27 November 2005

Music Is Action

I once purported to be a connoisseur of foreign films, believing that they broke the mold of predictably plaguing most modern U.S. films. But, they don't. My attitude toward foreign flicks really smacked of what Edward Said would call "Orientalism," the attitude that anything from a culture distinctly different from our own is better in some way.

After watching enough foreign flicks, I figured out that weren't as free from formula as initially thought. No, they all start the same way, some long pan in on an individual, where the actor brushes their teeth, makes coffee, rides their bike down an empty country lane. Well after the opening credits roll, the camera follows the character as they do something entirely mundane for the first ten minutes of the movie.

This technique drags out through the movie, and supposedly mimics real life and allows us to learn who the character is by watching every detail about their actions. Sometimes, this technique works. But, not every vegetable chopping scene or shower tells us anything useful about the character. But, it resembles real life, and as the tritest claim, "Art imitates Life."

During the 1990s, a whole sect of filmmakers chose to imitate their foreign counterparts. Films like Fargo and Rushmore took the cinematic scene, but they retained one of the most significant aspects of American filmmmaking: music as mood.

Rarely do you watch a movie where the music doesn't create the tension or humor. We are guided by the movie soundtracks. Mahler styling brings our emotions up and down so much, that it doesn't really matter who plays what role. Some of us buy soundtracks to movies, and I'm not talking about compilations of old 50's tunes here, I'm talking about John Williams and Danny Elfman stuff. We listen to the music and it tells us the story. As a child, I used to play the soundtrack to Return of the Jedi while I read some book and suddenly the tame children's story turned to high adventure.

I still put on certain types of music when I read, types chosen dependent on the mood I'm trying to evoke. I also use music while I write. I've come to favor some smooth piano jazz, classical, trance, or Mediterranean music when I write. Music with too many lyrics distracts and reshapes my stories. Sometimes, silence is required. Always the outside world shapes my writing endeavors, and music is an integral part of that world.

Do you need music to create, does it result in action? If so, how do you choose what music to play? What do you listen to when you read or write?


Wong Online PoKér Hu said...

Sometimes, music helps in bringing out productivity and creativity. When you read or do something not requiring too much physical effort, the mind may be inclined to absorb some classical/slow/mellow music.

theresa said...

Some films are almost completely ruined by the soundtrack. The movie "LadyHawk", which was done in the 80's (I think), has the cheesiest music. Even though the story is good and the acting is tolerable, the score is pure torture.

Passionate music gets my mind going. I listen, think, and then write.
Kate Bush
Carmina Burana
Quartet for Piano and Strings (G minor), Op.25 by Brahms (also a really good soundtrack for sex)

Kyle Stich said...

Hu - I do believe music does solicit creativity and productivity. Even though the experiment results prove inconclusive, The Mozart Effect seems a plausable theory that playing Mozart before the start of a school day opens up the children's receptors and shows notable increase in their learning curve. At my kids' school they play classical music the first five minutes of the day, done it for a couple years now. The school was just selected as "Exceptional." Is there a correlation?

Theresa - Great point about soundtracks ruining a movie. Many movies of the 1980s succumbed to such poor choices in musical score. Can you say Buckaroo Bonzai?

Robert Casserly said...


CDs on my desk right now helping me write a term paper:

Devils and Dust --Bruce Springsteen
Best of Afro Pop-- mix CD
Yield -- Pearl Jam
Backless -- Eric Clapton
Trio -- Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris, and Linda Ronstandt
Sandinista -- The Clash

Ruben said...

Actually I need complete silence when I write, but I tend to listen to pop music during the editing process. Wierd huh?