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High Drama: Pop vs. Score

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Soundcheck Smackdown goes Hollywood! Today: music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, who compiled the hit soundtrack to the new Twilight film New Moon, and Variety film writer Jon Burlingame debate which makes for better movie music: pop music or original score.


Jon Burlingame and Alexandra Patsavas

Comments [49]

Adrian NH from Hells Kitchen

I’m a 17 year old from Hells Kitchen and I couldn’t resist commenting before going to bed. For me, the essential is a good combination of both, or you create a score which has influences from popular music(A great example of this is the Craig Armstrong Score for "plunkett and mcclain"). Not only does it make the the entire score much more rich, but it bridges gaps between different ages, which is of course very important. Each have their strong points and it’s important to recognize them and use each song where it is necessary. In short, you cant just pick one, its the combination of both which creates a very strong score.

Nov. 17 2009 10:27 PM
Tess from Brooklyn

It's easy to revere the tradtional use of a film score and denegrate the movie soundtrack but in my opinion there is nothing more annoying and distracting than a bad score. Often bad scores are mixed too loud and hit you over the head... feel sad now, feel happy now, isn't this sweepingly tragic or romantic. Whatever feeling they are not effectively conveying on screen.

Obviously there are great scores and classic, perfectly paired soundtracks but when there bad give me a soundtrack any day.

Nov. 17 2009 04:27 PM
CJ from NY

Using rock songs in kids' movies is just plain pandering. Movie-makers assume partners are too lazy or apathetic to sit through a show with their children unless there are double-entendres and questionable pop songs. Then we complain that children lose their innocence too early and grow up too fast.

Nov. 17 2009 02:59 PM
alicia nashel from new jersey

You can have it both ways; An artist by the name of Philip Watts who is in a NYC "indi-band" called "Overnight" wrote an ambiant score for Big Fan (Robert Seigal of The Wrestler fame) which is a mix of giving the young indi fans what they want and more of the orchestral fans what they want as well.

Nov. 17 2009 02:41 PM
christi from harlem

I can not imagine Julia Roberts walking down Rodeo Drive with all her brand new dresses and hat boxes with an orchestral score playing in the background.

I also want to say Phil Collin's work for Tarzan completely turned me off of an amazingly animated film. SouthPark should have won the Oscar for best original soundtrack. Their original soundtrack was pure genius.

Forrest Gump was also a great movie for using pop songs in a very appropriate manner.

In other words. It all has to do with the movie it self.

Nov. 17 2009 02:38 PM
stuart from Astoria

I don't think Star Wars would work with pop songs, while Scorsese's films like Casino, work well with the songs of The Rolling Stones. Depends on the film!

Nov. 17 2009 02:37 PM
Sophia from Brooklyn

The soundtrack to pulp fiction. Pop music definately

Nov. 17 2009 02:36 PM
keith from inwood

Of course you don't have to pick sides in real life and there is certainly merit to use of both. It's a smackdown, an intellectual exercize. If someone put a gun to my head and told me I could only have one, I'd have to go with orchestral soundtrack! Psycho, American Beauty, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, on and on.

Nov. 17 2009 02:36 PM
Zachary Morales from Manhattan

I am not a fan of the pop soundtrack, but Martin Scorsese has always used pop music very effectively, from "Jumpin Jack Flash" in Mean Streets to "Layla" in Goodfellas.

Nov. 17 2009 02:36 PM
Joe D. from Brooklyn NY

A score can give a film a running musical theme that can be happy, sad, exciting, depressing at different times in the film. For a 2 hour film, this creates a glue that keeps a film together. A pop song that can't change with the mood doesn't provide this glue.

For a shorter TV show or advertisement, a pop song works better

Nov. 17 2009 02:35 PM
catherine from Brooklyn

This is such a tough side to take, different movies really require different settings, which music plays a huge part in. I keep thinking about Danny Elfman as a genius in movie music, but then also Wes Anderson movies where he really uses pop and previously written music to make a scene really effective......

I can't choose a side. But if there could only be one I would probably take orchestral, respect.

Nov. 17 2009 02:35 PM
Anna from Brooklyn

I think Jon Brion did an amazing mixture of film score and new vocal pop songs in I heart Huckabees. Not my favorite movie, but I loved the soundtrack.

Nov. 17 2009 02:34 PM
Teh Hagen from Little Falls, NJ

Pop brings to mind Annette and Moon Doggie films, American Graffiti, something "now" being used for nostalgia or marketing to the youth. However, Fantazia / Sorcerers Apprentice would not be the same if it used “Heard it Through the Grapevine” or “Stairway to Heaven”.

Nov. 17 2009 02:34 PM
helena bogosian from tenafly< nj

I own alot of soundtracks because I like the variety of artists that can be found in one neat package, BUT I much prefer original scores. I think picking pop songs to "fit in"is kind of lazy and the songs then compete with the film rather than work with it.
btw I am a relative of the late Bernard Herrman..maybe I'm partial.

Nov. 17 2009 02:34 PM
kai from NJ-NYC

What about Jim Jarmusch and his amazing scores pop(ish) music that goes with his films?

Jarmusch will commission or use both effectively (e.g., Dead Man and Ghost Dog).

Also, how about "There Will Be Blood" and Radiohead rocker Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack?

Nov. 17 2009 02:33 PM
stuart from Astoria

How can you side with one or the other?

I don't think Star Wars would work with pop songs, while
Scorsese's movies like Casino, work well with the songs of the Rolling Stones. It depends on the movie!

Nov. 17 2009 02:33 PM
Melissa from Harlem,NY

I would take Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota over any pop music soundtrack... or something like what Hitchcock did in the "Birds", the movie was the sountrack;or Latcho Drom, the soundtrack was the movie.

Nov. 17 2009 02:32 PM
Betty Anne from UES

Interesting you mention Shrek. They recently added "I'm a Believer" to the broadway show (set to close).

Nov. 17 2009 02:32 PM
Fay from currently Albuquerque but from Brooklyn, NY

I think the best "soundtrack" is sometimes no music. Think "No Country For Old Men." There was one scene where there was music, the El Marachi band that wakes up the Josh Brolin character, and that was so jarring because of the contrast. Anyways, the Cohen brothers created an amazing atmosphere and aural texture without the use of music.

Nov. 17 2009 02:31 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Try imagining Hitchcock or Spielberg or Kubrick without orchestral scores.
Most times, pop songs in movies seem like a copouts compensating for a lackluster screenplay. They are sound bites propping up the story.

Nov. 17 2009 02:31 PM
Dave Lewis from NYC

Apples and oranges. Imagine The Graduate without Simon and Garfinkle or a Hitchcock film without Bernard Hermann

Nov. 17 2009 02:30 PM
Darrell from Astoria

It just isn't as simple as all this - scores are not either entirely orchestral or entirely pop-driven. Case in point: Hans Zimmer's soundtrack to Black Hawk Down, which incorporates elements of everything from Middle Eastern folk music and blues to electronica and heavy metal. Would the movie have been anywhere near as effective with just an orchestral score? Probably not. Why do we even need to pick sides?

Nov. 17 2009 02:29 PM
Cynthia from long island

You can't blame MTV. They are just another vehicle. The movie-maker certainly isn't crying over a related video being made. I don't think coming off as cheap has ever been a problem for the Batman franchise anyway.

Nov. 17 2009 02:29 PM
Tonky from Brooklyn

OK. A soundtrack must be composed for the movie. If not, isn't there is a risk of a pop song carrying weight for an otherwise Lackluster film? Example: Where the Wild Things Are

The exception, Scorsese, has said he makes film to set pictures to rock and roll. "Departed" accomplishes this with rockin' grace.

Imagine Jurassic Park, Indian Jones, or Star Wars without John Williams.

No contest. Pure Smackdown.

Nov. 17 2009 02:28 PM
Katharine from Washington Heights

Mood, style, genre, subject matter- these are just a few of the factors that play in to the sound design of a film... and what's good for one film would be jarring in another. The Last of the Mohicans has one of the most stirring and sweeping original scores I can remember, and elevates an already great movie. But then I couldn't even imagine Dirty Dancing without the 60's pop and anachronistic 80's pop/rock songs!

Nov. 17 2009 02:28 PM
loveless from Northern New Jersey

I'll have to side with original score. The "Harry Potter" soundtracks are so amazing. On this very show, they spent the time & broke them down to show --passage of time, emotion, setting of place and more.

Nov. 17 2009 02:28 PM
Laura from Wyckoff NJ

Movie music is quite often very intrusive, and there are few movie composers talented enough to capture the mood and essence of a story.

Sometimes it's fun and catchy to hear our favorite "pop" songs but ultimately it's not a very original way of scoring a film.

Nov. 17 2009 02:27 PM
cb from brooklyn

I prefer scores because I find them more accessible and universal in terms of setting a mood. For better or for worse, using popular music is much more challenging because it can potentially be too distracting or conflict with a listener's outside impression of the song. John Hughes movies are a good example of that as well as Juno.

Nov. 17 2009 02:27 PM
Robert Plaut from Basking Ridge, NJ

No smack down, just a million shades of gray.

Peter Jackson's Ring trilogy could only use orchestral music.

American Graffiti was better served by well known pop songs from the early 60s.

Not sure where I would want to put "Bess, You Is My Woman Now", but I love that song also.

Nov. 17 2009 02:27 PM
Freddy Jenkins

Mostly, it seems if pop tunes are used in films, it's to sell to the audience and reap the cash from those folks.
The only 2 filmmakers I can think of who use extra-source music like pop tunes to great dramatic effect are Martin Scorcese and Woody Allen

Nov. 17 2009 02:27 PM
Freddy Jenkins

Mostly, it seems if pop tunes are used in films, it's to sell to the audience and reap the cash from those folks.
The only 2 filmmakers I can think of who use extra-source music like pop tunes to great dramatic effect are Martin Scorcese and Woody Allen

Nov. 17 2009 02:27 PM
Bob Kern from Avon

How much blame/thanks should we ascribe (retroactively) to MTV?

Pop songs were often inserted into a movie to get a music video played on MTV (back when it actually played music videos).

For example, Seals's "Kiss From a Rose" was played under the closing credits -- the CLOSING CREDITS! -- but it warranted the movie getting promoted with a video on MTV.

Nov. 17 2009 02:26 PM
sheila from new york

why do we have to choose? scorsese, coen brothers, so many use both. this smackdown is too limited

Nov. 17 2009 02:25 PM
vladi from jersey

why not take it from quentin tarantino angle mixing pop with orchestral it is incredible... how every time i listen to comanche by the revels... i know what' s happening in pulp fiction

Nov. 17 2009 02:25 PM
Nick from Upper West Side

The use of songs in the 20s, 30s, 40, 50s, 60s..and today, is not comparable.

In those eras songs were custom written as integral parts of the productions. Now, any old garbage is just stuck in there. Do you think the "Wizard Of Oz" would have worked if they just stuck a bunch of dreary junk from Grizzly Bear in there ?

I do not think songs and films are particularly compatible mediums. People are watching a film and unless the lyrics have something intimately to do with the story, the viewer does not care to listen to lyrics he has never heard before. Lyrics do not transmit emotion, especially when you can't understand them. I think orchestral and instrumental music is far more effective at transmitting instant emotion across all cultural and language barriers.

Nov. 17 2009 02:23 PM
Cynthia from long island

See. I don't like that. It's wierd when they use Rock Songs in kids' movies like Shrek. It's just creepy to use aggressive or sensual music in films for children.

Nov. 17 2009 02:23 PM
Josh from Westchester

I don't know if this is significant, but what occured to me when I heard that clip from Coco Before Channel was that it could just as easily have been from Harry Potter. Is modern film music more homogenized than in generations past?

Nov. 17 2009 02:23 PM
Mitch from new york

Songs in films are similar to songs used in advertising. Although they may be effective, they are nearly always a cheap trick. Borrowed interest. This is a given, since they were not composed for picture. The fact that they work is a happy coincidence for the director, gleaning some "vibe" without doing anything.
"Hey - let's use "Imagine"!!!!!

Nov. 17 2009 02:22 PM
karen from nj

No original score could have captured the feeling of "The Big Chill" better than "Ain't to Proud to Beg", but imagine a world without the theme from Rocky. It all depends on the movie.

Nov. 17 2009 02:19 PM
mike from chatham, nj

I'm definitely on the side of orchestral soundtracks. The woozy New Moon track you played is proof positive. By the way, if I were outside a theater where New Moon was playing and a pack of rabid wolverines attacked, I'd stay outside.

Nov. 17 2009 02:19 PM

I don't feel that it has to be traditional orchestral music in order for it to work..a good example is The American Gangster Soundtrack in which music producer Hank Shocklee created a vibe that worked perfectly with the mood of the movie. Traditional orchestral music is not the norm anymore! Experimentation is in!

Nov. 17 2009 02:18 PM
Cynthia from long island

I don't have a preference. I think both can be used effectively. What I don't like is when songs I like are used in films (and commercials) inappropriately... or just in movies I don't like. There is nothing more annoying than having a favorite song associated with an unappealing film or product.

Nov. 17 2009 02:16 PM
Ben from Providence

@Tom - oh please! do you really think creative freedom outweighs commercial pressures in Hollywood?? sheesh...

Nov. 17 2009 02:14 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

I don't think you can really say definitively either way. A big problem I have with the use of hits songs in films is that it's an easy way out for the filmmaker- the audience already has an emotional connection with the music, the film is piggybacking on that bond.

Nov. 17 2009 02:13 PM
Betty Anne from UES

I'm no purist but sometimes I think soundtracks that use pop music can be little self-indulgent. There are some directors I have trouble with whether it's Tarantino who uses stuff we may know or Spike Lee who use very loud songs over dialogue it can be distracting. Then take a film like "Juno" where I was preying that pseudo-indie sound would not be stuck in my brain when I left the theater.

Nov. 17 2009 02:13 PM

The reason they are using more songs vs. orchestral score is a financial decision. The 'song' artists in many cases do not get royalties, but do one time license deals for the song. This all winds up being cheaper than hiring a big orchestra and recording with a traditional composer which can be very costly.

Nov. 17 2009 02:13 PM
pete from Brooklyn

"Goonies are Good Enough" was the perfect companion to that movie. It was as catchy as Ghostbusters without being annoying.

Nov. 17 2009 02:11 PM
Ben from Providence

I can hardly recall a single film using current pop as a soundtrack, that didn't leave a sour taste in my mouth. Usually this strategy to move units and promote mediocre bands is thinly veiled, and suddenly it's as if I'm paying to watch a commercial.

One recent exception, I have to say, is the score for Where the Wild Things Are. The selection of pop songs, weren't necessarily new, and the covers were wonderfully removed from the original. Karen O's version of Daniel Johnston's "worried shoes" - probably the biggest tear jerker of the entire film.

Nov. 17 2009 02:10 PM
Tom from Upper West Side

Geez, John!

There is no "better" here....Everything in a film, either visual or aural, is put there - or allowed to remain - by the director. All of the elements are chosen to support the director's overall artistic vision or hopes for the cinematic experience.

What's next on Smack-down, "Good 'n' Plenty vs. JuJuBees - which is louder"?

Nov. 17 2009 02:06 PM

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