TCS: Music, Movies and Magic

Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
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Where words fail, music speaks.
– Hans Christian Andersen

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Jack Black, playing a movie music composer, takes Kate Winslet on a musical tour of the video store.

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Back in the days when VCRs had gone from being the latest expensive electronic gadget to something commonplace in American households, some enterprising folks decided to put old silent movies on video tape, and sell them cheaply. So we bought a copy of the 1924 Thief of Bagdad with Douglas Fairbanks (senior), and one Saturday afternoon sat down to watch it — but by 20 minutes in, my attention was wandering. The print quality was poor, blurry and lurching, and there was no sound. A completely silent movie.

‘Silent Film’ is actually not an accurate term. While there was no one speaking in these movies, they were never intended to be shown without music. The bigger budget productions had sheet music of actual scores that were sent out with the cans of film, but even the cheapest movies, shot on sets with walls that rippled when someone closed a door, were accompanied by a pianist. There was  thrilling music for chases, love tunes for romantic scenes, ominous music for the entrance of the villain, and so on.

That Saturday afternoon we solved the problem with Thief of Bagdad by putting on a record (yes, we still had records then) of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade​​​​​​​. About 90% of the time, the music fit perfectly, and even when it wasn’t quite in sync with a scene, it suited the style of the film so well that it carried you on to the next point where it meshed again. The poor quality of the print stopped mattering, and we were treated to a bravura performance by Fairbanks that showed why he had been such a huge international star in the 1920s.

Great music can make a bad movie seem better than it is — Aaron Copeland’s score for The Red Pony immediately comes to mind.

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Music can make a mediocre film memorable, and great films even greater. Conversely, bad music hurts even a very good movie. LadyHawke, a mythic medieval tale of cursed lovers helped by an engaging young thief, had a completely 1980s electronic rock score, which grated on my nerves then, and sounds even worse now that it’s hopelessly outdated — one reviewer said the opening music sounded like a track from MacGyver​​​​​​​.

It’s when you combine the right music with the right movie that you get a classic: The Wizard of Oz, The Adventures of Robin Hood (with Errol Flynn), Lost Horizons (the Capra film, not the horrible remake — talk about bad music!), Laura, Fahrenheit 451, North By Northwest, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List . . .

Or one of my all-time favorites, To Kill a Mockingbird. The film starts in silence, then an unseen little girl is humming tunelessly. The score almost sneaks up on you, with such simplicity, just so right for the time, the place, and the people. It’s magic.

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Which movies do you think have the best music? 

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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2 Responses to TCS: Music, Movies and Magic

  1. Malisha says:

    Monsoon Wedding! I once had a CD of the score for the movie but then I lost it in one of the last seven (7) moves my disordered life threw at me. Perhaps one day I will be going through a stack ofpapers and the CD will pop out and make my day (week)(month).
    My son took American Sign Language in college for his foreign language requirement. One of the first things the class did was to watch a movie with subtitles but NO MUSIC or other sound. He said it was harder to understand the action in the movie, although he could read subtitles and see the screen. The music and sound effects were essential to complete, effortless comprehension.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Monsoon Wedding does have wonderful music – sorry you’ve lost the CD.

      American Sign as a foreign language – very creative choice!

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