Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Answering a few more!

OK, this round of answers will be a bit more positively toned than yesterday's. But hey, someone asked a question about a topic guaranteed to set me a-rantin' -- kind of like the year someone basically gave me an engraved invitation to rip on the New England Patriots. Nobody did that this year! (And nobody asked any questions about overalls, either -- I think that's a first.)

Anyway, Charlie asks: What movie would you say is most soundtrack dependent (in other words, which movie would you most lose enjoyment of if you watched a soundtrack-free version)?

This is...a very hard question. The Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies would be terribly different with different scores, and if they were music-free, both franchises might well be disastrously unemotional. But the same can be said of many, many films with fine scores -- a musicless Ben Hur would be staggeringly silly, no?

To say that a film would be "soundtrack dependent" would be to say that without the music, the film would collapse like a house of cards. Obviously this would be true of any musical, so we'll just set those aside for the purposes of this discussion.

Lots of movies don't even have scores, but just collections of pop songs used in various places throughout the films. Sometimes these are of the "lather rinse repeat" variety; virtually any teen comedy suffices for mention here, where you could just switch out songs at random and the movie wouldn't suffer at all. But other films, where the pop songs are chosen by the filmmakers for specific reasons? Those obviously would suffer. Pulp Fiction, Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally..., and Sleepless in Seattle would all be laughable without their music, precisely because those films feature songs that are chosen with extreme care.

To return to traditional filmscores for a moment, when I was active in various fora online in discussing film music, there was one kind of topic that cropped up fairly often that always annoyed me, which generally took the form of "Who would you have liked to have scored [Film XXX]?" This always annoyed me a lot, because it would invariably devolve into various expressions of hero worship, especially from the Jerry Goldsmith fans, who tend to be keenly aware that their hero scored more than his fair share of crappy movies. So, in those threads you'd hear a lot of "What if Goldsmith had done the Indiana Jones movies!" or "What if Jerry had done Lord of the Rings!" To me, this always seemed about as useful a line of discussion as a bunch of football players discussing what the Bills might have been like if they'd managed to draft Drew Brees. Who cares? They didn't. Why talk about what might have happened?

All this is basically my way of admitting that I just don't have a good answer for Charlie's question. Truthfully, a movie without music would just be weird. Any movie. I found it unsettling when the Mimi Rogers film The Rapture closed with credits scrolling over no music at all. Which, I suppose, was entirely the point.

(Roger posted about movie music the other day and seeks comments.)

Speaking of Roger and speaking of film music, Roger asks: How do respond to people who think all of John Williams' scores sound alike?

Generally, I either roll my eyes, or say something pithy like "Get back to me when you get cochlear implants." It's a frankly idiotic thing to say. For a brief demonstration, one could just listen to the clips in this post of mine from earlier in the month.

Now, there are similarities in sound from one work to the next. How could there not be? Williams is an artist, and of course there will be stylistic similarities to be found. I do hear them, same as I hear stylistic similarities amongst the works of Berlioz, and Wagner, and, heck, the Beatles. But the idea that all Williams scores sound alike is one of those notions that just doesn't stand up to any serious scrutiny whatsoever.

The clips I chose in that post linked above are from different eras in Williams's work, but one doesn't even have to do that. One can listen to Williams scores from the same era and not hear anything more than superficial stylistic similarities. It would take a pretty sophisticated listener to recognize the main theme of Star Wars and the main theme of Dracula as coming from the pen of the same composer, and only two years separate those scores.

More answers to come!

1 comment:

Tosy And Cosh said...

Good point - how far apart were AI and Episode II? Very different scores.