Music and the Movies

6 January 2012

December is the time when movies for grownups are released, and I attend more movies that month than any other time of the year. In the last two weeks I’ve seen four movies, “Young Adult,” “The Descendants,” “The Artist,” and “A Dangerous Method.” I enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

I can’t even remember anything about the music scores for “Young Adult” or “The Descendants,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; sometimes all a film score needs to do is add a mood and a pulse to the film footage and mask the silences where appropriate. Nothing impressed me, but nothing bothered me either.

“A Dangerous Method” is about Carl Jung and his stormy relationship with Sigmund Freud. Many discussions in the dialog center around Richard Wagner and his operas, and I guess composer Howard Shore took this as his cue to utilize a lot of Wagner in the score. Most of the time I felt the choices were apt. It was weird to hear this music played on solo piano, or in small chamber ensembles. Wagner’s music sounds so strange when stripped of it’s orchestral colors and textures, but it could be that this was just the effect Howard Shore and director David Cronenberg were going for.

Music is practically the star of “The Artist,” a black-and-white silent film about a silent film star in the late 1920s and his trouble adapting to the introduction to talking pictures. I was blown away by the score by Ludovic Bource from the opening notes. And then, halfway through the film, I recognized the unmistakeable sound of Bernard Herrmann. They used “Scene d’Amour” from VERTIGO, and all I could think was “Why?” This music took me out of “The Artist” and made me start thinking about James Stewart, Kim Novak, bell towers and strong currents under the Golden Gate Bridge. By me, it was not a good choice, much as I adore Herrmann’s music.

This might be a case of the director getting so used to his temp track that he feels it must stay in the picture. Sometimes this works well. Stanley Kubrick discarded a commissioned score by Alex North for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in favor of excerpts from Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss, Aram Khachaturian, Gyorgi Ligeti and others, and I can’t say those choices were not effective.