Movie Music

Bret McKenzie and Kermit

James Bobin’s relaunch of Jim Henson’s fuzzy felt creations, The Muppets, was one of the big success stories of 2011. It proved that The Muppets could still be box office draws, it won over fans who had loved The Muppets for years and were initially skeptical of whether it could be good, and it made a whole new crop of Muppets fans out of kids meeting the characters for the first time. A big reason for the film’s success was that it featured great songs like “Life’s a Happy Song” and “Man Or Muppet,” which were not only good enough to be put up in the pantheon of best Muppets songs ever written, but were also good enough to win their composer, Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie, an Oscar for Best Original Song (and they were also catchy enough that you’ll probably be humming them for the rest of the day now that you’ve been reminded of them).

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Jimi Hendrix

There are a lot of things that writer/director John Ridley’s upcoming biopic of rock great Jimi Hendrix, All Is By My Side, has going for it. The most obvious asset being its star, André Benjamin, who has shown potential as an actor, has a ton of experience being a musician, and looks pretty much exactly like Jimi Hendrix once he’s all dressed up in costume and letting his afro roam free. There’s one huge stumbling block that has a lot of people questioning what the point of making this movie is at all though: the Hendrix estate didn’t sign off on letting them use any of the musician’s music in the film. How do you make a movie about Hendrix’s music career without showing him playing any of his music? Rolling Stone has the scoop. Apparently the biggest strategy Ridley and company are employing when it comes to getting around the issue of not being able to use any of Hendrix’s copyrights is that they’re going to focus on an isolated part of the musician’s career, the period where he was just emerging onto the scene in ’66 and ’67. Or, as producer Sean McKittrick puts it, “This is the story of Jimi being discovered as a backup musician and how he went to London and became Jimi Hendrix.” In McKittrick’s opinion, focusing on just the early part of Hendrix’s career is smarter than making a movie that covers his whole life, because, “That would be like making a movie […]

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When director Joseph Kosinski revived Disney’s sci-fi classic TRON with the belated but visually dazzling 2010 sequel TRON: Legacy, the results were a mixed bag to say the least. One thing that pretty much everyone could agree upon when it came to that film, however, is that the score by French electronic group Daft Punk was the best thing it had going for it. Eschewing a traditional film score in favor of the pulsing, electronic sounds of Daft Punk worked wonders when it came to bringing the world of TRON to life and really making it hum, and it’s not hard to imagine that the film could have been far less effective without such a perfect marriage of image and sound. TRON: Legacy isn’t the only film that’s gone the nontraditional route when it comes to finding its music in recent years, either. From Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood scoring Paul Thomas Anderson movies, to Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scoring David Fincher films, to The Chemical Brothers providing the music for Joe Wright’s Hanna, bringing a mainstream musician in to score your film instead of hiring one of the well-established film score composers seems to have become a full-scale trend, and a trend that has so far provided us with some amazing music. Since it worked for him once, Kosinski is looking to go back to that well for his next sci-fi adventure, Oblivion. The Playlist reports that in order to find the musical accompaniment for this Tom Cruise-starring tale of […]

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We learned not too long ago that David Gordon Green has made a movie that’s so low budget and has so much indie cred, nobody even heard about it until it was already finished shooting. It’s called Prince Avalanche, it stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as a couple of road workers painting the lines on isolated and little used roads, and it’s a remake of a 2011 Icelandic film called Either Way. Since most everyone is in agreement that the David Gordon Green who makes small, experimental films is the best David Gordon Green there is, said news was generally accepted as being good news. But things get even better. Now there’s word that this new film will be bringing back memories of Green’s earlier, indie-r work even more so than we may have imagined. Consequence of Sound is reporting that Austin, Texas band Explosions in the Sky have agreed to make some time to score the film once their current tour wraps up in August. The guys from Explosions in the Sky and Green have all known each other for quite a while, as he’s already used a bunch of their music in his earlier works All the Real Girls and Snow Angels.

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Heat Movie Michael Mann

I’ve been taking my family on a tour of Michael Mann’s filmography recently, and every minute has been fantastic. Mann has a great eye for cinematography, writes and/or directs characters who are refreshingly competent and layered, and has a way of getting great mileage out of a topic he enjoys (crime and those who commit and prevent it) by changing the level of its presentation. He has done pieces both epic (Heat) and intimate (Collateral). He has ventured into the past, where his favorite subject varies in presence from “extant, but not important compared to other events” (The Last of the Mohicans) to “the point of the entire film” (Public Enemies). He brought Hannibal Lector to the screen for the first time as Hannibal Lecktor in Manhunter, which I must admit remains my primary source exposure to everyone’s favorite cannibal. All of these traits make Mann a director whose work should be followed, but what absolutely drives me wild about him is his use of music in his pictures’ key scenes. Mann’s soundtracks are usually a mix of contemporary rock, house music, a slow and/or seductive piece for particularly romantic moments and several compositions written specifically for the film by his composer. At least once in every one of his films that I have had a chance to see, Mann takes a piece from his soundtrack and sets it to a climactic or character defining scene and the resulting moment never fails to astound. Dialogue is usually sparse to nonexistent […]

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Park Chan-wook is a talented filmmaker who’s never afraid to get experimental and crazy with his work, so film fans have been looking forward to his first English language movie for quite a while. The director’s breakthrough into the world of Hollywood will finally come in the form of a film called Stoker, which stars Mia Wasikowska as a teenage girl who’s forced to reconnect with a strange and probably dangerous uncle after the untimely death of her father. Just hearing that Park has gotten the chance to direct names like Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Jacki Weaver is enough to make Stoker a heavily anticipated release already, but today some new news broke that makes the movie look like even more of a surefire delight. According to Film Music Reporter, composer Clint Mansell has scored the film, and is currently recording its music at Air Studios in London. Mansell has been doing film work for a while, but he’s probably best known as being a longtime collaborator of Darren Aronofsky’s. Their work together has created some of the greatest scores of the last decade or so, with the soundtracks for Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain probably being the high points. Mansell was also responsible for the mellow tones that made up the score for Duncan Jones’ debut film Moon, a track list that surely shows up on a lot of movie score nuts’ top-ten of the 2000s lists. He is also a particular favorite of our own Allison […]

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Aural Fixation - Large

I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite composers perform selections of his work live a few weeks back, and to say it was a magical evening would be an understatement. But before I went completely over the moon (pun!) from the experience, I was given the opportunity to speak with the man himself about the evening, what led him decide to bring his scores to the stage and his process as one of the industry’s most successful and innovative composers. Keep reading for my interview with composer Clint Mansell (Moon, Black Swan, Requiem For a Dream) and keep your eyes (and ears) peeled as it sounds like these live performances may just be the start of a whole new way of experience film scores.

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After years with The White Stripes (R.I.P.), collaborative projects like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, an ex-wife/bandmate that everyone thinks is his sister, and now a new solo album, Jack White‘s been a busy man. While he’s no stranger to film, he’s never composed a film score until now. According to Disney, they’ve hired the slightly mad musician to score The Lone Ranger, the forthcoming movie from Gore Verbinski. The director has worked most often with Hans Zimmer, but there’s no denying that White has incredible musical talent. As for movies, White worked with Alicia Keys on the Quantum of Solace song “Another Way to Die,” he was featured in It Might Get Loud, and he also appeared on “Rome” – the album from Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi which was inspired by Spaghetti Westerns. It’ll be an interesting experiment to see how his vision and talent transpose to the screen.  

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Aural Fixation - Large

Song placement plays a very important role in a film – a song can make you feel happy, sad, nostalgic or make you laugh. Scores can certainly do the same thing, but sometimes a well-placed song works better than any composed piece could. However this tact rarely applies to horror films, especially when leading up to a climatic moment or a jump scare. You can usually sense when these moments are coming – the score becomes ominous, (or even drops out completely) causing your heart beat to quicken as you sense something terrifying is about to be revealed. These moments are almost always driven by score and rarely (if ever) feature a lyric-filled song. And this choice makes sense since lyrics would probably distract from the suspense of the moment instead of drawing it out and, in turn, drawing you into the horror. For horror films, songs with vocals are usually left for party scenes or if a character on screen happens to be listening to the radio, but they are rarely placed within the scene to underscore it. It raises a great question: can a pop or rock song fit into these pivotal moments and have the same effect? Or is this strictly a score or silence choice? I spoke with composer Kurt Oldman who is well-versed in the world of horror film scoring having lent his style to the creepy scores for Killer Holiday, Babysitter Wanted and Neighbor to get his perspective on this idea, how he approaches scoring horror films […]

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Aural Fixation - Large

After exploring the lack of ladies when it comes to the world of composing, I decided to go directly to the source and ask a composer who is currently (and actively) working in the business, and who also happens to be a woman. Miriam Cutler is best known for her work in documentaries such as Thin, Lost in La Mancha and Ethel (which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.) I spoke with Cutler not just about her background in music and composing (which is both impressive and extensive), but also about her perspective on the industry as a whole and as a woman working in it. While there may not be many well-known female composers at the moment, they are certainly on the rise. With veterans like Cutler paving the way, it sounds like many composers coming into the industry now are not just men, and it will be interesting to see how this change affects and influences future film scores.

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Marco Beltrami is one of the most recognizable names in film scoring, and he’s earned that celebrity by scoring 4-8 high profile films every year for the past decade. For the most part, his work ranges from the darkly atmospheric to the engagingly violent, which makes him ideal for horror and for action films where Bruce Willis throws a car at a helicopter. It also makes him a fantastic candidate for World War Z, the zombie film starring Brad Pitt that should see the light of day this year. According to Film Music Reporter, Beltrami has been hired by the production amidst a busy schedule that sees him coming off work for The Woman in Black and looking ahead to A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s a significant pick up, although it’s not surprising considering his track record, although he hasn’t worked a lot with Paramount in the past. Still, Beltrami is rock steady when it comes to these types of scores. Hopefully they’ll make him write while being attacked by brain-hungry monsters (to give it a sense of realism).

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This year has given us films that have taken us to slightly darker places from living with sex addiction (Shame) to life within a cult (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sound of My Voice) to struggling with personal and sexual identity (The Beaver, Pariah), just to name a few. But even within these darker landscapes, these films have given us brilliant and captivating performances set against backgrounds and settings we may otherwise never experience. The music accompanying these various films help create their different tones and degrees of darkness from full soundtracks (as I looked into with Shame) to hardly any music at all in the stark and stripped down Sound of My Voice (I swear I’m starting a letter writing campaign to get this film released, like, yesterday). This week I wanted to call to attention a film that premiered back in January during the Sundance Film Festival and has stayed with me over the past twelve months – Pariah. The film tells the story of a young girl, Alike (Adepero Oduye), growing up in an environment that is repressing her true identity under the rule of strict mother Audrey (played with maddening intensity by Kim Wayans), passive father Arthur (Charles Parnell), apple of her mother’s eye sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse), and seemingly understanding best friend Laura (Pernell Walker). Alike wants to please her parents and fit in with her best friend, but it seems she has to deny who she truly is in order to do so.

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We all know that music is an important part of the film experience. It helps set the mood and has the power to completely influence a film’s tone. Changing the music, regardless of what is happening on screen, can suddenly alter the feel or perception of a scene. You take the sound out of a horror film (as I explored here) or replace intense score with cheesy pop music (as spoofed in Funny or Die’s mock Drive trailer) and suddenly the fear and the anxiety are taken away. You are less likely to jump at a sudden reveal without the musical jab that goes along with it and watching Ryan Gosling bash a man’s head into a wall goes from unsettling to humorous when set to Enrique Iglesias’ “I Can Be Your Hero.” Back before there was talking in film, music was the only thing to accompany the moving images and was used to not only convey the emotions being acted out on screen, but to also provide all the sound in the film. The Artist does a brilliant job of not only taking us back to a time of full and vibrant orchestrations, but also reminding audiences how different films were then from what we are used to seeing (and hearing) on screen now. In one of The Artist’s first scenes, this difference proven handily when the audience bursts into applause and you do not hear a single clap.

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Much has been said, screamed, analyzed, obsessed over and dismissed about the Twilight series over the years that sometimes it is easy to forget it all began… with a book. That book alone created a fandom that was quickly compared with another famous book series (Harry Potter), but once the books were brought to the big screen, that fandom seemed to reach a whole new fever pitch and rocketed its leads Robert Pattinson (Edward), Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Taylor Lautner (Jacob) into superstardom (whether they were prepared for it or not). Seeing these books (or any book, for that matter) brought to life is always a matter of living up to the expectations of what people had imagined and envisioned while reading. While scene and character descriptions are usually included, the one wild card that is rarely described when reading is the music. Author Stephanie Meyer certainly noted the music that helped influence her while writing, the films themselves were essentially a blank slate for the Chop Shop’s music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas to inject life and movement into.

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From Kate Hudson coining the term “Band-Aids” in Almost Famous to Mark Wahlberg realizing his dream of becoming the lead singer of Steel Dragon in Rock Star, the obsession with and adoration of various famous bands and musicians has been chronicled through many different films. Nick Hamm’s Killing Bono joins their ranks, telling the story of Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes) and his obsession with not just becoming a huge rock star, but doing so on his own terms without the help of his fellow schoolmates who also formed their own band…which happened to then go on and become U2. Neil is a dreamer so fixated on the idea of stardom and all the spoils that come with it that he does not seem to quite grasp what it takes to make that dream a reality. Dressing like David Bowie does not make you him and acting like you already are a rock star does not make you one. It is clear from the start that, although Neil has the passion, it is his brother Ivan (Robert Shehan) who has the talent. Neil launches his first in a series of decisions that sabotage not only his brother, but also himself, by telling Paul (Martin McCann), the lead singer of rival band The Hype, that despite his interest, Ivan would be staying with the family and performing in Neil’s band. This would normally boil down to nothing more than two garage bands fighting for top billing around local clubs in Dublin, but Paul […]

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When you hear the music for a horror film, you know you’re in for suspenseful strings and make-you-jump percussion while the music in a romance will swell in the moments leading up to that big proclamation. But for a heist film, the musical landscape is a bit more complicated. The music has to walk that line between action and suspense so it helps drive the action on screen while still leaving audiences on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen next. The music must lull you into the action as you find out about the heist and then keep your adrenaline pumping as that plan is carried out (or is at least attempted). Whether you are boosting cars in Fast Five or ideas in Inception, the music works to imitate the thieves themselves from the more quiet moments while setting up the plan to the all out action once you break into the necessary getaway. Tower Heist establishes its theme early (read: the opening credits) with subtle tones that sound almost like the buttons on an ATM or safe being pressed. Composer Christophe Beck is no stranger to heist films having also scored The Pink Panther re-boot back in 2006, but where The Pink Panther was a comedy, Tower Heist takes itself more seriously. Naturally a film with Eddie Murphy is not lacking in the joke department (the film’s trailer alone proves that), but when it comes to planning and carrying out the actual plan, Tower […]

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Creating the world of a disturbed, yet brilliant, plastic surgeon harboring more than one secret is no easy task, but director Pedro Almodóvar rises to the challenge with his beautiful and haunting film, The Skin I Live In. An equal challenge was that of creating the music for this world to keep up with the story’s various twists and turns. From the frenetic strings that draw us in at the beginning of the film to the final piano refrain, composer Alberto Iglesias’s score helps create a world that refuses to let you, much like the mysterious woman trapped in the doctor’s home, out until the film’s very last frame. I spoke with Iglesias about the process of working with Almodóvar on this film, the challenges of expressing the emotion in scenes with little to no dialogue and how sometimes, an ax is an equally important part of the composing process as any instrument. (English is not Iglesias’s first language so please keep that in mind as you read his responses.)

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Anyone who has seen a horror film knows the cue for when a scare is right around the corner – the music begins to draw out the tension before a percussive boom reveals whatever monster or villain (or in this case, shape shifting alien) has made a sudden appearance on screen. Because it is not just the image that is terrifying, it is the sound leading up to its reveal that contains the real fear. Ever watch a scary movie on mute? The scares on screen become almost comical without the music or sound. Even just listening to the music from a horror film (without the accompanying visuals) instinctively puts you on edge. (And yes – I listened to these scores with the lights ON, thank you) John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) took us to a remote research station in Antarctica where the sudden appearance of a seemingly stray snow dog and a low flying helicopter bring us into a world of extreme weather, extreme isolation and a lot of questions. This year, director Matthijs van Heijinigen Jr. is bringing The Thing back to theaters as a prequel to Carpenter’s film. Heijinigen’s film works to explain how things came to be at the start of Carpenter’s tale and the scares and score have been amplified along with it. Famed composer Ennio Morricone created the haunting, but minimal score for Carpenter’s film while composer Marco Beltrami has created a more “traditional” horror score for Heijinigen’s prequel.

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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