Martinelli semiotics teacher: music in the cinema is as important as its author wants it to be


Not many people know that some of the most famous songs in the so-called American Songbook were written for movies: “Night and Day” was written for The Gay Divorce, “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was written for Whoopee !, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was written for Born to Dance, and many others.

With this in mind, this particular strategy has been refined and enriched over time. James Bond songs are an interesting case. There is always a big wait before the new Bond film, but also, there is a big wait before the associated song, especially because it is often performed by the singer of the moment; Carly Simon in 1977, A-Ha in 1987, Adele in 2011, Billie Eilish in 2020.

The original storytelling goes through a crisis

While talking about trends, we have to rule out many notable exceptions and just talk in general. In this regard, I would probably highlight three aspects.

From the point of view of the subjects and the narrative in general, there is an obvious crisis of originality. The same subjects are exploited over and over through remakes, sequels, prequels, adaptations from other media (even video games!) Or real events, interconnected sagas constructions, and even reboots. We are a long way from some of the golden ages of cinema in different cultures, characterized above all by original stories and the deconstruction of conventional narratives, for example, the American New Wave, the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, and many. others.

From an aesthetic point of view, we are witnessing a return to the visual mannerism that characterized directors like Visconti, Bergman or Kubrick. I think of Wes Anderson, of course, but also of Paolo Sorrentino, Zhang Yimou, Terrence Malick and several others. Some people don’t like this approach too much, seeing it as an excessive attachment to form that hides a lack of substance, but I appreciate this obsessive concern for detail, color, symmetry and the like. Cinema remains a multisensory experience where visuality plays a crucial role: we always use the verb to watch films, as opposed to listening, experimenting, reading, perceiving. And I like the fact that the director’s hand is very visible: it’s not a rule, but generally the director is my first criterion in choosing whether or not to watch a movie. More than the story, the actors or the genre.

Dario martinelli

© KTU nuotr.

In conclusion, the third major trend is the resumption of streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime in the film industry – for better or for worse. Admittedly, the cinematic experience as such may have lost its charm, but in return, we have gained more freedom of expression for the writers, who do not feel the constraints of certain formats and marketing rules. Once the film is online, it can be viewed at any time and under any conditions, so authors don’t have to worry about fitting into a setting. The fact that some of the best and most original recent films have been produced by Netflix – Roma, The Irishman – is quite significant, in this regard.

If the music contradicts the image, it’s the music we trust

Music is as important as an author wants it to be. And that includes the complete absence of it if it is deemed necessary. But once you decide to give music a role, that role can be very important, even if it is not fundamental. Music can comment, describe, anticipate, contradict, warn, encourage. To the best of its ability, a soundtrack establishes a complementary dialogue with the images that makes the overall result more profound and meaningful. There are cases where the music blends so well with the rest that you don’t even notice it, because it is part of the whole. Composer Korhan Futaci once said that the best soundtrack music is music you can’t hear, and there’s a lot of truth to that.

Then again, sometimes the music takes over and becomes the main attraction of the movie, and that can be good as well. Some of the greatest movies have been literally defined by the music they contain. It’s hard to think of Easy Rider without this wonderful selection of songs from the late 60s. Also, I can’t think of Sergio Leone without thinking of Ennio Morricone, or Lynch without Badalamenti, and so on.

Finally, what I always tell my students is that music can have a level of credibility in front of the audience that is higher than anything else. Why is that ? Because we expect the pictures and dialogue to deceive us in one way or another, especially if it’s the kind of movie where deception is important – thrillers, detective novels and the like. However, when it comes to music, if we have a situation where the pictures say something and the music says something contradictory, it is the music that we trust. A silly example would be someone who stumbles and falls, tuned to a fun, upbeat soundtrack. The event itself can be quite sad, even tragic (imagine falling from the top of a building), but if the music says comedy, then it’s a comedy – we make fun of the poor, we don’t. pity.

Symbiosis of the film and its soundtrack

Gender is something people view with suspicion these days, both in music and in movies. If you ask a band what genre they play, they’re usually quite irritated and start the standard monologue about how they don’t want to be framed by a preconceived idea, how they like to fluctuate between different styles, how genres died. , etc. forward.

Then of course most of the time you listen to this band, and the genre they’re playing is perfectly clear, and you don’t see much fluctuation at all. Having said that, there are a few considerations to be made. Historically, cinema has often had favorite genres that they would resort to more often than others. Late Romantic symphonic music, for example, has been a standard benchmark for decades in European and American cinema, where Nouvelle Vague has developed a strong affection for jazz.

Musicals, before the 1960s and 1970s, brought in the fresh air – Hair, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jesus Christ Superstar – were rather true to the Broadway musical paradigm. So, we can say that some genres seem more suited to a movie than others. Alternatively, and this is what I believe, it is the fashions and conventions that invented this convenience. Once, say, a Tchaikovsky-style soundtrack proved effective, it became a formula, and composers resorted to it over and over again, without attempting too much innovation. Then, luckily, a breaking point would occur and, if successful, it would become a new formula and encourage other composers to embark on this path. So, little by little, we had more variety. Examples of breaking points are, for example, the soundtracks of Pink Floyd and Goblin in the field of progressive rock, or Vangelis in electronic music.

On the flip side, we have movies that are sort of designed to be associated with a specific genre, and in those cases we see the movie and the soundtrack develop a symbiosis in which it’s hard to say what’s going on. The most important. I mentioned Easy Rider over late 1960s music, I could add all the genre from Blaxploitation to funk and fusion, or the way Quentin Tarantino always seems to find the right song for anyone. what sequence or combination of seduction and pathos that Bond songs demand.

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