Ever since silent pictures were shown with live organ accompaniment, music has been a most important asset in enhancing the dramatic development of a cinematic story.
How many of cinema's landmark achievements can one think of without also bringing their musical scores to mind? Some perhaps, but probably not many. A truly magnificent score to a motion picture not only enhances the viewing experience it becomes inseparable from it. This is achieved through its ability to become completely genuine to, and deeply immersed in, its subject matter. The composers of these scores have demonstrated an uncanny gift of knowing when to enter and exit with amazing precision. They boldly tell us through their considerable skill what the visuals alone cannot begin to describe, but nevertheless take nothing away from them.
Choosing only 10 of these is a daunting task since there are easily 100 or more that could be listed with full honors. I'm hoping therefore that readers will appreciate and focus on the choices made instead of the many, just as worthy scores, left out. I have chosen 1 film per composer so that a few more supremely talented artists can be represented and will try and chose the motion picture that most benefits from the composer's contribution.
Many of us enjoy listening to film music on its own. Compared to classical music, the experience is typically quite unique with shorter, more condensed cues that can radically change in tone without any transitional material or end with no resolution. There is however an emotional richness, excitement and passion to discover in this comparably new musical art form. I guess we recognize but still appreciate the difference in structure since after all the music we are listening to is intended as a collaborative part of a creative whole. It is for this reason that the following selections have been made and assessed as reaching the pinnacle of artistic achievement.
(They are listed in alphabetical order)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Composer: Hugo Friedhofer
It begins with a stately and gorgeous main theme over the credits and continues to Coplandesque Americana describing 3 serviceman's return to civilian life. The score perfectly conveys the sad and heartfelt emotion when the disabled war veteran is unable to adjust to what he wrongly perceives will be his girlfriend's rejection. It describes another vet's jazzy reunion with his trophy wife and haunts us with a powerful description of his nightmares of war. Finally the score beautifully fulfills his final discovery of a love pure and undeterred by reprising the original, superlative beginning theme. Hugo Friedhofer's Academy Award winning score is this film's most remarkable and essential artistic contribution.
It's that good.
The Best Years of Our Lives is available on Blu-ray here:
It is also available on DVD here:
Its soundtrack can be purchased from Screen Archives Entertainment here:
Next time: Cleopatra (1963)
Composer: Alex North