Aural Fixation

Aural FixationWhat would your favorite movie be without sound? Try thinking of Jurassic Park without hearing the great John Williams score? It’s not really possible. Music can add untold dimensions to the vision of a filmmaker, and our own Allison Loring is as music-obsessed as they come in the world of movie geeks. Join her as she looks at all the best and most interesting work in the world of movie music.

Movies live orchestra

Would bringing live music back into theaters improve your experience of watching a film? Or would it feel like an old timey distraction? Eight-seven years ago, before movies were able to synchronize sound to the actual picture, having live musicians and orchestras perform as the film played was the norm. The Artist showed audiences how silent films relied on the music to convey the feelings and emotions of the actors on screen in lieu of dialogue. But as film (and the film industry) moved into 1927 – film technology began to advance and recorded dialogue and sound synchronization became the way of the future as theaters began swapping out orchestras for speakers. But should theaters bring live music back to the movie going experience? We say yes.


Captain America USO scene

Captain America was introduced to the Marvel universe in 1941 as a young man who gets injected with a super serum that changes him from a frail kid to human perfection. The idea of an ordinary person suddenly finding themselves with super powers has consistently appealed to audiences and comic book fans, but Captain America became one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes during the 1940s thanks to it’s patriotic message, something that was much needed while America was in the throes of World War II. But most notably, out of all the superheroes populating the Marvel universe, Captain America was the first character to get his own movie serial, the self-titled, Captain America. (The next Marvel superhero to hit the screen would be The Punisher forty-two years later!) The serial (and Dick Purcell) brought Captain America to life, but Purcell’s version was slightly different from the version in the comics. Purcell’s alter ego was that of District Attorney Grant Gardner while the alter ego in the comics was the formerly frail Steve Rogers. However the patriotic message and feeling of the comics remained constant on the screen thanks to music from composer Mort Glickman.


Frank the Movie

This is Frank. He’s the lead singer of the band Soronprfbs. He’s played by Michael Fassbender in the film of the same name. And he’s based on an actual person (or character – depending on how you see things). A man who never takes off a papier-mâché head is a situation that seems made for the big screen, especially when that same man lives his life in the spotlight (rather than staying the shadows). Fassbender’s Frank in Frank is based on the real-life creation of comedian and musician Chris Sievey – Frank Sidebottom. While both Franks are aspiring musicians, they attempt to capture success in very different ways.


Say Anything Boombox Scene

When most people hear “music supervisor” they think of television and the person who places the songs heard throughout an episode. These days, most shows end with a highlight reel of the artists and music featured in the episode so you can easily figure out who sang what (and, they hope, go out and by the song). But music supervisors do not only exist in the world of TV, they also work on movies. As this past weekend’s Oscar broadcast proved, the main recognition for movie music falls to the film’s composer. Rightfully so. The composer does create the lion’s share of the music and helps deliver the overall impression a film looks to make on audiences, but they are not the only ones involved in shaping the tonal language. Original songs written for a film can become as iconic as the film they are featured in (right, Llewyn?), but placed music is just as much a part of the experience and those curating the choices are as big a part of the scoring process as the composer.


that thing you do

In the wake of the untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we here at FSR were asked to think of our favorite Hoffman performance. I immediately thought of his portrayal of rock journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous which got me thinking about the band Stillwater which William (Patrick Fugit) ends up following on tour. Stillwater is a fictional band created for Almost Famous, but they feel like anything but fiction, instead coming across as a real band just starting to climb the charts, easily existing alongside The Who and Black Sabbath (the band they opened for in the film). So what was it about Stillwater that made them feel like a real life band and not one simply created to help drive the story?



In an interview with Rolling Stone, “August: Osage County” playwright, Tracy Letts, said the difference between watching a movie and a play is “…the way people take them in. You don’t work as hard to watch a movie. You work harder to watch a play, so what the audience puts into it is interesting.” Going to the movies is definitely a communal experience, but watching a play can be an intense experience because you are not simply escaping into a story as a passive viewer, you are in a theater with the actors, the presence making you a participant in the overall experience. Before the premiere of the film adaptation of August: Osage County at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Letts expanded on this comparison saying, “There are a lot of people in a room [when watching a play] and everyone is a living person as opposed to an image that’s already been shot. Meryl Streep is not in the house tonight, just her picture’s up there, so it’s a different experience.” Movies allow for quick location changes and close ups of an actor’s face, but the feeling of being in the same room with an actor is lost when it’s solely their image on a screen – and that is where music comes in.



Even though “Please Mr. Kennedy” is probably still stuck in most people’s heads, it is officially a new year full of films with music that will move us to tears, make us cheer, make us smile, or simply introduce us to something different. Sometimes a movie won’t hit all the marks, but the music will be unforgettable and other times the music ends up being the element that makes a film by tying all the other elements together. After looking over the titles set to hit theaters this year, the following 15 are the ones to keep your ears open for. From well-known composers embarking on new collaborations to popular artists once again taking to the stand to musicians stepping away from their usual genres into something new,  the upcoming year is poised to deliver films boasting an eclectic array of tunes. If you are still looking for something to use those holiday iTunes gift cards on, get ready to add these upcoming scores and soundtracks to your playlists for 2014.


Paramount Pictures

From the moment we saw Leonard DiCaprio bust a move in the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street (creating one of the best gifs of 2013), it was clear the movie knew how to party. Martin Scorsese’s latest tells the provocative true story of former Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio) – a man who did not hold back when it came to his ambition, drug addiction, insatiable greed, and throwing some of the wildest parties both inside and outside of the office. The Kanye West beat that pulsates throughout that trailer (making it one of our favorites of last year) set the tone for this non-stop party atmosphere, but the musical choices throughout the movie itself (and those highlighted on the film’s soundtrack) are as unpredictable as Belfort after downing multiple handfuls of Quaaludes. The Wolf of Wall Street takes audiences back to the early 1990s where, in the wake of the stock market crash of 1987, ambitious Belfort sets his sights on exploiting penny stocks and begins to make a name (and buckets of cash) for himself. Despite the setting, the film isn’t jam packed with tunes from the decade (not to say they aren’t there) opting to instead focus on the blues with songs from artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Cannonball Adderley.


Another Day Another Time

In a Q&A after a recent screening of Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, T Bone Burnett was asked why he wanted to create a four hour concert celebrating the music of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s latest film, and Burnett simply replied that he wanted to “keep the movie alive.” To which he quickly added, “Even though that seemed lame.” But Another Day/Another Time is anything but lame — it’s a true celebration of the music featured in, and inspired by, the Coen brothers’ folk odyssey. Burnett, along with Marcus Mumford (who served as an associate music producer on Inside Llewyn Davis and who also appears on the soundtrack), brought together a variety of musicians to put on a concert at New York  City’s Town Hall, which director Christopher Wilcha then turned into a documentary by filming the days leading up to the concert along with the concert itself. Just as Inside Llewyn Davis focuses on the performances and lets the film’s singers play without interruption, Wilcha created a stripped down music documentary that features the performances rather than the stories behind them. Another Day/Another Time gives audiences a front row seat and makes you feel like you are actually in Town Hall, only realizing you’re not when Wilcha slyly cuts from performance footage to shots of rehearsal.


Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

The idea of robbing banks and trains should conjure up images of brazen cowboys and the spaghetti western music of Ennio Morricone, but instead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford depicts a stark world left in the wake of these famed outlaws, full of melancholy and restlessness. Jesse James has a very distinctive look and feel thanks to the cinematography, the acting from the film’s two leads and the costumes — all of which give Jesse James an almost mournful tone. There’s one other element that solidifies that dirge-evoking spirit. The film may have come out six years ago, but with a revival screening poised to take place this weekend, it felt time to revisit Nick Cave and Warren Ellis‘ score, a work which embraces the mystery and magic that is the story of Jesse James as it is told through the unreliable perspective of its narrator Bob Ford (Casey Affleck).


Broken Circle Breakdown

The stage can be a magical and cathartic place where artists express themselves and connect with an audience, but sometimes it’s difficult to leave your real life off stage to become the performer your audience came to see. Many films have tackled this subject, whether through fictional narratives of made up bands or by recounting the lives of famous artists, but The Broken Circle Breakdown takes things one step further to showcase the music just as much as those performing it. Living in Belgium, Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens) do not seem like two people who would be into American bluegrass music, but when Didier invites Elise to come check out a local bluegrass band with him, and Elise realizes Didier is in the band, she falls in love with more than just the music. The bluegrass music of the The Broken Circle Breakdown is never restricted to the stage, with the music bleeding into Didier and Elise’s life as much as their life bleeds into their performances on stage. The music doesn’t merely accent a scene or help to drive the emotion, it becomes a part of Didier and Elise and follows them through the highs and lows of their relationship.



There are many factors that grab a person’s interest in seeing a film – the actors, the director, the material that inspired the film, the film’s trailer, but with more and more popular artists and bands trying their had at composing, sometimes hearing new music from these artists can be just as big of a draw. Artists like Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, and Trent Reznor have taken to the sound stage to create music for films such as Tron: Legacy, Hanna, and The Social Network (with Reznor and Atticus Ross even winning an Oscar for their efforts), but what if these recognizable artists were considered a distraction rather than an enhancement to the films they are featured in? Out of the Furnace was rumored to have tapped Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame to create new music for the film – a solid choice considering the success Vedder had creating the music for Into the Wild. Vedder’s music was one of the highlights of that film and proved he understood how to create music for picture as much as he does for the stage. But Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper seems to have changed his mind about this decision. While Vedder did create new music for the film, Cooper decided to take it out in favor of Dickon Hinchliffe’s score citing that Vedder’s music was, “… so powerful that it took me out of the narrative.”


Don Jon's Addiction

When it comes to creating a score for a specific film, the music normally needs to stay within a specific genre to reflect the film’s mood and reinforce its emotional core. You can expect an action film to have  a driving sound that keeps pace with the momentum on screen, a drama will be full of soaring strings, and a horror film will build the tension and accent the inevitable scares. But lately, certain scores have been breaking the rules and incorporating multiple musical genres into a single film, and doing so with surprisingly successful results. Don Jon and The Counselor are two films that may not seem like they have much in common, but the scores for each featured different musical genres and proved these unusual combinations actually can work.


12 Years a Slave Violin

12 Years a Slave tackles many issues throughout its narrative, doing so in the elegant and unflinchingly honest way only director Steve McQueen can deliver. Hans Zimmer’s score works well to reflect the action on screen, playing almost like a horror score at times, but music becomes more than just something accenting the background and driving the emotion, it is also a major part of the story. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a violinist and his talents have not only helped provide him a comfortable life, they have made him a respected member of his community. Solomon is certainly skilled, but it is also clear that he simply loves to play. Unfortunately, that love leads him down a path that changes his life forever. In Saratoga, New York, Solomon is a free man who plays for pleasure and additional income, but once he is kidnapped and shipped south, all the talents and skills that made him a valued member of society could now get him killed. Freeman (Paul Giamatti), the slave trader in charge of getting the highest price for his latest “stock,” quickly utilizes Solomon’s talents and has him play during his human auction as those around him are sold off and families are ruthlessly broken apart. The idea that upbeat music would keep those being sold and separated seem less upsetting is the first glimpse both Solomon and audiences get of the logic existing south of the Mason-Dixon line. The image of Solomon playing as people scream for […]


Muscle Shoals Movie

The recording studio can be a magical place where the songs you now know and love are first born, and there are many factors go into making that magic a reality – a talented artist, just the right hook, a producer with a keen ear, a dedicated engineer, the perfect microphone placement. But there is one other factor that certain studios are also able to deliver: an iconic sound. Earlier this year Sundance premiered two different documentaries that gave audiences an inside look at two famous recording studios – one located in rural Alabama and the other on the outskirts of the entertainment capital that is Los Angeles (i.e. “The Valley”). Nearly a country apart in more ways than one. Muscle Shoals focused on the Alabama town that housed FAME Studios which produced some of the biggest hits of the 1960s and 1970s such as “I’ll Take You There,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Freebird.” Where Muscle Shoals explored the location’s unique sound, Sound City focused on a more tangible object – the studio’s Neve board which helped produce hit albums for artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, and Slipknot. Not to mention Sound City’s musician-turned-director, Dave Grohl, who recorded there with his former band (one you may have heard of), Nirvana. With the release of Muscle Shoals last week, I wanted to revisit these two films as one documentary brought the music to life while the other seemed to circle around the same idea […]


Thanks For Sharing

Telling the story of a sex addict is no easy task, especially when it involves his first real relationship since becoming sober. The music for such a story has to hit the various notes of a person going through the transition of recovering addict to stable boyfriend – and do so while dancing around the question of whether or not this transition is even possible. Mark Ruffalo takes on the role as Adam, a five years sober sex addict, by making him a mix of confidence and humility. Christopher Lennertz’ score follows suit sounding confident at times, but also ebbing into a more reserved tone when the theme calls for it. Adam is a Type-A personality who lives in a beautiful apartment in Manhattan and seems to have his entire life together. The classical music that plays as the film begins certainly reflects this, but as the music gets more staccato, it becomes clear that there is more to Adam then first meets the eye as the true depth of his disease is revealed. Thanks for Sharing tackles some serious issues, but it’s not all doom and gloom.



Last year I posed the question, “Where are all the female composers?” The answer was not as dire as the question may have suggested. Yes – it may now be a year later and the majority of well-known composers are still male, but female composers such as Rachel Portman, Anne Dudley, and Miriam Cutler are pushing their way through, creating the music for films such as Never Let Me Go, The Full Monty, and Ethel. So why has it been nearly two decades since a woman was the lead orchestrator for a major studio release?


Short Term 12

A foster care facility filled with various at-risk teens may sound like an intimidating place, and it certainly can be, but the realistic and sensitive way director Destin Cretton approaches the material makes audiences want to go behind the walls of Short Term 12, and what they find there may be surprising. The innocence conveyed through composer Joel P. West’s simple guitar plucks suggest things are not as scary at Short Term 12 as it may first seem. Sure, some kids try to break free from the facility by running at breakneck speed towards the front gates, but there is a comfort and true sense of security perfectly reflected in West’s score that suggests a different reality. The key for music in a film like Short Term 12, which features many moving elements — stunning performances, beautiful cinematography from Brett Pawlak, strong writing — is to add to the narrative without overwhelming it. As we get to know the residents of Short Term 12 better, the music follows suit, filling out tracks like “Wiffle Ball” and “Birthday Cards” with rich violins and piano refrains. However West’s score is wise to never overpower pivotal character moments as proven in the more restrained tracks like “I’ll Be Fine” and “This Is Home.” West creates a beautiful soundscape that successfully accents the character driven Short Term 12, but music also plays a strong role within the film with Marcus (Keith Stanfield) opening up to Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) through his song lyrics featured […]


Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Remember the days when movie trailers simply teased what might happen in a film? Trailers have been getting longer and longer lately and this increase in length has caused many trailers to give away too much, too soon. With so many movies to choose from these days, they also seem eager to tell you almost everything upfront, an idea that seems predicated on the false hope that more information is more persuasive than mystery. But the opposite affect is happening as more and more people have begun loudly complaining that trailers are turning into mini-movies that leave viewers with little reason to go see the entire film. That’s why it was surprising last week when the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty debuted and did something too many recent trailers have not: it shut up. Coming across like a mini music video, the trailer let Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws” play over images from the film and allowed the subjective lyrics and catchy rhythm to speak to viewer’s own imaginations as they tried to piece together what may happen n the film.



  The 1990s were a very distinct decade in music – Seattle became the birth place of grunge, putting on a memorable live performance became just as important as releasing an amazing album, and boy bands dominated the end of the decade with a fever pitch that reverberates to this day (see: The Package Tour). The 1990s also saw a number of movies with fantastic soundtracks that truly represented the decade (Singles, Clueless, Can’t Hardly Wait), but The To Do List is one of the first films to come out in the aftermath of the ’90s that takes audiences right back to the days of Naughty By Nature, The Cranberries, Mazzy Star, and Salt-n-Pepa. The soundtrack for The To Do List is, as one would imagine, filled with “sexy” songs which play to the plot of the film which has Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) running through a laundry list of sexual exploits with a laser focus on losing her virginity before heading off to college. While the soundtrack is certainly tongue-in-cheek, the film takes things one step further by choosing to have two of its characters also reflect the music scene that permeated this decade.

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published: 01.29.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015

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