Supposedly Best When You Don't Notice It's There
Some years ago, Graham expressed confusion that there was even an Oscar for Best Editing. Was it, he wanted to know, really that important? I mean, it's editing; what can they do wrong? I'm not sure I've ever entirely convinced him of its importance, though I am deeply aware of it myself. (It because all the more noticeable if you compare pan-and-scan to widescreen on films shot in widescreen.) Really, there are many things which give a film shape; editing is only one example. This documentary is about another one. As I say, it's supposed to be the most successful when you don't notice the score is there. If you can hear it, it's distracting from the movie and not adding to it. I, as it happens, don't agree with that. I think the most important part of a score is that it instantly reminds you of a movie. That's why John Williams keeps getting nominated.
John Williams does not appear in this documentary. Several of the names here are ones you'd recognize if you know things about movie scoring, such as Elliot Goldenthal (best-known score probably [i]Interview With the Vampire[/i], last year's score [i]Public Enemies[/i]) and John Barry (best-known for various James Bond movies going back to [i]Dr. No[/i], two years ago gave us [i]Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa[/i], poor bastard). We also get Spike Lee and his preferred composer, Terence Blanchard, who has worked on Lee's movies since [i]Mo' Better Blues[/i] and composed for him since [i]Jungle Fever[/i]. They, along with various other composers and directors, talk about the job that is movie scoring and its impact on our perceptions of film. Fascinating, if you're into that kind of thing. Which, you know, I am.
It's funny; what I consider the two biggest film composers in the industry today are both ones I automatically pair with a director. Neither set are interviewed here, and I strongly suspect they couldn't get any of the men's time. However, I think I would want to find people I could work with and stick to them, were I a director. Indeed, both Spielberg and Burton, the two which spring to mind in this context, build what used to be called stables. It isn't just the iconic pairings of Spielberg and Williams (and remember that Williams probably had two different acceptance speeches prepared in 1977, depending on whether he won for [i]Close Encounters of the Third Kind[/i] or [i]Star Wars[/i]--he won for [i]Star Wars[/i]) and Burton and Elfman (their falling out was most worrisome at the time), but they're the most distinct.
Really, the limitation of this film seems to be in the films and composers it can discuss. All very well to talk of the scoring of [i]Monsoon Wedding[/i], but it's not a score you can hear in your head. Or anyway I can't, not having seen the movie. [i]The Conversation[/i] gets us a little closer, and they are able to show us a tiny snip of [i]Rocky[/i]--the first one--but most of what they show isn't what captures the ear and sums up the character best. Heck, they talk about [i]Spider-Man 3[/i] and [i]Brokeback Mountain[/i], but they never really show how the score fits into the movie. (And [i]Brokeback beat [i]Memoirs of a Geisha[/i] and [i]Munich[/i], both Williams scores, for the Oscar.) They show bits of composing; you see both written and computer-typed scores. But there is little attention paid to the intersection as it actually plays out.
One of the things talked about--the film doesn't seem to get "show, don't tell"--is how different instruments present different feels. When we discussed [i]Sherlock Holmes[/i], I expressed pleasure at the use of viola and hammered dulcimer, which I consider underrepresented instruments. The thing is, only part of my problem with the decided lack of viola comes from the fact that, you know, I play viola. Part of it also stems from the fact that I think it captures certain moods important to film but neglected in choice of instrument. There is a richness there I think composers miss, a depth which the violin glosses over and the cello just doesn't reach. Still, one of the ways you know a John Williams score is the brass flourish. Danny Elfman has and loves his spectral choirs. And so forth. Instruments are as important to scores as scores are to movies.