VOD film review: Score: A Film Music Documentary
James R | On 06, Apr 2018
Director: Matt Schrader
Cast: John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Mark Mothersbaugh, Joe Kraemer, Rachel Portman
Watch Score: A Film Music Documentary online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
In 2014, a YouTube video went viral that played the ending of Star Wars: Episode IV without any music. Sans John Williams, the magnificent throne room scene became awkward, laughable and just plain uncomfortable. The lesson was clear: movies without music simply aren’t movies. While we spend a lot of time talking about directors, writers and actors, barely any attention is given to the composers who bring a splash of movie magic to the big screen. Score: A Film Music Documentary is a welcome effort to correct that.
Matt Schrader’s documentary takes us inside the underrated profession, from the writing process to the recording stage and the appreciation of the final product. Ultimately, it lingers on the last the most, as it assembles almost every living composer you could name to talk about not only their own work, but also the work they admire of others. It’s a string of vox pops that will be music to film lovers’ ears, from Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman to John Williams and Howard Shore.
The movie began life as a crowdfunded project, a testament to the passionate fanbase out there for movie music. It’s a shame, then, that a lot of the insights it provides will not be anything new to them, as Schrader prefers to skim across the surface rather than delve deep into the octaves of potential it unearths. There’s a handy overview of music history on hand, from silent cinema and Alex North’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which brought jazz to multiplexes, to John Barry’s band mentality and jazz-classical fusion, which defined a genre as well as an era, and the melodic blockbuster titan that is Williams. But while there’s a brief visual guide to the way that Shore’s leitmotifs for The Lord of the Rings recur to define character or place, you almost wish there was more analysis or structural ingenuity on display, a la Neil Brand’s recent BBC series, Sound of Cinema. A brief examination of Psycho’s shower scene brings to mind recent documentary 78/52, while a glimpse of Joe Kraemer recording his Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation score makes you wonder why Schrader, with such excellent access, didn’t pick a handful of individual titles and follow the behind-the-scenes process chronologically.
Nonetheless, there are endless musical nuggets to delight filmgoers, from archive footage of Williams and Spielberg discussing the theme for E.T. to Mark Mothersbaugh and Bear McCreary showing off their collection of instruments (the latter a fan of the Hurdy-Gurdy, the former the owner of a toy piano that he used to write the theme tune for Rugrats). Sessions inside the Abbey Road Studios are spine-tingling, particularly when we hear from the musicians who usually have to sight-read the cues. Even Zimmer’s socks are a sight to behold, as he relaxes in his studio of synthesised sound and bright red chair. Zimmer dominates, perhaps unsurprisingly given his current influence, but there’s respect for his craft and rock swagger – one describes him as playing the orchestra’s string section like an electric guitar – and the movie also commendably includes Rachel Portman, one of the tragically few well-known female composers in the profession.
As they each share their perspectives on the craft, any lack of detail is made up for by the clips of their music in action, and the appreciation of what these artists all manage to achieve. Often fretting over a short deadline at the very end of the filmmaking process, they operate under a unique pressure, but also have the rare task of expressing the feelings of a director that they themselves may not even be able to voice. Zimmer, perhaps, puts it best, when he argues that film composers are one of the few people to keep orchestras in regular business. Without them, orchestras could potentially disappear, which would be a “loss to humanity”. After watching Score, even non-music lovers would be hard pressed to disagree. And it’s not just humanity: think of the Star Wars throne room.