Dan Golding's brilliant response to the Marvel soundtrack originality debate

After Every Frame a Painting analyzed The Marvel Symphonic Universe (see last week's post), Dan Golding expanded on that great video arguing that film music, and films themselves, have an interesting relationship with originality.

Using Star Wars as an example, Dan rebuilds its theme using classic cinematic themes, then shows how the film itself liberally borrows from classic films, as the prime example of what Fredric Jameson called "the nostalgia film".

I have my reasons for thinking that we need new categories for such films. But let me first add some anomalies: supposing I suggested that Star Wars is also a nostalgia film. What could that mean? I presume we can agree that this is not a historical film about our own intergalactic past. Let me put it somewhat differently: one of the most important cultural experiences of the generations that grew up from the '30s to the '50s was the Saturday afternoon serial of the Buck Rogers type - alien villains, true American heroes, heroines in distress, the death ray or the doomsday box, and the cliffhanger at the end whose miraculous resolution was to be witnessed next Saturday afternoon. Star Wars reinvents this experience in the form of a pastiche: that is, there is no longer any point to a parody of such serials since they are long extinct. Star Wars, far from being a pointless satire of such now dead forms, satisfies a deep (might I even say repressed?) longing to experience them again: it is a complex object in which on some first level children and adolescents can take the adventures straight, while the adult public is able to gratify a deeper and more properly nostalgic desire to return to that older period and to live its strange old aesthetic artifacts through once again. This film is thus metonymically a historical or nostalgia film: unlike American Graffiti, it does not reinvent a picture of the past in its lived totality; rather, by reinventing the feel and shape of characteristic art objects of an older period (the serials), it seeks to reawaken a sense of the past associated with those objects. Raiders of the Lost Ark, meanwhile, occupies an intermediary position here: on some level it is about the '30s and'40s, but in reality it too conveys that period metonymically through its own characteristic adventure stories (which art no longer ours).

In other words, this music is often not original because that's not what (most of) the audience wants.

A Theory of Film Music (YouTube / Dan Golding)

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  1. Plus all of the memorable stuff sounds like Korngold and Wagner and Bruckner and Holst anyway because reasons.

  2. IIRC, didn't Lucas want an orchestrated score specifically because it was like the old films he was emulating?

    Remember in the last 70s the hot thing everyone was doing was synth based scores, most of which did NOT age will and really date films.

  3. Well Korngold recapitulates Mahler because he was Mahler's prized student. Williams deliberately referenced Korngold's music as a strategy to emulate the music of the serials. Specifically it was the Robin Hood suite that he nicked. Obviously the Imperial March goes right back to Mahler's Death March itself. Cuts out the middleman.

    Edit - King's Row.


    I hate them all anyway. As Steve Reich said - lookI'm not saying it's bad music, I'm just saying it has no interest for me. Western art music between Mozart and Mahler (inclusive) just isn't of interest to me.

    I'm pretty sure that Star Wars would be exactly what Jameson categorised as the nostalgia film (as Andrea James is saying here but Dan Golding appears to be saying should have a different category - it is a postmodern nostalgia).

    Obviously he wasn't using a synth score as they were not making an SF movie, they were making a cowboys and Indians type thing. As my father said to me when he had to watch it with me. "why is this popular now? This is exactly the old cowboy movies we had when I was a kid".

    And as for orchestral scores not dating and synth ones dating? Have a listen to Delia Derbyshire's original Doctor Who music intro which still sounds futuristic fifty years later versus the current orchestral pastiche which always sounded dated and particularly sounds so dated to the kind of retro muck that is being served up for the last decade or two.

  4. Well, the biggest thing is the use of leitmotif. Movies with memorable soundtracks have used it well; forgettable soundtracks have obviously either failed, or never made the effort.

  5. One of my musically inclined friends pointed out that a substantial portion of the Inside Out score is Bingbong's theme music, either in a different key, slowed down, sped up, etc, and now I can't not hear it.

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