The Film Score

5 New Production Conditions and the Old Style

The production conditions of the film score and its playback drastically changed with the advent of the audiotape, stereo technology, the synthesizer, and sampling. It is therefore astonishing that in terms of aesthetics there is, despite more stylistic variety, a high degree of continuity. Older techniques became more diversified. John Williams, the composer of film scores for box-office hits such as Jaws (1971, dir. Steven Spielberg), Home Alone (US 1990, dir. Chris Columbus), and several Harry Potter films (beginning in 2001), was very sensitive with respect to the underscoring of dialogues.[16] Motivated by Stanley Kubrick’s use of concert music by Richard Strauss, Johann Strauß, and György Ligeti in 2001: A Space Odyssey (UK/US 1968), for the series of Star Wars films (US beginning in 1977, dir. George Lucas among others) Williams oriented himself to available compositions from Richard Strauss to Gustav Holst, thus maintaining a kind of leitmotif with a characteristic function of premonition, albeit one lacking the intense motivistic processing found in the classic motion pictures made in Hollywood. This approach was also taken by another composer who has earned a special place in the history of film music: Ennio Morricone. By implementing innovative turns in known phrase models, such as the double sixth-tone boost in Jill’s Song (Once upon a Time in the West, IT/US 1969, dir. Sergio Leone) and the baroque practice of embellishment as a catchy melody (Gabriel’s Oboe in The Mission, UK 1986, dir. Roland Joffé), he achieved a salience that belies a remark attributed to him, namely, that film scores are not primarily meant to be heard.

The film score is functional music. It must be grasped quickly by the listener, a requirement which, judging by recent music, above all demands simple rhythms. It must underscore feelings and produce associations. And it must structure the images. It has to make transitions invisible. This feat is particularly evident when cars are being driven in films and the alternating visual impressions merge (e.g., Harold and Maude, 1971, dir. Hal Ashby, music: Cat Stevens; The Graduate, US 1967, dir. Mike Nichols, music: Simon and Garfunkel). Musical transition—for instance when James Bond moves from one room to the next in The Spy Who Loved Me (UK 1977, dir. Lewis Gilbert, music: Marvin Hamlisch)—has to stimulate awareness of new times and locations.

Despite the increasing significance of sound designs, traditional methods of film scores continue to play an important role. Even in the boisterous action films of the 1990s, Hollywood’s composers rely on techniques such as the use of local touches or of Arabic folklore (e.g., Lisa Gerrard’s Duduk of the North in Gladiator, UK/US 2000, dir. Ridley Scott).[17] Even the opulent orchestral sound continues to be used. Hans Zimmer—the veritable creator of a composing factory currently consisting of the most productive film-score composers—cultivates this sound, which is intensified by means of electronic sounds (e.g., the series of Pirates of the Caribbean films, US 2003/2006/2007, dir. Gore Verbinski, among others).

Even if over the course of the development of film scores their means have expanded, become more refined, and been extended by the possibilities of sound design, in a traditional sense film scores are an essential component of every elaborate feature film production. Experimental or animated films adhere to different rules.

Interesting in this respect is the interview in Bazelon, Knowing the Score, 200.  
In collaboration with Hans Zimmer.