Film music has its roots in European symphonic composers.
There was a nineteenth century composer named Anton Bruckner who was, to my mind, one of the worst composers who ever lived, yet is revered by some as a late romantic master.
Bombastic and vastly grandiose, his works are a tempest in a teapot, all signifying nothing.
If you are forced to listen to a Bruckner symphony you’ll be subjected to the trumpets going “Ta Da Da Da Da Da” every ten seconds as if the cavalry had finally come to save John Wayne.
It all sounds like music, surely. But it never adds up to anything worthy of the name “masterpiece.”
Thus Bruckner was insecure, to say the least.
Musicians constantly joke about his revisions to his symphonies, in his own time and now.
It is said that when friends made criticisms of his work, however gentle, he would brood and sulk, and then make the change that the friend wanted.
You think the trumpets should play that tune more often? You think the last part is too long? Okay, I changed it.
Given the fact that Bruckner’s music was so bad in the first place, it is only possible to make it worse with changes offered by anyone.
Thus Bruckner’s work takes on a Frankenstein-like, stitched together motley quilt quality with lurching, endless transitions and, as mentioned above, the constant blaring of trumpets as if we were imprisoned in a cheap Boris Karloff film.
I mention all this because, as a person who watches countless films, it suddenly occurred to me what bothers me about film music, with very, very few exceptions, is the same thing that bothers me about Bruckner’s music.
All film music and any commercial musical product, be it a Broadway musical or a pop CD, is essentially created by committee. There may be one composer, but everyone weighs in on what the music to the film or show should be, from the producer, director, start and editor.
This dilution of creative force makes the music into less than what it could be, sort of like Velveeta, which is and isn’t cheese.
And this is true of pop music, where you can hear the composer trying to make something that sounds “commercial,” killing any originality they had in the first place.
The film composer has always been a willing slave of the director and producer, not the creator of grandly original musical thought.
If you really listen to almost all film music, with your eyes closed, it barely sounds like music at all, but some tinny, treacly stream of psychoacoustic musical babble designed to get the viewer feeling the “proper” emotion.
My favorite films are those that really don’t use music much at all.
I’m truly offended by clucking bassoons and comic music telling me that the actor in front of me is being funny.
If that actor were so darn funny, I wouldn’t need your clucking bassoons.
Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press
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