Headphoning It In: Settling the Score


Madee Sadozai

What makes a perfect film score? The answer is arguably the same components needed for a memorable movie: a compelling premise and a visionary to actualize the concept. It is one thing for a particular movie scene or quote to be cemented as a relic of pop culture, but it is quite another when a musical motif can conjure up intense, emotional imagery. In a great score, the essence of the movie’s genre can be heard through the music; it can be considered a character in itself rather than mere background music.

The Spaghetti Western sound is definable yet unique in a way that does not conform to the big blockbuster formula. With film composer titan Ennio Morricone, who is perhaps best known for “The Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, it is hard to pinpoint which of his bodies of work is the best. Regardless, Once Upon a Time in the West is not only a thrilling Western, but it also treats the compositional variety as a perfectly timed prop. Each of the main characters has their own accompanying piece of music that appears whenever they have screen time, which only adds to the suspenseful and engaging experience. Even with slight variations to each theme, “Jill,” “Frank,” and “Cheyenne” are integral to telling the story and bridge the gap between the auditory and visual narrative.

Renowned film composer Alexandre Desplat has most recently been praised for his scores for The Shape of Water and Little Women and has frequently collaborated with Wes Anderson on his more mainstream projects. However, his work on Fantastic Mr. Fox is an unparalleled musical accompaniment, and Desplat has been one of my most listened to artists on Spotify solely because of this film. The tinkering bells, gentle violins, and interplay between the guitar and banjo couple the score’s childlike innocence with the wisdom of an old folktale. The soundtrack as a whole is also heavily influenced by classic rock bands including The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones, which brings a certain warmth to the story and its stop motion medium. Nonetheless, there is a simplicity to Desplat’s music that highlights the depth of each scene, and the film would noticeably feel hollow without his signature touch.

There is an undisputed consensus regarding legendary composers, such as John Williams or Hans Zimmer, and while scores with dramatic classical flares are more traditional, swelling orchestras are not always the answer. A more notable style involves understated yet bold instrumentals, able to personify the on-screen action or dialogue. As exemplified by Ennio Morricone and Alexandre Desplat, a perfect score is the result of a timeless dedication to the composition that transcends the visual bounds of the film itself.