The beauty of film scores

Transformative acting, beautiful cinematography and eye-catching costume design are all what most casual filmgoers attribute to a great movie. However, the essence of a well-rounded movie comes down to an often neglected art: film scoring. Here are some of the most ingenious composed film scores throughout Hollywood history, and each exemplifies the best of one of three film score principles. 


Discordant: the utilization of clashing, harsh sounds 

The haunting scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic “Psycho” can be accredited to the chilling all-strings ensemble composer Bernard Herrmann used. This unique sound resulted partly from Herrmann’s clever ingenuity and also the movie’s budget restraints. Many of this cult-favorite film’s overwise mundane scenes are resounding and anxiety-inducing due to the percussive sound of a muted orchestra—accomplished by touching the finger to the strings of an instrument without pressing down, and then striking down with a bow. Panning shots of the now infamous Bates Motel are so unsettling, because Herrmann often mixed major and minor chords, a sound naturally unpleasant to the human ear. Herrmann had also scored previous Hitchcock films such as “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest,” creating a now instantaneously recognizable “Hitchcock sound.”


Leitmotif: a musical phrase that is repeated throughout a piece to signify a character, place or thing. 

Throughout the eight film “Harry Potter” franchise, there were four different composers, each bringing their unique style to enhance the magic of the wizarding world. Over the course of ten years, there have been countless leitmotifs in the film scores to hint at the over 145 characters and seven settings. However, one of the best uses is the music during a scene between Harry and twin brothers Fred and George Weasley in the third installment, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” composed by John Williams. In order to help him sneak into Hogsmead undetected, Fred and George gift their prized possession, the Marauder’s Map, to Harry. As the initially confused Harry learns of the map’s magic, musical themes that have represented mischief (first version is “Nimbus 2000”) and the Weasleys (first version is “Weasley’s Family”) since “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” merge, as the camera pans down to Harry’s perspective. Williams’s clever incorporation of past themes to create a leitmotif, which sounds exceptional in its own right, is a minute detail that greatly impacts the careful world-building of the series. 


Soundtrack: the use of popular music in a film

Although film score purists often scorn at this modern style, when used correctly, this enhancement can be delightful. A prime example of great use of a soundtrack is in the critically acclaimed animation “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” This film often incorporated diegetic music, the songs the character can hear, to familiarize the audience to the main character: Miles Morales. Miles is introduced in a scene where he is singing along to the rap collaboration “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee. Through this scene, the audience can gather that Miles is simply a normal teenager whose main interests are mainstream music and art. In the following scene, Miles strolls through his old neighborhood, which he loves, on his way to Brooklyn Visions Academy, a charter school in which he feels out of place. As Miles comfortably swaggers around the streets, it is unclear whether or not the soundtrack is diegetic. It is only when Miles trips over the shoelaces of his Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro Highs causing his headphones to be knocked off and the song “Familia” by Nicki Minaj and Anuel AA cuts out, that it is clear the music was diegetic. The imaginative use of soundtracks not only is a great accompaniment to the animation but also adds a layer of dimension to the already sensational film.