Why Marvel and Other Hollywood Films Have Such Bland Music: Every Frame a Painting Explains the Perils of the “Temp Score”

Major motion pic­tures almost always have music, and that music usu­al­ly comes com­posed espe­cial­ly for the movie. Every movie­go­er knows this, of course, and most of them will by now be hum­ming their favorite film-score music to them­selves: themes from Star WarsJawsThe God­fa­ther, the Indi­ana Jones or James Bond movies, and so on. But what about the music from more recent cin­e­mat­ic fran­chis­es? What about the music from the still-com­ing-out Mar­vel Comics movies, the most suc­cess­ful such fran­chise of all time? Why no mem­o­rable themes come to mind, much less hum­ma­ble ones, con­sti­tutes the cen­tral ques­tion of the new video essay from Every Frame a Paint­ing.

Its argu­ment points to sev­er­al dif­fer­ent fac­tors, includ­ing Mar­vel and oth­er mod­ern movies’ pre­dictable use and overuse of music, as well as their ten­den­cy to put dis­tract­ing lay­ers of noise and dia­logue on top of it. But the deep­er prob­lem, which has become sys­temic in the world of film scor­ing, has to do with some­thing called “temp music,” which is what it sounds like: music tem­porar­i­ly used in a movie dur­ing edit­ing before its real score gets com­posed. That sounds innocu­ous enough, but this video fea­tures a clip in which no less a pro­lif­ic and respect­ed com­pos­er than Dan­ny Elf­man describes temp music as “the bane of my exis­tence,” and after watch­ing it you’ll sure­ly see — or rather, hear — why.

Temp music usu­al­ly comes from the scores of oth­er movies. With mod­ern non­lin­ear edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy, the direc­tor or edi­tor can pick out tracks that approx­i­mate the envi­sioned tone of the work in progress and sim­ply insert them into their scenes. But after hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of hours of watch­ing the project scored with the temp music, the temp music starts to sound like the one true score, espe­cial­ly if the edi­tor has cut tight­ly to it. “Make it sound like the temp music,” insist the orders too often giv­en to the com­pos­er work­ing on an “orig­i­nal” score for the film, which soon winds up as temp music itself on the next block­buster-to-be in the edit­ing room.

This musi­cal ouroboros, which Every Frame a Paint­ing demon­strates by play­ing a vari­ety of scenes first with their temp music and then with their final score (with more such com­par­isons to watch in the sup­ple­men­tary video just above), has robbed even Hol­ly­wood’s high­est-pro­file pic­tures — espe­cial­ly Hol­ly­wood’s high­est-pro­file pic­tures — of an essen­tial tool of evo­ca­tion and emo­tion. But only a tru­ly risk-tak­ing film­mak­er could break this cycle of bland­ness: a film­mak­er like Stan­ley Kubrick who, work­ing on 2001: A Space Odyssey, refused to use its com­mis­sioned score that (in Roger Ebert’s words) “like all scores, attempts to under­line the action — to give us emo­tion­al cues.” Instead, he decid­ed to score the movie with the likes of Györ­gy Ligeti, Johann Strauss II, Aram Khacha­turi­an and (speak­ing of mem­o­rable themes) Richard Strauss — all of which he had, of course, used as temp music.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

The Clas­si­cal Music in Stan­ley Kubrick’s Films: Lis­ten to a Free, 4 Hour Playlist

A Playlist of 172 Songs from Wes Ander­son Sound­tracks: From Bot­tle Rock­et to The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Quentin Taran­ti­no Explains The Art of the Music in His Films

Music from Star Wars, Kubrick, Scors­ese & Tim Bur­ton Films Played by the Prague Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra: Stream Full Albums

Moby Offers Up Free Music to Film­mak­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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