Alex Ross in the New Yorker has an overview of the fine art of scoring films, by way of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers presentation of "Koyaanisqatsi" with an accompanying live performance of the score composed by Philip Glass. "Koyaanisqatsi" and its sequels "Powwaqatsi" and "Naqoyqatsi" are dialog- and plot-free, visually lush collages of nature/urban shots that have always struck smug us as the kind of pseudo-profound thing you pretend to enjoy in college because you have a crush on an activisty boy. So we felt particularly schooled when we read this:
When I saw â€œKoyaanisqatsiâ€ in college, I dismissed it as a trippy, slick, MTV-ish thing, to which some well-meaning soul had attached hippie messages about the mechanization of existence and the spoliation of the planet. At Lincoln Center, I understood it as something else altogetherâ€”an awesomely dispassionate vision of the human world, beautiful and awful in equal measure.
We’re still not going to rewatch it, though.
More our style are his thoughts on the use of tonally inappropriate music, either for irony, or, better, for some more complex sense of compassion:
Stanley Kubrick’s decision to play "We’ll Meet Again" over a montage of nuclear annihilation at the end of "Dr. Strangelove" is one famous example; another is Oliver Stone’s use of Barber’s velvety "Adagio for Strings" over scenes of carnage in "Platoon." Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, in their score for the new Gregg Araki film "Mysterious Skin," do something wholly unexpected: as a horrendous story of child abuse in a Kansas town unfolds, the music sways toward a state of irrational bliss, as if to numb the pain. Music, in these cases, doesn’t show the image as a lie; instead, it is itself the lie we tell ourselves in order to survive.
Though it blatantly rips off Terrence Malick’s use of Carl Orff‘s "Vier Stucke Fur Xylophon: Gassengauer nach Hans Neusiedler" in "Badlands," Hans Zimmer‘s "You’re So Cool" theme from "True Romance" has always been a favorite of ours this way. The opening sequence, with that lighthearted tropical motif twinkling over images of a post-apocalyptic looking Detroit dawn, has a weird resonance. It made the movie seem better than it was, as if Detroit, mid-winter, with its vagrant crowds warming their hands over trashcan fires, were reality, and the music represented Christian Slater‘s Clarence Worley’s disconnect from it. Then the arrival of Rosanna Arquette‘s ridiculous character and all the silliness that follows could be read as an immature, violent, romanticized fantasy on his part, rather than the film itself being the immature, violent, romanticized fantasy we suspect it really is.
+ Sound and Vision (New Yorker)