Music in Film

March 17, 2010

(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.

Kill Bill

  (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.

Reservoir Dogs

(Fairly Graphic)

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.

Boogie Nights

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.

-JV

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Why Do People Enjoy Horror Films?

March 14, 2010

I don’t know about you guys but i have often wondered why people enjoy horror because it may be considered pretty sadistic from a completely neutral standpoint. Lets break it down.

Horror has been a part of Cinema since its inception in the early 20th century. Horror emerged almost immediately as large part of the silent film industry.  among some of the earlier horror films are London After Midnight (1927), Doctor Jekyll and  Mr. Hyde (1920), Phantom of the Opera (1925),  and perhaps the best know silent horror picture F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece  Nosferatu (1926). Horror has been a part of western Literature for even longer with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and the various works of Edgar Allan Poe  appearing in the 18th Centuries. What is it about horror that has kept us wanting more for 200 years? The Following is my theory only and is not meant to be taken as fact but only to help you think further into the subject and explore one of my favorite questions, “Why?”.

First of all anyone reading this that refuses to accept that people are in fact members of the animal kingdom albeit with a much higher intellect, might as well stop reading now because this will be wasted on you. I don’t mean to be rude im just trying to save you some time.

Horror started to become more prevalent about the same time as law and order reigned supreme in most parts of the world. This is when all of the animalistic natures of man were no longer necessary. No matter how hard modern man has tried he could never completely get rid of all of our primal instinct programmed into our DNA. This some times has had disastrous outcome.

Homo Sapiens are pretty much undisputedly violent in their very nature. I am not saying by any means that people are intrinsically evil beings but it is hard to argue that we are not violent by nature.  That is not necessarily a bad thing either without our unrelenting violence there is no way the man could have conquered and settled every corner of the globe. It has helped us survive and become the civilized species we are today.  The problem with this inborn ferociousness only began to occur when civilization emerged. When man no longer had to fear natural prey and constantly follow the food source everywhere, when their violence had no use in everyday life anymore people began to turn on each other rather than use their violent natures to survive the elements because that was no longer nessecary. It can hardly be called a coincidence that horror became most popular when modern society all but abolished violence as an acceptable part of everyday life and only encouraged in times of war.

Violence in one form or another is always a central theme in horror films. In horror films violence is everywhere to be seen. You be hard pressed to find a horror film that does not involve at least one person dying usually in a pretty violent way at the hands of another person. Horror films are a socially acceptable way to explore our violent nature vicariously. One main example of this is how in many horror films the character that by all rights should be the hated and loathed antagonist over time becomes a loved protagonist. This is evident in slasher films. For those who aren’t familiar with the term a slasher film is a horror film that is centered around one unusually incredibly prolific serial killer. This films were most popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s starting with John Carpenter’s  Halloween in 1978.  These films for the most part are thin on plot but heavy on killings, violence and gore. The killers in these films have become beloved film icons. If you watch one of these films with people that are slasher flick fans you will notice that you will not hear them cheering for the people that are trying to survive the killing spree of these horrible killers but the killers themselves. In the later sequels to these films you will see not further developement of characters but only more gore and more creative ways of killing. The Killers in these films are truly animals. They kill whoever they want for any reason and do not let anyone stand in the way of their ultimate goal. They are basically a distillation of prehistoric man.  People like them because they are genetically built to be just like them.  Goal driven, Emotionless killing machines that will do anything to get what they want. They do anything they need to do to survive and will have no regrets about it. Many people in modern society would say these traits are that of a psychopath. That may be so but you would have to concede then that before civilization we were all psychopaths. I’m not trying to defend or justify the life style of a serial killer but it is something to think about.

Another theme that is prevalent in many horror films is sex. Whether it may be scantily clad women, copious sexual undertones, gratuitous nudity, or graphic sex scenes. To be frank humans are wired to constantly reproduce. This again going back to prehistoric man. In modern society free mating is not as acceptable as it was pre civilization (although it seems we are reverting back to our old free sex patterns in some ways). So we have humans that are geneticly programmed to reproduce as many times as they can before they die living in a society that for the most part subscribes to monogamy. (for the record I am a fan of monogamy) That means there is a lot of caged up sex drive with nowhere to go. Maybe horror films have more sexuality than most other films to further satisfy the primal nature of man. If you don’t think that human beings are geneticly wired for constantly reproduction, not unlike all other animals, think about this. Humans are a species of primate that probably originate in africa. In 200,000 years, the evolutionary blink of an eye, we have spread to all corners of the globe. This cannot be said for any other primate species. The human population has only dropped at one point in history and that was during the black plague in the 14th century. Other than that the human species has reproduced with the tenacity some would say only rivaled by rodent and viruses.  Also unlike most highly reproductive species we are not ready to survive on our own until years of growth have taken place.  How you ask did a species with such a long period of maturation and such a high infant mortality rate before the adaptation of modern science? Sex lots and lots of sex.

Just a side note. One of the most popular genres of horror the vampire genre is basically an allegory for sex. The person gives their bodily fluids in order to sustain life within another person. It’s no wonder most vampire movies are thick with sexual undertones.  notice also nearly always the vampire is an attractive young male that preys on young beautiful girls. the more classic vampire tales even go as far as to say that vampires only feed on the blood of young virgins. Its something to think about.

The thing most noticed about horror film is something that some would argue is the whole point of horror, Fear. It seems strange that a person would like to be afraid. For the most part being afraid is not a pleasant experience. What you have to understand is that man used to have a good amount of fear in everyday life. There used to be danger around every corner and now everyday life for man has become boring at least for what we are evolutionarily designed for. Fear in humans triggers the release of Epinephrine also refered to as Adrenaline. It triggers a fight or flight response, elevation of blood pressure, increased respiration, flooding of the brain and muscles with extra amounts of glucose and oxygen. A small amount of adrenaline can create one hell of a feeling. In short fear and adrenaline gives you a thrill and make you feel more alive. Horror films give us a chance to revisit our primal fear that is no longe experienced in everyday life. Also another point people who have experienced a lot of primal fear in their life many times do not enjoy horror films. People like war veterans and survivors of tragedy or violent oppression do no need to have a dose of primal fear for they have experienced it first hand.

As a closing let me just say that i am a huge fan of the horror genre for reasons unknown to me. I just am naturally inclined words it.  I really wanted to know why so being a science and history nerd this is what i came up with. I don’t expect you to take it as fact or even agree with it at all. It is just my theory  to the answer of a question that i have pondered for years. It still doesn’t answer another question. Is It Healthy? Let me know what you think if you agree or disagree.

-Danny Johnson


Influence-Jim Jarmusch

March 1, 2010

“The beauty of life is in small details, not in big events”

This is the beginning of what hopefully will be a series of blogs about the directors that have influenced us as filmmakers. The first in this series that I would like to highlight is American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. He’s a fascinating director who has made some fantastic films: Broken Flowers, Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes, Night on Earth and quite a few more. Jarmusch was born in Ohio in 1953 and he started making films in the early 80’s, beginning his career with the film Stranger Than Paradise which was made for $125,000 dollars. Stranger Than Paradise went on to win the Camera d’Or award for best first feature film at Cannes. Jarmusch is famous for his deadpan comedy and vignette style of telling a story. He has worked with Tom Waits, Isaach De Bankole, Roberto Benigni, Forest Whitaker, Bill Murray, RZA, GZA, Alfred Molina, and many more talented actors. He is one of the most celebrated indie filmmakers of all time and really started the indie movement that led to Tarantino’s groundbreaking indie film Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Jarmucsh’s films are often slow moving, even to the extent that it sometimes appears as though nothing has occurred. However, at closer examination it’s very easy to see that his films are filled with subtle moments that enhance the story being told, and brings the characters to life. He has made films in all different genres, from romantic comedy (Broken Flowers) to westerns (Dead Man) to samurai films (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) to films about taxi cab rides (Night on Earth). What makes Jarmusch such a great filmmaker and an auteur is that no matter what genre he does you can still tell that it is his film. The subtle humor and dialogue, the static shots, and the beautiful, sometimes not so beautiful music that permeates his films all point towards his artistry. Jim Jarmusch is an incredibly talented filmmaker whose films are focused solely on the characters and how they inhabit the world.

Night on Earth has a very simple premise. In short it’s about what occurs at the same time of night in 5 different places around the world inside of a taxicab. Throughout the film we are shown LA, New York, Paris, Rome, Helsinki and the characters that inhabit these places. It’s truly a fascinating work that allows one to get a brief, yet somehow complete look at the intertwining lives of these characters. Jarmusch populates this film with profane, world weary, and confrontational characters. Yet somehow by the end of each vignette we have connected with them and by the end of the film, as the sun finally comes up in Helsinki, you truly feel like you’ve spent a night on earth.

-JV