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Film Appreciation... Silent Pictures

Before the 1930s

Before the invention of the "talking picture," all movies were completely silent. The infusion of music into the film venue is speculated to have happened for many reasons. Music was already a commonplace element in the theatres and it was brought over to films not only because of tradition, but to add a depth to the two-dimensional image that appeared upon the screen. An added benefit was that it covered up the cacophony of noise that spewed from the projector.

The majority of silent films were accompanied by anything from full orchestras to organists and pianists. Books of music were published to provide the accompanists with ideas for scene music, categorized by mood, event, or element. Many of the films came with a "suggestion list" of what music to play in which scene.

It was Birth of a Nation that was the first to have a score compiled specifically for it.


The 1930s

With the advent of the talking pictures, music once again established itself as a vital element in the film industry. At first, sound films followed the precedent set by their ancestors, using compiled "western music" (Classical music, usually from the 19th century.) This practice soon gave way, however, to the creating of original scores. Max Steiner wrote the first completely original score for King Kong in 1933.

Though at first, music was used primarily as simple reinforcement, towards the latter half of the decade, the composers began to experiment and to develop their own style of unobtrusively supporting the film’s plot and characters.


The 1940s

In the 1940s, composers refined their expertise even more. One of the most important and influential composers was Bernard Herrmann, who broke many barriers and traditions to create music that greatly enhanced the films for which he wrote.


The 1950s

Up until the 1950s, film music had been entirely symphonic. In the 1950s, however, Jazz opened the industry up to a vast and new world of possibilities. Although it had been used for musicals and animated films, it had never been used in mainstream genre films of the 1930s and 1940s. The use of Jazz not only "contemporized" the sounds and theme of movies, but fewer musicians were needed, thus making orchestration less expensive.


The 1960s

The use of jazz and other experiments continued on into the 1960s. It was in this decade that acceptance of new music led to the scoring of INSERT TITLE HERE, the first movie to use a rock soundtrack.


The 1970s

The 1970s passed with very little new innovation. The decade was spent perfecting things learned in the previous decade. People such as John Williams created scores using these techniques that are highly memorable, even today.


The 1980s and the 1990s

The first widespread use of synthesized sounds in films occurred in the 1980s and film scoring once again underwent a major revolution. For the first time, it became theoretically possible to score an entire film with only one performer – using the synthesizer to produce the sounds of many instrumentalists. This advent (echoed in the general music world) caused popular songs (specifically contemporary rock music) to become the basis for entire scores.

Today, with the daily development of new technology and the general knowledge gained from a century of experiences, film composers have the ability to create the perfect score – accenting the movie’s plot and characters in such a way that it enhances the film and turns it into an experience.