Why don’t we talk about film score?

If film score is is so important, why don't we talk about it?

This is a question I have always asked myself ever since I was young. I’m someone who has always liked film scores and soundtracks. I listen to them constantly. I listened to one as I typed this blog post. (It's from Spider-Man Homecoming and it wasn't planned I promise)

The score and sound design can make or break a film for me. The score for Justice League was an issue for me (apart from other issues that film has, but I digress) and the sound design was something I wasn’t fond of in Blade Runner 2049 even though I loved that film (and continue to talk about how good that film is, to this day.)

I'm using the word 'we' in a generalised sense, as film score isn't something that is talked about in the mainstream. Composers are not as cherished as the people who direct the films or the actors who star in them, even though they are equally as important. They win Oscars and Grammys for their work but they don't get the same recognition from the mainstream audience. 

There are composers we know…
For example, John Williams, you know the man behind one of the most iconic pieces of music ever used in a film, you know the one…

Yeah, that one.

 There's also Hanz Zimmer, the genius behind this.....

I could go on and on about the brilliance of Hans Zimmer and John Williams and I often do.
What about the other composers that have iconic work?
Some people know their work but not their names, Why is that?
There' this...

as well as this..

and also this.

The list goes on and on. 

When I brought up this topic to my brother he brought up a good point. “You aren’t meant to notice the score.” And I agree with this point. “So what is the point of this post?” I hear you ask, don’t worry dear reader, I’m getting to that.

A beautiful score can take an average scene and elevate it into something beautiful and haunting. It represents the vibe of the film. A scene from 'Murder on the Orient Express' came to mind as I typed this. I spoke about this in my review of the movie. It’s the scene where Hercule Poirot identifies the killer, what could have been presented as a scene built on shock and awe was delivered as an emotional moment between Poirot and the killer and this was because of the beautiful score by Patrick Doyle.

In some cases, the score is the emotional backbone of the film. Take Pixar’s “Up” as an example and you know where I am going with this. The first 15 minutes have you in tears, not just because of the visual but because of that beautiful piece of music by Michael Giacchino, that shows a progression from happiness to sadness.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the score can make you feel excited and filled with a sense of triumph and wonder. Take the 360° shot in The Avengers or the training montage in Rocky.

In very few cases you're meant to notice the score. Take the aforementioned scene in 'Up'. There is no dialogue in this scene, the theme that is played in that scene actually follows through the film. In a behind-the-scenes interview, Michael Giacchino says that theme is like Ellie's spirit following Carl throughout the movie and that's her way of being with him.

Each piece of music mentioned above brings out a different feeling in the viewer. It's a way of telling the viewer what a character might be feeling without giving the audience exposition.

I read an article titled “The Undeniable Emotional Impact of Music in Film." Written by Scott Porter for premiumbeat.com. In this article he mentions an essay by Aaron Copland called "Film Music" and in that essay, Copland breaks down five ways in which music serves the screen 
  1. Creating a more convincing atmosphere of time and place 
  2. Underlining psychological refinements 
  3. Serving as a kind of neutral background filler 
  4. Building a sense of continuity 
  5. Underpinning the theatrical build-up of a scene, and rounding it off with a sense of finality
I can't think of a score that doesn't do at least one of these things.

My favourite piece of music composed for a film actually wasn't used in the actual film. It comes from the animated Beauty and the Beast, it's titled 'Death of the Beast' and is actually used in the end credits of a special edition. I kid you not when I say I have listened to this piece of music over 500 times. It really is that beautiful.

I first heard this at a very young age and I've always wondered why it wasn't used in the actual film. It fills you with sorrow and hope without any words and that is a testament to the brilliance that is Alan Menken. Everything you need to feel is conveyed in less than 2 minutes.

It takes an immense amount to talent to write a specific piece of music to accompany a scene and make the audience feel something whether it be a positive emotion, a negative emotion, something in between or both. That is why I respect composers so much. 

I challenge you to listen to a score the next time you watch a movie, I mean really listen to it. Try and decipher what the composer wants you to feel and decide for yourself whether it worked or not.