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“The cinema is a marvellous art form in all its versatility and synthesis of other art forms”


Beautiful Film Soundtracks

Simon Rees (March 2007)


The cinema is a marvellous art form in all its versatility and synthesis of other art forms, impacting many senses at once – hitting the eyes with imagery and photography to compete with the best in visual arts; hitting the ears with sounds to compete with the best in music; hitting the mind with themes, acting, dialogue, stories and scenes to compete with the best in literature, theatre, current affairs, television or radio. . .

I enjoy all of these aspects, but here I shall select one that is particularly close to my heart: the soundtrack of a film. . . Looking back over the large number of films I have watched over the years (as a movie-going enthusiast!), I eventually came to realize that in many cases I remembered films fondly because of their soundtracks. . . It’s an almost subliminal aspect which is easily neglected, and yet a central part of the cinematic experience. Through the soundtrack, something essential about the themes, moods, characters and events of a film are deeply embedded in the heart – or, in other cases, the soundtrack is simply in itself a great pleasure, even in an otherwise lacking film (a typical example of the latter might be 'Elvira Madigan,' which was blessed with a lovely Mozart soundtrack with some pretty accompanying scenery, but otherwise little or nothing else to the film that I could fathom).

Here is a small initial list – off the top of my head – of examples of films with moving, skilled, carefully prepared and masterfully executed soundtracks. . . (It may look like a long list, but it's only a small selection of films whose soundtracks I've particularly noted - I'm sure there are plenty more, as well, which I have yet to discover, or did not remember to list!)

Some of these films are masterpieces of cinema, of which the soundtrack forms but one part; others on this list are not such great films in other ways, but nonetheless have excellent soundtracks worth celebrating. If you, too, enjoy quality soundtracks, then I hope this introduction and list may serve as a little inspiration for your heart and ears, and I also hope this may serve more generally to raise the appreciation of film soundtracks, and the cinema as an art form. . . and, of course, if you know of other films not listed which have outstanding soundtracks of quality musicianship, please let me know!

  • Amelie [A unique, moving, beautiful and unforgettable soundtrack by the famous composer Yann Tiersen, I can listen to this one again and again and never tire of it.]

  • Pan’s Labyrinth [One of the most hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric soundtracks ever, by Javier Navarrete.]

  • Amadeus [A sumptuously chosen Mozart soundtrack especially put together by Sir Neville Marriner, the music for this film has been referred to as the third of the three main characters of the film.]

  • Withnail & I [I had enjoyed this cult classic set at the end of the hippy era of the late 1960s / early 1970s, but it wasn’t for a long time that I realized that it had been largely because of the great soundtrack, combining a classic selection of recordings from the time period with specially composed tracks. Note: some of the great music in the film wasn’t actually included, sadly, on the CD soundtrack released – they left out a Schubert piece, and they also used a different live saxophone version of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ not the brilliant live version actually used in the opening scene of the film.]

  • Mulholland Drive [One of the many factors which makes this David Lynch masterpiece such a haunting and mesmerising film is the soundtrack.]

  • The Da Vinci Code [A brilliantly composed moving soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, packed full of emotion, atmosphere and great tunes and rhythms. I especially love the track composed for the end-scene where the hero finally figures out the ultimate riddle and finds the Holy Grail: this last track sounds like exactly the music which would accompany any creative moment of genius, any moment of enlightened revelation, in all its intensity, excitement, bliss and amazement. This is an example of a film which some have loved and some hated, but I say: who cares what the critics think about the admittedly shallow dialogue and plotting, when the underlying themes are so thought-provoking and the soundtrack so profound!]

  • Gladiator [Another good soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, together with Lisa Gerrard.]

  • Becoming Jane [I found the soundtrack of this film about Jane Austen moving. It manages to interweave gentile middle-class English sensibilities – with their restraint, eased around the edges by a sense of ridicule and irony, just as in Jane Austen’s works – together with the passionate strains of Irish-influenced musical themes, in three-time, which step up their pace in the music score as the passionate love affair in the film steps up its pace. The mixture of English and Irish musical themes in this way was presumably an intentional effort to echo the love story of the two main characters, who are English and half-Irish.]

  • The Last of the Mohicans [Another film with Irish-influenced passionate tunes and rhythms, in three-time, bringing an emotional intensity to this film adaptation of the classic book about social and personal conflict and persecution.]

  • Samsara and Himalaya [Two moving and atmospheric soundtracks accompany these two films set in Tibet.]

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [A moving and varied soundtrack by Jon Brion and others forms just one of the many profound layers of this cinematic masterpiece, one of my all-time favourite films.]

  • The U.S. vs. John Lennon [It’s a pleasure from start to finish to hear the music clips of John Lennon in this film, which focuses on his political career and radical affiliations. The remarkable sincerity, directness and depth of feeling of his expression comes through clearly in the songs selected for the film.]

  • Ray [Great music clips all the way through from the piano genius Ray Charles.]

  • The Wall [This film is really just a showpiece for one of the best works of Pink Floyd at the height of their musical abilities, constituting one of the longest, most intricate, profound and multi-layered musical “stories” ever recorded, and epitomizing the highest example of artistic achievement in the “concept album” genre which Pink Floyd largely created – stretching the boundaries of musical genre in highly original and innovate ways.]

  • No Direction Home [Martin Scorsese’s documentary film in two parts about Bob Dylan misses much of my favourite Bob Dylan music, because in my opinion it seems to largely focus on his hits or on other obvious or showy works, instead of his more personal, profound and truly accomplished ones. Nonetheless, there are still some gems included in there, and Bob Dylan’s musical talent and charisma are such that the soundtrack is rich and enjoyable all the way through anyway.]

  • Cal [Mark Knopfler prepared a gentle and touching soundtrack for this film set in Northern Ireland.]

  • Barrio [This was an acclaimed film about the life of several teenagers hanging out on the streets of Madrid in their “barrio” (neighbourhood), and includes songs from different artists put together to form a slick, lively and entertaining soundtrack.]

  • Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) [One of various examples of the great film scores composed by Alberto Iglesias.]

  • Veronica Guerin [This soundtrack has some lovely Irish themes, including a beautiful song sung by Sinead O’Connor for the great martyred eponymous journalist’s funeral scene.]

  • Michael Collins [Ditto for this film, and ditto for Sinead O’Connor and funeral scenes! Here she gives a moving rendition of a traditional Irish song which plays over the scenes portraying Michael Collins as a man martyring himself to a noble higher cause – a song about how they will soon be married, which they of course sadly never are because of the political assassination.]

  • The Talented Mr Ripley and Ripley’s Game [A hauntingly emotional and creepy soundtrack runs through both films.]

  • Jean de Florette and Manon des sources [Great tunes and emotional musical themes provide the backdrop to the tragic and profound story split between these two films.]

  • Army of Shadows [This was an old classic about the French Resistance in WWII, and the music reflects the story with poignant accuracy: a sense of the hopeless despair of a hopeless cause which the characters feel they must martyr themselves to anyway with courage and fortitude.]

  • Harold and Maude [This quirky film set in the 1960s includes a great Cat Stevens soundtrack.]

  • The Piano [The score for this film is one of Michael Nyman’s most accomplished, famous and moving works, capturing a lot of intense emotion in the piano themes.]

  • 1492 – Conquest of Paradise [A favourite score of mine by the prolific filmscore composer Vangelis, this is full of the same passionate intensity and visionary idealism that characterises the film’s portrayal of Christopher Columbus.]

  • El Greco [Another touching Vangelis score.]

  • The Pianist [Includes some moving renditions of piano pieces from Chopin’s repertoire.]

  • Being John Malkovich [A score from Carter Burwell provides the perfect weird accompaniment to this cinematic oddity, a film which is full of bizarre scenes and profound themes, one of the strangest and most skilled and unforgettable masterpieces of modern cinema.]

  • Dogville [The orchestral score (I think it was Albinoni) perfectly captures the subtleties of this complex, disturbing and masterful Lars von Trier film: the superficial social pretence, juxtaposed against a highly charged emotional undercurrent of social persecution.]

  • City of Lost Children [Moody atmospheric soundtrack for this outstanding French fantasy film.]

  • The Commitments [This musical film is full of enjoyable songs rendered passionately by the motley crew of talented Irish musicians who make up the eponymous band ‘The Commitments’ in the Dublin-based story.]

  • Once [Another Dublin-based film with a passionate Irish soundtrack, this is the imaginary story of two talented musicians who meet and make very touching music together.]

  • Back to the Future [In the story, guitarist Michael J Fox journeys from the 1980s back to the 1950s, and so the film includes great musical moments from both eras, which helped make this a pleasurable and memorable movie experience for me.]

  • Ocean’s Twelve [Packed with music clips cleverly integrated into the fast-paced story as slickly as every other intricate element of this essentially slick offering from the light-hearted series of Steven Soderbergh films about the nefarious activities of the eponymous group of thieves.]

  • The Lord of the Rings [A suitably atmospheric and mystical soundtrack was prepared, with the help of Enya, for the three parts of the film adaptation of this classic fantasy story.]

  • The Godfather [Classic musical themes recur in the Godfather film series, setting just the right mood for characters and scenes.]

  • Star Wars [The John Williams score for this film has some catchy memorable themes, which I’m sure is one of the factors that must have helped make this film so popular, besides the side effects, symbolism and plot, which all captured the public imagination too.]

  • Walk the Line [Includes a soundtrack of some of Johnny Cash’s best songs, re-interpreted by the main actor who doubles up as a singer for the film. Okay, he doesn’t have Johnny Cash’s classic deep and gritty voice, but it has its own character and fits the film well.]

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© Copyright 2007 Simon Rees, Kevin Eakins and SYY Integrated Health Systems, Ltd.  

Disclaimer: The information at this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The content of this website comprises only the observations and opinions of the authors and contributors: it does not constitute medical advice to readers.

 

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