Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: Experiencing Film Music by Kenneth LaFave

Experiencing Film Music: A Listener's Companion by Kenneth LaFave

Kenneth LaFave covers the broad history of music in film, starting from the first films before sound recording technology was integrated into movies. Silent films were accompanied by local musicians who used appropriate music culled from their repertoire and from cue sheets suggesting bits of music that would enhance various parts of the movie. With the advent of talking pictures, musical creativity moved from local musicians to  studio music departments where orchestrators worked with directors in crafting music to support the film. The book was published in 2017 and covers movie music all the way up to 2016, a wide span.

The book, after discussing the transition from silent to talking films, looks at genres chapter by chapter, discussing how music is used. LaFave's main idea is that "the film score's task is to be both unnoticed and indispensable at the same time." (p. xxi) That's a tricky balance. He hits a lot of highlights from movie history, usually going in depth with one or two movies per genre. The detail can get too detailed for the amateur listener, delving into chromatic and modal scales, diminished fifths, and other technical jargon. I still got the general sense of what he was trying to say even though I don't know all the technicalities.

The book is also full of his personal opinions on things, so readers' agreement will vary throughout. He admires only the score from Planet of the Apes, considering the original 1968 film obvious and silly. Concerning the main conflict in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, he says "civilization, as we all know, depends for its existence on ritually sacrificing nature." (p. 155) I didn't know that and can hardly agree. On the other hand, he does have interesting insights on many things, like the complimentary use of Danny Elfman's score and Prince's songs in the 1989 Batman film.

Overall, I enjoyed the book as a walk through the history of films with a focus on how music has contributed to the enhancement of the viewer's experience.

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