Score: A Film Music Documentary hits no sour notes. [Review]

Think for a moment, if you will… you’ve bought your ticket, your popcorn, salt packets and napkins stuffed in your pockets, you enter the dimly lit theater, carefully choose your seat, the lights slowly fade and the audience falls into a hushed silence and before you see anything on the screen you hear the first few bars of “Hedwig’s Theme”. You can hear it in your head right now, can’t you? Those solitary piano notes, so brilliantly crafted by the incomparable John Williams, have now become synonymous with all things Harry Potter. Now try to imagine sitting through a three hour Harry Potter movie without those melodic swells of the orchestra that have the power to transport you to the wizarding world with mere notes on a page. It’s just not the same, is it? The score of the film is as much a part of the movie going experience as what we see on the screen.

Matt Schrader’s new documentary Score: A Film Music Documentary offers nothing new in the way of the documentary film (much of it is interviews with composers and those involved with the film making industry – standard documentary form) but what it does give you is an intimate view of the mechanics of scoring a main stream feature film and pays long overdue homage to the often faceless virtuosos behind the soundtracks of our lives. Before this film, I would not have been able to pick John Williams out of a crowd and the man has been nominated for 50 Academy Awards! Fifty! That’s more than Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, and Bette Davis combined! This film turns the spotlight on those we usually only know through the art behind which they hide.

Beginning in the silent film era, the film describes how music was originally used to cover the sound of the projector and was revolutionized by Max Steiner’s score for King Kong (1933). In an effort to highlight how a score can alter the emotion of a film, David Newman (Ice Age, The Mighty Ducks, Anastasia) explains that by using an orchestral score, Steiner took what was a “kitschy and stupid” movie and made it “frightening”. The music completely changed the film and helped to turn it into the classic that we know today.

Score: A Film Music Documentary weaves throughout the decades with discussions of iconic films like A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Psycho (1960), Star Wars (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) the film demonstrates how movie music has changed and how composers have stretched the boundaries of film scoring throughout the years.

With interviews with contemporary composers like Hans Zimmer (Rain Man, Crimson Tide, Inception), Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker, 3:10 to Yuma, Scream), and Danny Elfman (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Batman, Edward Scissorhands)  – who, believe it or not, was one of the founding members of 80’s new wave pop band Oingo Boingo. We get an inside look at what goes into scoring a feature film and how crippling deadlines can push even these masters of their trades to the breaking point.

[Related: Check out the trailer for Score: A Film Music Documentary.]

Ultimately, Score gives you an in-depth behind the scenes understanding of just how important music is to creating the emotional worlds of our favorite movies. I recommend this film for musicians, music lovers, educators, students of film, and really, anyone who wants to know the details of what goes into the making our favorite films.

Score: A Film Music Documentary is in select theaters now. It is also already available for pre-order on iTunes and has a digital release scheduled for September 5th, 2017.

SCORE: A Film Music Documentary – The Interviews – Get the book at Amazon!

S.Y. Rotelli

This article comes to SFM from S. Y. Rotelli who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has written and directed numerous stage productions for the theater. She spends her time writing, reading and teaching playwriting and acting at a local college. In addition to her theater work, she can be found chained to her laptop re-imagining the worlds of Greek and Roman Gods.