Pop Music in Film


23 Mar 2015 26 May 2017

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Keywords: film pop music, film theory music, diegetic and non diegetic

Music in film is one of those immensely involved but hugely underrated products. It comfortably sits in film going consciously unnoticed while it stimulates our subconscious, flowing freely through the narrative, to aid the emotional impact without overly changing the course of the film

An indicator on how we should react in a film

Music in films began with traditional scores in the 'silent' film era. The reason it was called silent is because the film itself was silent and the music was made externally of the film, which was principally the piano, to reflect the various moods and emotions of characters and events. In conjunction to this it also covered up the noise emitted from the projector as well as "being needed, psychologically, to smooth over natural human fears of darkness and silence" (Brown 1994:12). The growing popularity of film lead to changes in the music and musical arrangements and lead to scores being written down to the various cliched typical situations in film. During the 1920's developments in technology saw the capabilities of film and music being broadcast internally and saw the introduction of 'sound films'.

Changing relationships between music and cinema has seen the introduction of pop music into the spectrum. It is this relationship between pop music and film and the way they operate in conjunction with each other is what I am going to explore.

Diegetic and none diegetic

Diegetic relates to the diegesis of the film and the sound source can be observed on screen for example, a band playing or the character listening to the radio.

Non-diegetic appears outside of the film world and is used as background music, mood altering music or subconsciously adds to the suspense of the film

until the use of sound started to appear in films the majority of music was none diegetic but the introduction of sound synced films added to realism of the film and gave diegetic music a sense of place in films

Diegetic and none diegetic

Diegesis refers to the fictional, imagined world of film, adverse to this non-diegesis refers to the objective world of the

Film is represented by a series of events combined with dialogue, which is aided by actors. Financial and technical interests are taken into account and are concentrated on the actor, to not let anything overshadow the main character/s.

The musical scripts are usually indefinite, thus music not being treated in the same way and potentially an outsider. Almost indispensable despite music currently playing a major part in film to 'make use' of the silent scenes, for example a scene where the character is waiting for someone, no dialogue will be used and the only sound we can hear will be diegetic noises of his surrounding. This is a prime example of the use of non-diegetic music. The character could be waiting for a partner (therefore romantic music will be played over the top). Without the use of music the scene would be more realistic (we don't hear music when we are waiting for a partner) but the scene would not captivate the viewer and potentially make the viewer lose interest. On the other hand the music appearing in such situations could also be perceived as naïve or childish and thus further distracting the view from the main focus. This issue is usually resolved by the characters involvement with the music, by singing, whistling, humming or even turning on the radio and the music goes from a transition of diegetic to none diegetic.

Mass production of films has lead to a series of over elaborated typical events such as emotional crises that are ever reoccurring and standard methods that are formulated to arouse suspense. These events are aided by music, however the viewer has been made familiar with these events so the emotional response on the viewer is not always as intended. For the viewer the whole thing is ambiguous. If the screen shows a peaceful country side but the music over the top is sinister the viewer will expect something terrible about to happen. Does this intensify or alleviate the suspense?

music in cinema has been determined by the practice of everyday life. It is adapted for the increasing needs of the film industry and reflected in clichés and musical ideas that were considered to be "in fashion". Subsequently standards have become entrenched through the history of film music into and including the current use of popular music in film.

These clichés continue throughout film and have gone from the standard classical score being use to the popular score being used. With the excessive use of such clichés the powerful effect intended is not achieved because the listener has been made aware of such events through overuse by Hollywood. In todays' standards popular music is being used in conjunction with classical score to aid in more dramatical scenes, such as the film Notting Hill. Anna Scott (a famous actress played by Julia Roberts) is doing her final press conference before leaving the UK to fly back home after being turned down by a lowly book seller, William Thacker (played by Hugh Grant), whom she fell in love and had a brief "fling" with. William realises his ways and races to the press conference to "win her back". After some initial investigative and almost comical questions from William, who is imitating a journalist to find out if Anna really does love him, Anna announces she would have liked to have been more than just friends with William. Anna Scott's on screen agent then asks Dominic (a reporter at the press conference played by Andy De La Tour) "Anna, how long where you intending to stay in here in Britain?", after a long suspended pause from Anna, then a transition shot to William, the camera moves back to Anna, she smiles as the camera zooms in on her face. Anna replies "indefinitely" as the classic cover of 'She' by Elvis Costello (originally by Charles Aznavour). This speaks volumes and makes the viewer relate and feel more involved in the scene through the music and lyrics of the song. Solely from the music there is a sense of love and romance, but also mystery through the lyrics as a name is not mentioned, which indicates the track could have a sense of purpose on any romantic film scene. Upon writing the track in the 1970's Charles Aznavour would not have intended the track to be used in such ways, but with the use of popular music in film becoming more apparent and the increase of the same clichés in film needing to have a sense of place and impact, the use of songs with lyrics are ever increasing.

50's and beyond the soundtrack to our lives

The majority of people live with songs in their lives from all kinds of genres, music is neither racial or gender specific. There is something seemingly powerful and inspiring about people being able to fuse music and words together in such a way that songs can be infectious. The music we listen to constantly evolves and songs come and go, but there are songs that make up a soundtrack to our lives and we place value in these songs and seek out permanent versions of them through downloads, CD's and vinyl.

The 1950's saw a flourish of soundtracks from films not only as a marketing tool, but as a cromo effect in its own right. Films such as Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting and Wayne's World all contain music that could be listened to solely as a source of enjoyment without ever needing to have seen the film, but because the majority of people who have seen the film will remember the songs, its a great reflection of the film or a desire to watch the film again. The industry did not solely target the soundtrack market. When a film is released you can purchase all sorts of novelty, replica or clothing items based on the film and/or the music involved.

Since the 1950's a great unification has been seen between the film industry and major record labels, each with their own specific interests but mainly cross-promotion is their sole goal. This interlocking is nothing new, both the film and music industry use each other to sell, which has lead to Hollywood investing countless efforts into the music industry, which is produced economic benefits. Film companies earn millions from the sale of records mainly through theme songs. This is one of the most lucrative cross-promotional tools. Hollywood are using established multi-million selling bands to write or endorse their film by using a song they have written specifically for the film or a previously written song. Linkin park are a prime example of a pre-recorded song and a song written specifically for a film. Transformers 1 saw the use of the Linkin Park track 'What I've Done' featuring heavily on the film and almost becoming the pinnacle song for the film. This song unofficially became known as 'The Transformers Song' which was a boost for the film companies. As well as getting major airplay because it was the first single off Linkin Parks new album, it was also a 3 minute advertisement for the film. This sparked the film company to hire Linkin Park to write the theme tune to the Transformers sequel, 'Transformers; Revenge Of The Fallen'. After already establishing a mutual appreciation Linkin park agreed, this could only ever be a win-win situation for both parties involved through advertisement alone. With two major names collaborating, either could be mentioned and people would immediately pay more attention to both tracks featured on the soundtracks which in turn became a source of circulating the films title further through imagery and retails displays.

popular music and film has had a long standing diverse and exciting relationship. It can give the scene the justification it needs by creating a sense of time or place, established through a few chords and lyrics. Kermode states, "More than any other art form, pop music is a disposable, transient product which reflects, mimics and occasionally shapes the zeitgeist," (Kermode 1995:9), but music can help inspire, carry and advertise film, so does music have a greater importance than what we are lead to believe? And can sometimes structure the film to become what it is. Martin Scorsese said that the pop riddled soundtrack to Mean Streets (1973) consists entirely of songs from his "New York youth" and "Which for him still evoke the milieu he was attempting to portray" (Kermode 1995:13. In effect without the pop/rock music of Scorsese's youth Mean Streets would not be (as time out described) as "one of the best American films of the decade,". Did Scorsese make the film it is, because of the music and his youth? Time out also state that it was one of "the few to successfully integrate rock music into the structure of film (Timeout n.d.). American Graffiti (1973) is another prime example of pop-laden film and soundtrack and was the first film to capitalise on a pop soundtrack. Up until this point pop songs were only used to give the film a sense of time and place and to give it that 'modern' edge but to no availability in the retail industry. The idea of a modern soundtrack was starting to gain nostalgia and the youth market started to buy into a physical lasting memory of the film via the soundtrack.

During the 1980's the relationship between pop music and film became largely symbiotic from a marketing point of view. They were also using classic yesteryear hits to revamp careers and provide titles to films (Stand by me (1986), pretty woman (1990). The marketing of pop songs became very omnipresent which had a profound effect on the market. Artists were beginning to use it to broaden their careers.

Film Music the cross over from classical to popular score

Without classical Hollywood the pop score used in films today would arguably have no meaning and could be just a random selection of current tracks to reflect the relative trend and used solely as a selling point, however as music in film has evolved so has the use and the function of music in film. American composer Aaron Copeland offers an insight to function of music in film from his perspective and suggest five general areas in which music in film serves its purpose:

(I) It conveys a convincing atmosphere of time and place.

(II) It underlines underlines the unspoken feeling or psychological states of characters.

(III) It serves as a kind of neutral background filler to the action.

(IV) It gives sense of continuity to the editing.

(V) It accentuates the theatrical build up of a scene and rounds it off with a feeling of finality. (Smith 1998:6)

As research by Lauren Anderson (referring to a case study of the British film Sliding Doors 1998 and the New Zealand film Topless women talk about their lives (1997) she concludes "pop and rock music does not prohibit the compilation score from successfully fulfilling the functions of classical film score" (Anderson:2003 115 (popular music and film book)). This is done in a slightly different way to traditional score as we have other elements to think about. These include:

(I) The lyrics

(II) The Songs' structural independence

(III) The wealth of extra-textual meaning

The lyrics are the primary focus in these three elements and hold a great understanding of them over classical score, for example we can decipher basic terms, love, hate, happy, sad in both forms of score (aided by the visual elements of film), but only lyrics can convey those meanings on a deeper level Anderson notes (referring to Sliding doors): "the songs' words frequently reflect Helen's thoughts of aspects of her character" (Anderson 2003:112). Classical score, although deeply complex and varying, cannot portray such events in a manner than the average viewer would understand. Lyrics also have links to the other two elements but lyrics contribute dominantly to the songs structural independence: "smith (1995:348) and Rick Altman (1999) both insist that popular music exhibits greater independence than 'classical' music, in relation to the film as a whole" (Anderson 2003:112). The popular score does have drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is that the pop score is not written specifically for the segment of film it features it therefore it is "unlikely that its rhythm and its infliction will exactly match the action" (Anderson 2003:113) whereas the classical score can be in direct synchronisation and contain unity through musical themes and or leitmotifs. The music chosen can also distract the viewer from the initial response the director is trying to achieve. Hilary Lapedis notes "Pop songs in films use pop's own emotional conventions and, in so doing, so place those films in a much wider context of popular culture than would be the case with traditional score" (Lapedis1999:370) Lapedis points out that music although part of film, it is because they are popular and because the songs trigger familiarity to the members of the audience, by definition they trigger a set of different responses, different to those of the traditional score; "Pop music, while having existence separate from the visual system, nevertheless posses its own confided meanings and associations" (Lapedis1999:370) Many others have this theory and have pointed out problems within the pop score. Karthryn Kalinak notes that pop music ignores the fundamentals of film (of which earlier discussed) and that pop music commits the cardinal sin of film scoring - "it failed to support the story and mood because it was the story and mood," (Kalinak 1992:186-7). Many of the songs chosen were originally pre-recorded and then later chosen for films and not written for the film which can potentially carry emotional baggage for the viewer as Jess smith notes "not only was this potentially distracting but these associations might also clash with those established by the narrative (Smith 1998: 164).

The other element frequently observed in pop score is extra-textual meanings. Behind each popular song is a sense of socio-historical meaning as well as fulfilling the functions of classical score. This is a two-tiered system which was developed by Noel Caroll, "such system a system exists when one device (such as a popular song) can be read on two different levels, according to how much the viewer knows about that device and its associations" (Anderson 2003:114). Such method was embraced by directors to give the film hidden depth and meaning to those who were 'informed' as they recognise such things as lyrics, title and or performer and apply the knowledge to the context of the visual. The uninformed viewers however will not be able to access this meaning as they interpret the music as is, thus still being entertained and not distracted by the music itself.


These functions can be carried over to pop music in film, as demonstrated in the case study of the film Goodfellas (1990) to which Martin Scorsese uses a soundtrack compiled entirely of pre recorded popular music. H (quote from popping the question).

Martin Scorsese explores the thirty year span on the Italian-American mafia, from the adaptation of Nicolas Peleggi's best seller Wiseguy , through his film Goodfellas. Martin Scorsese enjoys the use of popular and classical score throughout his films, he appreciated the messages and dynamics of both scores. He is one of the few directors (other being Quentin Tarrentino, William Wellman) who embrace popular music and use it to its full potential "popular music has the potential to give movies a forceful, dynamic edge. It doesn't have to serve simply as mood music or be an unimaginative device for establishing a time period." (Scorsese 1995:1). More noticeable the film that has inspired many others has been Goodfellas.

The score to the film consist of 40 popular songs, which span the thirty years of the time period of the plot as quoted Scorsese, does not use these songs solely for the purpose of time. The songs also reflect character growth, mood and they are placed intricately into the narrative to provide the 'informed viewer' extra depth, but they also stimulate the 'un-informed viewer' mainly through the range of songs. In some cases the songs act in the way similar to that of classical score, with using synchronisation. The music which chronicles the life of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is an eclecti mix of songs from different genre's ranging from Jazz to classical rock 'n' roll.

The opening credits begins with Tony Bennett singing the song 'Rags to Riches, as Henry Hill starts the voice-over narration of his life. This is one of the more noticeable uses of depth to the film using popular score. Henry Hill grew up in a poor working class area of New York and had a longing to be part of the organised crime syndicate "As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster" (Goodfellas:1990). The title is a great depiction and insight to the story ahead as the scene changes from Henry Hill's family and home life to the Mob life across the road, with close up shots of shoes, suits and jewellery. The lyrics to the song hold an even deeper meaning, with expressions of love and romance 'But in my heart i'd be king, your love is all that matteres' and 'hold me kiss me tell me that you're mine' (Tony Bennett 1953), which is a core theme throughout the film



popular music has enjoyed a ever evolving and intimate relationship with cinema. "from the 1950s onwards, producers and directors have developed textual strategies for representing and incorporating popular music and its performers in the visual regime" (popular music in screen page 222)

Popular music on cinema lies closely related to music on all other commercial platforms, such as television and video, in turn these have aided the social consumption of technologies, which are tied closely to such platforms. With great advances in technology advertisers are boasting the "cinema experience" in your own home, with the advances in LCD/plasma screen technology, surround sound (2.1 all the way up to 7.1) and most recently blu-ray


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