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Writing an Essay on Film Music

In: Film and Music

Submitted By Laja
Words 747
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Hundreds of CDs, a few dozen LPs and a couple of books on film music. Can this prepare me for a 4000 word essay on the development of film music in American cinema? You bet it can.

The topic of the essay for the unit of study American Film and Hollywood in my US Studies course will be about the development of film music over the last century, but in particular how it just isn’t as good as it used to be, and there are people to blame for this, which I’ll get to further below.

When you’re passionate about film music and you’ve been listening to the works of composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, John Barry, and many others from the so-called Silver Age of American cinema, you develop a certain taste and an in-built aural detector forms in your brain, connected to your ears, that makes you automatically know what separates a good film score from a bad one. Hell, even some bad film scores can have a sense of fun about them, even if they draw attention to themselves because film score aficionados are tuned into their siren-like abilities that lure us in to take notice and enjoy it for what it is. It may have a certain charm about it that makes it unique. Then you take a look back at the Golden Age film scores of Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Roy Webb, Alex North, Dimitri Tiomkin, and you realize that these guys were true musical artists working with an antagonistic studio system, but they delivered so many winners from their technical expertise coupled with their talent of recognising where music should be and what it should sound like with the most intricate of details perfectly positioned.

However, in recent times, those of us who have been closely observing the quickly changing development of film scores of the first decade of the 21st Century have noticed a disturbing trend. We’re not buying new scores like we used to. The majority of scores these days have descended into a decrescendo of unadulterated mediocrity. I blame three parties for this, first I blame audiences for not caring, even if that may not seem fair but no-one ever says “we’d like the music to be more prominent and engaging!”, but the bulk of the blame can be thrown squarely at the studio executives who think they can get away with it, and last but not least, Hans Zimmer.

Usually film composers have an autonomous working style, where they score the film by writing the music themselves with little to no additional help other than at best, handing the music to the orchestrators for instrumental translation. But Hansy fancies himself as the new Alfred Newman, only Alf was actually a good composer. Zimmer credits himself as the main composer, and credits his additional composers appropriately, fair enough – but he has created a film scoring methodology where all his underling composers continue his own lax practices, and what results is some of the blandest, cheapest and coma-inducing drones and semibreves you’ve ever heard. I’m not kidding, Adorno would be laughing his cranky douchebag head off at the nonsense that’s heard in movies these days from the Zimmer factory. Zimmer probably never meant to do this, nevertheless he is indirectly responsible, that he has exacerbated a system that doesn’t award quality or innovation, rather it treats music as just another technical aspect of the production like a conveyor-belt product that has to beat the clock before the release date. I think composers in general have just gotten lazy too.

Where is film music in American cinema headed? Who the hell knows? Even Michael Giachinno, the annointed “Next John Williams” couldn’t even come up with something for the 2009 Star Trek that could be uttered in the same breath as Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture or James Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. If Giachinno is the best on offer for the next twenty years, Shaka’Re help us. As I said, we’re not buying film scores for new movies at such a frequent rate like we used to; instead we’ve been spending our money on older scores distributed as limited editions from labels such as Intrada, Varèse Sarabande and La La Land Records. I cannot thank these labels enough for providing quality music that has been previously unreleased.

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