Film is one of the few mediums to ingratiate many other art forms. Novels, plays, painting, and photography – movies provide them all at once. But one form stands out from all the rest. The average cinema-goer may forget the direction, the dialogue, and the cinematography – but never the music. They’ve all hummed the themes to Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings. Barely anyone discusses the cinematography of Phantom Thread, but they all rave about Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack (promptly saved on their Spotify accounts). The film score may well be the aspect most remembered and recalled after the end credits roll up. In this documentary from Matt Schrader, Score goes deeper into the history and impact of film music.
The film starts in Malibu, California, where composer Marco Beltrami (Scream, The Hurt Locker) has tied a piano atop a shipping container with metal wires sprouting from its back across to two water tanks. A pianist plays the keys and the sound bounces off the valley, tuned to the wind – all to capture a particular tone for the film they’re making the music for. This sets up a curious, creative journey ahead.
Schrader drifts back and forth into the history of film scores – from Max Steiner’s work on King Kong in 1933 to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s sound for The Social Network – whilst interviewing other composers about their craft and creative process. We delve into the composers’ relationship with directors (via Spotting Sessions), their use of motifs, and the science behind why famous tracks give us goosebumps.
Score’s structure is a bit too loose, often relying on the chronology of film music history to guide its journey and often goes off-tangent (admittedly to something more interesting). There isn’t really a theme as such, and we don’t explore the composers’ stories with much emotional depth. However, I could easily listen to composers talk about their music for days. Their commentary is often over scenes from famous movies – the opening of Up, Dr Grant seeing the Brachiosaurus, Janet Leigh being knifed in the shower – with their knowledge and insight making you adore these classic movie-moments on another level. It makes you fall in love with the medium all over again.
There is so much to learn about in movies, which is the reason why I love them. Schrader has focused on this specific, fascinating aspect of moviemaking to help us appreciate its combined artistry. The music is invisible yet packs a fierce, emotional punch. He reveals this essential and innovative world, creating a permanent intrigue with these artists and their work. The film occasionally slips into basic editing and imperfect cinematography, but this is forgotten once Hans Zimmer opens his mouth.
Score: A Music Documentary is released on DVD and VOD on 2nd April 2018.