Friday, June 25, 2010

Question: Soundtracks

All films have soundtracks. Some use classical music. Some use rock or country. Some mix it up. How much do you notice the soundtrack? How much do you think it affects the film? What do you think makes a good soundtrack or a bad one? And what are some of your favorite soundtracks?

42 comments:

Tam said...

Favorite soundtracks are Bram Stoker's Dracula, LOST, Romeo + Juliet, Immortal Beloved. I am not sure I can articulate what makes them my favorites, other than the music evokes emotion or reflects the drama and the characters. If listening to a soundtrack makes me want to cry or sing out loud, it's a good soundtrack to me.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, I think that's a pretty good explanation!

I have found that I prefer classical music in soundtracks rather than rock music (or, even worse, the saxophone solos from the 1980s), because it's less dated and so it doesn't hinder the movie when you see it years later.

I also like music that gives you a sense of motion. For example, I love the Conan soundtrack because it literally seems to animate the character's movements and it gives you these big sweeping feelings. And I really love the kind of "spinning dread" created in soundtracks like The Black Hole. I think the Harry Potter soundtrack fits in with this as well. In fact, I can't not think of the Harry Potter music when I see the images in my head.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: My favorite is Lawrence of Arabia. Maurice Jarre did the music, and David Lean was so impressed with it that he ordered that during the prologue and the intermission, the music was to play, but there would be no picture on the screen. They stuck to that plan on the DVD release. The music seemed to capture perfectly the mood of the scene that it went with, but the overall theme (leitmotif) remained throughout.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's both an incredible film and an incredible soundtrack. That was definitely the era of "big sound" in soundtracks. Another one I really like from the era (also Jarre) is Doctor Zhivago. And I also really liked Elmer Bernstein, with The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I notice movie soundtracks to the point that I buy a lot of them. I still even have a few on LP (e.g. Star Wars and The Blues Brothers.) If done well, they can make an otherwise mediocre film great. I think Titanic is a brilliant soundtrack, even though the movie itself is cliche and predictable. It's probably the soundtrack that makes me like the movie so much despite its shortcomings.

Classical or instrumental work well in sci-fi and fantasy. Excalibur comes to mind--an excellent use of Wagner. And no soundtrack thread would be complete without a John Williams mention--the king of classical music for movies.

And then there are movies where a pop or rock music soundtrack work the best. Two great examples are Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. Tarentino is a genius for the music he picks for his soundtracks.

Some of my other favorites include Superman, Amelie, Magnolia and Moulin Rouge.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Very true on all counts. A good soundtrack can lift up a movie -- just as a poor soundtrack can hurt it. I don't know if you've seen The Golden Compass. The movie is pretty horrible, but the sountrack is so much worse -- there are times it sounds like it's laughing at the film!

And you're right, no discussion of soundtracks would be complete without mentioning Williams. In fact, he is probably our greatest modern composer. What hasn't he done that isn't memorable and just really, really good.

You're right about some soundtracks needing non-classical music, and the examples you site are good ones. The music in Goodfellas really was like another character in the story, it added that much -- and it was the perfect way to mark time. And Tarantino has always been extremely good about integrating music. His use of 1970s music from Reservoir Dogs, I think, single-handedly brought on the 1970s crazy in the last 1990s.

Also, I was super impressed with the Moulin Rouge soundtrack -- especially their take on Roxanne.

CrispyRice said...

Nice list, Engima!

I'm a fan of Moulin Rouge, too, despite my general disdain for remakes. :)~

One of my favorites is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It has a collection of mellow jazz, but it's not so mellow that it puts you to sleep.

Then there's musicals, but I guess those are a slightly different category.

CrispyRice said...

Oh, and I forgot -- I will confess to having bought the "soundtrack" to the Ally McBeal show years ago.

>>hangingheadinshame<<

It wasn't so much as soundtrack as it was a collection of songs by the singer in the bar Ally would frequent, and I quite liked them.

AndrewPrice said...

CrispyRice, Yeah, I would say that musicals really are a different category, though the principle is the same.

I thought Midnight had a really excellent soundtrack as well. It really fit the image they were trying to make of Savannah.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, There's nothing wrong with that. I get a lot of my new music from film soundtracks or from television shows or commercials. In fact, it's one of the few places you can still hear good new music -- since you don't hear anything good on the radio anymore.

Tennessee Jed said...

A good musical soundtrack can be incredibly powerful. At it's best, it creates an appropriate mood for the scene. Some of my favorites are from Thomas Newman (American Beauty and Road to Perdition) James Newton Howard (Restoration, The Village) Master & Commander) Mark Adler (Bottle Shock) Philip Pickett (Elizabeth) and Trevor Morris.

Crazy Heart with T-Bone Burnett, the late Steve Bruton, and Buddy Miller is exceptional. I could go on and on.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I thought the soundtrack for The Village was exceptional.

You know what's funny, is that sometimes the soundtracks sound great in the movie, but don't work so well when they are standing alone. One example of that is Solaris (Cliff Martinez), which I thought was great in the film -- very appropriate, but horrible on CD.

By way of modern stuff, I really liked the Smoking Aces soundtrack by Clint Mansell. And I've been a fan of a guy called J. Ralph, though he's done very little work. He did the Lucky Number Slevin soundtrack. He's best know for a song ("Million Miles Away") that was used in a VW commercial -- it's one of my favorite pieces of music. (Click Here).

In do like blues in some soundtracks, but I can't think of any movie that comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Boy, you guys know your soundtracks and composers. Unfortuntately, I'm not that knowledgeable. Let’s see, a few movie soundtracks that really stand out to me: Last of the Mohicans (I love the Celtic influence), Excalibur, Pirates of the Caribbean, Titanic, Star Wars, Chronicles of Narnia and The Bad News Bears (the original from 1976). What makes them stand out is that any time I hear them, I immediately think of the movie - especially Excalibur and The Bad News Bears. The music from those two movies is not exactly my type, but it immediately takes me back to those two movies as soon as I hear it and I will always associate that music with those movies. TJ

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - Maurice Jarre is a master, no doubt. I think Witness is near the top of my favorites of his, particularly, the classic "Building the Barn" I had just moved to Minnesota and the family had not yet moved from Pennsylvania. The music and Lanaster County scenery was very emotional. I have where the filming was done on numerous occasions.

Andrew - your absolutely right about some music not really working stand alone.

MegaTroll said...

I'm sure you think I'm going to say "Shrek." But I like the big booming Western soundtracks of old. I also liked "Silverado." :D

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - for blues soundtrack, check out a film titled "Honeydripper." I think you would like it. The soundtrack for the movie about Chess Records had some good stuff as well, but like you mentioned, something like that almost needs a separate category from films that "aren't specifically about music." Of course that point applies to Crazy Heart or Walk the Line as well.

Tennessee Jed said...

Mega - The Big Country is a fantastic soundtrack of that genre as is "Magnificent Seven."

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, Ultimately, that may be the best measure of a good soundtrack -- that you immediately see the movie in your head when you hear the music!

I like all the ones you mention as well. And speaking of The Bad News Bears, that always makes me think of Heaven Can Wait which has a great soundtrack as well.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's true. Some movies are about the music, and that often leads to great soundtracks, though not in the classic sense of a soundtrack.

And of course sometimes you have documentaries that contain a lot of music -- there is one I really liked about Chuck Berry, where he ends up playing with Keith Richards and they can't get along. I love Berry's stuff!

I'll check out Honeydripper, I don't think I've seen it.

Speaking of some music not working outside of the film, I've felt for years that too few soundtracks get enough credit as real music. People too often think of it as snippets that fit into films. But most soundtracks really do stand on their own. And I do get frustrated when people say that we no longer produce classical music -- hear this a lot in college. Unless you exclude soundtracks, then we are making more classical music than ever!

Tennessee Jed said...

Anonymous - Clannad is a Celtic group that did some of the music in "Mohicans." The Cheiftans are probably the greatest Celtic Soundtrackers and I recommend a CD of their soundtracks called "Film Cuts" which includes Rob Roy, Treasure Island, Barry Lyndon, The Grey Fox (a great under the radarfilm) Talk about eliciting emotion and Celtic, in the movie "In Bruges" there is a scene in which Brendan Gleeson, grievously wounded, drags himself to the top of the bell tower in order to jump off to warn his friend and partner (Colin Ferril.) The Dubliners sing a song called Raglin Road throughout the scene. If it doesn't bring tears to your eyes, you have no soul.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Before Scott shows up and goes insane over our omissions, I should probably mention Danny Elfman and Jerry Goldsmith, who belong right up there with John Williams.

MegaTroll said...

Tennessee, "Magnificent Seven" is a favorite of mine. "Big Country" is too. The West needs BIG music!

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

Hey Mega, your mention of Westerns reminded me of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which has a great classic soundtrack. The famous whistle followed by the "waa waa waa" can still be found everywhere in pop culture today.

Another good movie composer is John Barry, who is probably most famous for the "James Bond" theme. Who isn't familiar with that theme? He's also know for Somewhere in Time, another wildly popular soundtrack.

patti said...

one of my favs because they took old songs and funked them up: moulin rouge.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, I kept meaning to mention The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly -- totally classic, fantastic soundtrack! But I keep forgetting.

I agree about John Barry. His James Bond work is great -- I also really love The Black Hole (mentioned above -- though I should have mentioned Barry's name). He's easily one of the best! Good call!

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, I agree. I love what they did with those songs. I have nothing against remakes, I just don't like poorly done or pointless remakes. But for the most part, they really worked these songs over and produced quite a few gems.

StanH said...

Everyone has mentioned some great film tracks, perhaps a few that some may have forgotten “Midnight Cowboy,” the chromatic harp is cool, “Toots” Thieleman, Harry Nilsson, John Barry. A sound track I love in ways more than the movie, “Legend” the musicians were, Tangerine Dream with Jon Anderson of Yes. Another great soundtrack “A Clockwork Orange,” weaving Beethoven throughout, and while on Kubrick “2001 a Space Odyssey,” with Strauss tying the movie together. There are so many.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

Andrew: Wow, I had no idea that John Barry did The Black Hole soundtrack. I liked that one too!

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

StanH: I also liked Tangerine Dream's work in Risky Business, a really great soundtrack mix of instrumental and classic rock songs, especially the TD track "Love on a Real Train".

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, What can I say? Excellent choices!! Tangerine Dream, by the way, does a soundtrack that I love -- Blade Runner.

Along similar lines, I really like Toto's soundtrack for Dune!

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Yep, that was Barry. And nice mention of "Love On A Train" -- I really like that one too. In fact, I was listening to it yesterday!

rlaWTX said...

I have absolutely nothing to add about soundtracks - WAIT!! I thought of something... I already liked Clannad, but actually bought some after Patriot Games...

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, No need to add anything, but this will all be on the year end test! ;-)

Ed said...

I never used to notice soundtracks until I saw a film without one. After that I realized how important music is to film and I've never looked back. As for which ones I like? I like them all, except rap music.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, The problem with movies that use things like rap and heavy metal is that the soundtrack often just drowns the movie in noise. You can't hear what's going on, and if you don't like the particular song, then it kills the movie. Look at Last Action Hero, which I think was hurt by an obnoxious soundtrack.

Di said...

I really liked the soundtrack to the recent Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. I also love Michael Giacchino's scores. His work in Up, LOST, and the latest Star Trek is very good, I think. Soundtracks I actually purchased in my lifetime include: Pretty In Pink, Sid and Nancy, Pulp Fiction and Moulin Rouge.

AndrewPrice said...

Di, I've got Pulp Fiction and Moulin Rouge. Another one I liked a lot was Trainspotting.

The soundtrack to Up was very well done -- very subtle, but alos just perfect!

Ponderosa said...

Any love for Hans Zimmer? I enjoy the Gladiator and Batman Begins soundtracks/scores.

And yes, Risky Business very nice.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, Nope. . . hate Hans Zimmer. Just kidding. I have to say that nothing he's done comes to mind though.

Tennessee Jed said...

Got thinking about Scott's liking Oingo Boingo's Danny Elfman. He has surely done a lot of movie soundtracks, but one that comes to mind is the finale over the credit scrawl from the movie "The Kingdom" by Peter Berg. What interested me about that cut is how much it sounded like music from another Berg movie "Friday Night Lights." The soundtrack for F.N.L. (both movie and television series) is provided by a post rock Austin band called Explosions in the Sky. This is a great example of music being perfectly mated to the material and represents some of the freshest and most creative music around to day. I would recommend for the uninitiated, who might like to dabble and download a song or two, "Your Hand in Mine" from Explosions in the Sky as well as "finale" from "The Kingdom."

ScottDS said...

Andrew - the music for Blade Runner was done by Vangelis, not Tangerine Dream (though they did Legend which was also directed by Ridley Scott and that was after the studio rejected Jerry Goldsmith's orchestral score, which was heard in the European version of the film and subsequent US director's cut).

Now where was I? :-)

There are a few schools of thought on the subject of soundtracks. Great scores are definitely noticed but on the other hand, how good can a score be if it calls attention to itself? And there are plenty of scores that work wonderfully on screen but don't make for great listening experiences (Alien, for instance).

My favorite film composer is Jerry Goldsmith and I had the privilege of seeing him perform live in 2001. He also told some very corny jokes in between sets. Some of my favorite Goldsmith scores include Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek V, Basic Instinct, Innerspace, The Boys from Brazil, The Ghost and the Darkness, and Total Recall.

I also enjoy Elmer Bernstein, Danny Elfman, and John Williams. You can't be my age and not know Williams' work (Star Wars, Indy, etc.). Sadly, I don't think Danny Elfman will ever be as good as he was in the late 80s/early 90s when he did Batman and Edward Scissorhands.

As for Bernstein, one of my prized possessions is the COMPLETE Great Escape score. Only 3000 copies were made and that was back in 2004 or so. I also enjoy his comedy work. When he did Animal House, John Landis asked him to score it like a serious movie. That begat Meatballs which begat Airplane! which begat Stripes -> Ghostbusters -> Trading Places -> Spies Like Us, etc. I also enjoy James Horner (despite his copycat tendencies) and Alan Silvestri (the complete Back to the Future score was released last year and is another prized possession).

The two younger composers I like now are Michael Giacchino and Bear McCreary. McCreary did Battlestar Galactica and now does Caprica and Human Target. Giacchino, of course, did Star Trek ('09), The Incredibles, Up, LOST, and Alias. I actually enjoy his Medal of Honor videogame scores most of all.

Due to changes in AFM royalties and re-use fees, the studios have started licensing more and more of their vintage scores to specialty labels like FSM, Intrada, and La-La Land. In the last year, we've gotten plenty of "holy grails" previously thought to never see the light of day, including The Goonies, Innerspace, Back to the Future, the COMPLETE Star Treks II and III, Black Sunday, Islands in the Stream, the COMPLETE Independence Day, The Right Stuff, and more. It's a great time to be a movie score fan!

I haven't dabbled too much in the Golden Age composers like Waxman, Newman, Steiner, and Tiomkin. I do, however, own a handful of Bernard Herrmann scores including pristine re-recordings of North by Northwest (with Joel McNeely conducting the Slovak Symphony) and Fahrenheit 451 (with William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony).

And if/when The Black Hole is released, I'll let you know! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Dang it, I knew that about Vangellis! I've got "Silver Rain" and "Blade Runner Love Theme" right next to "Love On a Train" in a playlist and I stupidly swapped the two in my head. Should have double checked. Oh well.

Regarding the rest of your post, I take it you aren't really familiar with soundtracks? ;-)

I liked a lot of what Elfman does, but I have to say that too often he strikes me as a knock-off of Goldsmith. In fact, several times I've thought it was Goldsmith only to discover it was Elfman.

I honestly am not familiar enough yet with Michael Giacchino and Bear McCreary to render an opinion. I thought Up's soundtrack was excellent, but I can't recall it without seeing it.

I am of two minds when it comes to Tiomkin and Herrmann. I like their work, but it's almost garish -- musically speaking. I know it was the style at the time, but it's so overwhelming.

I'm glad to hear that more soundtracks are coming out. Hopefully, they'll release The Black Hole. :-)

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