Friday Film (55)

Are you sitting comfortably, and ready for another film music posting…?

Good. Then we can begin…


Now, here’s what’s going to happen.

Just three clips (if you ignore that one; and why wouldn’t you?) — whose purpose is to re-ignite a topic that has always struck me as of considerable interest in a culture that increasingly treats the ‘classical music’ repertoire as something remote, dull, off-puttingly intellectual, irrelevant, not worth bothering with, and even pretty much dead and buried.

What is the topic to which I refer? In as few words as possible, it’s ‘within and without’: the use of classical music within highly popular contemporary movies — and without anyone in the audience feeling that anything is wrong.

In fact, as long as you remain mindful of the obvious limitations, what I’m talking about even constitutes a rather useful experimental test: a classical work can’t be all that culturally or expressively alien — or its musical language all that remote and incomprehensible — if all you have to do to get people rocking along with it is to transplant it from one audio-visual context to another in which it remains adequately audible.

Or, to put it another way, if a ‘Yuk! Classical!‘ piece becomes ‘acceptable’ (or even ‘a hit’) when not much is changed other than the social-psychological packaging — moving us from “Oh my God: not the western art-music tradition!” to, say, “Yaay! A movie with Russell Crowe in it!” — then it is worth considering the possibility that the problem might have been connected with something attached to the original packaging rather than with the actual musical contents…

Yes, the first of our three proper clips is coming; but before it arrives, I need to present six lines of ancient Latin — which, for almost everyone is a genuinely dead language … and as a result doesn’t magically come back to life if you dub two minutes of it onto a film. (Get the picture…?) The lines are from the centuries-old ‘Requiem’ mass, and they read as follows:

Dies iræ, dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus.

If you want to see this sadistic garbage translated into English, the following is an attempt to convey the disgusting, anti-human meaning of this piece of Oedipally crazed ‘Judgement Day’ porn:

The day of wrath, that day
will dissolve the world in ashes,
David being witness along with the Sibyl.
How great will be the quaking,
when the Judge will come,
investigating everything strictly.

Now here’s the music — which is, of course, a setting of this text (with much varied internal repetition). It’s from Mozart’s K. 626 ‘Requiem’ of  1791 (which he did not live to finish; but let’s not worry about that now). I’ve found a video that shows the words as they hurtle by — allowing everyone to experience them at the same time as the utterly magnificent music… (Yes, the words are evil trash — but the emotional areas explored by their musical setting are as real as anything ever captured by art. Don’t blame me for this mess: I’m not responsible. And it doesn’t affect what will be the essential point.)

All right. now let’s move on to the second clip — which comes from the ‘mutant super-hero’ movie ‘X-Men 2‘ (2003).

I won’t need to explain  anything…

Yes, by all means enjoy the technically marvellous (and then some!) movie-making … but that’s not why we’re here


All right.

What do we learn?

You tell me. The ‘Comments’ section is below — and it’s open to everybody…

Meanwhile, everyone who loved the film and enjoyed this sequence without knowing the origin of most of its music can now watch the third clip: an ‘historical’ performance of the ‘Dies Irae‘ — yes, ‘historical’ instruments, ‘historical’ playing techniques, and everything and everyone at an ‘historical’ (lower!) pitch: as Mozart himself might have heard it, had he lived into 1792. (Gosh. How strange that date looks to a Mozartian…)

I will, however, present you with two questions in addition…

1) Would all this really have been so tough without the movie…?

2) Why isn’t it on the soundtrack album…?

See you next week.


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2 thoughts on “Friday Film (55)

  1. Well… Personally, I think the Mozart is as effective as any music (“classical” or otherwise) would have been in this scene, given that the Foley artist has buried so much of the music behind a barrage of gunfire and other effects. Might just as well have been Bill Haley.

    Surely it all depends on the music, and the context. You may not be that keen on Rachmaninoff’s mutilation in Brief Encounter, but to many non-specialists that classical music is one of the things that makes it such a successful [sic] film. You pays your money… And some works should be barred from being used in any more film or tv (and, indeed, radio) productions (Spiegel im Spiegel is top of my personal hit-list)

    Far more interesting, to my mind, is the acceptance in film soundtracks of modern classical-style music that even regular concert-goers would avoid in the concert hall for being too “modern” (cf poor Herrmann).

    And if you want an example of a film in which the use of pre-existing music, including genuine “classical” stuff, doesn’t (to my mind) work, then I’d suggest “Call me by your name”, which I happened to see just yesterday afternoon. A rather good film in many respects, but I just didn’t “get” the score.

    That’s enough from me!


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