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The Disappearance Of Themes In Film Music

Some believe that the absence of memorable content in film music has negatively affected the film industry. Are they right?

Not long ago, I was watching this interesting video by "Every Frame a Painting".

I'd like to comment on its central premise...

Has film music changed for the worse in recent years?

Just to start, I would say that there are many good points made in the video. Film music has changed a good bit in the last twenty years or so.

There was a time when film music was perhaps the most essential emotional link to the characters and situations occurring in any film. Only occasionally was scoring left out of a film effectively.

A couple of good examples of this would be Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (no music score) and The Coen brother's No Country for Old Men (very minimal scoring).

It seems that most filmmakers today gravitate toward what I would call sound design instead of actual music – that is, music that elicits some sort of emotional response.

Let me give you a really good example of a film that has this kind of music and the emotional response it evokes...

A film called The Magnificent Seven (the original film of course) has an incredible score by Elmer Bernstein.

If you're not familiar with the score, you can check out a really nice performance of it here.

The film is a Western. The plot and the visuals are meant to depict action, adventure, and excitement. The music complements the plot and visuals like few films before or since.

It would be difficult to make the argument that The Magnificent Seven would be the same film without that score.

The compositional talent certainly exists today, so the question is... why aren't we getting more scores like this in recent years?

The Music is Too Prominent

According to the video, some film composers blame the absence of these kind of scores on the directors. Composers, such as Danny Elfman, are saying that directors prefer music that doesn't do too much.

From a composer's point of view, this is interesting because the fundamental purpose of music is to make you feel something. Sound that doesn't fulfill this purpose is really sound design and not music.

The Temp Track is Preferred

Elfman also stated that some directors become too attached to the temp track. A temp track is the temporary music used during the editing process. The temp track indicates to composers where the music is to be placed and what type of music is to be used.

Most composers tend to dislike temp tracks. It robs them of their creativity. Further, some original scores come dangerously close to copying the temp tracks they are meant to imitate.

These issues can create problems between the director and the composer. But there is a simple solution...

Possible Solution

Remove the temp track completely and allow the composer to do what he/she does best – create. Radical? Not really. It worked in the past, right?

Obviously, the composer needs to be in agreement with the director to fulfill his/her vision for the film. But the composer needs to be allowed the freedom to use their talents to help bring about that vision.

Regarding the functionality of the score itself, music should function as an elicitor of emotion.

If it's not doing that, then what's the purpose?

So to solve this problem, perhaps we should bring back the creative, thematic, and emotional music compositions of times past.

These scores enhance the film, help the directors realize their creative vision, and fulfill the composers need to create original music. Instant wins for everyone.

Film music today is still part of an evolving genre. Whether film music will circle back and embrace its musicality remains to be seen. My hope is that it will.

What do you think? If you're a filmmaker, do you prefer the thematic scores of the past or the sound design of today, and why? If you are a composer, which is your preference, and why? Let me know in the comments section...


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