The Reverse Wagner

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The Reverse Wagner

Postby Giant Communist Robot » Wed Feb 25, 2009 1:27 pm

If one listens to popular music today, there is some narrative or message in the song. They are stand-alone items written as a self-contained experience. People listen or dance to the music and maybe download it later. Their connection to the performance has some level of personal meaning. And so on.

Wagner's music modulates with the story. It is part of the story, or part of the experience of the performance. The music colors the narrative. I'm guessing that since movies acquired sound that Wagners' model has been in use. I wonder how many of the early Hollywood composers were Germanic emigres? Hmm. Today movies use popular music that was written and performed without any connection to the story. That suggests to me that the plot must be manipulated to fit the music. Often in movies there will be a part where there is no action to advance the plot--say, some people just walking from one place to another--and we are subjected to a length of this music. Since the action does not move the plot along, clearly the music and its message are the point. It seems to me that this could only be the crudest kind of fit. Or not at all. Perhaps its meant the movie-goer will revisit their personal attachment and connect it with the plot. I think this is an attempt to patch over deficiencies in the script. I don't like it.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby barfle » Wed Feb 25, 2009 2:33 pm

The movie that your description brings to my mind is the bicycle scene in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, where the song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" is heard.

It has nothing to do with the story line, and it fits like a second left shoe. And it happened 40 years ago.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Wed Feb 25, 2009 2:53 pm

I suppose there are all types of sountracks - those written 'generically', i.e. music written for music's sake and simply stuck into the film where there is a lull in the dialogue. Obviously, in the case of musicals, the music and the movie have to intermesh, although some surely do this better than others. The recent movie "Mama Mia" was written for the music, whereas some music is written for the movie. The classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario.

Howard Shore includes copious notes in his 'complete music' sets for the three Lord of the Ring movies, in which he details how the music is made to fit the characters and sequences of the movie, with different themes representing the various characters and/or places in the film. Then again, he spent two years composing the music for the movies.

John Williams, on the other hand, churns out a movie score a month, or so it sometimes seems. Some of them are excellent, no doubt, but I'm sure he cannot devote the time and talent needed to fully mesh the film and the music, as Shore did. I commented recently that his 'end credits' are usually just a strung-together collection of the individual components of the film music. Nowhere is this more noticable, I think, than in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban soundtrack. Interestingly, this was also the last "Harry Potter" soundtrack he composed, unless he was re-tapped for the sixth or seventh film.

There are movies that seem to have really cut the soundtrack budget to the bone, and thus use one or a few pieces recurring throughout the film, with little connection to actual storyline. Sort of "fast music here', 'slow music here', 'love theme here', as it were. I think there must be a clearinghouse for sountracks where producers can go to pick out pre-written compositions they can insert into their films.

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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby dai bread » Wed Feb 25, 2009 4:40 pm

Sometimes the reverse applies,and the music is cut to fit the action. That annoys me. I like my music to end properly, not be cut off in mid-stream.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Wed Feb 25, 2009 4:57 pm

Back in the '70s the movie Rollerball used classical music pieces to back up the story. I thought they did an excellent job. (There was a '90s remake of the movie, but it's not worth your time). The pieces were varied, from Bach's Tocatta in D Minor and Albinoni's Adagio to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, as well as some original pieces by conductor André Previn. At times, the scenes seemed to be stretched to accomodate the music. I don't recall the pieces being 'clipped' to fit the film, but it's been a long time since I've seen the movie.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Giant Communist Robot » Wed Feb 25, 2009 8:22 pm

Shapley wrote:Back in the '70s the movie Rollerball used classical music pieces to back up the story. I thought they did an excellent job. (There was a '90s remake of the movie, but it's not worth your time). The pieces were varied, from Bach's Tocatta in D Minor and Albinoni's Adagio to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, as well as some original pieces by conductor André Previn. At times, the scenes seemed to be stretched to accomodate the music. I don't recall the pieces being 'clipped' to fit the film, but it's been a long time since I've seen the movie.


2001 also used classical music. Notice that they have no lyrics and no explicit narrative, as would contemporary songs. A better fit for the plot, or at least, a possibly easier fit. After too many uses they may become cliches. Bach's Tocatta is certainly a creepy piece of music, but after appearing in so many movies its use becomes comic.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby shostakovich » Wed Feb 25, 2009 8:59 pm

Good topic, GCR. The early hollywood composers, whether European or home grown, had classical training and appreciation. The good ones operating into the 1960s, Rozsa, Waxman, Goldsmith, E. Bernstein, maintained the same respect as the earlier composers. John Williams kept the ball rolling longer, but the audiences now are so much farther removed from appreciating the classics, there is no longer any point to composing to the film. It's too much effort and not enough reward. What Wagner hath wrought has passed its time.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby analog » Wed Feb 25, 2009 10:03 pm

thanks for the topic.

it caused me to stumble across this site, which has a thumbnails of a lot of the names you've mentioned.

http://www.mfiles.co.uk/film-music.htm

eg
http://www.mfiles.co.uk/composers/Franz-Waxman.htm
http://www.mfiles.co.uk/composers/Dimitri-Tiomkin.htm

Very illuminating for a layman like me.

You folks enrich my life. Thank you.

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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Selma in Sandy Eggo » Thu Feb 26, 2009 9:37 am

I think we're seeing Sturgeon's Law in action, here. Problem is, with the recent stuff, we still get exposed to the 90% dreck - older stuff is mostly composed of the 10% that was always good stuff and the 90% has been forgotten. Thus, older stuff seems better.

The "LoTR" soundtracks are really good music; I had the soundtrack CDs and then I bought the expanded complete soundtrack CD sets and it's still all good. (Or maybe I just like it?) I suspect that if we knew everything that was composed back when, say, Wagner was writing music, we'd consider it 90% dreck.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Thu Feb 26, 2009 9:51 am

I was just thinking the same thing. What percentage of old movies have most of us seen?

When I attended the lecture preceeding Verdi's Requiem, one of the things Mr. Robertson mentioned stuck in my head: When Verdi proposed a requiem mass honouring Rossini, he collaborated with 13 well-known composers. Well-known at the time, it seems, most having now vanished into obscurity, and Verdi is considered the only 'recognizable' name among them. I assume these were the 'pop' composers of their time.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Thu Feb 26, 2009 11:09 am

I guess you have to accept the fact that, at any given time, there is some pretty awful 'pop' music out there that somehow manages to remain popular long enough for some producer of an entertainment venue to want to incorporate it into his work; be it a movie, musical, ballet, or what have you. Most of it, I suppose, is short-lived and fades into obscurity. I would imagine that some movies will survive, despite the lousy music, on the basis of the story, acting, or other factors. From the looks of it, our generation will have to live with the embarrassment of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Saturday Night Fever for the rest of our lives. Our children will see to that...
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby jamiebk » Thu Feb 26, 2009 11:19 am

Shapley wrote:our generation will have to live with the embarrassment of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the rest of our lives. Our children will see to that...


Hey......come on now....that's a classic! 8)
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Giant Communist Robot » Thu Feb 26, 2009 11:27 am

If I could think clearly I'd have a better chance of expressing myself clearly. If the music can be removed from the movie without any harm to the plot, then its pointless. In The Rocky Horror Show the music did indeed advance the plot--quality work applied to low brow themes. I have never seen the Saturday flick.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Selma in Sandy Eggo » Thu Feb 26, 2009 11:55 am

Shapley wrote:... From the looks of it, our generation will have to live with the embarrassment of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Saturday Night Fever for the rest of our lives. Our children will see to that...

You can be embarrassed if you want. My children are known to attend the midnight showing in Vista, costumed, and in character.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:04 pm

In re-reading your initial post, I understand that you were talking about specific instances of music in films, rather than the quality of movie soundtracks in general. I apologize for the hijack.

Back to Rollerball. There is a scene in the film, set to Albinoni's Adagio, believe, in which a group of partygoers somehow acquire a firearm and walk out to the country to shoot it. I don't recall that the scene added or subtracted from the film, it merely added a musical interlude and some connect to the situation of the world-as-it-existed-in-the-film (war no longer existed, so the firearm was something of a novelty, I suppose, and a great curiosity to the partygoers).

I saw some horrible movie last year. It's name, if I could remember it, is not important. The basic storyline should have taken about a half-hour, and a boring half-hour it would have been. The movie, however, was stretched out to over an hour by the inclusion of some musical interludes with the characters dancing or rapping or whatever it was to the music. I don't think the music was the message, I think the music was filler to extend the film to some industry-minimum length that must exist. Theatres, perhaps, are unwilling to show films less than an hour in length, so filmmakers stretch them with musical interludes which serve no other purpose. Perhaps it is to something like this that you are referring. The couple walking to the music is not to draw your attention to the music, but rather to make a four-minute walk though the park enjoyable enough to keep the audience in their seats during the entirity of the walk.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a soundtrack written specifically for it, though it borrowed heavily from the television theme music. You may recall that the film included lengthy scenes of the camera circling around the starship, an apparent attempt to satisfy the technophiles with the awe-inspiring special effects. The music played, I suppose to entertain those of who found the trip-round-the-ship to be boring. Again, I think it was more filler to extend the length of the film than it was a necessary component of the story. In the film the transporter, the usual means of ingress and egress to the ship, was broken, requiring Capt. Kirk to go along for the lengthy tour. Unnecessary from a film standpoint, IMHO, but it gave the special-effects team their moment of glory.
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:08 pm

Selma in Sandy Eggo wrote:You can be embarrassed if you want. My children are known to attend the midnight showing in Vista, costumed, and in character.


At some distant point in our future, my generation will be called to explain its' legacy. There are many parts of that legacy that defy explanation, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of them.

Of course, my son's generation will have to answer for that interminable 'spoof film' genre, so there...
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby jamiebk » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:27 pm

Selma in Sandy Eggo wrote:
Shapley wrote:... From the looks of it, our generation will have to live with the embarrassment of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Saturday Night Fever for the rest of our lives. Our children will see to that...

You can be embarrassed if you want. My children are known to attend the midnight showing in Vista, costumed, and in character.


Go SELMA! :flex:
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Shapley » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:28 pm

[sigh] California.

That's another thing we'll have a hard time explaining... :D
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Schmeelkie » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:31 pm

Most of the movies I watch now-a-days are kids movies. You get Wall-E with wonderfully composed music that really complements the action - especially helpful with the lack of dialog, and then something like Over the Hedge that used pop music - made for the film to go with the action. Both good fits. Think those animated movies take so long to make, they can also take their time with the soundtracks, so they are at least not offensively bad.

A big fantasy fan, I'm often diappointed in soundtracks - most glaringly - LadyHawke - great plot, dialogue (at least from Matthew Broderick's character), good effects for the time, and horridly crappy rock music soundtrack. Wish I could set Howard Shore loose on that film - what a difference a good soundtrack would have been! Love LotR soundtrack.

Also think that John Williams can be inconsistent. For example, lately have been listening to soundtracks for Star Wars episodes I-III. The music for the 'duel of fates' in ep.I is great, as is the various battle-related music in ep. III. I also like the Anakin-Padme love theme - nice and sweeping as a love theme should be. The rest, and most of ep. II soundtrack is nothing to jump up and down about (pedestrian is the word I'm looking for, I think).

(And yes, I've been to a couple of midnight showings of Rocky Horror not that long ago... but it's an event - no one actually thinks the movie is any good)
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Re: The Reverse Wagner

Postby Selma in Sandy Eggo » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:56 pm

Shapley wrote:[sigh] California.

That's another thing we'll have a hard time explaining... :D

*sigh* The Midwest. We don't try to explain it, nobody's interested. *yawn*
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