Soundtrack-mania: Thoughts on Film Score Listenings

Soundtrack-mania: Thoughts on Film Score Listenings

As of late I’ve acquired some complete film soundtracks/scores. The Back To The Future trilogy, the first three Die Hard films, The Straight Story, etc.. Even the house-infused soundtrack to the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Other such music I aim to acquire come from films like Taken, The Village, and A Scanner Darkly.

Ostensibly, the desire to hear these soundtracks in their isolated entirety does stem from an enjoyment of music in general, and a desire to hear at least particular sections. It’s as simple as the childhood nostalgia for Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” from the aforementioned Ninja Turtles soundtrack (an otherwise lacking album), or the inexplicable rush felt from the Back To The Future main title theme. Said piece is orchestral in nature, but still stands out on its own. But there’s also a fascination I feel towards hearing the music as removed from the context of the film, music intended to serve as a key factor in the overall storytelling experience of filmmaking. It’s music that you hear, but aren’t supposed to focus on. And yet it helps define the filmmaking, the storytelling. When the Ghostbusters or Godfather scores feature pieces titled “Dana’s Theme” or “Love Theme from the Godfather” (respectively), they aren’t meant to be pop songs with lyrics singing about characters or ideas. They mean to remind you of those things at any given point in a film, without you even needing to see the titular character.

As such, to hear such themes without the visual correlations, to listen to “Tunnel Chase” without actually watching Biff Tannen try to drive over Marty McFly flying on a hoverboard, you’re still reminded of those scenes. I recently watched all three Back To The Future movies, and afterwards acquired the complete soundtrack collection, listening to them on-and-off over the past few weeks (including the score to the second film at this very moment). Having the films fresh in memory helps to remember appropriate scene contexts. And oddly enough, it’s perhaps the removal of the cinematic context, the incomplete feeling of music without film, that leaves me wanting to watch the movies again despite very recent viewings. The fact that Back To The Future has been a long-standing favorite does of course play a factor, as well as the striking, dynamic, and at times fun quality of Alan Silvestri’s score.

Right now I feel as if I’m writing towards discovering and explaining why exactly I’m so fascinated by listening to film scores. But honestly, I don’t think there’s any reason more deep or profound than just my enjoyment of music in general, and perhaps an obsessive-compulsiveness operating on a few levels. I’ve always enjoyed the notion of having a complete collection of any given thing that I really enjoy, as long as completion thereof is feasible. I may never own the complete works of Johannes Brahms, but there’s little reason to doubt that the two-albums-each worth of Michael Kamen’s scoring (and inclusion of some Brahms pieces) for the first three Die Hard films I have is in fact complete. And the fact that I already own the CD soundtrack for Die Hard With A Vengeance is going to prove fascinating, in terms of finding out what the differences are between it and the two-album version (apart from just more music). It’s borderline inane and no doubt sounds like some sort of collection-based mania. Maybe I get some sort of kick out being able to say that I’ve listened to four hours of Back To The Future music, or several unused and alternate takes of music from The Wizard of Oz. But at the end of the day, even if the replay value isn’t always super high, I legitimately love and enjoy the music.

Let’s take it to another extreme. At some point I can imagine creating even more-complete playlist variations of film soundtracks, incorporating songs created by pop music groups featured (or barely heard) in the same movies. Here too is a reflection of my obsessive-compulsive collecting: It’s one thing to own the store-bought Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas pop soundtrack; it’s another thing to acquire “normal” version of songs therefrom that the soundtrack otherwise adds film dialogue to; it’s yet another to research the film’s credits to find the complete list of, and then acquire, every pop song heard in the film, even for fractions of background-seconds, but not necessarily included on the commercial soundtrack. The end goal will be to compile all available music related to a film, and organize a playlist that presents every relevant (i.e. complete and non-variant) piece in exact chronological order. I am fully aware that I may only ever listen to such a soundtrack once in my lifetime. But knowing that I’ve completed such an undertaking, even once, makes it seem worthwhile.

It’s essentially a bucket list item: only skydiving once doesn’t detract from the accomplishment of said goal, if the goal was only ever intended to be a one-time thing. Maybe it’s just more impressive to say you’ve swam with dolphins than it is to say you went out of your way to custom-build a playlist placing Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo” at the appropriate point between pieces in the Back To The Future II orchestral score. Doesn’t mean I can’t feel good about having done so anyway.

– Andrew Hall, May 27, 2014

© 2014 Andrew Hall Writes


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