Movie Sound(tracks)

With our course wrapping up this week, I noticed that one aspect of sound that we did not focus on much is movie scores. It surprises me that this topic has never come up, because movie soundtracks (to me, at least) hold the power to elicit audience emotional responses during a film. I think people too often marginalize the importance of the soundtrack to a movie.

I took a film study class the last term of my senior year, and three of the films we studied are great examples of soundtrack-driven movies: “The Third Man” (1949), “Almost Famous” (2000), and “The Great Gatsby” (2013). Each of these films showcase a soundtrack functioning in a different way.

For instance, “The Third Man” is a 1949 film noir drama starring Orson Welles. Its soundtrack is almost exclusively comprised of “The Third Man Theme,” a two minute song composed for the film, which is played repeatedly throughout the movie. Interestingly enough, the song was recorded on a zither, a stringed instrument which produces a light, twangy sound. I am posting a copy of the song below, which I found began to drive me crazy before the film was half over (It started to remind me of the background music from Spongebob.) I also found it very strange that this serious movie had such a light and nonchalant soundtrack playing almost constantly (Play it about fifty times and you will get the idea more clearly.)

The second movie that has, in my opinion, an amazing soundtrack, is “Almost Famous.” This movie is about a young journalist who goes on the road with a band during the 1970’s, and its 70’s-filled soundtrack won a Grammy in 2001. This tour bus scene (which I am posting below) in which Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” plays remains one of my favorite musical movie scenes of all time. The music finds a way to capture the experience and nostalgia of the film in a way that ordinary dialogue could never do (the scene makes more sense in the context of the movie.) This film serves as a great example of the importance of movie soundtracks, which serve as an element to supplement other movie sounds.

The final soundtrack I would like to talk about is that from Baz Luhrmann’s recent remake of “The Great Gatsby.” This soundtrack was a controversial one, because Luhrmann chose to set a 1920’s movie to 2010’s music. I was initially unsure of how I felt about this decision, until I saw the movie and an interview in which Luhrmann discussed the reasoning behind his musical choices. In the interview, he explained that the music was chosen so that today’s audiences might experience the same emotions that the characters at the time would have. For instance, instead of playing a 1920’s party song, which would not inspire much excitement from the audience, Luhrmann selected an upbeat, modern song, which would help us relate to what partygoers in the 1920s would have felt. A great example of this is Gatsby’s huge party scene, in which Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” serves as background music. I am also posting a link to the scene with Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” because it is one of my favorite scenes in the film and I think it perfectly embodies the movie’s theme of Gatsby’s eternal love for Daisy, which is not necessarily reciprocated to him.


I think these films and their soundtracks help to show that the sounds that can affect an audience the most are not necessarily written into a movie’s script; rather, movies use the power of sound in music to evoke emotion from the audience and convey important themes of the films.