movie scores

Earlier this week, we posted a video essay that attempted to explain why none of the Marvel Studios movies don’t seem to have an iconic bold, memorable score or theme song. It was the kind of video that everyone appeared to respond to because it expressed a critique we all saw or felt and it introduced a problem that many of us weren’t aware of (that being, how temp music infiltrates a final cut of a movie).

Tony Zhou does a fantastic job with his Every Frame A Painting video series but at the end of the day its just one man’s view on the world of cinema. And the great thing about the internet is that it provides a forum for others to respond. A new video essay explains why temp music is not to blame for Marvel’s score problems and suggests that the rise of digital scoring technology may be responsible for a larger epidemic in Hollywood soundtracks.

First of all, if you haven’t watched Tony Zhou’s initial video essay, head over here and watch that first. Shortly after posting The Marvel Symphonic Universe video essay, 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg commented on Twitter that “temp love happens all the time and can make a composer’s job hard. But has nothing to do with a generic score.”

Then today another video essay from Dan Golding popped up offering a visual response to Zhou’s video. Tony was so taken with the response that he asked if we could write about it.

Everyone drop everything & watch @dangolding’s response to our Marvel video. It’s just incredible. You have no idea how happy this makes me. Years we’ve spent making videos & ppl always respond in written form. At last a video response!

Below I present to you Dan Golding’s video essay response “A Theory of Film Music.”

Golding points out that not only is the use of temp music not at the core of Marvel’s problem, but temp tracks have been used for decades and have even influenced iconic scores like John Williams’ Star Wars music.

So what then is to blame? He points out that even composers, like James Horner, tend to recycle themes within their work borrowing from themselves. He theorizes that technological advances such as computer composing and digital editing are responsible for a significant change in film scores. The music that comes from this process has leaned heavily to particular types of sounds because the computer tools have been able to imitate percussion and heavy bass better. And thus the impact of digital technology on film music is why Marvel’s music isn’t hummable.

That isn’t to say that temp music can’t be a problem. Like any tool in the filmmaking process, a director can become too “inspired” or too “beholden” to inspirations, and the result can end up sounding or looking too much like the sources which the filmmakers referenced.

I think the fact that we are noticing the influence of temp music more in scores is due to two things: we now have the digital technology that allows us to more easily analyze movies. We can compare side-by-side two different scenes from two different movies, and share this observation on a platform that can reach billions of other people. But also the increased amount of visual art is probably also to blame. For example, the amount of television shows currently airing is astounding, and each of the shows have a very short window in which to edit and score. The pressure to create an emotional moment through music probably leads to more shortcuts (even if unintended). And using temp score helps the filmmaker to more quickly get to the final product.

And just like Zhou’s video essay was the beginning of a discussion, this video isn’t providing definitive answers but instead another view with alternate points. The discussion will continue.

And as I said in the previous posting, I think we’ll be getting some more interesting Marvel scores in the next couple years. Mark Mothersbaugh is scoring Thor: Ragnarok, Michael Giacchino is composing the music for Doctor Strange and Ryan Coogler cohort Ludwig Göransson is doing the score for Black Panther.

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