Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Green Inferno

Over this Thanksgiving break, I watched the 2014 horror movie “Green Inferno.” I think this movie is extremely relevant, specifically in regards to our class discussions on the use of world music in popular culture. The movie takes place, for the most part, in the Peruvian jungle. A group of young activists find themselves being held hostage by a group of cannibalistic natives after a plane crash.

A couple things about this movie caught my ear, specifically in the intro and the later scenes. The first part of the is a sort of credits scene that is presumably shot from a helicopter as it flies over the dense jungle. In the background, drums play to a very pronounced beat that sounds like it has been used in every Jungle movie. Modern, professional drums were clearly used. I could tell that the music was certainly not authentic to any native culture; it was much too banal and typical of a movie of this sort. However, the real shocker came later in the film, when the group had already been captured by the natives. The same drumbeat was playing, even as the camera focused in on a very specific group of native musicians playing native instruments.

After doing some research, I discovered that the tribe portrayed in this movie is completely fictional. Even so, I am not sure it is completely ethical to portray any indigenous peoples as they were in this film. A number of things were completely incorrect. For example, there is no evidence that cannibalism is ritually practiced in any Amazonian culture. Most reports of cannibalism come from Papua New Guinea and other related tribes. Second, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) plays a large part in the film. Again, FGM is only practiced in the Middle East and in Africa, not in South America. The incorrect music that is played during this film is only icing on the cake; with all the other incorrect assumptions uneducated viewers might make about Amazonian peoples after watching this movie, the music only adds yet another. In addition to being poorly made, this film really reflects the failure of the producers to do even basic research on indigenous peoples in Peru. Let me know what you think, but please refrain from watching the movie.

2 Comments

  1. Over thanksgiving break, I also watched a movie where the music choice surprised me somewhat. I watched Hotel Rwanda and my attention was called to a couple of scenes within the movie. Not because the music was inconsistent with the environment it was in, it definitely was, but rather because the music was so unsettling. During the Ambush scene, where some Tutsi’s are being transported in a UN truck, the Hutu ambush party is all gathered together singing and dancing traditional music, I assume. The tone is very upbeat and it looks like the Tutsi’s are just going to roll on through and everything’s going to be fine. Suddenly, a burning car is rolled into the middle of the road and the party (which was previously brandishing drums and musical instruments) surrounds the caravan and confronts the two UN workers. The ensuing drama ends alright, all the Tutsi’s escape without getting harmed, but the music was unsettling to the point that it added to the drama and scene overall.

    Another powerful scene at the end of the movie was during the closing scene when the tutsi children are all singing a song in perfect harmony. Within this scene, the music symbolizes redemption and freedom from the oppression that they had experienced over the course of the movie. There’s lots of crying and without the music, it wouldn’t have been the same and the scene wouldn’t have had quite the same meaning. The scene would’ve still been powerful, but the music adds another element to it. I know that this isn’t quite the same meaning as misrepresenting music in Green Inferno, but your post made me think about the effect that music can have on a particular scene and a movie in general.

  2. I don’t think it is fair to compare Hotel Rwanda to Green Inferno but I resonate with both of your comments. Music plays a big role in how the plot develops, mood is built, and how scenes are portrayed. I am always very interested to see what types of musical choices the musical director makes in films, and I often listen to my favorite movie soundtracks when I am in the mood. I watched Interstellar again this weekend and I was again amazed at the score. When you have a guy like Hans Zimmer composing your music you know it will be special. He delicately creates mostly minimalistic pieces to reflect the vastness, intrigue, and emptiness of space. The movie takes place almost completely in space and so he intently creates a lot of space musically in the score. The minimalism hints at the fragility of human life and how small we really are in relation to the universe. However, Zimmer also composes large, reaching, and swelling movements. Not only do these offset the simple musical phrases found throughout and satisfy the different musical tastes of his audience, but they point simultaneously to the adventure that awaits with building full sounds and they represents the moments of humanity that we should be proud of.
    He also utilizes repetition in his pieces. I believe this is to remind the audience of the cyclical nature of life and the natural laws of the universe. The movie is incredible and sound matches the intensity and skill of the cinematography and story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*