The best thing about being human (the importance of music in film)

A few days ago, I found myself humming a certain song while having my first coffee of the day. I couldn’t really recall the title or anything else, but the notes were so familiar to my memory that by the time I got to the shower I was singing it full blast – lyrics included.

I just couldn’t get it out of my mind on my way to the station and then again, on the wagon, while singing to myself and standing across from a family of tourists who were eyeing me warily. It was only when I got to work and typed the lyrics into google that I remembered: Dawson’s Creek.
It was the opening theme to bloody Dawson’s Creek.
That TV show represents a crucial part of my childhood, even just for those afternoons when I would drag my grandmother back home (she must have wondered who was picking up whom, from school) as fast as possible so that I would make it to the kitchen on time to turn on the TV and sing along with the opening theme song.

Today it’s easy (maybe too easy) to go on Spotify or YouTube and type in the title of a song. At the time it was all about catching it when it was on TV or on the radio – and no Shazam either.
That song you really liked was a mystery, unless you wanted to roll up your sleeves and do some serious research – 90s style.

This memory sparked a thought, then a doubt, which I’d like to develop into a conversation: you know that comforting tv series you watch while sipping on hot chocolate and it’s raining outside? Or the blockbuster movie at the cinema you’re spending the last £10 of your paycheque on? Yeah, well… how many of these movies and shows do you watch just so that you can listen to them? Or how much does the soundtrack really impact how gripping, tear-jerking or even just cheesily enjoyable they are?

I can certainly think of a number of films and shows I have appreciated because of their soundtracks - sometimes only because of their soundtracks.
The magic happens when a great soundtrack supports a great plot and great acting, but the phenomenon is when the music keeps you watching something you would otherwise happily zap away with your remote control.

 

Sometimes music is almost a comment to the scene itself.

A cheesy scene with the right music to support it makes it clever: you watch it, you are allowed to judge it and therefore to enjoy it. We all love a little bit of self-aware cheesiness. I mean, there isn’t one girl born after 1988 who doesn’t have, at least for a second, the instinct to recite a line by Regina George from Mean Girls, when Milkshake by Kelis comes on. And the ones who say they don’t, are lying. 

Some music was made for certain movies specifically. And when someone like Hans Zimmer is the one to deal with that, come hell or high water, the notes are going to swallow you into whatever world the story is set in.

I was only one year old when The Lion King came out and to this day I get told this story: I was in a cinema for the first time in my life, on my father’s lap, and the only moments in the movie when I would shut up and just stare at the screen, barely even blinking, were when the Circle of Life or Can You Feel The Love Tonight came on.
Hans Zimmer is to thank for some other incredible moments in this animated feature: he was unsure about accepting the job, as he had never worked on animation before, but he realised that what looked like drawings of talking animals was really the story of a child losing his father. And, like all the best artists out there, he tapped into his vulnerability – I’m sure you know what scene I’m talking about and you got chills when you first watched it. Now you know why.

I don’t think I ever enjoyed studying history, I have to admit. My grandfather always told me it was shameful how boring they made it in school and that if only they would just tell the story the way you tell a fairy tale, I would have actually absorbed something.
Being born and raised in Rome, history was everywhere: in the street you walk down to go to school in the morning, in the parks your friend’s mum takes you to play, on the label of the omnipresent wine bottle on the table at lunch, on the references in your grandma’s recipe book. You grow sick of it, very quickly. And still, watching The Gladiator was probably my first willing approach towards history – Hans Zimmer, again. And again, in Pirates of The Caribbean, the flavourful blend of epic and hilarious that accompanied Johnny Depp’s priceless facial expressions in one of the most winning combinations ever made. You’ll agree that The Dark Knight and Inception would not be the same without the clever use of silence to create that push and pull effect in your stomach, that suspense.

Some movies are almost about their soundtracks.

Baby Driver (if you haven’t seen it stop reading this article now and get your Netflix on) is one of them; you’ll be singing and moving your shoulders when B-A-B-Y comes on and tapping your foot to Harlem Shuffle. And it’s impossible not to mention Drive, in the list of movies which would feel like a completely different adventure, if it wasn't for their musical score – well done, Cliff Martinez. My friends and I still talk about the face we made when Nightcall by Kavinsky came on.

I find myself feeling similarly about TV Shows. I mean, I have never binged on Grey’s Anatomy, but everybody was going on about “that scene in season 6 when…”.
I went home with my friend, who was a fan of the show, and she said “you’d love this song”- she explained the backstory and showed me the infamous scene on YouTube and, admittedly, In My Veins by Andrew Belle broke my heart in combination with the video.
I was told to watch The Walking Dead by countless people in my life. When I started working here at Sensible Music everybody told me I had to get on it and I finally did, almost with a sense of challenge, given the hype. And well, no wonder why a lot of people in the music industry are into this TV show, with artists like Hozier featured in the soundtracks (Arsonist’s Lullabye… just saying).
Does anybody remember that hilarious scene from Breaking Bad where Jesse Pinkman is wearing yellow overalls, getting bored out of his face and therefore messing around in a chemistry lab, while Shimmy Shimmy Ya is playing? Now tell me that the music doesn’t make the scene.
Orange is the New Black’s irony wouldn’t be as bold, which is why we love it, if the soundtrack didn’t range from Regina Spektor’s sweet voice to Eminem’s audacity to Bette Davis’... Bette Davisness. That’s some musical range, right there.

How much do you think soundtracks impact what we watch? And, more than anything else, how much of an impact do they have on whether we want to watch something? How much more significant does music make a picture?

Once again, my personal answer is: music is everywhere and in everything and we, as people, are affected by it beyond our consciousness. And it never stops being fascinating. It never stops striking me as the best thing about being human.