Arts & Culture / Mosaic / November 18, 2010

On the soundtrack

A soundtrack can make or break a movie. The use of music in film (or lack thereof) is something we don’t always pay attention to, but every now and again there is a remarkably good soundtrack (or remarkably terrible) that we can’t help but rock out to (or go into convulsions from).

Here’s the scene: four of the world’s best jewel thieves are competing to see who can steal the hope diamond first. What follows is a montage of laser-dodging, fist-fighting, high-tension raw stealth action (and a skin-tight catsuit, duh) put to … the “Macarena.” Exactly. Music has to fit the scene, and as delightful as the “Macarena” is (which is to say “Completely annoying and regarded as one of the forms of torture banned by the UN”), it just doesn’t suit the scene.

Nothing is better than when music fits the scene. Take for example Guy Ritchie’s use of The Stone Roses in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” — that’s just plain classy. But what exactly “fits” (other than that jacket you “found” on that “sleeping” guy in the tunnel)? You would expect a shootout to be set to something intense, but light music fits just as well. In fact, contrast is often most effective in soundtrack. But what about the absence of soundtrack in film? This is extremely rare (what with the whole “sound” thing), but is sometimes more effective than music.

Take, for example, “No Country for Old Men,” which had no soundtrack and managed to function perfectly without it (some people didn’t even realize there was no soundtrack). The effect of absence in cinema is really quite astounding (but we’ll completely ignore it for reasons you don’t know and I won’t say). Soundtracks are something we all recognize but don’t always respect, but are often very useful tools in movie making. But please, if ever you make a film do not (DO NOT) use that song (you know which one). Now it’s late (or early?) and I’m going back to watching “The Big Lebowski.”

Dan Kahn

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