April 13, 2010 at 5:27 pm (Uncategorized)

In 1926, the world saw its first ever feature film with a fully synchronized soundtrack. It took the form of the Warner Brother’s Don Juan and incorporated the Vitaphone system, whose success lay in using the same motor to power both the 16-inch phonograph records and the film projector, overcoming the problems faced by its predecessors. Don Juan was soon succeeded by another Warner Brothers film, The Jazz Singer. Although at first intended to be another music only film, Al Johnson (who played the lead) famously ad-libbed the line “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothing yet!” which led to the film becoming the first to feature recorded dialogue as well as music. It also led to the film breaking box office records, and sparking a rush in producing – as well as implementing facilities for – “talkies”. This rush was so great, that by late 1930, Hollywood only produced talkie films, and the silent movie began to fall from grace, now only made for the cheaper translation costs entailing them, or by producers with smaller budgets who could not afford the substantial cost of sound recording.

Although music had been accompanying films since before the talkie revolution, it had previously been provided by an in house organist or orchestra who would play well-known classical or popular pieces that fit the feel of a scene. As such, the Vitaphone and later sound on film systems greatly benefited the consistency of the musical experience offered to moviegoers. In turn, this also led to the quality of the music itself to improve as more classically trained musicians were drawn to Hollywood to get involved with the scoring of film soundtracks.

From these early years of sound tracked films through to the modern day, the techniques and technology used in producing them have continued to evolve. However, I feel that the purpose of film music has remained the same through every development in its implication into films regardless of any stylistic differences. As stated in his essay ‘Asynchronism as a Principle of Sound Film’, V. I. Pudovkin (1985) states “…the first function of sound is to augment the potential expressiveness of the film’s content” I feel that more specifically, film music ‘augments the potential expressiveness’ by communicating to the viewer an emotional message that the on screen images or spoken dialogue cannot.

I plan to investigate just how much importance the music can have in a film by first investigating “classic” scenes and soundtracks to discover what it is about them that works so well. After this I plan to test whether the music in a scene actually holds the most important part in setting an emotional tone by experimenting in setting two separate scores with entirely different feelings to a scene and seeing how it affects the experience of the scene.


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