Movie Mom

Movie Mom

The Evolution of Movie Soundtracks

posted by Nell Minow

The New Yorker has a fine article by music critic Alex Ross about soundtrack composer Michael Giacchino, who won an Oscar for his lilting but wistful score for “Up” and who also writes the evocative music for the television series, “Lost.” But even better is the podcast interview with New Yorker Out Loud editor Blake Eskin, because Ross talks about the evolution of movie soundtracks over the decades, from the lush orchestral scores composed by European emigres like Erich Wolfgang Korngold during the 1940’s to the jazz-influenced scores of the 1950’s that first acquainted mainstream audiences with music they were not yet ready to listen to on records or in clubs. And he illustrates his points with great examples that make you want to go back to see the movies all over again — or, I should say, listen to them all over again.


Here is Korngold writing for “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

And here is Duke Ellington’s score for “Anatomy of a Murder.”


I share Ross’ disappointment with today’s over-reliance on pop songs to carry the emotion of the story but was glad to hear that he thinks that fully-orchestrated scores will make a comeback. As he points out, “Star Wars” would not have had nearly the mythic power without the unforgettable soundtrack from John Williams.

  • Dave

    You talk about Hollywood’s over-reliance of pop songs, but for me, it’s not so bad, provided the song fits the tone of the film. Granted, a pop song would definitely have felt out of place on the Star Wars soundtrack, but I can’t help but think about Wind Beneath My Wings from Beaches or My Heart Will Go On from Titanic. The various themes from the James Bond films have also done well. Or The Beginning is the End is the Beginning set such a haunting tone for the Watchmen trailer that I think it made me want to see that movie all the more. And there’s even some lesser stuff, like the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles as the theme from Benny & Joon, or Katie Melua’s cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven as the theme song for the movie of the same name, or the way Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Face to Face set the tone in Batman Returns in the critical moment when Bruce and Selina realize each others’ secret identities.
    But on the other hand, I cringe when I see movies with pop songs tacked on to them somehow, strictly so that the movie can also have an MTV video to help sell it all that much more. Like the Seal and U2 songs tacked on to the end of Batman Forever – they had zero to do with the film, they were just there for the videos. I hate it when they do stuff like that.
    In the end, it really has to do with if the song fits the movie and vice versa. When they match, it works; when they don’t, but the producers force it, it can make a good movie bad and a bad movie worse.

  • Nell Minow

    Agreed on all points, Dave. But too often the pop songs on the soundtrack are substitutes for people too lazy to write the scene (training montages, falling in love montages), especially those that leverage the connection we already have to the song instead of introducing a new one.

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