Action Music (in movies) in the past VS the present

by TerryWalstrom 20 Replies latest jw friends

  • TerryWalstrom

    Understanding Action Music
    in the past VS the present

    In the Golden and Silver Ages of Hollywood, composers with classical, Romantic era training created action music out of THEMATIC (tuneful) motifs.
    These catchy 'tunes' were used as 'bricks' whilst the orchestral techniques of arranging and orchestration were the 'mortar' binding and building the overall structure towering above mere image+sound effects.
    The result gave an audience something I will call "An intellectual access" to onscreen "meaning" in the story.
    What's that?
    A "tune" is an organizing principle.
    A tune has a beginning, middle, and end.
    A tune "tells" us something.
    What remains is "THE WAY IT IS SPOKEN." i.e. shouted, whispered, through gritted teeth, etc.
    Below I'll have you listen to 2 pianists playing Franz Waxman's RIDE TO DUBNO from the Cossack film, TARAS BULBA.
    The purpose of the scene is to illustrate what would otherwise be pretty boring: joining of fellow Cossacks on a ride with the central hero to engage in whatever follows.

    A 4 note tune is introduced. Instantly catchy and memorable.

    As Waxman handles these 4 notes in varied rhythmic and harmonic variants, a sense of genuine excitement develops at a gallop.
    The second version I'll have you watch is the FULL orchestral movie version. With the carefully selected instrument groups adding color and dynamic texture, an overwhelming emotive force lifts the audience's pulse and attention---all the while hanging on to the 4 note 'tune.'
    In today's movies, for the most part (with the exception of animated films) composers (who aren't John Williams) rely on percussion tracks and slabs of tutti (everybody playing) stabs and swirls of NON-TUNEFUL --sound--for sound's sake.

    My thesis? There is not much of intellectual interest in modern action music because the melody content is gone.
    You can't walk away whistling or humming the tune and carry away the imprint of the emotional 'sense' of what you've seen.

    First, the piano duo.
    The orchestral version.

    PIANO DUO: (begins 24 seconds in)


    FILM VERSION: (The end is truncated)


    In this scene from THE BIG COUNTRY, the music performs a similar emotional boost as, once again,
    men on horses decide they love their boss and cannot allow him to ride alone to his death EVEN THOUGH they despise the feud he's fighting to no purpose.
    The Major has decided that a showdown with the Hannassey's is unavoidable and sets off to finish things for good. When it becomes apparent that he and his men will be riding into an ambush, the Major turns to Steve for support. However, this man has had his bellyful of mindless violence and says so. The Major rides off alone to meet whatever fate awaits him. Steve has looked on this man as a surrogate father all his life and you can see the anguish etched into his features as he watches him depart. He mounts up, and the camera moves to the mouth of the canyon and the lone figure of the Major. As Jerome Moross' spine-tingling score slowly builds the angle shifts slightly and Steve gallops into view, drawing level with the Major he looks back to see the rest of the ranch hands come one by one around the rim of the canyon. There's not a word exchanged between Heston or Bickford but the flickering glances and quickly concealed smiles speak volumes. To me, this is cinema at its purest, where visuals, score, and subtle expression tell the viewers all they need to know about the nature of a relationship, and in this case what masculinity is about - the importance of loyalty, affection and sheer guts even when good sense should dictate otherwise."

    The tuneful nature of the theme adds intellectual "meaning".

  • _Morpheus

    Totally agree thay modern movies have gotten away from a meaningful original soundtrack. Most movies seem to use music that is already popular, meaning they take songs already created and use them as a premade sound track.

    i think, however, you have glossed over a very very important composer in john williams. Williams has composed some of the most incredible and memorable sound tracks in all of movie history. He is unquestionably the greatest composer in movie history and you cant tell the modern history of hollywood without talking about him. In other words, you cant talk about modern movie sound tracks and dissmiss the best and most prolific sound track composer.

  • truth_b_known

    "Big Time Action Music" is the name of the Captain Kirk fight music from the original Star Trek. I always imagine that music during a fist fight.

  • sir82

    Never seen Taras Bulba, but I recently watched Big Country.

    I agree 110%, the music enhances the experience tremendously.

    At the risk of coming across as a grumpy old man, I agree with you - they did it better back in the old days.

    [Williams] is unquestionably the greatest composer in movie history

    Maybe; I would not close the discussion without considering Korngold & Mancini & probably others.

    "Greatest in the past 50 years", I'll give you.

  • LoveUniHateExams

    Good OP, Terry.

    I, too, think they scored films better in 'the good old days' ... my 'good old days' are the 70s and 80s.

    I think there were more independent film makers back then, and they often scored their films very well.

    I guess there are some independent film makers today but it's today's mainstream Hollywood that p1sses me off. It's not just the Hollywood soundtracks, it's the films in general they put out. Most of it is pap, IMO.

  • _Morpheus

    My god if that dosent move you, your dead

  • truth_b_known
  • LoveUniHateExams

    The following piece of music was written by Brad Fiedel for Fright Night (1985).

    It's a bit 80s but if you can get past that, it's a great piece of music.

    It's played during the vampire's seduction of a young woman. It so fits the scene.


  • _Morpheus

    Easily the most famous music in movie history.

  • days of future passed
    days of future passed

    I've loved many movie soundtracks because of the emotions that are embodied in the music. But classical music for plays, is much the same way such as Debussy's Afternoon of a faun. John Williams often built his music on classical "bones". I guess it can't be helped that sometimes snippets of it ended up in his music.

    Then there's Horner that "borrowed" heavily from Prokofiev for a lot of his movie music.

    Narnia isn't that old.

    Lord of the Rings had great music. But I agree, the few movies I've watched lately, don't have sweeping scores that stand on their own. You can't listen to it and know where it was in a movie like a score from Williams.

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