How Does Music Work With Film?
BY: MELODY CONGOTE
Film has been an art form, where one can see emotion on screen, but it’s more than just a visual, it’s an art form that uses music to heighten realism in cinema. Music is an essential part of cinema and conveys film in countless methods, such as altering moods on a scene, conveying views, emotions and ideas. The music behind a movie is called a film music score, which is used as a way to tell the audience what’s happening on a screen and is written specifically to tell a story through the music.
To answer any questions one may have about how music conveys film, California State University, Long Beach music and film professor Roger Hickman shares his thoughts.
How do you think that filmmakers and composers help one another in the making of putting film and music together?
“It’s true that most filmmakers and cinematographers know little about music, some do and those are exceptional people. But otherwise, they trust the musician who’s a composer, who will watch the film and watch what they have created. The filmmakers suggest for the composer's ideas and then the filmmaker can respond to those ideas and say ‘no that’s [not] what I want or that’s what I want.’ A good example is Jaws in which Steven Spielberg after he finished Jaws, Spielberg told John Williams, who’s a very famous composer that he wanted a score that was theatrical. Since it is a story about a shark, Spielberg wanted something that would showcase a story about a mystique shark, giving it that feeling of Moby Dick. The thing about this is that, Williams went on vacation and when he came back Williams said, ‘I am sorry, but I wrote it as a slasher film, as something exciting and daring.’ As soon as Spielberg heard it, he said that Williams was right and now we have the famous film score, which everyone recognizes as Jaws. The composer can contribute to the style and the mood of a film and create and change scenes for the audience.”
What’s the psychology behind music in film?
“Using music to psychologically alter a scene has been around since the silent era. Silent movies use to be accompanied by piano players, who would play along with the movie. At first the music didn’t interact with the film, but piano players started to mimic or improvise along with a scene or be given sheet music to play along. The psychology with accompanying was pretty straight forward, when a screen shows a villain, the piano player plays a diminishing minor chord that sounds eyry and unnerving. Heroes get uplifting anthems, chase scenes have a fast tempo, and sad scenes are slow and somber, these psychological musical techniques set the standard for film scores in modern cinema and while the orchestras have gotten bigger, the music scores have gotten more effective. For example, in Jaws we hear the music before we see any danger, this technique unsettles us in a different way, the anticipation of the danger is what makes each scene so scary, the fact that one knows that something bad is about to happen and the characters in the movie don’t know, adds suspense to the scene, we are warned through the danger along the film score and have no choice, but to watch the horror unfold, as the music slowly speeds up and the camera, the audience feels psychological terror, the music and the anticipation of the inevitable.”
In silent films words weren’t needs, music directed movies for us, so how can music be so powerful?
“Music is the only art that reaches out to emotion, all the other art forms like painting, architecture, literature, goes to one’s verbal mind first. Those things can give emotional responses, but music plays right to your emotions and skips the verbal mind. That’s why we have music in the grocery stores, that’s why we have music playing in the car, or when you’re lifting weights. Even if you aren’t thinking about the music, it’s helping you go through various moments and music helps one emotionally. The mind should be on the dialogue and on the storyline, but the emotions will be prompted by the music and that’s why it’s so powerful.”
How do you think music helps to place a view within a screen?
“Music can give you a point of view. That is with people on the screen and let’s say that they are conflicting emotions and so the music can take one person’s emotions, which makes the audience feel what the person is feeling. For example, if there is one person who’s angry and one person whose calm, it can take the audience to calm and we can recite with the person whose calm or if they are angry and livid music starts playing then we cyber with the person who’s angry. So it give us a point of view from the story, which is being shown on camera and into the big screen and makes us feel depending on the scene or music for a particular character or characters.”
What do music scores provide on film?
“The majority of film scores, stay in the background to only provide subtle cues to the audience. One may say how so and the answer is this, first music scores provide a more convincing atmosphere of time or place. That means a setting, in which the style puts the audience on a certain time or place. The second factor is that the music underlines psychological refinement, such as unspoken thoughts or unseen dangers. The music itself reminds us that it’s there, even if we don’t see it. As for the third aspect of it builds a certain continuity, where in movies are relating scenes that are shown to the audience as montages or flashbacks. The fourth gives the audience a sense of finality, which is mostly played at the end of the film. Some examples can be scenes of triumphant heroes or the guy gets the girl and so on. Now the fifth factor is that the music is just there to fill the silence. That means that the film scores enhances the emotion on the screen, but also some film directors don’t allow music on some scenes and it works just as well. For example, on some war movies no music is played and that just overwhelms the audience as soon as the only sounds that they hear are cries of help or shooting and that alone tends to be like some sort of medicine. The best thing about it all so anyone can understand is that our brains often subconsciously react differently to a visual given when music plays behind it. This just proves how subtle music can be vital to a movie and how music enhances film is limitless.”