I distinctly remember Trampled By Turtles’ “Midnight on the Interstate” playing on a late night drive last winter and thinking I’m living in a movie. These rare yet perfect moments are why I have such a strong appreciation for a great film score or soundtrack. Often when I’m watching a television show or film, I’m struck by the music in the background and immediately want to find out the name and artist of the song.
These days, blockbuster trilogies like Twlight and The Hunger Games have immensely popular artists vying to make it onto their soundtracks. While such artists often create great songs, they don’t necessarily speak to the heart of the film. The Catching Fire album is good, but none of the songs are actually in the film. The soundtrack is more of a companion to the film. For me, a noteworthy movie soundtrack is a compilation of hand picked songs that perfectly fit a given moment or feeling being portrayed on screen.
I had this exact feeling when I saw The Way Way Back. It’s a delightful coming of age movie set over the course of one very influential summer. The eclectic soundtrack includes the likes of Mr. Mister, Ben Kweller, INXS, and the Apache Relay and each track truly enhances the story line.
Another new film with a striking soundtrack is 12 Years a Slave, the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man (and musician) kidnapped and sold into slavery. Based on interviews, many of the artists on the soundtrack (including John Legend, Gary Clark Jr., Chris Cornell and Alabama Shakes) wrote or chose the songs after seeing the film firsthand. They allowed the story of the film to speak to them, and in turn they came together to create a deeply powerful album.
Sometimes the musical score can have an even greater emotional impact because it is the underlying yet driving force of the film. The score is created specifically for the action or drama, and if that music falls flat it can directly affect how you feel about the movie. This was especially evident when I saw Home Alone with the Cleveland Orchestra back in December. The Orchestra performed the score live (they even played the 20th century fox theme) and it was enchanting.
The score to Never Le Me Go, an arthouse sci-fi film, is hauntingly beautiful and often helps convey the moving story line. In the recent and wonderful French film The Intouchables, music is used to bond the two main characters and its mix of contemporary and classical pieces is truly delightful.
Over in tv land, during Grey’s Anatomy‘s heyday each episode highlighted some great music by both established and relatively new/unknown artists. I think the show sparked a soundtrack resurgence of sorts and really illustrated the importance that a great song like “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol can play in a pivotal scene. Indeed, it led the way for all sorts of shows from Parenthood to True Blood to create highly successful soundtracks.
Here’s an extended list of Soundtracks and Scores.
Until next time, look out for your own soundtrack moments!