Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Importance of music in film noir and creation of American standards


Recommended Posts

There's been lots of discussion about the visuals of noir, but not much has been said about the  music. As a musician, the music is just as important to me as the setting. It enhances the mood, can convey emotions, fear, doom ... and songs like "Laura" and "As Time Goes By" have become some of the best known American standards.  

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

I once saw an interview with John Carpenter, about the movie Halloween. He stated; and I am paraphrasing here; that he took the movie out to sell without any music in the sound track and no one bit. He then went back and added the legendary theme to the movie and it sold. He said he learned a very important lesson that day.

 

I agree, music indeed does help set the mood.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree the music totally sets the scene.  We can hear this in the opening of "Ministry of Fear" with the music Mikos Rozkas wrote for the film.  In "Stranger on the Third Floor" it constantly comes through and grows intense at moments as when on the Rainy night he threatens to wring Meng's neck.  Then the music of "Dark Passage" she like "straight swing" and the playing of "Someone to Watch Over Me and especially "Too Marvelous For Words".  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

There's been lots of discussion about the visuals of noir, but not much has been said about the  music. As a musician, the music is just as important to me as the setting. It enhances the mood, can convey emotions, fear, doom ... and songs like "Laura" and "As Time Goes By" have become some of the best known American standards.  

 

Well you'll get no argument from me.    I discovered studio-era films and the 'great American songbook' around the same time I got into playing jazz.   Either I would hear a song in a studio-era film I liked and go get the sheet music and learn it or I would hear a standard on an album from a jazz great and seek the movies it was featured in.   

 

Individuals like Hoagy Carmichael were contributors in both.   To have done movies with Cary Grant,  Bogie,  Kirk Douglas and have written Georgia,  Stardust,  The Nearness of You,,,,,     

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for bringing this topic up! Music is so often overlooked but just imagine any of the opening scenes we've been discussing without music. The masterful film scores of the noir era evoked mood, emotion, and often underscored a character's innermost thoughts and feelings.

 

And then there are the songs performed in the nightclubs and playing on the radios  (aka "diegetic" music, heard by the characters in the movie) which is what has become _the_ music associated with film noir today. So many vocalists have recorded albums of songs, Carly Simon's lovely "Noir" is one of them, and bunches of noir-themed instrumental compilations are available which tend to draw from the later period, 1950s and 60s when there was all this great TV crime series music, available today in stereo and good audio quality.

 

The tradition continues in some neo-noirs, one being the underrated 1998 sci-fi noir DARK CITY which has two standards, "Sway" and "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" sung by Anita Kelsey. Worth a listen!

 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I once saw an interview with John Carpenter, about the movie Halloween. He stated; and I am paraphrasing here; that he took the movie out to sell without any music in the sound track and no one bit. He then went ban and added the legendary theme to the movie and it sold. He said he learned a very important lesson that day.

 

I agree, music indeed does help set the mood.

I think I saw that interview, too!

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course LAURA is one of the most iconic pieces of noir music. Fascinating how the song/theme appears prominently at key moments in the film score and is aso woven into the diegetic music. Among other places I think I picked up strains of it in the flashback scenes where Lydecker takes Laura, his budding young lady of the world, out to nightspots with live music.

 

In the classic era score composers often wrote the movie's "source" music as well as the underscore. David Raksin's wistful and lovely LAURA theme adds so much to the movie. It's become an undying favorite.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I had to think about this one for a while because my introduction to the song "Laura" was not from the movies, but because my dad is a Spike Jones fan, so I would hear the Spike Jones' version of "Laura" on the phonograph.  In watching movies on TCM, some of the soundtrack is appropriate for the action on the film, but at other times, it's very jarring to hear this upbeat melody.  Currently, "Detour" is on, and the music just doesn't seem to match the tone of the scene.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I certainly agree that the music score seems to be left out of most discussions about the elements of film, especially in film noir.  The music sets the mood, and you can have a frame completely without visible action, and the music will put you where you need to be when the action starts.  I was especially aware of the score in Nora Prentiss... It was overwhelming and over shot the story and the action.  The drama and suspense in the film never equaled that of the music score.   Sort of like overbuilding in your neighborhood. A film without the music, is one dimensional and lacks impact and one with too strong or too weak of music misleads the audience.

 

I am in awe of the composers of music for film.  The short shown on TCM of some studio composers is quite interesting.  To create in your own environment is one thing, but to still be able to be creative on demand and with specifics is difficult.  I am an artist and it is much easier for me to create art if I am left to my own imagination, than when someone requests a specific subject or style.  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course LAURA is one of the most iconic pieces of noir music. Fascinating how the song/theme appears prominently at key moments in the film score and is aso woven into the diegetic music. Among other places I think I picked up strains of it in the flashback scenes where Lydecker takes Laura, his budding young lady of the world, out to nightspots with live music.

 

In the classic era score composers often wrote the movie's "source" music as well as the underscore. David Raksin's wistful and lovely LAURA theme adds so much to the movie. It's become an undying favorite.

 

For a hip jazz guitar version of Laura check out the recording by Philip Catherine.   

 

Note that another standard I love associated with a movie is Stella by Starlight (The Uninvited).    Great song but difficult for me to play.  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I just watched Raw Deal which was discussed in Eddie Muller's essay, "Low company, High Style". I think the theremin worked quite well as the principal instrumentation. I mostly thought of the theremin's use in science fiction but thanks to having read the essay first I was more alert to what the music contributed.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Excellent post. I agree that the music hasn't been discussed as much as other elements in Film Noir. One thing I am wondering about in terms of the Studio System of the late 30s-40s-50s is that studios hired the same composers for their films. So, if, say, a Max Steiner was hired to compose the score for a movie, how much of the score really lent itself to the actual movie? I guess what I am trying to say is how did the music help or hinder the film?

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

TCM should have a "Street Scene" Noir's theme night.

 

The score is by Alfred Newman (originally used for the pre code Street Scene 1931) and was re-used for classic noir's, I Wake Up Screaming, Cry Of The City, Kiss Of Death, Where The Sidewalk Ends, and The Dark Corner

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
© 2021 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...