Music in Movies: Two Art Forms in One

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By Caitlin Dunn
Music Journalist

With Oscar season in full swing, there is plenty of gossip regarding the major categories such as Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, and Best Director. But there is much more to a film than just visuals, cinematography and theatrical characteristics. One major aspect of a film that can change the entire mood and emotion within seconds is music.

Music plays a major role in film it brings forth a heightened reality that other art forms can not reach. Filmmakers must deliberately choose their soundtracks or film scores to convey a certain emotion or thought; this is not always an easy task. Before one can start discussing the importance of soundtracks and scores, we should get a basic definition of them. Film scores are instrumental songs written specifically for that movie and that scene. A movie soundtrack contains the entirety of the music in the movie; meaning the original score and songs that were licensed/written for the movie.

The score in a movie can affect the whole scene. Using music to alter a scene has been around since the silent film era. At the beginning of this era, a live piano player played music that didn’t pertain to the film at all; the music was only there to prevent silence in theaters while viewers watched. Later on, the piano players would improvise along with the movie or would be given sheet music. This seemed to instill some bravery into filmmakers, leading them to develop music that went along with the plot and characters. Movie scores at this time were pretty formulaic.

For example, when a villain came in, the piano player would play an eerie and creepy score while heroes would get an uplifting score. Action scenes got fast tempos while sad scenes got a slow and somber score. These basic techniques set the standards for modern cinema scores and are fundamental to producing music for movies today.

Not only are movie scores and soundtracks used for commenting on the film but also, to illustrate movement within it. Despite the fact that it is old fashion and comedic, hearing the xylophone pling when the character raises their eyebrow feels cartoonish but emphasizes the movement being seen. Though that was an older technique used for illustrating movement, some modern filmmakers now move their films along to the soundtrack or score. A great example of this is Edgar Wright. Wright uses music to move his movies along, every action an actor does is to the beat of the song playing. His actors, even walk to the beat of the song.

There are so many functions that sound and music have in a film. Though this article has not covered every use of music in film, it may provide a better understanding of the major role it plays. Below are this year’s Oscar’s nominations for Original Score and Original Song:

Original Score:
BlacKkKlansman– Terrence Blanchard
Black Panther-Ludwig Goransson
If Beale Street Could Talk– Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs– Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns-Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Original Song:
“All The Stars” from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Based on the previous award shows this year, “Shallow” from A Star is Born will most likely win Best Original Song at this years Oscars. It has swept this year’s award shows as seen from the Grammys and Golden Globes. As for Best Original Score, many critics believe If Beale Street Could Talk will take home the win. But we will have to see Feb. 24 at 5:00 p.m. PST (7:00 p.m. CST).   

Featured image by Christopher Polk.

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