As the shark approaches the music begins. Slowly, methodically, gradually increasing in intensity until the victim has been consumed. This depiction in Jaws sets up every scene in which the monster has meal after meal of human flesh. One could ask the question, what would Jaws be without the music playing alongside his approach to victims? And, would that deplete the experience for movie goers?
Ever since the early ’30s music has accompanied film. The symbiotic relationship these two arts share is far more lucrative and successful than any fragile marriage in human terms has ever experienced. Clearly after 81 years of success it is the music that makes the final cut of a film, well, successful. The viewer would not gain as much insight into the character of Benjamin in The Graduate without the pivotal compositions of Simon and Garfunkel. And for those scream-fest film goers, the audience would never be prepared for Jason Vorhees to attack if they hadn’t heard the lead in music while he stalked his victim.
In order to find out how this relationship began we must first travel to the beginning of film.
The craft of filmmaking began in the 1800s with the first still photograph in 1827. This lead to further developments in the idea of capturing movement. By 1839, negatives were placed onto paper by Henry Fox Talbot. Glass negatives had been used previously, but an interesting discovery came in the same year as paper in regards to glass negatives.They had an ability to project the image on placed them via lanterns.
In 1877, Emile Reynaud created the Praxinoscope. The Praxiscope was very similiar to the Zoetrope, which was a toy that gave the illusion of movement. The continued desire to capture movement on film, however, was settled with a bet.
According to EarlyCinema.com a bet was placed by ex Californian governor Leland Stanford to Eadweard Muybridge:
Muybridge was asked, in 1873, by the ex-governor of California – Leland Stanford to settle a bet as to whether horses hooves left the ground when they galloped. He did this by setting up a bank of twelve cameras with trip-wires connected to their shutters, each camera took a picture when the horse tripped its wire. Muybridge developed a projector to present his finding. He adapted Horner’s Zoetrope to produce his Zoopraxinoscope.
Discovery also came when Etienne Jules Marey set out to capture the flights of birds and other movements. The end result of his discovery in 1882 was a photographic gun which exposed 12 images onto a circular disc. Although EarlyCinema.com places Marey’s invention based on Muybridge, according to The Who’s Who in Victorian Cinema it was a much more complicated time frame of discovery:
In turn, the influence of Muybridge and of those in Marey’s circle, including Alphonse Penaud, led the physiologist to use photography for the study of movement. Marey very much admired the results of Muybridge at Palo Alto, but was dissatisfied with the lack of precision in the images of birds. In 1882, he perfected the ‘photographic gun’, inspired by the 1874 ‘photographic revolver’ of the astronomer Jules Janssen, and capable of taking twelve exposures in one second. In 1882 the Station Physiologique opened in the Bois de Boulogne, funded by the City of Paris, with Georges Demenÿ as Marey’s assistant. Marey quickly abandoned his gun and invented in 1882 a chronophotographic fixed plate camera, equipped with a timed shutter. Using this, he succeeded in combining on a single plate several successive images of a single movement. To facilitate shooting in different positions the camera was placed inside a large wooden cabin which ran on rails. Numerous plates were made at the Station between 1882 and 1888, including the famous ‘figures geometriques’.
Marey’s discoveries in cinema and capturing movement eventually influenced other inventors during this time period. Namely Thomas Edison and Louis Lumiere. It is through Edison that the business of motion pictures is credited. After a succesful meeting with Marey, Edison created the kinetoscope. This invention was first offered for sale in 1894 and influenced people such as Lumiere.
Louis Lumiere set out to create a motion picture system. As The Who’s Who in Victorian Ciunema explains:
Louis’s brother Auguste attempted to design a camera but with little success, until Louis suggested a mechanism like that used in a sewing machine to advance the cloth step by step. Although Auguste gave credit to Louis, the successful machine was patented in France on 13 February 1895 in the name of both brothers, in common with their other inventions. The first model was made by their engineer Charles Moisson. The machine was a combined camera, projector and printer and the perforated film was moved intermittently by a form of claw pulldown – a pair of pins which, inserted into the perforations on either side of the film then moved down, carrying the film with them. The cam motion mechanism (improved in a supplement to the patent dated 30 March 1895) formed the basis not only of the Lumières’s instrument but of a large number of later mechanisms, some still in use today.
In 1895, the Cinematographe was presented along with the very first film titled La Sortie des Usines Lumière.
The marriage begins
The symbiotic relationship or better put, marriage, between film and music began in the 1930s. Although pianist Friedrich Hollaender scored the very first film score with Josef Von Sternberg’s Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), the big push for soundtracks started with two Austrian-born composers in 1935. Pierro Scaruffi describes this in his book A History of Popular Music:
…after a few years of experimentation, scoring film soundtracks became an art in earnest thanks to a small group of foreign-born musicians, first and foremost two Austrian-born and classically-trained composers. Erich-Wolfgang Korngold’s coined a lush, overwhelming, operatic style with Michael Curtiz’s Captain Blood (1935).and especially The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940), as well as Charles Gerhardt’s Anthony Adverse (1936) and Sam Wood’s Kings Row (1942).
…Max Steiner explored many different moods, sensational in Ernest Schoedsack’s King Kong (1933), one of the first soundtracks to rely heavily on sound effects, pathetic in Victor Fleming’s Gone With The Wind (1939), including Tara and countless references to traditional songs, exotic in Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942)…
The soundtrack push continued through those early years in film and evolved into what we have today. But has the history really established the claim that the film score makes the film successful?
The best of the best
Entertainment Weekly compiled a list of the 100 top movie film scores. Among those listed are Steiner’s King Kong and Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz by Harold Arlen, The Adventures of Robin Hood by Korngold; all of which were from the ’30s. The ’40s brought us soundtracks from Pinnochio, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Fantasia.
The ’50s and ’60s gave us Easy Rider by various artists, Ben Hur by Miklos Rozsa, Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre, The King & I as well as Carousel by Rodgers & Hammerstein, The Magnifient Seven by Elmer Bernstein and so many more.
Flash forward to other successful film score composers like John Barry, John Williams, Danny Elfman and George Gershwin. Some successful soundtracks have been written by contemporary artists as well like Whitney Houston, Babyface, Public Enemy, Tom Waits and Talking Heads.
Since the inception of film scores back in 1930, the pivotal moments on film have been supported by music. Although music can stand on its own without film, film does not have the same strength to stand alone. It requires the soundtrack to make it worthwhile and to heighten the experience of the film goer.
*You can find an updated version of Entertainment Weekly’s Top 100 on their website as well as AFI’s 100 Greatest Songs and others on AMC’s filmsite. And once there, make sure to write down some of the best in film scores in order to experience why these made the top 100.
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© 2012 Jenna Cornell, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author or Clarity Digital Group LLC d/b/a nextooze.com