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Screencraft Series: Film Music

by Mark Russell & James Young

Screencraft has undertaken a venture aiming to unravel the multi-layered language of filmmaking by exploring the fusion of those crafts that combine to create the most important art form of the twentieth century. Each book in the series will focus on one key creative discipline within the medium, explaining and illuminating it in the best way possible–through the work of its leading practitioners. In revealing their roles in the filmmaking process, they will shed light on the way films evolve through a fusion of forces which at first glance might appear to be incompatible: art and industry, vision and compromise or design and accident.

Film Music
Cinema and more recently, television, have certainly become the greatest patrons of commissioned music of our time. In the eighteenth century Mozart and Haydn wrote dinner music for their employers while Bach dashed off a church Cantata every week. Today, countless composers, orchestras, conductors, orchestrationists, copyists, music editors, music contractors, music supervisors, studios, music engineers, and agents are kept busy by the film and television And the modern film composer is now a recording star as well. It’s not unusual for a soundtrack album to sell over one million copies, in fact some sell many more. Many famous composers have there own recording contracts, not just for film music but for new concert works. Film composers have their own Internet sites, often run by enthusiasts. With declining interest and failing sales in contemporary classical music, record companies are looking to film composers to provide today’s accessible popular orchestral music.

The power of the music score is easy to evaluate. Just try watching Psycho with the sound turned down. But how did music come to be so central in its association with film? Today the score is often used to convey what the word cannot, a musical version of the Greek chorus, but in the early days of silent films the music the musical accompaniment told the whole story.

When silent films turned into talking pictures, Hollywood studio heads brought over Europe’s most respected composers; they became advisors and orchestrators who could edit classical musical scores to fit screens. The hit song was a new development for Hollywood. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin burst into the charts with the song "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" from High Noon. In fact the success of the song (it sold over one million copies) translated into box office triumph for the film. The result of course was that suddenly every major motion picture had to have a title song. Then in 1967 The Graduate raised serious problems for the specialty-composed score. The immense popularity of the songs written for the film by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel meant that the soundtrack album as an idea became prerequisite sales and marketing opportunity. Soon European composers were out of work and moved to Europe where they felt more respected. And the soundtrack album was now considered at the planning stage of a film, such was its money-spinning potential.

Today the film soundtrack has assimilated all these developments. Album, hit songs and score co exist more comfortably. Younger composers have grown up with pop music and do not necessarily view it with suspicion. Indeed pop elements and instrumentation is now firmly part of the composer’s armory. With the advances in computer technology the process of film scoring has substantially changed. While the aesthetics and dramatic requirements may remain the same as one hundred years ago, it is new possible to put together reasonable orchestral mock-ups with synthesizers and computer sequencers; most home studios can synchronize film to music. The whole process has become more instant, perhaps filtering down from the rapid turn-around requirements of television scoring. Gone are the days when the director would first hear his score at the orchestral recording session. The featured composers are Bernard Herrman, Elmer Bernstein, Maurice Jarre, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Philip Glass, Howard Shore, Danny Elfman, Zbigniew Preisner and Ryuichi Sakamoto

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Screencraft Series: Film Music
Publisher: Focal Press
Pages: 192
ISBN: 0-240-80441-4


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