Monthly Archives: February 2015

The basic methods to add Music in Movies

Now that I have finished to talk about the kind of songs which we usually find in a movie, let’s talk about the different layers of music in any given movie. There are different possibilities to add music to a movie. In every given moment, you can add music either from the off or in-scene. And if you pick in-scene, you can decide between justified or not-justified.

Whenever music is played from the off, it is like there is someone commenting the movie for you, either through music or song, manipulating the emotions of the audience and the way a scene is perceived. This is the most common choice in any given movie, because the right music can elevate a scene considerably. Just imagine the shower scene from Psycho without tone. Would it be as iconic as it is nowadays?

Justified basically means that the music happens in the scene itself for a realistic reason. The radio is playing in the background, someone is on the stage and sings, whatever the reason is, the audience knows where the music is coming from and perceives it as part of the scene.

Having not-justified music in scene, which often results in putting music at the very forefront. Usually music is used to underline a certain mood, but in some cases, the audience is supposed to pay attention to the music first and foremost, which is often achieved by combining singing in-scene to a melody from the off (though it naturally also works the other way around). That is the kind of music you’ll find mostly in musicals, when the characters are starting to sing in scene to a melody which is played from the off, requiring a certain level of suspense of disbelief from the audience. Naturally they are exceptions to the rule. For example a lot of songs in “Chorus Line” are technically justified since the musical is about a Broadway production.

But weather in-scene of from the off, there are three possible choices of music: An underscore,  a song or silence. Silence is actually the choice which is most often picked, because the moment you decide to have music on one level, it is very likely that your choice for the other levels will be silence. As example, let’s take a look at Disney’s “Bella Notte” scene:

The scene starts out with an underscore from the off, while the choice for in-scene is silence. Then, a 0:20, suddenly the accordion interrupts the underscore, switching from music from the off to music which is played in-scene. Now the off is silent. At 0:23 the singing starts – but the music is still fully justified. Until 1:35, when the scenery changes. Now in-scene is silence, and we are back to music from the off, but this time around it is not an underscore, but a song.

It might sound strange to call silence a choice, but consider how loud silence can be. For example the scene when Bambi’s mother dies. The sudden shift from happiness to danger, the flight through the woods, all this is underlined with an underscore which amplifies the shift in the mood. When Bambi calls out for his mother, a chorus is singing from the off, already suggesting her fate. But the moment his father turns up and tells him that she wont be back, there is suddenly total silence. No score, no singing, just this deep voice telling Bambi that he will never see his mother again.

There are naturally other choices one can make concerning music: Original or pre-existing music, the different style, a song with one singer or a chorus, just to mention a few. But from the off or in-scene, justified or not, underscore, song or silence, those are the most basic ones.

The Filler Song

A Filler Song is exactly what it sounds like: A song which has no purpose whatsoever than to fill a little bit time. Now, usually I feel that every song (and scene) in a movie should have a purpose. But for animated movies, sometimes it is nice just to lean back and enjoy some beautiful imagery with the fitting sound. Fantasia is all about that. But you can find those moments in the regular movies, too. There is even a name for the particular weird ones: Disney Acid Sequences. Though weirdness is not always necessary. There is, for example the “Sing, Sing Nightingale” scene from Cinderella.  It starts out as a realistic scene and ends in a sequence in which Cinderella is reflected in soap bubbles, singing with multiple voices. It is very settled, but still surreal in a beautiful way.

The mother of all acid sequences is naturally the “Elephant on Parade” segment. Which, imho, only exists to push Dumbo to a proper running time for a movie. It’s nevertheless in an awesome way weird and very memorable – in a lot of ways the high point of the movie.

Look out! Look out!
Pink elephants on parade
Here they come!
Hippety hoppety
They’re here and there
Pink elephants ev’rywhere
Look out! Look out!
They’re walking around the bed
On their head
Clippety cloppety
Arrayed in braid
Pink elephants on parade
What’ll I do? What’ll I do?
What an unusual view!
I could stand the sight of worms
And look at microscopic germs
But technicolor pachyderms
Is really much for me
I am not the type to faint
When things are odd or things
are quaint
But seeing things you know that ain’t
Can certainly give you an awful fright!
What a sight!
Chase ’em away!
Chase ’em away!
I’m afraid need your aid
Pink elephants on parade!
Pink elephants!
Pink elephants!

The lyrics of this song basically boil down to “This is creepy!”. Now, I was never creeped out by the sequence, I was too fascinated by the animation, but I can see why other people are. And to me this is the best use of a filler song, to add to a visually compelling scene.

And that concludes (finally) the basic systematic of songs. Which means I can now start with analysing movies! You are free to make requests (I don’t promise anything, but I’ll seriously consider all of them).

The Sidekick Song

Let’s talk about the usual cast of a Disney movie: There is a hero and/or a heroine. Note that there isn’t always a love story in the focus. It’s the relationship Disney (well, more or less every movie company out there) defaults to, but it can just as well be about mentor and mentee, owner and pet, friends, children and parents or a combination of any of them. Then there is the villain or antagonist. And finally, there is the supporting cast. In this group the most notable characters are the so-called “sidekicks”.

It’s a little bit ironic, because the word “sidekick” sounds like it is referring to someone unimportant. But in fact the sidekicks tend to be the most important helpers of the heroes or heroines. Not always, though. In Snow White the audience gets the whole spectrum so to speak, from the cutesy animals which mostly provide some laughs, over the slightly more useful dwarves to Grumpy who even has his own character arc. A sidekick with an own song though is nearly always important (that doesn’t mean that there aren’t important sidekicks which don’t sing, though).

I waited so long to write about this kind of song because it is really hard to pin down. Like the “I want” song and the villain song, the Sidekick song belongs to what I like to call “character songs”. Those are songs which are designed to either introduce a character or allow him to voice his thoughts.  But unlike the “I want” or the villain song, which tend to fulfil a very specific function in a movie, the Sidekick song can be more or less about everything. “A friend like me” for example has the clear purpose to introduce the Genie to the audience. “Be Our Guest” is not so much about introducing the characters (which we already met), but revealing their feelings. A song like “Under the sea” on the other hand is not directly about Sebastian  himself but instead showcases his opinion concerning Ariel’s wish to life on land.

What Disney’s sidekick song have in common is that they usually come with an upbeat tune and a clever text. They tend to loosen the tension, allowing some unusual tunes and are usually a lot of fun. Note though that not every song which is sung by a sidekick is automatically a sidekick song, and it is sometimes hard to draw a line. Sometimes it is easy, for example if the Sidekick takes the place of the narrator in a movie (see Big Mama in Fox and Hound or Alan-A-Dale in Robin Hood), but sometimes it is a little bit more complicated. Does count Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother as a sidekick? She is only for one scene in the movie. Is “When you wish upon a star” one? It is sung by Jiminy, but he just happens to be the character who sings this song. I consider “Give a little whistle” his true sidekick song.

When you get in trouble and you don’t know right from wrong,
give a little whistle!
Give a little whistle!
When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong,
give a little whistle!
Give a little whistle!
Not just a little squeak,
pucker up and blow.
And if your whistle’s weak, yell “Jiminy Cricket!”

Take the straight and narrow path
and if you start to slide,
give a little whistle!
Give a little whistle!
And always let your conscience be your guide.

Unlike “When you wish upon a star” this one only works in the context of the movie, and is about Jiminy and his promise to be there and guide Pinocchio. Though there is not one scene in the movie in which whistling or yelling actually helps. Whenever Pinocchio does that, Jiminy is too far away to hear him, and whenever he meets temptation, he doesn’t listen to Jiminy at all. Still, the song establishes how their relationship is supposed to work. “When you wish upon a star” on the other hand has no direct connection to Jiminy, it is more the theme of the movie itself. And therefore I wouldn’t consider it a Sidekick song, even though it is sung by one.

The Magic Song

Why reciting spells if you just can sing them? Disney certainly prefers to make a dashing song out of every enchantment. I suspect that especially the Sherman brothers had a lot of fun connecting nonsense words to memorable lyrics. I admit though that I personally gravitate more to the simpler tunes, along the line of Rapunzel’s “Healing Incarnation”. In addition, some of the best scores in Disney movies are connected to magical scenes – like “Transformation” from Beauty and the Beast.

But the most succesful magic song was also the very first one. “Bibbidi-bobbidi-bo” established the concept of creating new words in songs long before the Sherman Brothers made it a habit.  And it set the guidelines for those kind of songs: Everything is allowed, but keep it brief.

Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Put ’em together and what have you got
Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
It’ll do magic believe it or not
Salagadoola means mechicka booleroo
But the thingmabob that does the job is
Salagadoola menchicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Put ’em together and what have you got
bibbidi-bobbidi bibbidi-bobbidi bibbidi-bobbidi-boo

If you look really hard at the lyrics, they don’t make any sense whatsoever. The most I can discern from it is “those are the words we need to do the spell”. But the play with language nevertheless makes it work. No wonder it got the academy award nomination over “A dream is a wish your heart makes”.

The “Keep Hoping” Song

In my article about the Disney composers, I mentioned “When you wish upon a star”. Which is, in a lot of ways, the conclusion song of Pinocchio, but it is so much more than that.

This type of songs is a speciality of Disney – lyrics which centre around the concept that if you hold on your faith, something good will eventually happen to you. The concept creeps in a lot of songs – most obviously in the “I want” Song “A Dream is a Wish your Heart makes”:

“No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”

But there are also songs which are written for the sole purpose of conveying Disney’s message of optimism. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves has “With a Smile and a Song”,  The Rescuers “Someone’s waiting for you”, aso. They are rarer than one might think, but I think there are enough to deserve an own category. Especially since this is the very core of most Disney movies, as voiced in Disney’s anathema:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you.

I really love the line “makes no difference who you are”. Disney’s message of hope is for everyone, no exceptions.

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do.

I think the part a lot of people overlook is “if your heart is in your dream”. Just wishing isn’t enough. This has to be something your heart is set on. And if your heart is set on something, it is more than just the star which will help you out. The star will give you the hope you might need, but you still have to keep trying.

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

And yet another condition on getting your wish fulfilled: You have to be a loving person. You give to the world and the world will give back to you eventually.

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through.
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true.

It might sound like a bolt promise, but isn’t it true? That sometimes life just gives you a break? Some say the song is foolish for promising that wishing upon stars is solving all of your problems. Disney even felt the need to clarify in “The Princess and the Frog” that just wishing isn’t enough, you need to work towards you dreams, too. But I never felt that the song claimed that life is that easy. To me it was always an anathema of hope. And while it is by far not my favourite tune, it is nevertheless a song I can fully get behind. We all need a little bit of hope in our lifes.