Choose a film you enjoy and note when music first enters. What role does it play? How is it used and how long does the music go on?

I thought it might be a bit interesting to connect some of our week 3 music discussion with our exploration of film this week. One of our assignment options this week invites us to re-purpose the film Jaws (1976). This film features one of the most famous musical motifs in film music. Consider watching this film sometime to see how music is effectively tracked into the film.

We are usually not supposed to really perceive music in a film. We use the term diegetic music when the music in a film can be connected to an actual on-screen

image (like a live musician, radio, or obvious source). The “film score” itself is usually considered non-diegetic, that is more background to the film itself.

Film makers love to blur these lines and there are many examples of this happening. Robert Altman had John Williams do this in The Long Goodbye (1973) where the theme is used everywhere–even for the doorbell when it is rung! A classic example of fooling the audience about where music is coming from is in the opening of Orson Welles’ film Touch of Evil (1958). Music is playing as the film begins (by Henry Mancini) but soon it turns out that the same music is on the car radio, and overhead town speakers. More recently, we see a version of this effect in the drum music in Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) in a scene where Michael Keaton walks past a street musician drumming–the same music that we’ve heard earlier in the film and up to that sequence.

Most films have a title sequence where music plays a role to give us something to hear while we wait for the movie to start (sort of like an “overture). Others start without any music. Choose a film you enjoy and note when music first enters. What role does it play? How is it used and how long does the music go on?

By contrast, you may want to pick a film where the wall-to-wall music suddenly stops and discuss what that effect has on the story, or your sense of the dramatic impact of that moment.

Reference:

Cooke, M. (2008). A history of film music. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Sporre, D.J. (2013). Reality through the arts (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.