9 Questions For the Film Music Community
Maybe I’m just a cantankerous ol’ cuss or perhaps it’s residual holiday misanthropy, but I’m starting 2012 with more questions than answers. But, oh, do I still have opinions. So I thought I’d devote this month’s “9 on the 9th” post to some of those questions.
The questions I pose are my personal observations and the opinions I give are strictly my own. Agree, disagree, or don’t give a damn. Whatever your preference, I’d honestly like to hear your feedback.
ARE WE LEMINGS?
Most of us want to “belong,” to be a part of something, myself included. And one of the primary joys of the internet is the discovery and friendship of film music fans all over the world. Long gone are the days when we’d listen to our favorite film scores in relative seclusion, unable to discuss or share our passion with anyone else. Now that that barrier is gone, we can discuss film music to our heart’s content. But I don’t understand the herd mentality, never have. I don’t want to follow the crowd just to realize there’s a cliff ahead and I’ve got nowhere to go but plummeting into the ocean. Would it really make me feel better to know that 40 people I know love Jerry Goldsmith? Do I have to rush out and purchase GREMLINS because 30 people on Facebook said how good it was? Maybe, like Groucho Marx, I just never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member. By all means, listen to the people you trust and admire, but make up your own mind.
DO YOU LIKE IT? DO YOU REALLY LIKE IT?
Because of what I do with film music on this site and elsewhere, I want to know what people think. I want to hear suggestions of scores I may have missed, as well as constructive debate about the merits of particular scores and composers. But that “like” you just clicked on Facebook? Sure, it’s great—if it’s directed my way, I appreciate it, truly—but it doesn’t mean squat. It’s like multiple “follow Friday” lists on Twitter or giving a gift card. It says, “I made the least amount of effort to show I care.” Express your appreciation for the work someone has done or what they have written (and I don’t necessarily mean me), but take the time and add something relevant to the discourse beyond a phatic response.
WHEN DID THE MESSAGE BOARDS BEGIN TO INFECT FACEBOOK?
While message boards can be excellent avenues for information and debate, we all know that they can bring out the basest of human behavior. The “privacy” of cyberspace and the relative cloak of a computer screen provides some users with more moxie than they might have in real life. We’ve all had run-ins with leeches and trolls who get their jollies raining on our parade. Slams and strikes on niche message boards get even more personal as more of the inhabitants communicate on a first-name basis with one another (even if they still hide behind foolish, decade-old screen names and gravatars). Over the last year those trolls seem to have migrated into the light, exhibiting their d-bag behavior on Facebook and other social media. It’s 2012. Haven’t we moved past this yet?
DO WE WEAR BLINDERS?
By not recognizing the good or ignoring the less pleasant aspects of a particular score or composer, we limit our own growth as we all hopefully continue to discover the wide range of film music. Take James Horner, for instance. Thousands of words over the years have been written about Horner’s self-plagiarism (that damn danger motif) and his lifting of melodies and chord progressions from classical composers like Prokofiev. I don’t mean that as Horner-bashing. By all means, enjoy Horner’s work (and any other composer) if you already do. But things like this matter. Dismissing them with a “yeah, but…” diminishes your argument and the impact of the composer’s work even further. Demand more…for yourself and for the artform.
WHAT IS THE OVERWHELMING LURE OF NOSTALGIA?
Maybe I’m just a cold-hearted snake (thank you, Paula Abdul)—or perhaps I’ve lost those particular brain cells by now—but I’m seldom afflicted with nostalgia for the past. Sepia-toned memories tend to revise history, giving far more prominence to certain films and scores than they might have otherwise, primarily due to the rose-colored glasses we all wear. Sure, I’m fond of films and scores from childhood and teenage years, like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE OMEN, STAR WARS, etc. But I’m not deluding myself that something like the 1978 Frank Langella DRACULA, for example, is a classic. Sure, it has its Gothic moments and an excellent score by John Williams. I’d love to see the score reappear on CD at some point (especially since my LP is long gone). But I’m not going to rewrite history and turn the film into something it’s not any more than I’m going to pine and whine for the CD. My life has gone on very well without it and it won’t make or break the rest of my existence if the score reappears or not. Perhaps it would profit the community more to appreciate the bounty we’ve been given and stop always wanting more, more, more. There will never be enough.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE GOLDEN AGE?
Yup, that tired old argument… Film music is still a relatively new artform that has remained basically unchanged since the early 1930s. Sure, the musical styles have morphed, but a composer is still writing for a film. If the tools with which they practice their craft have changed, the overall basic process has not. So if you love the artform, why wouldn’t you want to know more about it? Why would you exclude its creation and nearly 30 years of its history? Maybe my music education makes me more open to discovering all the various periods of film music, or maybe that’s just me acting uppity. You certainly don’t need training in music to appreciate film music, or any other genre of music. But limiting yourself to a set of composers, a sub-genre, or a specific period of film music, especially an artform with such a comparatively brief lifespan, stunts your knowledge and your enjoyment. Ageism seems to exist even in the arts.
DOES FILM MUSIC HAVE TO BE LISTENABLE ON ITS OWN?
Not necessarily. Its primary concern is to work within the scope of the film. That’s the job the composer was hired to do. To have the music survive as a stand-alone listening experience is icing on the cake. Ideally, film music should be good “music” as well within the context of what the composer is writing. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be enjoyable to listen to. Its effect on the ear—good or bad—should not diminish its quality.
SHOULD YOU HAVE TO WORK AT LISTENING TO FILM MUSIC?
By all means, yes. In my book, film music is important, above and beyond the simple joys of pure listening pleasure. I personally don’t want to be an innocent bystander just letting it wash over me. If that’s all it is good for, then I might as well use it like a warm bath and sit in my own liquid filth. A composer toiled to create that piece of music (probably under tight budgets and tough working circumstances). The least I can do is give it my attention. If it doesn’t deserve warrant the energy past that point, so be it. But lazy listening offends my ears.
WHAT IS OUR ROLE AS A COMMUNITY?
The way I see it, our job is to not only support the composers and record labels, but to educate and support each other. If we don’t take this artform that we love seriously, we can’t expect anyone else to either. We can engage in meaningful dialogue without patronization. But participating means more than chiming in with “I like that score too” (or not). For me, unless I asked, I don’t care. And maybe even then, I still don’t care. I want to know if you can tell me why. Be firm in your convictions and stand your ground. Your opinion is valid. Film music demands our respect. If we are not actively listening and participating, we are sitting on the sidelines. I’d rather be in the game.
And there endeth the soapbox. What do you think?