Continuing my thoughts from February regarding the use of song in film, “needle dropped” tunes are not officially considered part of a film score — those orchestral, choral, or instrumental pieces some consider background music. I think both are utilized as cues by filmmakers for a specific purpose or to elicit certain reactions by the audience. I’m fascinated by this in general, and movie soundtracks have specifically intrigued me. They represent a convergence of the music and film arts I’ve allocated much time toward. Some movie soundtracks (many my favorites) have incorporated those songs the director or music programmer have showcased in their movie along with the film’s score.
A few filmmakers have made it part of their filmography to incorporate popular song as a regular element in their work. Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and others do this very well. So, I’ve claimed this use of music, whether others like it or not, is very much a part of the movie experience and related to its composition. It is something I continue to watch out and listen for it in my movie viewing. Giving credit where it is due, I never would have started anything like this series if not for my blogging colleague over at Fog’s Movie Review. It was his excellent, Tossin’ It Out There: What’s YOUR Favorite Song From a Movie?, that kicked it all off:
“… there’s a deep connection between the two arts, and sometimes that winds up creating an inseparable bond between the two in the viewer’s mind.”
Once more, I’ve selected a song used in more than one movie. Like the opera aria I noted for the Patrick Cassidy piece in this series, we’re again in the classical music genre. This, another mournful piece, was used in a pair of films by two very different directors and film scorers. Both used the music in equally isolated deep space scenes from two very different sci-fi motion pictures almost two decades apart — I’m referring to the Adagio movement from Aram Khachaturian’s four-act Gayne Ballet Suite. An adagio is the term that refers to the speed the music is played, in this case “slow and stately (literally, “at ease”) (66–76 bpm)”.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s eighth film is well-known to both science-fiction and film aficionados (along with a couple of my friends who still find it hard to sit through ;-)). One of its chief distinctions is that the filmmaker famously (or infamously) used classical music pieces from existing recordings for the soundtrack (throwing out Alex North’s score without his knowledge — he only found out after he saw the film’s première screening). Kubrick’s selections had the effect of making the story, with its breakthrough special effects and the imagined future presented, more relative and relatable to the contemporary audience (then 33 years beforehand). The Adagio sequence heralds the entrance of the Discovery space ship and its small crew on their way to the secretive Jupiter mission. It is simply an elegant and evocative piece of music, one used by Kubrick to denote the lonely and tentative existence these people find themselves in the large cold vacuum of space (which is its own reference to all of human kind on the third rock from the Sun). The scene uses music as dialogue (for a film that hasn’t much of it) and it is one of the most cinematic and amazing sequences ever filmed, IMO.
Director James Cameron and composer James Horner had a number of understandable hurdles to overcome in delivering a sequel to one of the more iconic films and scores that closed the previous decade. Alien was all that, plus it delivered one of the best opening movie titles ever put on celluloid. To their credit, they took Aliens in another direction, yet maintained the core to that film and with a clear homage to another sci-fi classic (the one above). Horner’s score is less subdued than Jerry Goldsmith’s, but it’s in keeping to each of their film’s narratives. Aliens‘ opening titles moved to establish Ripley at the long end of her lonely journey from the previous movie’s finale to this point. Dropping in 2001‘s musical ship analogy by way of Horner’s reproduced tribute to Gayne’s Adagio. The movement segues in when the shuttle appears on-screen in the segment. Perhaps not coincidentally, the adagio commences as the composer’s credit appears. You’ll note his stamp on his piece is more up-tempo while still maintaining a forlorn mood of the music. It’s a tuneful hint to what’s to come and a nice acknowledgment to the ’68 film.
Note: the best video for this title sequence is at the Art of the Title site and is not available for sharing, but you can view it via this link. Fortunately, someone uploaded this segment to YouTube, the quoted section is from the 1:00 mark to the end.
Wikipedia reports James Horner has quoted from this piece of music three times in his scores: Aliens, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. As well, “The Adagio was also used, among other pieces by Khachaturian, in Tinto Brass‘s Caligula.” For that last notorious film, I was probably distracted by other things to notice that particular musical piece
The entire series can be found here.