Songs From The Screen

In the words of Sean Bean, “Winter is coming” – seemingly faster in Oxford than elsewhere. As the days get shorter, it may not seem that every cloud has a silver lining. But the upside of the season is that it becomes ever easier to replace the grey skies with the silver screen.

Musical accompaniment to the cinema predates audible dialogue – back before the era of ‘talkies’, so-called silent films were accompanied by music: the first ever public screening of a film by the Lumière Brothers, on 28th December 1895, featured a live guitarist. Live accompaniment was even used occasionally during the filming to enhance the atmosphere. In larger-scale screenings, orchestras provided sound effects, recreating galloping horses (using drums, not coconut shells sadly) or rainfall. This tradition is starting to see a resurgence – ‘film concerts’ are gaining popularity across the globe, where the music from popular films is stripped out and performed by an in-house orchestra.

Even if not live, music still plays a vital part in cinema. Much of the dramatic tension in Interstellar, for example, comes from the juxtaposition of near overwhelming aural assault for the enclosed shots to the sudden silence of space. What’s more, so many iconic films are instantly recognisable from the theme tune. What would Star Wars be without the epic score; how else could The Breakfast Club end if not with ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’?

So what’s the musical attraction in this season’s cinematic offerings? Already gracing our screens, Spectre continues the James Bond tradition of a dedicated intro theme. Expect Sam Smith’s crooner to be accompanied by an artsy, abstract introduction full of subtext and foreshadowing. Judging from Adele’s ‘Skyfall’, ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ isn’t going to be Smith’s best work. But the fact is that the song beats out all but one trailer on YouTube views, and – unlike a trailer – can be played on the radio. How’s that for advertising?

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Even more eagerly anticipated is the new Star Wars movie. More Star Wars from John Williams, after ten years? Almost as exciting as that lightsabre/ broadsword combo. And to round up the year, expect Ennio Morricone to knock it out of the park in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, as he’s done time and time again – just look at the Dollars trilogy.

Whether it’s specifically composed for the movie, or hand-picked to suit, movies are better with music.