The Value of Music

         Music is extremely important in film and has already made astounding contributions to films in the past. Cinema would not be the same without it! Music helps tell the story, creates suspense and fear, establishes themes for different characters, shows the setting of film, convinces the viewers of the actors’ emotions, intensifies the genre of the film regardless if it is an action/ drama, horror, romance, or comedy, and/or music simply plays as a background in scenes.

         Although music is present in all films, it is more noticeable in early silent films because it is the only noise heard throughout the film. The music is one of the most important aspects in silent films because no words are involved to express feelings or thoughts. The music must convey these messages for the audience to understand the film. When a character is sad or lonely, so must the music. When the character is happy and full of energy, the music must be loud, fast, and full of energy, too. This is true for all films, not just silent films. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) are two silent films in which the music plays a wonderful part in displaying the ideas mentioned previously. Their music helps tell the story by playing atrocious music during frightful scenes and by showing the character’s emotions and changes of emotions.

         Nosferatu, based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, was one of the first films on the subject of vampires. In the genre of horror, the right music is imperative for building the fear and suspense in the viewer. The music must be strong, striking, powerful, and yet mysterious as well. Although versions may vary depending on the film, the main idea is still for the viewer to feel the fear. Examples of the variations composers may use would be either slow or fast music, or slow to fast music, depending on the style needed. For example, the theme to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) has a fast steady beat, but Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) changes from slow to fast. Also, children’s voices may be used, like Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), or strange and unfamiliar sounds. In Nosferatu, the music is exaggerated and much louder when the Nosferatu appears so that the viewer feels the same horror that the victim feels when seeing him. All great horror films instill this fear, and Nosferat u does it very well!

         Greed is a different kind of film with a different style of music to tell its story. In the beginning of the film, the couple is happy and satisfied with one another. The music is light-hearted and easy with a pleasant melody. However, throughout the film, the couple becomes eerie and annoyed with one another. They are angry and troublesome, and the music becomes these emotions as well. It evolves into dark and twisted music for a dark and twisted marriage. The change from delightful music to nefarious is obvious to the viewers with the change of negative feelings toward one another.

         Another film we have viewed in class that demonstrates an excellent use of music is Merian C. Cooper’s and Ernest Schoesack’s King Kong (1933). The music in this film shows several aspects mentioned above as well. First, it reveals the setting. When the ship first arrives to the island the music is very barbaric and tribal representing the people on the island. The music prepares the viewers for the atmosphere the characters are entering. It also sets themes well. For example, romantic music is played when Ann (Fay Wray) and Jack (Bruce Cabot) have their first kiss on the ship. The music is played solely for them and stops when they are interrupted. Lastly, the music intensifies the action of the film. During the first appearance of King Kong, the music is incredible with loud drums, screams, and violent growls. The viewer can imagine (well sort of!) how frightening the beast really is. Every encounter with the monster has powerful music that recognizes his terror and force.

         Music is very important because it also create memories. Many people associate certain songs or kinds of music with certain films. One would consider their music the film’s trademark. There are many films in this case. A few examples are as follows: Dirty Dancing’s “The Time of My Life,” Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Robin Hood’s “Everything I Do,” Batman Forever’s “Kiss from a Rose,” the Lost Boys’ “Cry Little Sister,” and My Fair Lady’s “The Rain in Spain.” These are all songs that have made a huge contribution to their film’s overall view. Honestly, could anyone ever imagine Johnny singing any other song to Baby other than “The Time of My Life?” These songs have made a huge impact on their movies that are still influencing their viewers today.

         In conclusion, music is one of the most important parts of cinema in the past, today, and the future. It creates an emotion the actors simply cannot portray sometimes. It gives the viewer the feeling that he/she is there and can live vicariously through the characters. It helps the viewer understand the plot and setting. It establishes themes, whether romantic, comedic, or horror. Movies are not interesting without the music to spice things up. They offer too much valuable input to forget. Simply, films would not be the same without music!

Chelsie Taylor

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