Claudia Gorbman “Classical Hollywood Practice”

In considering the Gorbman piece I was curious as to people’s reactions to what she put forth. In many ways as was discussed in class the piece seems as much a summary of common, if not explicitly stated, knowledge. Sound as a bridge, emotional cue, etc. is ubiquitously known but do we believe in all that is written. It seemed to me as if some of her rules are not only regularly broken in current Hollywood Cinema but foreground the issue of sound in cinema. Dialogue itself no longer seems a contentious issue, it is a mainstay, but I do believe that musical score or soundtrack should be discussed in both its effectiveness and in its necessity.

As to my first point, Gorbman describes sound as a background instrument, unobtrusive, quietly and subtly moving the film. Now take for example a Interstellar. Nolan has gone on record stating that there were moments in the film in which he considered dialogue supplementary to the BOOMING score, I mean the score blasted your ears off. He was not concerned with the dialogue being audible as he believed the soaring score to be more representative, symbolic, metaphoric? of the local mood of the film. Music of such volume immediately draws attention to itself thereby conflicting with Gorbman’s notion. Does this make it any less effective? In the case of Nolan’s film, and this is of course a subjective statement, I felt it overwhelming and a tad bit manipulative, though I’m willing to concede that i’m not 100% on that statement, it did at least seem in parallel with the trajectory of the film in the moment. Is music that draws attention to itself always manipulative? In a sense, yes. It is intentionally drawing the audience towards a certain mood, perspective. Now the degree of manipulation is of course a large gradient. There are degrees. Some is straight out swindling, the result of a poorly done scene that requires music to make up for its deficiency. Others is earned. I believe that The Shining was brought up in class as an example. The music draws attention to itself and in other moments fades into the background. The Shining is a hell of a film, but if its score creates a certain mood for the audience is it therefore manipulative? Yes. But it seems earned in its manipulation as if it becomes a character in and of itself and is not part of a cheap tactic to elicit an emotional response. We as an audience are quite aware of the difference between a Kubrick score and a score for some lesser movie. We can feel the contrived nature of the lesser film, but what separates the two? I’m not sure I’m able to put a finger to it but it’s an interesting question for discussion. I will say this, it seems to me that a score only escapes it manipulative effect if it is utilized for a purpose beyond the manipulation of an audience to feel a certain emotional trait. In The Shining the audience is already creeped out and frightened as hell, the music only adds to the mood, it’s not forcing the audience into that mood.

This clumsily brings me into my next query: the necessity of a soundtrack or score. One of my favorite films is No Country For Old Men. God I love that film. NO score in it. At all. And I never even realized. I had to find out through the internet. Music has its purpose in film, this is without doubt. It is able to express fluidity and feeling, elation, pathos and catharsis that finds no place in dialogue. Nonetheless, I’ve always had a nagging belief that a truly great film works without a score. That is unless the film is trying to draw attention to the score and what it is showing or expressing. This falls in line with any other discussion of filmic purpose. There’s got to be a reason for something to be in a film, a reason with weight to it. It should sink in water.

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