9 Reasons Why I Still Love Film Music

Since we’re at the start of a new year and a new decade, I thought I’d break tradition a bit for this month’s “9 on the 9th” post. Rather than concentrating on the scores of a single composer or genre, I wanted to take a look at nine reasons why, 33 years later, I still love film music.


Is it the melodies and harmonies? Is it the fact that so much of today’s music, whether in the concert hall or popular music, is so afraid of a tune? Or is it the unabashed emotion that I often hear in film music? The sound of film music is ever-changing. It’s no longer just orchestral. Technology has brought us new sounds and aural landscapes that weren’t possible once upon a time. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But I’d rather film music continued to morph and experiment than remain stagnant. Do I prefer melody and harmony? You bet. But there’s more than enough stories that require different kinds of film music for everyone.


I’ve always had this overwhelming “need” for new music. It’s almost primal, like the food I eat and the air I breathe. And considering I live in New York, it’s often better than the air I breathe. Nothing excites me more than that first flush of excitement upon hearing a new score. Whether it’s a composer I’m familiar with or someone brand new, there’s a sense of hope that the music will surpass my expectations. As Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine say at the beginning and end of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE; “White, a blank page or canvas. So many possibilities…” Indeed.


When I can’t listen to any more electric guitars, drum loops, and synth patches, I put on some Korngold, Steiner, Newman, Herrmann, Previn, or a dozen others. The music from Hollywood’s Golden Age brings me greater pleasure than any other period of film music. When I was a kid, there was no cable, no DVD, no Netflix. Hell, there was no such thing as VHS even. On the few stations available on TV, I watched old Hollywood movies starring Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Errol Flynn. These were the films I grew up on, the film music I first heard, even before I knew what it was. And, so, perhaps the Golden Age represents a return to a simpler life, a sheltered life. Golden Age film music makes me feel safe and content.


No sound from the Golden Age pulls at my guts more than the strings of the 20th Century-Fox orchestra, usually under the musical direction of the great Alfred Newman, the so-called “Newman strings.” Take your pick of any heart-wrenching moments. Anne and Peter alone in the attic in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. William Holden telling Jennifer Jones “give me your hand” on a hillside in LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING. The death of the King at the end of THE KING AND I. Whether it was his own music or someone else’s, Newman brought a recognizable and never-too-be-duplicated sound that defined not only the sound of a studio but the sound of an entire age.


As I’ve delved deeper into the film music industry over the last decade, I’ve had the chance to meet many professionals who had made it their career. Composers, writers, soundtrack producers, a whole community of men and women bound by this strange and wonderful world of film music. These are the people who tirelessly create and champion this music that I love so much. The hours put in, the money that changes hands (usually with very little return), the studio red tape. I thank them each and every day for enriching my life in ways they’ll never know.


When I first started writing liner notes, I had no idea the amount of work that went into the production of a CD. Until I began to write about film music, I never realized the amount of work that goes into creating an hours worth of music on incredibly tight deadlines, ever-shrinking budgets, and studio cretins who use music to “fix” their films. Look at the restoration process it takes to get even a mid-1980’s score in shape sonically, much less a Golden Age score that has deteriorated or been destroyed and has to be reconstructed from scratch. It’s this effort that informs the sounds I hear now. It has given me a new appreciation for the sheer craft that informs this music I love so deeply. Talent only gets you so far. Now, I feel more keenly the heartbeat behind the score and the blood, sweat, and tears coursing through the music.


I admit to a fondness for film music that tugs at my heartstrings. Just look at the examples above, my mind and my heart go for those raw emotional moments that only music can carry. Whether it’s sad or happy, I love a good cry accompanied by a wonderful piece of film music. In the early 80s, when I was going through a particularly painful period as I worked up the nerve to come out to my parents, I played Dave Grusin’s ON GOLDEN POND and the Charles Gerhardt recording of Alfred Newman’s theme from THE BEST OF EVERYTHING on the turntable over and over again. I’d sit in my room and cry silent buckets of tears as I imagined every possible awful scenario that my parents could dish out. Now when I hear those melodies, I not only appreciate their beauty of composition. They remind me of a defining moment in my life and one from which I’ve never looked back. Film music has helped define who I am.


No matter what kind of music it is, nothing sucks the air out of the room like passionless music. We’ve all heard it. It’s that score that we only give a cursory listen and then chuck in a pile or immediately run to the message boards to excoriate it. I’m just as guilty as the next person. And yet imagine what it takes to create music. Even if you’ve never sat at a piano or stared at a blank piece of staff paper, that “blank page or canvas” is a pretty frightening prospect. It’s like any creation. A passion for the material begins the process. You believe in it. Then you live with it, and you punch it, pound it, and mold it until it begins to take shape. When the passion is there, it shows in the creation. Your heart starts beating a little faster, your skin tingles. I look for that passion in every piece of film music. And oh what an indescribable thrill it is when I hear it.


Come on, you knew I had to end with this, right? No matter how far I travel in the world of film music, my love comes back to that first soundtrack LP I purchased. The score that started it all. Perhaps because I write about film music on a regular basis, there’s usually not a day goes by that I don’t think of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score. It brings me just as much joy now as it did in 1976. Even after all this time, I still hear new things in the music. And the well-worn sounds that I know so well? Like my favorite shirt or a particular pair of sweats, it’s comfortable and comforting. If the sounds of Satan can make a man happy, these do.

Film music has been–and always will be–my music of choice. It’s the balm that soothes my pain, the jolt that jump-starts my passion, and the light in my day. May it continue to bring each and every one of us continued joy in this year and for years to come.

Why do you love film music?

  1. The Score That Started It All for me was Jaws.
    First cd I’ve ever bought. Great one to start, right?
    .-= Frank´s last blog ..Bloed, Waits en Tranen =-.

  2. Great article Jim. I was just thinking about this the other day as I read through a thread on FSM about losing the passion for film music, or rather new film music. I feel the fatigue sometimes, but I know I am excited as h*** for 2010 which means the passion is still there.

    I love film music because there’s always something to be excited about, there’s something for everyone. 2009 was a fantastic year for film music collectors as Intrada, FSM, La-La Land, Kritzerland and others were spewing out titles faster than people could buy. 2009 gave me some great moments in new film music, and I also had a great time discovering older film music.

    The biggest reason I love film music is that it’s the only music that can make me cry without even having a movie scene present. I find that quite incredible. There’s something about the theme, the construction, the music without the distraction of words that makes it all come together. Does that make sense?

    Cheers for the thoughts!

    .-= Jorn´s last blog ..More Sherlock Holmes Soundtrack: Here Are Some Videos! =-.

    1. “The biggest reason I love film music is that it’s the only music that can make me cry without even having a movie scene present. I find that quite incredible. There’s something about the theme, the construction, the music without the distraction of words that makes it all come together.”

      Wow, Jorn, you said it far better than I ever could. I agree totally. God, I love a good cry. :)

      1. Jim,

        I still remember what you said the day you bought the soundtrack to TERMS OF ENDEARMENT: “Good! Now I can cry whenever I want to!”

        Fun memories!


        1. Oh my God, that is so embarrassing! (And I’m sure I’ve used it for just that purpose over the years.) That memory is taking up some valuable brain space. Time to let that one go. LOL

          1. Sorry, Jim. That memory has been branded onto the membrane of my brain. There is no getting rid of it.
            It was so incredible talking with you this morning!
            It really did seem as if no time had passed. It’s a special gift to have a friend that is always there no matter how many years have gone by or how many miles separate us. ” You’re my touchstone” Jimmy.
            I’m really looking forward to seeing you this summer.

  3. seems we both crashed through the flood gates with horror scores… The first album I bought with the purpose of listening to the orchestral score was Wojciech Kilar’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula… and I still love it!

    1. I haven’t listened to Kilar’s DRACULA in ages. By the way, if you don’t know it, you need to find a copy of Williams’ DRACULA. Great score! And don’t worry about being late in the game. There is no such thing. The game is continuous and it doesn’t matter where or when you come in. Just join in and have a good time. :)

  4. Well, Rick and Jim, EVEN I am starting to hear the music of Terms of Endearment now.

    .-= Frank´s last blog ..Al Wat Ik U Geboden Heb =-.

    1. See, Frank? The power of film music and its relationship to more than just the film it’s attached to. The power of art. :) I dare you to get that theme out of your head the rest of the day.

  5. Hahaha…

    I live on the other side of the globe, Jim.
    The day is done here.
    .-= Frank´s last blog ..Al Wat Ik U Geboden Heb =-.

  6. Sorry, Ricky, the embedded comments only allow 4 levels. Don’t know why. But it was great talking with you as well. And, yes, time seems to have stood still except in front of the mirror. (Ugh.) All hail the power of Facebook! Bringing together friends new and old from near and far. See you soon.

  7. Jim,
    I can’t wait!
    Damn that music from TERMS. I even have Ethel Merman’s “Anything Goes” running through my head. Damn!


  8. Hi Jim! I know this is an older article, but I love it! I’ve been following you for a bit now, as I’ve just started co-hosting the podcast “Hooked On Score: Confessions of a Film Music Addict.” Just wanted to let you know that I’ll be tweeting this article on our fan page for our #TGIF article of the week. Thanks so much for all you do!

    -Caleb Hogan, Co-host, “Hooked On Score”

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