On Film Soundtracks

A film’s soundtrack can be one of the most important elements in a movie, highlighting certain moments and bringing up the emotional intensity of others. Some soundtracks contribute huge amounts of power to their films. Last of the Mohicans springs immediately to mind, as do the scores of Ennio Morricone for the films of Sergio Leone.

But you know what else is a powerful element in film?


No one seems to use it anymore.  Most films I see are wall-to-wall music, nonstop barrages of sound that refuse to give the viewer any latitude when it comes to how or what they’re supposed to feel. And the soundtracks themselves are about as subtle as this:

I saw The Hobbit a few weeks ago, and I cannot remember a single moment of all 169 minutes that wasn’t crammed with music, all of it demanding that I feel certain things. Charmed. Amused. Frightened. Excited. Mystical. Jolly.

I can interpret images. I can even have my own feelings about those images without being told what those feelings have to be.

One of my writing teachers once said that you can’t go around with every copy of your story or book and tell readers, “No, what I really meant to say was…”  That means you’ve failed as a writer.  The meaning should be on the page. It’s the same thing with a film score. If you have to sit an orchestra next to me and have them explain, “What you should think and feel in this scene is…” then you’ve failed as a filmmaker.

Also, this is a purely personal preference, but if I never hear an ethereal chorus (child or adult) in a film again, I will be one happy filmgoer.

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