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Taien Ng-Chan: What are your favourite film soundtracks, ones that you own the soundtrack to, and you listen to them over and over? Here, I want to exclude musicals, movies about music or musicians (I’ve already compiled a list of Zeitgeist Music Movies).

I’m interested especially in music that exists outside the movie, and the interplay between its history and its meaning within the film.  Think of The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss and Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, forever associated with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Any other examples?


GraceAnne: The first question is a great question for me-especially since I generally do my best to avoid listening to film soundtracks!  I am completely ambivalent about the use of soundtracks-sometimes I think the use of pre-recorded music is brilliant (like The Matrix), or the score itself is astounding (Gladiator or The Reader).  In the case of Gladiator, or other large film scores that I like such as Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, (well, pretty much all of John Williams' oeuvre), Koyanisqaatsi, Nightmare Before Christmas; for some reason, the all-engulfing music score doesn't bother me as much as other films (can’t stand the music for Lord of the Rings, for instance). Perhaps it's just a question of taste-but I think you deserve a better answer than that.  The music is just better crafted, and even more importantly, is well-placed within the film (the music serves the film)-so when it needs to be noisy, it is; when it needs to be out of the way, then fine.  The Reader is a good example of a well-written score that knows when to get out of the way. Nico Muhly (like Phillip Glass) is a minimalist composer, and that may have something to do with (besides him being a talented composer).  The score for this film is very spare-but very much to the point, which is what I love.

In regards to the context of a soundtrack's historicity: I would say that some of the most iconic soundtracks probably come from John Williams. Popular music analysts talk about creating a 'hook'-a sound byte that literally draws the listener in.
Perhaps it may also have to do with the score being associated with a film that really clicks into a particular era's zeitgeist. Although the only other examples I can think of are films that I enjoy, but I don’t remember the music…The Manchurian Candidate (earlier), Twelve Angry Men, The Ox-Bow Incident, Blow-Up (etc).

Taien Ng-Chan: I agree with your assessment about the iconic status of John Williams, whose themes for Jaws, E.T., Star Wars, Indiana Jones as well, are instantly recognizable and hummable too!  But I think that in later films, he risks being a parody of himself, as much Hollywood fare has become recycled schlock.  I think the same of Danny Elfman, who is, as you say, great when he's great... but too often I find him doing the same kind of thing and it risks getting stale.

My favorite soundtrack films are Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love (such a sensuous and melancholy use of the soundtrack with pieces by Mike Galasso, Umebayashi Shegeru, and Nat King Cole), and Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, which uses music by Arvo Pärt, and is thoroughly meditative and hypnotic.
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums both use pop and rock songs in brilliant ways. And Wim Wender's Until the End of the World has an amazing song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, plus Elvis Costello, R.E.M., U2, Talking Heads... the beloved music of my youth! 





(Close Encounters of the Third Kind)


(The Matrix-music from the lobby fight scene ‘Spybreak’ by Propellerhead)

Taien Ng-Chan’s post can be found here.

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