Friday, February 24, 2006

Top 10: Film Scores


It is a futile thing, I think, to articulate the qualities of music in writing. The best scores seem not written to but born from images; the results are haunting and indelible.

1. Vertigo - Alternately swooning, nightmarish, and melancholy, Bernard Herrmann's score brilliantly evokes the swirling, labyrinthine story of Alfred Hitchcock's most naked film.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird - By the time the opening titles are done, I'm already teary-eyed from Elmer Bernstein's lyrical ode to childhood.
3. Jaws - With two notes, John Williams tapped into our most primal sense of dread. Less talked about are the jauntier themes of the second half, which compliment the film's study of male relationships as pointedly as they announce the shark's presence.
4. Once Upon a Time in the West - Ennio Morricone's most dense, complex, rich score. Not only does it give the film almost unbearable momentum and match Sergio Leone's staggering compositions, it also tells us worlds about an near-wordless character's world-weariness and appetite for revenge.
5. Psycho - The propulsive "thriller" score of the first half gives way to the quick, sparse, piercing shower scene; Hitchcock and Herrmann manage to pioneer a brand new genre in about forty-five seconds.
6. E.T. - Steven Spielberg smartly tweaked the editing of the last reel to better suit John Williams' score, and for good reason; there is no better example of music as the emotional spine of a film. Stirring without ever being clumsily manipulative, the score goes from subtle to comic to heartbreaking to soaringly triumphant.
7. Blue Velvet - The opening theme matches the titular fabric draped across the screen; lush, and subtly strange. Angelo Badalamenti masterfully guides us through the hilarious and disturbing twists and turns of David Lynch's suburban mystery.
8. The Third Man - Overbearing to contemporary ears, Anton Krasker's odd zither score highlights shades of absurdist humor in Carol Reed's Vienna-set mystery.
9. Carrie - Pino Donaggio alternates between airy romance, rubbery porno-synth, Herrmann-inspired stingers, and dreamy, sad melodies. It should be ridiculous, and in a way it is, but it also matches Brian De Palma's menstrual horror film brilliantly.
10. Edward Scissorhands - Delicate as the title character and reassuring as a lullaby, Danny Elfman's score leads us through Tim Burton's fairy-tale suburbia with imagination, humor, and grace.

4 comments:

Doug said...

As is usual for me, no particular set, but some thoughts that came to mind reading your choices.

The Empire Strikes Back- From the magic of Yoda's teaching, to the frenzy of the asteroid belt, over to the despair of the Carbonite freeze and let's not forget the feeling of impending doom of Imperial March. Through every piece in this score Williams captures exactly what is meant to be felt in each scene.

And the main themes for Wrath of Khan also hold a lot of weight in my personal choices for truly capturing and complimenting the moment.

I need go through more of my collection and pick out some more favorites.

Bemis said...

Both excellent choices. I love the way that the Khan score segues into "Amazing Grace" at the end - it puts a lump in this geek's throat every time.

Max said...

No order, but my personal favorites:
-Batman
-The Empire Strikes Back
-Taxi Driver
-The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
-Akira
-Escape From New York
-Dawn of the Dead
-Alien 3
-Yojimbo
-The Terminator

Bemis said...

Good choices all-around; Alien 3 is a unique, underrated one.