An Overview of 6 Historic and Indelible Movie Soundtracks.
By Isabella Woods
In a world where CGI and 3D seem to dominate every movie, many modern moviegoers have forgotten just how important film scores are for creating mood, atmosphere and effects. While whiz-bang special effects have their place, often some of the most tense, memorable and emotional scenes in movie history are the result of the right music at the right time. Whether it’s a Hollywood production, a local commercial, or a YouTube video promoted by a viral marketing agency, the right music score can turn a piece of action or drama into something memorable, emotive and engaging.
For some films, while the images and drama have long disappeared from our memories, the score remains, awakening memories of what we’ve seen whenever we hear the film’s music. On some occasions, the music score becomes even memorable than the actors and plot and is Just as integral.
Perhaps the most famous use of music, John Williams’ shark theme was incredibly simple, just alternating E and F notes played on a tuba. The result was not only suspenseful, but in Spielberg’s own words, “without it the film would not have been half as successful.” For most of the film, the score was the only representation of the shark. Special effect problems plagued the set, with the shark’s animatronics not functioning the way Spielberg had hoped. For most of the movie, Williams’ score was the shark, and the tempo of the two alternating notes generated all the suspense and terror that made the film a worldwide hit and launched the careers of both Stephen Spielberg and John Williams.
In Hitchcock’s most notorious thriller, Bernard Herrmann’s famous score also provided terror and suspense. The infamous shower scene, which at the time had audiences fleeing the theatres in horror, is a testament to the power of a good film score. The reason audiences found the scene so disturbing was nothing to do with the visuals – the actual onscreen action only depicts the flash of a blade and Janet Leigh screaming – but Bernard Herrmann’s use of a screeching violin, which generated the true terror of the scene.
Hermann also helped generate the film’s pace and general atmosphere with the main music he composed for the film. A tense arrangement of two melodic lines, the music generates a threat of violence that while not actually present through the first twenty minutes of the film, keeps the audience anticipating it, which maximizes the suspension for when the action eventually does occur.
3. Lawrence of Arabia
Music not only generates tension and emotion but it can also invoke a sense of majesty and location. David Lean’s classic historical drama was one of the most picturesque movies of all time. Maurice Jarre’s magnificent film score, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, accompanied the epic landscapes and stunning cinematography to such an extent you can almost feel the desert heat and shimmering landscapes.
4. The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Another score that befits its setting perfectly is Ennio Morricone’s, who used gunfire, whistles and native Mexican chants to invoke a sense of time and place. Using different instruments to accompany the presence of the three main protagonists, Morricone’s score also helped generate character in Sergio Leone’s classic western, making viewers only too aware of who the good, the bad and the ugly were.
The Nina Rota score in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic crime drama is another of cinema’s most memorable pieces of music, and one of the most controversial. The operatic feel of the music fitted the movie perfectly. However, some of the score was not originally made for the film. Rota’s Love Theme, now so famous with its haunting violins and distinctly Italian feel, was originally used in a 1958 comedy called Fortunella. The music, however, has now become so synonymous with Godfather it would be hard to imagine the film without it.
6. Star Wars
Using a classical orchestra soundtrack in a science fiction action film was an odd juxtaposition, and yet John Williams’ music is now one of the most famous film scores of all time. While the film’s dialogue and characterization lacked depth, the music provided the much needed emotion, which helped shaped the warmth of the protagonists and the foreboding nature of Darth Vader and the Empire.