplat


Define Dancing, from WALL·E, by Thomas Newman


Rat Men, from Cosmopolis, by Howard Shore

Circus Fantasy, from Water for Elephants, by James Newton Howard