Music at the Movies

Felicitations fellow film fans. One hopes you have had a spiffing Christmas gobbling up as many celluloid canapés as yours truly. I have had a feast I can tell you! This week please do not be scared by the title. I am not talking about musical movies you will be relieved to know, unless you are a fan of such atrocities as “Mama Mia”, in which case you have my deepest sympathies. You may have guessed, not my favourite genre. No, this week I would like to talk about how important music is in the world of film. 

Let us start with a quote from arguably one of the world’s finest directors, Stanley Kubrick. “Music is one of the most effective ways of preparing an audience and reinforcing points that you wish to impose. The correct use of music and this includes the non-use of music is one of the great weapons that the film-maker has at his disposal”. I could not agree more. I am currently watching a Spanish television drama, and the overuse of music is making me seriously consider if I want to carry on watching. Every emotion on screen is backed up by matching music, continually. Frankly, it is exhausting.

One of the best examples I have ever seen that reinforces Kubrick’s point is a re-edit of the trailer for “The Sound of Music” made as though it were a horror film. If this does not show you how easily manipulated we are through what we hear when watching a film, I will eat my hat. Not the fedora though. That is my favourite. Being a musician myself I may be more susceptible to how the soundtrack is relating to the visuals I know, but I firmly believe how directors use music is of the utmost importance. 

I defy anyone of a certain age to think of “Star Wars”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, or “Superman” without immediately hearing the theme tunes. And who could possibly forget the wonderful musical accompaniment to the scene in “E.T” where Elliot and his best friend fly through the sky on a BMX bicycle? Most of these incredible offerings were composed by the wonderfully talented John Williams by the way, for those of you who are interested.

It is obvious that the use of music in films is more important to some film directors than others. Quentin Tarantino, for example, set the bar high from the get-go of his career in the early nineteen nineties with how he plays with music. The ear chopping scene in “Reservoir Dogs” would have taken on a whole new feeling if it weren’t for the outstanding choice of music. Haven’t seen it? Shame on you. Please do so at your nearest convenience if our acquaintance is to be continued. 

One film that stands out in particular for me as a perfect example of using music to reinforce what we are seeing is “Good Will Hunting”. The director Gus Van Sant asking Elliot Smith to write the soundtrack was nothing short of genius. In my mind, his gentle, lilting, desperate voice and subtle and sombre guitar playing make the film what it is. In fact, it is the only film soundtrack that I own. 

I know I am an old-fashioned thing at heart. I still put pen to paper for friends for example. But I also marvel at certain aspects of the technological world in which we now inhabit. My phone is always by my side when film-watching now, as the second I hear something that pricks up my ears, I use the app “Shazam” and before you know it that piece of music is added to my music collection. It still astounds me I kid you not. 

You may or may not be as interested in me as to what is going on aurally when sitting down to watch “Finding Nemo” for the millionth time with some children. But all I ask from you lovely people this week is that the next time you watch a film, you pay close attention to the soundtrack and see whether or not you feel it has enhanced your experience or detracted from the action. Do you think you could do that for little old me please? Go on, you will be making an old man very happy, and it might even introduce you to musical artists or genres you had no idea you liked. But making an old man happy is far more important. See what you can do. I thank you.

God Save the Queen. Lord bless you all. Same time next week fellow film lovers.

Benjamin Milton
Benjamin Milton

Benjamin is a writer and actor who spends his time pirouetting between London and Malta. He was inexplicably drawn to the silver screen at a young age, and has seen more films than have been made. He will talk of nothing else given half a chance, so be prepared if you bump into him at Geo F Trumper in St. James having his moustache trimmed. His biggest indulgence is his fine collection of New & Lingwood silk dressing gowns, which is growing at an alarming rate. He looks fabulous in them

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