Why I Love Film Scores


Simone: Do you have any dreams?
Pee-wee: Yeah, I’m all alone. I’m rolling a big doughnut and this snake wearing a vest…

~from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Ride, Pee Wee, ride!

Last night’s Facebook discussion prompted some old memories in me. There was one in particular, about a nine-year-old me begging my mom to let me buy a cassette tape of the score from Willow with some of my hard-earned lemonade stand money.

“Why do you want that, honey?” Mom asked, looking the plastic blister pack up and down with disdain. “There’s no words on this tape. Won’t that be sort of boring?”

Of course, in 1988, Asperger Syndrome hadn’t even made it into the DSM-IV,  much less into Mom and Dad’s everyday vocabulary. They just didn’t understand that to their sweet little girl, listening to Madonna or Twisted Sister or INXS was the equivalent of taking a bath in sulphuric acid. I also remember my parents looking at me with raised eyebrows whenever I would turn the radio dial to the local NPR affiliate broadcasting classical music.

Now that I’m an adult, I do enjoy “music with lyrics” at the right times. When I’m working out, or doing a re-enactment, or kicking some random supervillain from here to the Crab Nebula, there’s nothing like a side of The White Stripes or Ozzy or AC/DC to get the hemoglobin flowing and unleash my inner badassery. It has its time and place.

But my comfort food, the musical equivalent of chicken and dumplings, remains film scores. Doesn’t it say something that the only concerts I’ve been to in my adult life are The Lord of the Rings Symphony, The Star Wars Symphony and the one night the Belcourt played selections from Hitchcock?

Gandalf the Ginormous

For those neophytes who may not even know, a film score simply refers to the symphonic, instrumental music specifically composed for a film. It’s what a layperson usually calls “background music.” It is not to be confused with the collection of pop-stars-of-the-month wailing away on an album with the title of a movie on the cover. That is called a “pop soundtrack.”

Even the most non-musical out there probably can hum along with one or two well-known instrumental selections. Maybe it’s “The Imperial March,” or the theme from “Jaws.” Many have become embedded in our consciousness.

I’m not sure exactly why I love film scores so much. In some ways they are the Information Age’s answer to chamber music and classical music, pieces designed to convey a specific time and place and mood. Elfman and Zimmer and Williams are in many ways heirs to Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky. It’s not that I’m a particularly big movie fan (movies tend to give me sensory overload.) Many of my favorite scores are from movies I’ve not even seen, or that weren’t very good to begin with. Some are even from cartoon shows, Japanese anime, TV shows, or miniseries. It’s truly a mixed bag. At the height of my obsession, and the height of the CD age, I owned over 500 separate discs. (Now, the discs are at McKays and they’re on my hard drive.)

Honey, I Shrunk the A-Team

There really is something about this music for an Aspie. It takes me away to distant planets, to the Old West, the High Renaissance…places I’ll never get to visit. Although I am not particularly musical (only ever learned to play flute and piano well enough to keep my mom satisfied), music speaks to me, and I often find myself humming along to even the most obscure melodies. I see the scores as Impressionist or Pointillist paintings. There’s a lot more than meets the eye. Most of all, even the harshest film music is still beautiful in a way that “music with lyrics” never can be for me.

It’s the same reason why, given a choice, I’d much rather ride a horse than drive a car. The feeling of the wind through your hair, the smell of freshly oiled leather, the thunder of hooves…all the senses are engaged, in just the right amount for me.

(For the record, Mom finally did capitulate and let me buy the James Horner Willow tape. I listened to it so many times it eventually got eaten by my Walkman.)

As for what passes as “pop” music today?  You can take your Lady Gaga and Kanye West and ship them third-class to Mustafar for me.

Got comments? I’d love to hear ’em…drop me a line at wikusandmurdock@yahoo.com!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on November 9, 2010.

2 Responses to “Why I Love Film Scores”

  1. Do you have THE MISSION film score? Ennio Morricone is the composer. That is probably my favorite film score.

  2. film scores are amazing, and yes i agree they are todays equivlant to classical music. its very sad that pop music and “music with lyrics” suck so bad today. i love classical music, its beautiful, moving and very emotional and often times very powerful., i love danny elfman and had just recently bought the exntded batman returns score. i love john williams, just recently bpought his jurassic park 2 score. i love the raw power of these symphonies. modern rock and pop music has absolutly no interest to me. i hate techno crap, is that really supoposed to be music? sounds more like an engine making a weird noise. that isnt music. rap? dont make me laugh! rap is crap! music from the past like the orchestrational pieces are beautful, true music.

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