Wednesday, March 27, 2019

That we would do we should do when we would

The plural of Panda is Pandae.

Some of the visual effects in The Expanse are simply amazing. Some aren't. This is one that definitely is. 

Here's a brief thought which sputtered in my brain briefly for a brief moment of briefing: it's almost impossible to find a piece of "bad" scoring in a film because the bad score is the film. You get a bad film and you don't blame it all on the score. You just think "this is dumb." This is because the emotional reality of the movie is undermined by the poorly thought through music. I can't really think of any movies which really got trashed by their own scores. 

I mean with the exception of Logan's Run

Impressive work with this submission - very ambitious in scope and in many respects highly successful. It almost seems impossible to answer the essay question on “bad film music” without eventually having to unravel the entire discipline of filmscoring to work out how such a thing could be judged, and you’ve taken to that challenge rather admirably. Overall I’d suggest that the ambition outstretches the word-count somewhat - certain premises are taken for granted rather than discussed, and each chapter of this piece could easily be its own complete essay. But given the limitations, and the challenge you’ve set yourself here, the result is admirable and generally forms strong arguments, with strong supporting evidence, to lead to strong conclusions - which demonstrates a very good understanding of the topic at hand. 

The Composer As Filmmaker

Overall this is a good point, but I don’t think the point is completed - in that I think it’s not entirely clear what the benefits of considering oneself a filmmaker are - and the drawbacks of failing to. For instance - examples of filmmusic that fails to consider itself an aspect of the filmmaking - and why this is ultimately unsuccessful. You have a few quotes and some decent citations but what would complete this chapter for me is a greater focus on examples, examples that prove your point. One thing that immediately comes to mind, for instance, is 2001: A Space Odyssey which doesn’t have a composer for the final score, it’s all composed by non-film-composers who did not consider themselves filmmakers. And yet it works masterfully - clearly, 2001 is an unusual film for lots of reasons, but for your theory to be sound it has to encompass these oddball filmscores (one might argue that in the case of 2001, the temp music was literally placed there by a filmmaker, and that in this case the “arranger is a filmmaker” works as a close allegory). 

The Dialogue Is The Melody

I really love the technical angle in this chapter - the use of diagrams and a technical breakdown of the frequency content of spoken voice and certain instrumental registers - this is great evidence, and it does well to build a really strong grounding for an argument. However, as with the last chapter, you don’t give any examples of the negative - how the lack of appreciation of this concept can lead to disasters. I’d suggest perhaps an example from Golden Era Hollywood - Gone With The Wind, for instance, has plenty of examples where music occupies many of the same registers as the spoken dialogue and it would be quite easy to judge the music/dialogue relationship in GWTW as somewhat overscored (in fact, you could probably find a number of filmscore journalists/writers referring to Steiner’s method as “overscoring”). This would then give weight to the negative - consider the dialogue as part of the melody, or suffer these potential consequences. At the very least this would tie this much closer to the title - “what is good film music, what is bad film music?” - it’s important to give weight to both of these. 

The Subtext

The Shakespeare example here is really good, I like this introduction to this chapter - the idea that the narrator can be saying one thing whilst the characters say another - or that the characters can be saying one thing but meaning another - this kind of dramatic irony is a really powerful tool for film composers and I’m really glad you touched on it. I think, though, you break your own definition of subtext. You portray subtext as “the difference between what a character says and what a character does” - The Shining/Blade Runner example you give later breaks that, where you say the footage is the same but the “subtext” is different. I suppose in this context the “character” is the narrator - but you need to build this into your definition. Or shift from talking about subtext to talking about “true perspective”, which I think could be defined as the “subtext” of the film narrator. You introduce the “true perspective” but go back to talking about subtext - so I think these terms could just be clarified here. Also, you say “the music plays the subtext of the picture, a score that misunderstands or does not know the subtext, is bad” - again, it’s probably worth providing examples of “bad” music that does not know, or understand the subtext - again, tying this more closely to the question. 

Every Show Is A Musical

I like the theoretical notion that the characters can “hear” the score. This is quite interesting, but inevitably begs the question - what’s the point in entertaining that the characters can hear something if they don’t have the power to acknowledge or interact with it in any way? You suggest that it’s simply “part of the world” - if that were so, then why is it forbidden for the character to interact or acknowledge this? For instance, the characters cannot verbally mention each others’ makeup being perfect, they do not, and if they did, it would be seen as fourth-wall-breaking. Perhaps it’s a little more complex than simply characters being able to hear their background score. I think, perhaps it’s better to think of this less as though the characters can “hear” the score (as this implies an emotional “input” of the score *into* the characters, which no doubt does not exist unless the film is being ironic or postmodern), but rather that the characters are active in “producing” the score, as it is an expression of their emotional truth - more that they “speak” the score rather than “hear” it (and sometimes the character that “speaks” the score is the narrator). Maybe they don’t hear it but they’re aware of it as emotional truth - that the score is a metaphor for what they are expressing, and therefore they *are* aware of it on a truthful level even if not on a literal level. You mention Obi-Wan etc, and some Star Wars examples and wonder whether or not the characters can hear these things - you pose the question, but why must it be yes? Is it because the gesture and the music are so intertwined, that they appear “choreographed”? I think you need to be more precise with this. If that’s what you’re saying, then be sure to say it. 


Your conclusion puts this all together nicely, and it is quite convincing as a general prescription for a starting point when it comes to scoring film. I think all of these points are well-made, but in every case, more of a demonstration of the negative to reinforce the positive would go a long way to help this to actually tie in with the question - which is what makes good film music *and* what makes bad film music. The lack of focus on the bad makes this feel less like a complete analysis, and more like a “general practice guide”. Overall, though, very strong work, very well-attested and well-evidenced arguments, a really good theoretical grounding and the overall structure of this works very well to build to a strong conclusion. Excellent work! 

Kind regards,


David Denyer's Summary:
Very strong, well-evidenced work. In most of these chapters, one half of the question is dealt with much more strongly than the other - the discussion of what makes bad music seems to only come up in passing, and no evidence is given for “bad music” - however, much evidence is given for “good music” and the theoretical journey from concept to concept, and finally to conclusion, is pretty sound. Some of these points are a little vague and could do with more focus.

No comments: