When this post extended past a few pages on movies alone, I realised it was the first of a two part series. This one is for the movies. The second installment will be for video games.
I am an annoying person to watch movies with. I don’t chatter and spoil the surprise, but I will make a comment now and then, usually along the lines of:
“Check out the composition of this scene.”
“This is directed by <name>. They did <film>. Remember that one?”
“Oh, wow, check the cinematography here.”
“Wasn’t this actor in <film> and <film>?”
and, more often than not:
“Have you been listening to the soundtrack? I wonder if it’s <artist/composer>.”
I nearly always notice the soundtrack, and it’s one of the reasons I love to watch movies at home. There I can sit with my phone in hand, IMDb app open, so I can look up the other films for that particular actor, check out the director and find out who was responsible for and/or composed the music. I’ve discovered some of my favourite artists and composers through film.
Music has been an important part of the movie experience for the entirety of my lifetime. When I think back to some of my earliest movie experiences, the soundtrack, or just the theme immediately comes to mind. It’s as indelibly planted in my memory as the name of the film and the actor(s) who starred. Who directed. 2001:A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Star Trek, Chariots of Fire, The Mission. Even if you haven’t seen Deliverance, you know about the dueling banjos.
The first movie soundtrack I ever purchased was The Mission. I was pretty blown away by Ennio Morricone’s haunting pan flute melodies. I love the movie, but I’m not sure it would have the same impact without Morricone’s music. One of my favourite renditions of “Gabriel’s Oboe” is by John Williams on classical guitar. It’s from the album John Williams Plays the Movies and I own that too.
Morricone’s score for all three films in The Dollars trilogy is the very definition of iconic…and I’m going to move on before I digress into a blog post on Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western. 😉
Another series I adore are the Star Tracks albums featuring the most beloved science fiction TV and movie themes of the last century. The first CD came with a bass level warning. It’s…awesome.
An exciting moment in movie music for me was the soundtrack to Sunshine. I adore this movie. It combines so many of my favourite things: a director I avidly follow, a writer I favour, actors I love and a completely transformative soundtrack. Sunshine is an apocalyptic tale, which is totally my thing. It’s tense and frightening. The story asks the big questions. But the film is also full of hope, which is another of my things. I don’t mind if I’ve used a box of tissues by the end as long as I feel hope in my heart.
The soundtrack for Sunshine played an important part in my understanding and enjoyment of the film. It’s one of the most wonderful movie scores I’ve stumbled across and I love it dearly—especially as it introduced me to John Murphy. As soon as I looked him up, I fell quickly into the black hole of OMG, he did the music for this! And this! He has in fact done the music for many notable Danny Boyle films, most recognisably 28 Days Later (also written by Alex Garland and starring Cillian Murphy!).
When I discovered that John Murphy worked in collaboration with one of my favourite bands, Underworld, on a number of these projects (Underworld has a solid history of scoring Danny Boyle’s films too), my black hole got pretty geeky. I lost a couple of otherwise productive weeks immersed in movies and music as I rewatched and listened to everything I could get my hands on.
As you can imagine, I also enjoy movies about musicians and music. I cannot watch the scene in Immortal Beloved featuring the excerpt of Beethoven’s 9th, Ode to Joy, without weeping. The part where he is floating in the pond of stars (5:15)? Forever imprinted in my brain.
At another end of the spectrum, I enjoyed The Doors so much I often used to put it on just to listen to the soundtrack. It’s rare that you get a selection of greatest hits in chronological order! As an aside, I often did the same with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d put the movie on, close my eyes and just listen. It’s a completely different movie experience.
Recently, I watched Begin Again, starring Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. What a pleasant surprise! I bought the soundtrack before the credits rolled…and constantly question the fact I am actually listening to Keira Knightly sing.
I don’t just get off on movie music. Sometimes it’s the sound effects. The swish of doors opening in any science fiction film? I grin every time. It’s like they have a button on every mixing console marked “SciFi Door”. The tricycle wheels in The Shining. The hum over hard flooring punctuated by the silence of carpet. It’s just so damned creepy. The aforementioned Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who doesn’t know that sequence of notes by heart? Next time you watch it, listen for the echoes throughout the film. Then we have The Revenant. I actually popped out of suspension once or twice just to lean back in my theatre seat and let go of a silent “wow”—not for the music, but for the crackle and groan of ice. The sound of air. Leonardo DiCaprio breathing. I was pretty blown away, especially when I did my customary research after the film and learned that director Alejandro González Iñárritu used ambient sound throughout. Moviegoers were actually listening to the ice crackle and DiCaprio breathing. The air moving, the wind through the trees, and so on. I could devote another blog post just to this film. Instead, I’m going to drop the trailer right here, which takes full and bloody amazing advantage of both the musical score and Iñárritu’s innovative direction.
So, I’ve got a category missing. Several, probably. Movies and music are inextricably linked. For this post, however, I’m going to wrap up with genre that combines both—the musical. I’m not a huge fan of live theatre. Shock, horror, I know. Call me low brow, but I just prefer movies. I find it easier to be swept away when I’m in the theatre—also, I can pause, rewind and rewatch my favourites, over and over and over. Oh, and movie tickets generally only cost twelve bucks.
I do like movie musicals, though! I rewatch The Sound of Music every year, and absolutely adore Mary Poppins. I love Disney movies. The Lion King is an absolute fave. The scene where Simba climbs Pride Rock? “It is time.” I sing every time my cats climb out on the rock overlooking the creek at the back of our garden. Yeah, you all knew I was weird.
While we’re talking animated films, the music for Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films is always well considered, and the sound effects for The Wind Rises are very cool.
I wish I could ramble on forever, but I will show some restraint and leave you with one last video, which is from Curious George. Going to see this movie with my daughter resulted in another immediate soundtrack purchase. In my defense, I was already a Jack Johnson fan going in.
For a good list of movies with unforgettable music, visit: The 50 greatest film soundtracks