(From Wings of Desire)
I love how movies can incorporate all of the arts into them. Film combines visuals, dialogue, music and editing and wraps them together in a package to tell a story. I’m going to try and do little write ups on each of the above four things and highlight some directors who are genius at them. So for this first post I’d like to talk about my second favorite form of art which is music. Basically in film there are two kinds of music: scored and unscored. Scored music is music that a composer has made specifically for whatever particular film he/she has been hired to score. It follows the pace of the scene and if it is good it will add a little something extra that will make that scene memorable. Unscored music is pretty much everything else. Directors often use music in their films that was not originally created for it. For this post I’d like to talk about directors using unscored music.
Unscored music is often used as background noise, or something that characters can comment on. It also can be used to show that the film is set in a different time period. If a film is set in the 70’s then one would use plenty of 70’s songs in the film. This can get expensive as you must get permission to use the music and pay for it, but if a film has a moderate budget it can normally accomplish this task. Using music that is apart from the film can do many things. It can help the audience further connect with a character, it can create atmosphere, and it can ramp up tension. Many normal scores do these things as well, but what normal scores cannot do is immediately draw you into the scene and give you insights to the characters. If a character turns on a radio or expresses excitement at a particular song you can learn about them. Films like Garden State (The Shins), (500) Days of Summer (The Smiths), Wings of Desire (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), Reservoir Dogs (K Billy’s Super Sound of the 70’s), American Psycho (Huey Lewis and the News) and many more all feature music that plays a prominent role in the story. Unscored music also can add emotional impact and serve as a transition point from one scene to another.
I’d just like to quickly highlight some scenes from directors that are fantastic at using music from outside sources and incorporating them into a film:
Quentin Tarantino-All of Tarantino’s films are filled with homages and old school references and stylish songs.
(Music starts at 4:36)
This scene in Kill Bill features a band called the 5, 6, 7’s performing “Woo Hoo” while the camera tracks The Bride and other characters bustling about a club. First of all the song itself is awesome and it really is a great way to transition into the next scene where everything comes to a head between The Bride and the Crazy 88’s. The camera work is also fantastic.
This is the infamous ear scene from Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino takes a well known song and completely twists it around as he places it into a torture scene. It’s a very disturbing effect and he borrowed the technique from the even more infamous Singin’ In the Rain scene from A Clockwork Orange.
PT Anderson– PT Anderson is the director of Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love. He is famous for his long tracking shots and use of unscored music. Boogie Nights especially features an incredible array of songs from the early and late 70’s.
For those who haven’t seen this movie this clip is 10 minutes long, but very worth it. The three characters in the car have devised a get rich quick scheme by selling baking soda to a rich cocaine dealer played by Alfred Molina. The scene is incredibly tense as Sister Christian and then Jessie’s Girl blast out of the dealer’s speaker as his bodyguard weighs the bag of fake cocaine. Just a flawless scene.
Wes Anderson– Like Tarantino, Wes Anderson is known for his use of outside music in his films. He uses it wonderfully and it really adds to his films. My favorite film of his is The Royal Tenenbaums.
The Royal Tenenbaums
A great scene that really shows the feelings of Luke Wilson’s character. I love the camera angles and the slow motion artfully used here.
Again, these are just a few films that I highlighted and there are so many more. If you want to see more films that utilize music wonderfully I’d suggest you see Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Lost in Translation, Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Goodfellas, Trainspotting, Do the Right Thing, and if you want I got more.