Music at the Movies

 Although I have no musical talent whatsoever, music in films has always fascinated me. Magnificent Seven, The Godfather, Star Wars, Once Upon a Time in the West, Jurassic Park; I could dedicate an entire post to naming my all-time favourite scores, but that would make for a very dull post indeed.

Of course, when talking about the importance of music in film the usual example is Alfred Hitchocks Psycho (1960). It becomes clear how important music is in the infamous shower scene, which when watched with and without music reveals just how much Bernard Herrmann’s score added to it.

Pretty ridiculous, right?

In his interview talking about the power of film music, Hans Zimmer eloquently said:

“What I do isn’t what the director tells me to do, that’s not what I’m suppose to do. I’m supposed to do the stuff he can’t do; I’m supposed to invent and imagine. I’m supposed to do the stuff that they can’t say elegantly in words or pictures.”

This quote stood out for me because I think a film score not only adds suspense, makes us laugh, makes our hearts swell and that lump in our throat appear, but it also brings any film to a new level. A film’s score is identifiable, memorable and often irritatingly catchy (I challenge anyone to think of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme and not have it stuck in their head for the rest of the day), and in the case of the great scores like John Williams’ Star Wars score, it’s what gets our heart rate up from the very first moment of the film.

The film that has prompted me to finally start this blog and write my first post on film music is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), scored by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. The music really struck me in this film, and I’d say it was one of the main reasons, creepy children aside, that I found the film so piss-your-pants scary. Through the music, Carlos and Elkind were able to make the slightest movement, whether it be a subtle hand gesture from Jack Nicholson or a look from Danny Lloyd, in to a suspense-filled, spine-tingling moment that keeps us guessing when it will all finally fall apart. Which, actually, doesn’t take that long.

The Shining

The music all throughout the film foreshadows and builds up to the climactic, psychologically horrifying ending that had audiences (and me) cowering behind their seats. Much like the shower scene in Psycho, the scene where axe-wielding Jack Torrance breaks down the front door and limps up the staircase towards the door is made almost unbearable to watch by the squeaking, squealing sounds of the string section.

However, it would be entirely unfair to ignore the chilling performance from Jack Nicholson (which at times was completely improvised), the sufficiently creepy performance from Danny Lloyd, and the wide-eyed, whimpering Shelley Duvall. Their performances, along with Kubrick’s unsettling use of proportion, aspect and the newly invented Steadicam undeniably created the initial sense of suspense in the film and it’s easy to become torn when it comes to the question of thew importance of the music to the film’s psychological drama.

So, I guess the most important question we can ask when looking at the score in The Shining is: would the scene, and indeed the entire film, have been the same without its score?

Not by the hair on your chinny chin chin.