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Music, Themes, and Film

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on 6 July 2016

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Transcript of Music, Themes, and Film

Most viewers do not often find themselves in a situation to show true courage. Through music in film we are given a chance to delve into this theme and to experience the actions and emotions that are encorporated in such an experience.
The beauty of the use of music in this scene is that the build up to the moment of courage is filled with the sound of silence. And when Bruce Wayne is confronted by his fear or bats, he rises from his knees to the powerful sound of blaring horns and deep bass from the drums. This reflects the moment he overcomes his fears and has the courage to embrace that emotion and turn it in to a positive, motivating factor. The mood of the music also underscores how momentus and defining this moment will turn out to be. This is done by presenting a steady, triumphant rythem.
It should also be mentioned that in the scene that open the movie, we see a young Bruce Wayne fall into this very cave while quick, sharp violin draws build the intensity and convey his fear. In that flashback, Bruce is swarmed by bats and falls to the floor, paralyzed by fear, all accompanied by the steadily increasing volume of a long violin note.
Movie: Braveheart (1995)
Composer: James Horner
(music from 0:40 mark)
In the face of an overpowering enemy, William Wallace is charged with leading his forces into battle. The courage needed to risk your life, and your army's life, is immense. While he is delivering his inspiration speech for freedom, we hear a gentle horn solo that bleeds in to a violin solo. This progression seems to suggest a certain valliance and a sense that this is the good fight, the right team to be on, and the right leader to follow. I think that the beauty of the understated, slow-paced music is that it gives a different sort of context to a scene that could have easily taken a darker, more ominous feel with music that may have been heavier or faster paced. I think this was the goal of the composer and director. It seems more important to show the humility and selflessness that Wallace offers to his soldiers than it is to foreshadow the bad things that were about to begin. There selection helps the viewer look at the onscreen narrative in a specificlly sympathetic, inspired light.
Music, Themes, and Film
There are times in life that we wish there was something or someone greater than us to show us the truth and the way. Sometimes we need something or someone to deliver what we can not attain for ourselves. In films, we are granted these needs and wishes, and it would not have nearly the impact it does without the use of strategicly placed, maticulously crafted musical scores.
Movie: The Ten Commandments (1956)
Composer: Elmer Bernstein
The beginning music in this scene matches the encroaching storm clouds and churning of the sea's water. It is full of powerful and brooding brass and percussion. But after Moses parts the sea and the firm land beneath is exposed, we are greeted by heralding trumpets that suggest power and leadership for Moses. The light bell noises sprinkled in add a sense of mystecism and wonder as well. I enjoy the juxtaposition that shown between the "dark" and "light" aspects of this scene (both visually and musically).
Movie: The Santa Clause (1994)
Composer: Michael Convertino
(clip from 1:55:30 mark)
In this scene, the town has gathered to witness the commotion of the attempted arrest of Santa. The music is light in tone, and consists of quickly picked string music. As Santa flys his sleigh in front of the people in the neighborhood, The music builds and then drops back to a soft, "I can't believe what I've seen" type of tune. With the consistant positive mood and uplifting tempo of the strings and percussion (mostly in the form of bells) you get a real sense that a miracle is taking place.

For my one emotion, I chose fear. I think that films are uniquely capabable of allowing people to feel an almost personal sense of fear from the safety of their seats.
Cody Boatman
Music in Film - Summer 2016

No one wants to experience war in person,
but films allow us to connect with this theme
through the use of emotional, strong musical
Movie: Lord of The Rings
Composer: Howard Shore
(music from 2:20)
In this clip, the mounting string section mirrors the building enthusiasm of the fighters. As the horses prepare and begin racing toward the front line, the percussion and brass (mostly french horns and trumpets) pick up and lead the viewer into a heightened sense of anxiety and excitment for the empending fight. Although characters are being killed right and left by arrows during the approach, the inspiring music seems to suggest that it will all be worth while in the coming moments. The score and instrument selection for this scene lend it a sense of dignity, of bravery, and of destiny.
Movie: Batman Begins (2005)
Composer: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
(clip builds to music at 1:17)
Movie: Dead Poets Society (1989)
Composer: Mauricce Jarre
(music begins at 1:20 mark)
The music for this scene begins after (Robin Williams) is told to leave. He has accepted that he is done teaching at the school. It comes in as a light harp picking notes that lightly pierce the silence. As his students defy the headmaster and stand up for their teacher, the percussion slides in with light tempini play. As more and more students rise and stand on their desks, the woodwinds begin to play a regal tune and the horns and strings sweep in to emphasize the syntemental mood. The slow tempo of the music in this scene highlights the idea that this moment is more about the connection and support that the students have for their teacher and leader than the defiance of authority they show toward the other adult in the room. If were about the latter, the music may take on a faster, more exciting or dangerous timbre.
Movie: Indian In The Cupboard (1995)
Composer: Randy Elelman
(music from 3:17 mark)
This scene starts with light, uplifting violin and woodwind instrumentals. This brings about a sense of fantasy and whimsy. As the boy gets out of bed and approaches the cupboard, the music turns a bit more sinister beginning with choppy, quick string notes and then devolving in to long, drawing piano and violin notes. When he finally opens the door and finds Little Bear alive, the music reaches a crascendo and bursts through with beautiful (and persnally sentimental) violin-led score that really brings out the wonder the boy is experiencing. This music fits this in a physical way as well. In multiple places the clip cuts from one shot to another, and the music mimics this trasition for added effect and audible cues.
Sidenote: As I look for clips for this theme, I am beginning to realize that I have an extremely sentimental soft spot for 90's miracle movies.
Movie: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Music by: Queen

Although this does not fit the stereotypical war/battle scene, and it involves both zombies and the band Queen, I think it is a really interesting take on how music can change the mood and feel of a scene. In a normal situation, this particular clip may be underscored by fast-pased, aggressive string music, heavy percussion, and pulsating brass and woodwind that build tension and anxiety as the cast tries to fight their way to safety. In Shaun of the Dead, however, we have Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" playing as source music in the film (coming from the jukebox). Throughout the onscreen action, the beatings and harm doled out by the characters often keeps beat with the music. This quirky little detail lends the scene a "comedy of errors" type of feel and keeps overall tension low. I think it is also used by the director to highlight the characters' ability to adapt to the many surprises that arise.
Movie: Gettysburg (1993)
Composer: Randy Edelman
(music from 1:01 mark)
I chose this scene because it takes a different angle at the music choice for a war scene. While the previous scene depicted the battle backed by a tense, gripping score to highlight the adrenaline rush of war, this clip and score put out a vibe of honor and willingness to fight for what you believe in. This was accomplished mainly by use of triumphant brass music accompanied by splashes of cymbals and a supporting melody from the strings. Although the imagery used onscreen is vicious and deadly, the music suggests that everything is being done according to a sense of divine right and destiny.
As far as fear goes, there is no better choice than the music from director/composer John Carpenter. He is often referred to as the "Master of Terror" due to his brilliantly composed movies and scores, and the heightened drama that he injects with his music. Below are three clips that I will compare and contrast in order to give a little insight into the working mind of Mr. Carpenter.
Halloween (1978)
Village of the Damned (1995)
The beauty of John Carpenter's work is in its simplicity. He does not let the scene get lost in the music or vice versa. Instead, he allows a simple series of notes or a melody to stand on its own with the film.
He often uses his horror music as a theme song for the films' characters. In the clip from Halloween we hear the icon music that represents Michael Myers. It functions as a tension builder and an audio cue to the presense of Myers. In this way, we begin to associate the music with feelings of fear. The music in the clips from Halloween and Village of the Damned share a certain tonal quality produced by the use of a synthesizer.
In the third clip, I wanted to take a different approach to Mr. Carpenter. Here we see a dog being chased by a hunter. The music begins in a "Jaws"-like fashion using only two reoccuring notes. As th helicopter enters and the hunt is seen, the music takes a much fuller expression (while the repeating two notes continue in the background). The string instruments moan a cautionary, dreadful melody that elicits feelings of being chased and fear.
These are just a few examples of the cinematic genious of the "Master of Horror", director and composer John Carpenter.
The Thing (1982)
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