Matt Schrader’s debut feature, ‘Score: A Film Music Documentary’, is an exploration into the creative process of the musical accompaniment to the most iconic cinema that we know and love. It follows the journey from the live accompaniment of the Wurlitzer organ in the silent movie era, which was needed to cover up the sound of the projectors in cinemas, to the big band orchestral scores of our 20th and 21st century epics. We hear from some of the geniuses behind the music, such as Hans Zimmer, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, and some of the best known directors, including Spielberg and Cameron, all giving us a window into the intertwined nature of this aspect of filmmaking.
Whilst this isn’t a particularly educational documentary, it is good for someone with little to no idea of what it takes to create a music score, and perhaps without the intention of learning the technicalities behind the process. We can, however, all appreciate the awe inspiring simplicity of the Jaws theme, and that the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho would not invoke the same feelings of terror had it not been accompanied by Herrmann’s screeching strings (a fact stated somewhat obviously by one of our interviewees). An interesting additional viewpoint is of a psychologist, who discusses the scientific side of film music, and the effect that a score has on the human brain, including an explanation into the cause of goose bumps.
Most welcome are some of the most successful composers in history talking about their feeling of immense anxiety and pressure that come around when a big deadline is approaching. Hans Zimmer ends the documentary with some powerful words, confiding that when he plays a piece of his music, “I really expose myself, and that’s a really scary moment”. It is almost impossible to imagine the blood, sweat and tears poured into these scores, and the fear that must mount as the release date creeps closer, but it is comforting to know that these creative geniuses also have intense feelings of fear and inadequacy!
One thing this feature could have used is fewer examples and more in depth focus on some of the films mentioned. Sometimes, it felt as if it was rushing to get through as many instances of iconic scores as it possibly could, and just when we feel excited at the mention of Jaws or another score significant to the viewer, it is torn away rather abruptly and the film leapt relentlessly to the next section.
The subject matter of this documentary is vital, it raises the issues of the growing technological world and the subsequent jeopardy that puts the orchestral bands in. A lot of the composers express their concerns, for example Hans Zimmer highlights his feeling that the disappearance of the orchestra would leave a massive hole in today’s culture, a statement that is difficult to argue with. However, it seems the importance of live recording is still cherished in the film music world, so hopefully it won’t be going anywhere just yet.
This film is highly recommendable to people who are looking to see a lot of their favourite scores briefly explained, but would perhaps warn the aspiring composer that it may not provide as much information as they might hope for. It is enjoyable nonetheless, mainly due to the abundance of clips from iconic films and a rare look at the extraordinary locations and instruments that are combined to create the sounds that are so imperative to our cinema-going experience.
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