Exploring the Magic of Movie Music

I once had a music teacher tell me that music is one of the greatest things to study because, from it, we can learn math, science, history, and art. It uses math to create beautiful scores, and from it, we can learn about sound waves and resonance. Music’s role in society throughout all of humanity lends itself to a rich history that we can learn from, and of course, it is a form of art. Because it is such a rich and expansive medium, it lends itself to many aspects of society, including film. Music has a transcendent quality that makes it the perfect match for the film as a form of escapism. The transcendent qualities of music enable it to create an ambiance, influence people’s moods and foreshadow a story unlike any other tool at the filmmaker’s disposal. 

I’d like to start by exploring the transcendent quality of music. I think one sign of a good movie is that feeling of returning to your world when the credits roll on the screen. One of the film’s greatest qualities is its ability to transcend reality, taking you to different worlds and introducing you to unique characters. It’s a form of escapism. But the film is not alone in this ability to whisk people off into other worlds; it shares this quality with music, which is why the two complement each other so well. In the music industry, the film helps musicians through the art of music videos. In the film, music is often used as a means of enhancing a story’s setting. It can do this in many ways, whether it be the genre, the year a song was released, or even what instruments are used. Take Disney’s Luca, for example. The film follows two young sea monsters exploring the “human world” from a small coastal city known as “Portorosso.” The setting is a small coastal town in Italy, set sometime between the 1950s and 60s. Music plays an instrumental role in conveying the time period of this film and in creating an ambiance that matches the tone of the film. Throughout the film, we hear Italian songs from this era being played. Songs like “Fatti Mandare Dalla Mamma A Prendere Il Latte” by Gianni Morandi and “Tintarella di Luna” by Mina helped director Enrico Casarosa to create the perfect ambiance for his film. By listening to the music, viewers instantly get a feel for the time period, the nationality of the characters, and the generally light-hearted tone of the film. Another example of a soundtrack that enhances the setting is that of the Netflix series, Bridgerton. The show, which is based on books by author Julia Quinn, is a period drama that takes place during the regency era, following the complicated romances of the members of high society. The show features many instrumental covers of famous pop songs like Arianna Grande’s “Thank U Next” and Madonna’s “Material Girl.” These arrangements often play at the many parties that take place throughout the series. The Bridgerton soundtrack is perfect for the show because it takes these modern songs that align with the plot and changes them in a way that makes them feel more believable for the time period. In taking these modern songs and giving them a classical twist, the show also creates something distinct in its own world, much like the show, which is set in a real-time period but follows the lives of fictional characters.

Beyond the setting, though, a movie’s soundtrack can be the key to making an audience feel a certain way. Music has an incredible ability to influence a person’s mood, and that is, of course, why we always hear slow melodic pieces during deeply emotional scenes and more upbeat rhythmic pieces during more light-hearted scenes. I would now like to turn your attention toward the film Baby Driver. Baby Driver is probably the best example of a film that uses music. The whole plot revolves around the protagonist, Baby, and his amazing skills as a get-away driver that seemingly becomes enhanced by the music he listens to. In this film, the right song could mean life or death. Throughout the film, the BPM of the music he listens to syncs up with the pace of actions on screen, creating well-choreographed action scenes that feel fast and get your heart pumping. The music in this film is used strategically for pacing and for affecting the audience’s mood. Throughout the film, we hear loud, energetic music with erratic rhythms. It’s music that boosts adrenaline, perfect for an action movie.

Finally, music can be an incredibly useful tool for foreshadowing elements like plot and structure. Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson is one of my favorite movies. I love everything about this film, and I especially love the insightful use of music to foreshadow the film’s story. Moonrise Kingdom is a story about first love that follows two kids that have run away from their former lives to pursue a life together. The film starts off by showing us these different characters all pursuing their own separate goals, but by the end, we see them all come together and even work together for a common goal. It’s this idea that is foreshadowed by the soundtrack. The opening scene shows the children listening to their little record player, which is playing “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” by Benjamin Britten, The New York Philharmonic, and Leonard Bernstein. The narration on this track outlines how each element of an orchestra is made up of different instrument groups, such as strings and percussion. The narrator explains how each of these groups is different from one another (much like our motley cast of characters), but how they all come together to perform the same song. It is this same idea that is mirrored throughout the film as the various groups of people slowly come together under one shared mission. The music crescendos to its pique at the same time that the plot reaches its own. This idea of separate groups coming together and playing the same song, so to speak, is outlined in the very first scene of the film. It is also reiterated once again at the end of the film as the narrator speaks about the film’s own original composition that is played throughout the film by different instrument arrangements.

Music plays an important role in the film and should not be overlooked. It has the ability to transport viewers across different settings, change their moods, and reveal underlying themes within a film. Music is a powerful film device. I would encourage you to listen closely the next time you sit down to watch a movie; it might just reveal something you would never have noticed otherwise.

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