A Dreamer Walking

The Score

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 3, 2012

The score in filmmaking is such an abstract concept. Unlike sound effects or close ups, we never experience real life with a bunch of music playing in the background expressing our inner feelings. Even cuts are more realistic then musical scores. Even though we do not live life going from one cut to another our memory works that way; we can remember being in one place and then jump cut to a different memory in a different place. Yet, the musical score has been around almost as long as cinema. Way back in the early days of the silent era most movies were accompanied with someone in the theater playing on a piano.

The two main purposes of a musical score is to communicate to the audience the tone of the movie and the inner emotions of the characters. Most of the main characters in film have their own theme. The main score helps draw the audience into the world in which the story takes place. A world like the one in Avatar is completely different from that of Indiana Jones partly because of the contrast of the music score. Both scores thrill us with the adventure and characters of their worlds. Both enhance emotions crucial to selling the story.

The score helps develop the story. The movie August Rush is a great example. August Rush actually represents a rare occasion where the music is part of the reality of the story. The characters in the film actually do most of the playing of the music. At the beginning of the film we are introduced to the main character August Rush. He tells the audience through a voice over that “Music is all around us”. We see him listening to nature subtly create the slight hint of the theme song of the movie that will develop more and more the farther along in the story we go. At the beginning of the film August leaves his orphanage to find his father and mother. He believes the music will lead him to his family. Unknown to August we find out his father and mother were also musicians. We see how they first came together and conceive August. Every song we hear them play or sing tells us something about who they are. Even though the father is part of a punk rock band and the mother is a classical musician, director Kirsten Sheridan uses cutting to allow us to see how their different styles work together. Immediately we realize the two were meant for each other.

We see relationships come together and break apart in August Rush. Because they are all musicians they use their music to express what is going on deep within. August Rush continues to develop his main symphony with the belief that if he learns how to play the music his mother and father will hear it and come to him. In the end just that happens. August plays his symphony and draws in both his parents. Call the movie corny if you want but it is a perfect representation of what a score should do for a movie. We hear hints of the main theme all the way through the story, but it doesn’t come completely together until the end. We see how all the individual themes and styles of characters create a greater whole.

The movie Bambi is also a good example of how a score can drive a film. Everything in the film is expressed through music. Whether it is the characters, nature, or just the time of the year, music flows from it all and completely intertwines with each other. The world in Bambi seems like a never ending song, with all the elements of great entertainment including suspense, delight, and romance. The score helps drive our emotions and allows us to connect with the world and characters in the film.

While seemingly we are talking about two extremely different types of film the score works the same way. Its purpose is to contribute to the rest of the elements of the film. There are times where the score tries to compensate for poor story or bad camera work. It is important to understand that music will not make a bad movie good. You must have a good story in order to create a good movie. Music and all the rest of the elements of cinema are there only to enhance the story.

A common mistake in film is to have too much music. In most cases the score should be subtle, only a reality to our subconscious. It should not be used all the time, often you will find that the absence of music or even most sound is the best way to effect your audience. Even Bambi had a time where everything was taken away to create a much greater emotional effect. Bambi is completely saturated with music, yet when we hear the gun shot and young Bambi loses his mother everything goes silent. The score finally stops and we hear the painful cries of Bambi calling out for his lost mother. There in the quite Forrest Bambi runs into his father. “Your mother can’t be with you anymore”, the great stage says. This piece of dialogue is infinitely more effective because of the silence that surrounds it.

Composers are storytellers in their own way, developing the characters and plots one note at a time. Yet, the composers job is just as much about knowing when to stay silent as it is to play music. The score of a film draws us in and allows to understand the very soul of the characters and story we see on screen. If executed poorly we will feel manipulated and repulsed. However if it is done correctly the score can be the key which allows us to be completely consumed by what we see on screen.

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