Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (which I haven’t seen) is the latest film to declare the death of original film music. Crowe is a former music journalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music. He’s been highly praised not for this film, but for the soundtrack which features an eclectic mix of old and new singer songwriters and pop artists.
The matching of the right song to film is undeniably powerful. Martin Scorsese has done it numerous times utilizing songs from the period of his films that capture a moment. Saturday Night Fever hit it out of the park. However, with any popular song, the filmmaker runs the risk of pulling the viewer out of the picture to the associated memories already existing around that song. Instead of following the plot line, you start to think of where you were and what you were doing when you first experienced that song. Or you start to say I really like that song and want to buy that album – again pullling you out of the picture.
I’ve been asked to replace songs in score many times. Recently, Jeff Buckley’s rendition of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” was slated for a film. The song definitely added a lot of the right emotional tones and haunting quality to the film, AND it also became so foreground and present that it was distracting and overpowering to the picture.
So, there are times for songs and times for score and I feel there will always be a place for the two
NPR’s Morning Edition ran an excellent overview last week on The Evolution of the Movie Soundtrack..