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Against Film Music

Against Film Music

I'm against film music, at least most of it. There are exceptions, of course. Most of it is emotional manipulation to make a poor product seem better. I've been watching films for perhaps 50 years. I've watched two and three or four a day, sometimes more. In my capacity as composer, conductor, musician, arranger, orchestrator and publisher I've watched just about everything.

On the road, you end up sitting in a lot of hotel rooms with time on your hands and TV to watch. So I've seen a lot of movies. Like everyone else I've developed my preferences and opinions. I've also been a composer for films and theater. Thus I'm familiar with the function of music in the art-by-committee that is film and theater.

Music Is Just One Department

Music has a place, like every other element such as scenery, acting and script. What has begun to bother me with films is the general sense of phoniness. Specifically, the music, humming away in the background. The only thing on the mind of the film producer is the product and its box office. Music is simply one element of many that helps creates the product. The only objective is to make something they think can sell.

Music Supports Bad Acting

Thus, when a scene is weak, the first call is to the composer. "I need some funny music in scene 23A, the actors are not getting the comedy across." So some hack composer has to create clucking bassoons to accompany a lackluster scene. I have a lot of respect for film music when it's done right, as in Gladiator, music by Hans Zimmer, or Robin Hood music by Erich Korngold.

In the hands of the great masters of film composition, music blends with the film to become one. But even that belies a subtle psychological problem that lies beneath all film music.

Film Music Is Emotional Manipulation

The problem is that film music is inherently manipulative. In the extreme, it captures our natural musical emotions and hijacks them to enhance the picture. The viewer is always told what to feel by the music in a film. Only very rarely does the viewer get to witness the actors alone.

Watch Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in The Hustler (Music by Kenyon Hopkins.) Notice that not one comic moment in that darkly ironic film was ever underscored by clucking bassoons and celli playing pizzicato. They allowed the viewer to discover the sardonic humor for themselves.

Film Content Is Usually Garbage

Most pictures, especially those made today, are not worth illuminating, with thousands upon thousands of car crashes and foolish "commercial" humor. There seems to be no place any more for films that have some self-respect. They have all become financial vehicles with actors and script attached. Sequels, remakes, homages, fakes. One might say that film producers do not know what music is, they only know what effect it has.

Is It Getting Better?

Viewers are hopefully becoming more attentive. But the Hollywood movie and TV people are telling you they think you are stupid. With every bar of cruddy underscore they can turn out, they insult your intelligence. They use it to cover the flaws in the film itself, and the worse the film is, the more music they use. If you think about it, film music is much like a canned laugh track in a sitcom.

It tells you how the producers would like you to react. The better they are at their job, the less room they will give your feelings. Film producers care only about manipulating the audience to get their dollars, and thus make films with quantifiable properties, like "heartwarming," or "pulse-pumping."

It's all junk. You'll have a better film experience if you take any random film, shut off the sound and played something else on your stereo. We all know what they're saying, anyway, just by the genre.

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