Setter’s ‘Spective: What a Piece of Work Is a Score

Can lousy music ruin a perfectly decent film?

I asked myself this question during a recent viewing of The Unsaid, a 2001 Andy Garcia vehicle featuring a particularly tiresome original score. Mind you, I wasn’t mulling this idea because the movie was any good. Actually, it was dreadful: a dreary, overacted drama starring the usually reliable Garcia as a depressed, single-dad psychiatrist trying to help a disturbed youth (played by Mad Men stalwart Vincent Kartheiser, in an early role) who reminds him of his own, late son. The flick’s minimal interest value, however, ensured the presence of numerous lulls–enough time to think about the role of music and its interplay with onscreen action. If The Unsaid were a better movie, would the score have affected its quality?

Trying to think of great films with not-so-great soundscapes is difficult. Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha comes to mind immediately, but that obvious, brass-infused music, with all of its bombast, is surprisingly effective in certain scenes–particularly the end, where the destruction of the Takeda clan on the battlefield is shown in all of its waste. The truth is, most good movies are enjoyable because all of their parts work together; you can’t extract one from another and say it could’ve been better with a different piece. Maybe Fumio Hayasaka’s music for The Seven Samurai isn’t as magnificent as Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Alexander Nevsky, but I can’t imagine how TSS would be without it. These aren’t contemporary artworks where perception can change with the components. They’re completed, set in stone…and you either like them or you don’t.

So I guess I’ve answered my own question, though I wonder if I should keep asking it. Because if a movie like The Unsaid has me thinking along these lines, how can I be sure my cinematic tastes aren’t unsound?

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