Then answer the questions:
The story of a film is told through narrative, visual language, and sound. There are two types of sound in film, diagetic and non-diagetic. Diagetic is sound that is “generated” inside the cinematic world (examples, footfalls, fork sounds against plate as we watch diners eat. The characters can hear it.). Non-diagetic is sound just for us. The characters can’t hear it (like big orchestral scores).
- 1. What role does music play (throughout the film) in the character development of Star Lord? What do we learn about him? How does his music help us with context?
- 2. Discuss a scene where you feel the musical cues were clear and apparent, nudging the viewer to feel a certain way.
- 3. Discuss two instances of diagetic sound in the film. What is their function?
- 4. Discuss two instances of non-diagetic sound. What was its function?
Sound and Score: Fantasy
Fantasy films present the viewer with an opportunity to explore other worlds, other times, and even other dimensions. We are transported as we witness fantastical images, epic vistas, and magical sights. The stories in fantasy films, their narrative, usually contain an ontological break. Sometimes that break is huge, taking us into a world very different from our own, like in the Lord of The Rings series. And sometimes that break is small like in the movie BIG with Tom Hanks. Big tells the story of a young boy experiencing the day in the body of a man.
The narrative and visuals aren’t the only ways cinema transports us. We are also guided and transported by the score and sound of a film.
Score and sound can be used to orient the viewer. For example, while viewing an establishing shot of the dessert we might hear the Oud. This particular instrument can be used to establish the cultural context of the shot as the Middle East which helps to ground our understanding of where the story is taking place.
In mainstream Cinema, certain music and sounds can also be used to signify cultural difference. In the early 80s the Didgeridoo became the sound which signified the Aboriginal notion of the “Dreamtime.”
The Right Stuff, produced in 1983, was a cinematic adaptation of the book written by Thomas Wolfe. It tells the story of seven military pilots who were selected to be astronauts on the first manned space flight. The film links the Aboriginal notion of spiritual astronauts to the literal portrayal of the characters in the film. This link is created and maintained by the sounds of the didgeridoo.
After The Right Stuff the instrument’s use was quickly co-opted. The didgeridoo in American Cinema has been so consistent that Aboriginal identity in American Cinema has become inextricably linked to the instrument.
From particular instruments to musical genres. In the 80s fantasy film scores made heavy use of Glam Rock. The band Queen was used to score the heroic fantasy film Flash Gordon. The film is a strange and adventurous fantasy following the exploits of Flash Gordon, an American football player forced to save the world.
Glam Rock was also used in the score of Highlander. Highlander was a very different film from Flash Gordon but it could still be described as heroic fantasy. The atmospheric and synthesized cues in Glam Rock work nicely in evoking fantastic elements in the film. The large difference in the aesthetic and narrative of the two films serves to highlight how
musical cues work at a subconscious level allowing different filmmakers with different films to orient the viewer using similar music.
From Glam Rock to Electronica
Tangerine Dream ushered in the age of Electronica for Fantasy films. Tapped at the last minute to produce the score for the high fantasy film Legend. Tangerine Dream went on to produce many more film scores through the decades. Once again making use of atmospheric and synthesized sounds to create otherworldly cinematic experiences.
Labyrinth In 1986 Jim Henson and David Bowie collaborated on the enduring score for the still beloved film, Labyrinth. The songs in Labyrinth were in many instances, diagetic. The alternative rock score was produced and performed by David Bowie. Bowie also played the main character of the Goblin King in the film which allowed him to perform many of the songs onscreen.
In the current era we’ve moved on to massive orchestral scores. In series like Harry Potter the score establishes a relationship between non-diegetic music and magic.
As the characters in Harry Potter move through their cinematic worlds the score supports the narrative elements by creating atmosphere and underscoring different actions taken. However, in scenes where the characters will be engaging in magic or will encounter it in some way the viewer is given musical cues that exist just for us. Non-diagetic music is music heard only by the viewer and not by the characters in the cinematic world. These
non-diagetic cues tell us the use of magic is imminent. The orchestral scores of the new fantasy films work well with the movement toward a more epic style of storytelling.
Fantasy films grant filmmakers a spectacular opportunity to explore themes dealing with fantastic worlds within worlds and grand adventures. The music supporting the visuals and narrative of a film can help the viewer get carried away by the tale. Music and sound can help orient the viewer as well as draw cultural distinctions. Film scores are an enduring part of the cinematic experience.