“Where words fail, music speaks.”
― Hans Christian Andersen
A weird thing happened to me last week: I went to watch a musical at the cinema. Now this was partly due to girlfriend pressures, but also as I’d read countless positive reviews saying that this, indeed, was a masterpiece. But having harboured a general hatred for this particular genre since my childhood watching (inadvertently) Tommy Steele musicals on ITV, I had my doubts as I bought our tickets for La La Land. Paying a little extra for VIP reclining seats, I figured this might cushion the blow.
Just over two hours later, I don’t think my mind was necessarily changed about musicals (for a man who loves his gangster films, gritty dramas and Westerns, song & dance and general frivolity doesn’t really come into the equation) – but I did have this stark reminder of how great music can completely transform your viewing experience. In this case, not so much the jazz hands happy-clappiness, but the jazz-influenced piano theme which filled several scenes with warmth, tension and emotional conflict, and stuck in my head for days afterwards. And that’s where the common ground perhaps lies for me: from the Morricone-scored soundscapes in Once Upon a Time in the West, to Tarantino’s retro record collection in Pulp Fiction, it’s often the music that makes you really ‘feel’, and stamps a few choice notes in your memory for years to come. Trainspotting 2 has a hard act to follow…
Via some tenuous link, the same rule works in the world of corporate films and events, whereby even the most orthodox or uninspiring visual can take on a new life of its own given the right musical accompaniment. In my job as a Video Director, I normally get to pick the music for the films I work on, which is definitely an enjoyable perk for me – as, ultimately, it shapes the look and feel of a piece and sprinkles the icing on top of the corporate layer cake (which, let’s face it, is not always the most exciting slice of action). After all, where would any conference opener be without an epic, energising track to inspire the audience, and where would a worthy charity film be without a subtle, but emotionally affecting theme to underpin its story? And in that sense, where would any great film be without its soundtrack to complement the journey of its characters and engage its audience in a kaleidoscope of the senses?
In the edit suite, I get to see the raw content without the frills, and it’s amazing how a carefully selected piece of music or underscore can provide the emotional pull and be the unsung hero. I fully believe that if your audience remembers the music (even subconsciously), then you’ll stand a better chance of them remembering – and engaging with – the content too.
With all that in mind, watching Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling sing and play their way through the ups and downs of their classic Hollywood relationship suddenly made more sense than I’d expected or imagined. And in their L.A. world of romantic ideals, it actually felt real and weirdly genuine. Or at least as genuine as that marvellous bit of piano, and the acting masterclass of Miss Stone in particular.
In conclusion, I love music, but I still don’t really like musicals. But if the music keeps it real, then I’m all for it. And as for La La Land, it should be seen – and definitely heard.