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Music on the Big Screen

Music in film is worth more than we realise. The sound of Yann Tiersen’s minimalist piano piece ‘Comptine d’un autre été, l’après-midi’, for instance, is just another reason why we count romantic comedy Amélie as a smash hit. The lulling chord progression sparks us to also appreciate the cinematographic bliss of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s France – the colourful train station, the retro lustre of the Café des Deux Moulins, and the striking rouge of Amélie’s bedroom. When we laze around on an off day clutching a cushion and watching Bridget Jones tipsily dance alone in her flat to Jamie O’Neal’s cover of ‘All by Myself’, we realise that without a memorable score, there wouldn’t be iconic moments that merit an obsessive desire to replay (especially the moment where she furiously kicks the air during the key change for the final chorus – fun fact: Renée Zellweger actually ad-libbed that entire wallow-dance scene, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since). Yet, the reasons as to why many people, myself included, fascinatedly leaf through the soundtracks of films (some of which the listening precedes the watching itself) in our spare time extend beyond the visual-aural link.

A good soundtrack not only brings emotion to life, but also fantastic writing and acting. I’d quite like to hold a magnifying glass to the soundtrack of Gone Girl(2014) put together by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The pulsating synth bass and ominous Wurlitzer melody of ‘Technically, Missing’ mingles so well with Rosamund Pike’s raspy, a-bitch-boutta-get-hit narration of Gillian Flynn’s ‘Cool Girl’ concept; so much so that without it, the ‘Cool Girl’monologue would not be such a thematic climax to the film for me. The confrontational heartbeat of the music that gains instrumental layers as the song progresses resembles Amy Dunne’s peaking journey, slathering the cross-cut sequence in suspense. Besides this, Reznor also explains to Rolling Stone that scoring Gone Girlwas a test of emotion and skill. He described creating the soundtrack as an attempt to ‘try and get into his [David Fincher, director] head and translate what he’s saying or feeling into an approach’. Therefore, the music must be in parallel with the overall mise-en-scène of the film; it is a team effort between the director and the musical directors to understand each other and create something unanimously agreed upon. 

Another film score to shed light on is the score of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) which brilliantly converts the Elizabethan Verona into the present day. The climactic choir of ‘O Verona’ by Craig Armstrong accompanies the spectacular opening montage of the film before being followed by ‘The Montague Boys’, a cocky, cruising instrumental piece with rattling drums and rapped lyrics from Justin Warfield of One Inch Punch. A particular shortcoming of this piece of score is that this leitmotif is, simply, just a leitmotif; with various critics professing disappointment of not being able to enjoy ‘The Montague Boys’ as a full song. Despite this, however, the juxtaposition of this laid-back piece with the seriousness of ‘O Verona’ does a fantastic job in hinting at the evil in the playful streets of Verona and makes death and the eventual dual suicide the central theme of the movie.

Thinking about it all, a soundtrack, like the piece of artwork it is, has to be mesmerising on all levels. It has to be recognisable – something you can go back to and listen to over and over again even after the film has ended. For me, cinematic music is the most magical genre of music, as it is designed to reflect and coincide with visuals and provoke emotion calculated by authors and directors – and it doesn’t even have to follow the basic pop model of verse-chorus-verse-chorus for people of our time to be hooked onto it.

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