Tag Archives: Film music

FilmMusik

Ennio Morricone-FilmMusik

In 2014 Edition text + kritik launched the series FilmMusik with Ennio Morricone, a collection of essays edited by Guido Heldt, Tarek Krohn, Peter Moormann, and Willem Strank. Compiled in the year of Morricone’s 85th birthday, the book encompasses traditional readings of his music as well as new perspectives on it.

Morricone became famous in the 1960s as the composer of the music for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Their unconventional sound is, however, only one aspect of his multifaceted work, which—in addition to more than 500 film and television scores—also includes classical orchestral music, avant-garde jazz, electronic music, and borrowings from contemporary pop music styles. The book explores the full diversity of Morricone’s oeuvre and lets the maestro speak for himself in an exclusive interview.

Below, an excerpt from Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malèna (2000), one of five of Morricone’s Oscar-nominated film scores (he received an honorary Oscar in 2007).

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series

ABBA’s film renaissance

abba

ABBA’s music has often been denigrated as bland, mass market pop. However, viewed from the point of view of reception, the ABBA phenomenon is a highly complex text that offers contemporary music consumers diverse, even perverse, pleasures.

Between them, Stephan Elliott’s The adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and P.J. Hogan’s Muriel’s wedding (1994) suggest a broad spectrum of ABBA consumers, from the sincere and sentimental to the hip, camp, and kitsch, using this spectrum to map a series of interfaces between culture, identity, the performance of gender, and place.

This according to “Music and camp: Popular music performance in Priscilla and Muriel’s wedding” by Catherine Lumby, an essay included in Screen scores: Studies in contemporary Australian film music (North Ryde: Australian Film, Television, and Radio School, 1999, pp. 78–88).

Below, ABBA’s Waterloo in Muriel’s wedding.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Werner Schroeter and Kulturscheisse

der-bomberpilot

Werner Schroeter’s films abound with the artifice, staginess, recontextualizations, and quotations typical of both camp and kitsch.

His achievement in Der Bomberpilot (1970) involves overturning mainstream interpretations of kitsch as a rejected externality by bringing what he called Kulturscheisse into productive play with contemporary German identities and their efforts to engage with alterity and the past. The film’s score is a grab bag that includes selections from Verdi, Sibelius, Wagner, Strauss, and Elvis, along with U.S. show tunes and German pop songs.

This according to “Embracing kitsch: Werner Schroeter, music and The bomber pilot” by Caryl Flinn, an essay included in Film music: Critical approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001, pp. 129–151).

Above, a still from Der Bomberpilot ; below, the beginning of Mondo Lux: Die Bilderwelten des Werner Schroeter, a documentary finished shortly after Schroeter’s death in 2010.

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Cape Fear redux

capefear

For his 1991 remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 film Cape fear, Martin Scorsese had the Bernard Herrmann score of the original adapted by Elmer Bernstein.

The score was effectively re-composed for the later film, with Bernstein taking its basic components and redeploying them in often entirely new musical and filmic contexts, while also combining them with his own newly composed music and further preexisting material from Herrmann’s rejected score for Hitchcock’s  Torn curtain (1966).

Bernstein later said that Scorsese “wanted the atmosphere that [Herrmann’s 1962 score] provides” and that it was “much more appropriate for the remake…the first film was not up to the strength of that score.”

This according to “Cape Fear: Remaking a film score” by Jonathan Godsall (The soundtrack IV/2 [2011] pp. 117–135). Below, Cady’s ill-advised release from prison.

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Random film accompaniment

silent film orchestra

Soon after the Cinematograph Act came into force in 1909, small orchestras became more common in London cinemas than the lone pianist that some previous histories have identified.

Rather than responding moment-to-moment to the images on screen in the manner that an improvising pianist might (or well might not), these orchestras played through a number of well-regarded musical pieces in their entirety, which might or might not have had a direct correspondence to some aspect of the film or its theme.

Despite exhortations in the trade press for such a correspondence between music and film, this does not seem to have happened in practice regularly until at least the mid-1910s.

This according to “The art of not playing to pictures in British cinemas, 1906–1914” by Jon Burrows, an essay included in The sounds of the silents in Britain (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 111–125).

Below, we invite you to experiment with random film accompaniment using your own record collection.

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Filed under Curiosities

“Something wild” and identity shifts

feelies in something wild

Jonathan Demme included excerpts from over 40 recorded songs in the soundtrack for his film Something wild. As a late–20th-century update of screwball comedies, traits common to the genre—shifts in characters’ identities, the breaking down of social barriers—are supported and commented on musically.

This according to “Something new: Music as re-vision in Jonathan Demme’s Something wild” by Jeff Evans (Popular music and society XIX/3 [fall 1995] pp. 1-17). Above and below, The Feelies shift the identity of  David Bowie’s Fame in Demme’s film.

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Filed under Popular music

Frogs and films

frogs

Spontaneously recorded music and natural noise, once they are chosen and ordered in a film’s soundtrack, acquire a dignity that was at first unexpected, entering into harmony, rivalry, and sometimes even conflict with the score composed for the film.

Between fake bad music created by a competent composer and real bad music appropriated in its raw state from the popular muse, between an impressionist nocturne for large orchestra and the authentic concerto of crickets and frogs, the artificial music does not necessarily win out over the natural kind.

This according to “La musique prise dans le sujet, élement materiel du film et la musique composée pour le film, élément formel de l’œuvre d’art” by Roland Alexis Manuel Lévy, an essay included in Atti del secondo Congresso internazionale di musica (Firenze: Le Monniere, 1940, pp. 253–256). You may wish to compare the two short films below to test Lévy’s hypothesis.

Related article: Cowshed soundscaping

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Stravinsky and film

fantasia

Although Stravinsky’s transplantation to the glamour-conscious culture of Los Angeles may have seemed completely out of character, he genuinely thrived there. Still, his inability to relinquish control made it impossible for him to work as a film composer, despite his efforts to break into the business.

The notable exceptions are his associations with Walt Disney, who used excerpts from the composer’s works for several films—most notably Le sacre du Printemps for Fantasia—before they had a falling-out over financial arrangements.

This according to “The would-be Hollywood composer: Stravinsky, the literati, and the dream factory” by Charles M. Joseph, an essay included in Stravinsky inside out (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 100–131). Below, the Rite of spring segment in its entirety.

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Citizen Kane and the Isle of the Dead

Die_Toteninsel

A five-note motive in Rahmaninov’s Ostrov mërtvyh (The isle of the dead, op. 29), which evokes the opening of the Dies irae melody used by Berlioz and Liszt, is strikingly similar to what Bernard Herrmann referred to as the motive of power or fate in his score for Citizen Kane.

Rahmaninov’s work was inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel (above; click to enlarge), and Herrmann’s statements about his creative process suggest that the opening images of the film might have unconsciously reminded him of the painting, which in turn could have aroused an association with Rahmaninov’s symphonic poem.

This according to “The Dies irae in Citizen Kane: Musical hermeneutics applied to film music” by William H. Rosar, an essay included in Film music: Critical approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001, pp. 103–116). Below, the first minutes of Citizen Kane.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Visual art

The day Herrmann’s score stood still

Bernard Herrmann’s score for Robert Wise’s The day the earth stood still (1950) is widely celebrated among film historians, and its use of theremins and other electronic instruments makes it the first large-scale electronic music composition in history.

Three considerations explain the perceived suspension of motion in the film’s opening title sequence: nullification of harmonic progress through polytonality, nullification of rhythmic pulse through polyrhythms, and  nullification of acoustical interaction through the use of electronic instruments and tape manipulations.

This accordting to “Suspended motion in the title scene from The day the earth stood still” by Stephen Husarik, an essay included in Sounds of the future: Essays on music in science fiction film (Jefferson: McFarland, 2010). Below, a colorized version of the sequence in question.

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