Recently a post, The Curse of the Critique Button? by Pamela Nowak appeared on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ blog. It discussed the problem of not being able to turn off your critique button when reading or watching movies. As I mentioned in the comments to that post, my first problem with movie watching is the soundtrack. Many years ago I took a music appreciation course for the heck of it. I don’t know a middle C from an F sharp. (Is there an F-sharp?) I learned a number of musical concepts, but what I most remember about this class was that the teacher was very skinny and had his pants cinched with a belt that had at least eight extra inches. He also mentioned that the movie score was what he most listened to at a movie. Up until then, I only noticed the music the few times I’d really loved it, such as in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
But after he mentioned this, I was more atuned to music. Suddenly, if the music felt manipulative, which it very often did, and told me how to feel, or what the impact of the scene should be, I was pulled out of the movie’s world. I often dislike popular movies and the soundtrack is often one factor why. A good illustration of this, for me, is the difference between the two 1999 movies dealing with World War II ,Saving Private Ryan, and The Thin Red Line. SPR won awards and the hearts of most moviegoers. I thought it had a predictable plot with over-orchestrated music (the chorus in the theme song, for example). TRL, its competitor in a number of Oscar categories, including Best Music, Dramatic Film Score, was, for me, more of a tone poem.
I’m not sure either of these composers (John Williams vs. Hans Zimmer) is among my favorites, but I can routinely pick out John Williams’ scores. Being able to recognize a composer doesn’t necessarily degrade the quality; I usually know Phillip Glass or Ryuichi Sakamoto, too. For me, it is a heavy-handedness and manipulative element that makes me like most John Williams scores less than others.
In my original blog post comment, I suggested there might be a correlation between musical scores that direct your feelings and good writing. Although subjective, I find writing I most enjoy to be that which is similar to the scores I prefer: ones that actually make me feel rather than those that dictate how I should feel. In writing this is illustrated by the difference between telling me how a character feels and allowing me to feel what the character does. Although I suspect I fall far from my ideal, that is what I usually strive to do. Maybe if I listen to more of the music that achieves this state, my writing will approximate that level of art.
What movie soundtracks with original music do you find most enjoyable? Do you feel the sort of music you prefer, as illustrated by film scores, also informs your writing or what you consider good writing?