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The Role of Music in Films Essay

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2020

Introduction

The main objective of the research thesis will be analysis of distinctive music based on the concepts of tone, composition, and literary styles. Also, the paper will identify sound effects such as ambient sound within the musical score incorporated to complete other effects such as digenetic sounds dependent on sight upon hearing within different cultures. The objective captures the musical composition by Philip Glass in “The Hours” film and Anton Karas in “The Third Man” film on the significance of these compositions and distinguish unique characteristics in each. Besides, the treatise identifies literary styles such as repetition, rhyme, and esthetic functionality to create right mood and support various themes narrated in motion picture films.

Literature Review

Introduction

Music expression in motion picture films assumes different models which often operate simultaneously. Overtime, various authors have investigated these models. Interestingly, these models share same components on the basis of listener, performer, and composer. This part elaborates and comprehensively expands the understanding of significance of musical composition and soundtracks in motion picture films to create an elucidated and in-depth interrelationships existing between image motion and music in the background.

Anton Karas’ composition in the film “The Third Man

Anton Karas performed the score in the film “The Third Man”. This composition include zither instrument sound common in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In order to depict the mood of the post Second World War in Vienna, the narrative to the film “The Third Man” demanded appropriate music away from the usual heavy schmaltzy mixed with ‘orchestral waltzes’.

Since Anton Karas music consists of fascinating jangling music of melancholy nature, Reed adopted this kind of music for the score of the film “The Third Man”. Also referred to as “The Harry Lime Theme”, this instrumental composition by Anton formed the sole soundtrack for the entire film. Zither composition appreciated culture of Vienna at the time of its release. Reflectively, this composition was a melody modification from a practice book. Released as a single, this composition had the “Harry Lime theme” on side A, and “Café Mozart Waltz” on side B1.

Philip Glass composition in the film “The Hours”

An American born composer, Philip Glass is recognized for his contribution in classical music composition in the 20th century. Philip’s composition is controversially referred to as minimalist. As a soundtrack composer in the film “The Hours”, Philip presents himself as an author of repetitive structured music which has stylistically evolved over time. The background music for the film “The Hours” presents a prolific composition which ensembles symphonies, chamber music, and operas2.

This romantic and lyrical style played out in the film score for the motion picture film “The Hour”. Evocated in thematically instigated improvisatory chords, sound tracks for this film demonstrate chamber textured orchestral classic technique of rigorously and precise popular excursions in modern composition3. In addition, these soundtracks are inclusive of a fusion of electronic music, ambient music, and world music.

Methodology

In order to present a clear understanding in of significance of music composition by Philip Glass in “The Hours” and Anton Karas in “The third Man“, it is essential to review the unique feature of each composition and relate them to the themes, that is, qualitative and quantitative analysis of symbolic ‘tonation’, and movement as part of the desired outcome in terms of perception by the audience. Music composition is more than just the sound especially in movies. It reflects the mood of the displayed motion pictures and explains themes through sound.

Through physical observation of the motion pictures in each of the films and the soundtrack in the background for every scene, it is important to interpret the significance of each composition by use of literary analysis tools such as observation of symbolism, ‘tonation’, mood of each episode, the character traits of each character, and other compositions by the same authors. Notwithstanding, the methodology includes analysis of “The Harry Lime Theme”, an instrumental composition by Anton which formed the sole soundtrack for the entire film called ‘Zither composition’ and this style appreciated culture of Vienna at that time after the Second World War4.

Findings and analysis

Analysis of role of music in the film “The Third Man”

The film “The Third Man” is often described as a classical masterpiece of the early 1950s due to its unique theme and musical composition by Anton Karas5. The unique musical composition score, cinematography, and performances have perfectly fused the narrative by Graham Greene and artistic music by Anton using zither only. Across the film, zither music has expressed the main theme especially when the characters interact depending on emotion and the mood in every scene. Therefore, this part reflects on role of artistic composition by Anton in the scenes across the movie.

The type of music used as soundtrack for the movie “The Third Man” is a composition of Zither. A single but frothy composition, this kind of music best suits the culture of Vienna at the time of its release, as it symbolizes evocation purpose especially after the aftermath of the Second World War. To align to the traditional setting aspects on production design and the society, this composition heightens hyper-real palate of emotional expression6. Moreover, this choice of music was essential in the need for a proper balance of production aural, sound accordion, and permeates scenes. Subsequently, this balance has facilitated the addition of decadent love feeling across the film and in the cast. Therefore, the choice of instrument used and monotony of the soundtrack in the film “The Third Man” to create the unique coded sounds for recognizable geographical access7.

In line with the nature of structures at the time of its release; bombed buildings, decaying facades, and cracked streets, the sound of the background music from zither creates an enigmatic visual production laced with an in-depth feeling of historical dark moment expressed via creation of a sound production that is laced with instrumental creation of dread. To dramatize this state, the score was created by Anton and directed by Carol Reed.

In addition, this composition presents the instinct of two extreme situations to the viewers. As viewers absorb the acts in oppressive scenes, Anton Karas’ music composition creeps in the background of the motion pictures and create a caricature in the minds of the audience as a reminder of the lost in the just concluded war such as destroyed buildings, cracked streets, and poor lighting. Besides, this juxtaposition startles with its hallmark score of single instrumentation to create successful film music for the movie “The Third Man”.

Throughout the film, Karas’ musical composition has helped to fine tune the two main themes of “The Harry Lime Theme” and “The Café Mozart Waltz Theme”. Musically, this presentation is but a simple expression of various themes occurring in a series of events. Intrinsically, on the facets of nostalgia, these variations speak tones of dormant and tonic expression to create a sentimental charm carried outside the frame of viewing. Besides the “Harry Theme” and “The Café Mozart Waltz” theme create a lilting melody of more ironic nature especially with the arrangement of dormant and tonic expressions aligned to perfectly fit in the context8.

The sound in this composition is uniform, with rich, deep bass strings, proper ‘tonation’, and upper register brightness. Besides, the performance of this masterpiece composition on zither instrument creates a feeling of sensitivity and general panache. According to Richard Wagner, proper use of musical instrument in film soundtrack creates a feeling of complete uniformity as it expresses the hidden components which cannot be explained by mere words9. Therefore, to create a comfortable impact, the composition of this film is solely from Anton who perfected the balance between consummated symbolism and cinematic images. Anton, in his creation, used catchy and ‘twangy’ soundtrack music for the background of the film to work out a match between the displayed images and emotions.

Analysis of the role of music in the film “The Hours

Philip Glass musical composition for the film “The Hours” is often described as a comprehensive repetitive art since it contain numerous emotive haunting, and lyrical music produced by Glass. This composition perfectly and superbly complements the theme of the movie and expresses different emotions as displayed by motion pictures. Philip’s composition in the movie “The Hours” has transformed this motion picture film into a powerful drama.

In the film background, Glass uses repetition for emphasis of emotional balance and mood across the shots or scenes10. This kind of musical composition is unique in the sense that it uses cycle system most appropriate for the theme of the film “The Hours”. In the film, Stephen Daldry’s narrative is a collection of script representing three different women who live in different dimensions of time, but are represented as coexisting simultaneously in one film.

Music is symbolic of the invisible aspects of emotive and themes in a piece of literature such as motion picture film. Across the film, Glass’ music is consistent though repetitive and lavish especially on the facets of non-separately rhymes and swirling music. In order to fully understand the kind of music use in the film, it is of essence to reflect on repetition, the magnitude of the same, rhymes and rhythm, and their connection to what is displayed in the screen11.

As a matter of fact, Glass’ musical composition in the film is described as a score which defines synopsis of the storyline by application of reacquiring esthetic, dramatic, visionary, and pleasing soundtrack which appeals to the audience. Besides, this masterpiece has been used by the director to lightens up intense scenes and provide a compact connection between different scenes occurring concurrently. In line with Glass’ composition, the repetitive music reflects what is displayed in the screen.

In the process of creating ambience and affirming the plot, musical composition in the film “The Hours” is the most appropriate for the film. The features such as repetition and rhyme creates a lasting impact that artistically facilitates the evocation of emotions of the cast of characters, while at the same time, making the viewers develop same notion and feeling. In instances where repetition is frequent, the audience is in a position to predict the mood and prepare for an eerie infatuation of tension or joy12.

Without Glass’ composition, the film would be incomplete and almost impossible to understand especially on the periphery of emotional display. Interestingly, this kind of music evokes sensation and relates situational occurrences across the shots. For instance, a slow dragging composition would inform the audience of sadness, and a light song resonate a relaxed mood the character feels. Therefore, a happy composition lightens the perceived mood in the film13.

Stephen Daldry’s film “The Hour” cannot function properly without Glass’ composition as its soundtrack. Despite the different time setting for the three women balanced simultaneously in the film, Glass’ music bridges the gap of variance in time through repetition. The main actor, Virginia Woolf displays minute kindness acts, randomly swinging moods, deviation from normalcy. These tendencies are artistically brought out in the film through use of music to depict in different emotions.

In the words of Virginia Woolf, “the question of things happening, normally, all the time”14 is vital in selecting the right composition for a film soundtrack. The nonesuch composition by Glass comes in handy to solve the puzzle. The abrasive mixture of harmonies in this composition signifies loathing uncertainty, and faster rhythm signifies pursuit, and sustained high pitch is symbolic of prosthetic horror heralded to ensure that the audience gives the film undistracted attention15.

This music signifies emotions besides suggesting the same in the film. As an aspect of narrative cueing, this composition has referential significance as it reflects on formal demarcation, establishing character traits and geographical setting as an indication of connotative intercepts and events occurring simultaneously as a illustrated by motion pictures. In addition, Glass’ music offers continuity to the film by use of repetition. Through rhythmic continuity and formal shots, this aspect creates a consistent and in-depth transition from a scene to another as it fills the gaps found between two scenes. Glass states that “writing music is listening to music; you don’t have to imagine it, it’s already there”16. Through series of consistent variation and repetition in the instrumentation and musical material, this musical composition facilitates contraction of relevant and formal unity in the story line and synopsis.

Glass’ music conveys the thoughts, feelings, and internal life of characters in the film “The Hours”. In the process of augmenting expressed but unspoken implications and thoughts, this composition creates an interesting tool for understanding the underlying drama and psychological refinements. Through “The Hours” score, each character is conveyed and associated with a composition theme, that is, the audience is able to associate a particular sound to a character or character trait of that character.

Without Glass’ composition, this aspect would remain void and various character traits and significance of a character would not be fully realized or altogether cease to function symbolically17. A cross the shots, use of music to personify a character are consistent and communicate coherent ideas which are defined clearly to maintain the created identity especially when the same has been modified in the previous appearance. In the process, this aspect of music purpose to symbolically represent a trait, idea, mind state, and place18.

Similarities in the two compositions

Reflectively, the music used in these two films coalesces on the same symbolic meanings to create a sense of sequential order. On this facet, these compositions are intrinsic of same sound movements. Though these compositions are simple in creation, they represent a recurrent theme characterized by emphasis on the beginning and ending. Moreover, these compositions assign connotation to align ambiguity to memory and visualization of scenes.

Conclusion

Conclusively, Anton and Glass have succeeded in incorporating their composition as soundtrack for the films “The Third Man” and “The Hours” respectively. Accented on attentive structure alignment, focusing devise in understanding the role of musical composition in a film should be inclusive of a continuum of relevant score as component of digenesis which allows the viewers to make prior judgment and remain attentive as the film rolls. Generally, from the stimuli created by movie excerpts and series of dynamic structural alignment, Anton and Glass’ music have played dominant role as associational judgment shifts from accent structure to receding support role in these films.

Bibliography

Boltz, Marilyn. “Musical Soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events”. Musical Perception 18, no. 4 (2001): 427-454.

Cohen, Annabel. “Music as a source of emotion in film.In Music and Emotions: Theory and Research, edited by Patrik Juslin, 21-34. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Grenade, Anthony. The Hour. DVD. Directed by Daldry Stephen. 2002. Los Angeles, LA: Sound trackers, 2002.

Soderbergh, Steven, and Gilroy Thomas. Commentary of The Third Man. IMDB, 2007. CD.

Zingale, John. The Third Man. DVD. Directed by Carol Reed. 1949. London, UK: Liverpool University, 1951.

Footnotes

  1. Anthony Grenade, The Hour, DVD, directed by Daldry Stephen (2002; Los Angeles, LA: Sound trackers, 2002.), DVD.
  2. Grenade, The Hour
  3. Annabel Cohen. “Music as a source of emotion in film, in Music and Emotions: Theory and Research, ed. Patrik Juslin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 31.
  4. Cohen. “Music as a source of emotion in film, 37.
  5. Steven Soderbergh, and Gilroy Thomas. Commentary of The Third Man (IMDB, 2007.), CD.
  6. Marilyn Boltz, “Musical Soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events,” Musical Perception 18, no. 4 (2001): 432.
  7. Steven Soderbergh, and Gilroy Thomas. Commentary of The Third Man (IMDB, 2007.), CD.
  8. Annabel Cohen. “Music as a source of emotion in film, in Music and Emotions: Theory and Research, ed. Patrik Juslin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 31.
  9. John Zingale. The Third Man, DVD, directed by Carol Reed (1949. London, UK: Liverpool University, 1951.), DVD.
  10. Marilyn Boltz, “Musical Soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events,” Musical Perception 18, no. 4 (2001): 432.
  11. Anthony Grenade, The Hour, DVD, directed by Daldry Stephen (2002; Los Angeles, LA: Sound trackers, 2002.), DVD.
  12. Marilyn Boltz, “Musical Soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events,” Musical Perception 18, no. 4 (2001): 432.
  13. Annabel Cohen. “Music as a source of emotion in film, in Music and Emotions: Theory and Research, ed. Patrik Juslin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 39.
  14. Anthony Grenade, The Hour, DVD, directed by Daldry Stephen (2002; Los Angeles, LA: Sound trackers, 2002.), DVD.
  15. Marilyn Boltz, “Musical Soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events,” Musical Perception 18, no. 4 (2001): 432.
  16. Annabel Cohen. “Music as a source of emotion in film, in Music and Emotions: Theory and Research, ed. Patrik Juslin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 31.
  17. Annabel Cohen. “Music as a source of emotion in film, in Music and Emotions: Theory and Research, ed. Patrik Juslin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 31.
  18. Marilyn Boltz, “Musical Soundtracks as a schematic influence on the cognitive processing of filmed events,” Musical Perception 18, no. 4 (2001): 432.
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