Setter’s ‘Spectives: Integrity? Don’t Make Me Hum

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613So I’m watching Frances Ha. All of a sudden, this lilting music tickles the soundtrack.

“Hey,” I say. “That sounds like something from King of Hearts.”

Sure enough, it was. Snatched directly from the Philippe de Broca movie. In fact, the film’s main melody popped up numerous times during the proceedings.

Needless to say, it didn’t help me enjoy this rather tiresome Noah Baumbach flick any more than I already did. But there was another issue: It was distracting. I kept thinking about Hearts and how good it was. How much I wanted to see it.

Is this what Baumbach wanted when he was making Frances?

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t relegated to one movie. The Artist used a passage from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo, and I was confused about that, too. Started thinking about the latter flick as I was watching the former.

Bad, bad strategy for any filmmaker.

This goes past un hommage. It’s irrelevant. It’s sampling music from scores past and using it in other contexts. When a great score is applied to a film, it’s associated with it. You can’t pull the two apart. If you try, you bring up connotations that shouldn’t be there. Do directors want to do that?

I’d think they wouldn’t. Would Wagner want you thinking about Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro while you were watching Parsifal at Bayreuth? If you admitted that to him, he’d probably get all 19th century on you. (He was mean enough as it was.)

Unless it’s parody, a film should focus on itself. Otherwise, a movie loses its credibility. It breaks that fourth wall of sound, and the audience becomes aware of it. Directors shouldn’t want that. It’s jarring, not immersing.

I say unto filmmakers: Let’s keep-eth old scores where they are-eth. And commission new ones for your movies … or use tunes by a great composer that lack cinematic context. Something borrowed just makes me blue. Something different, however, may well be music to my ears.

2 thoughts on “Setter’s ‘Spectives: Integrity? Don’t Make Me Hum

  1. I must say you have an ear for music to notice these! I couldn’t recognize the borrowed classical score even if I remembered the original movie well, like with “Vertigo” and “The Artist.” I think that there are many like me who simply won’t notice. However, I agree that the music used in a different context is a waste and can be distracting. I remember seeing “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in the theater and one part of me hated and the second one loved the cover of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (one of my favorite songs) in the title sequence. To this day I think the song didn’t particularly suited the story and was misused.

    • Thanks! I like “Immigrant Song,” too. It’s interesting about individual songs–oftentimes they’re created in a particular context or with a certain subject in mind, so using them with films can be an issue if their original purpose is undermined. I remember John Boorman’s “Excalibur” used segments of Carmina Burana, which features a lot of love poetry, yet it was used, I think, because it sounded exciting. Good points.

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