synthesizers just don’t mesh with the Middle Ages

Tonight we were watching The Thomas Crown Affair (the wonderful 1999 version, with Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan, which I’ve seen approximately 25 times — not the 1968 version, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, which screams “60’s!” in every frame and is awful). As the movie began I was reminded, as I am on every viewing, how important background music is to my enjoyment of a film and my ability to immerse myself in it.

Thomas Crown features a complicated, improv-sounding piano score, interspersed with highly effective rhythmic sound patterns — the claps and stamping of flamenco dancers, for example. It’s perfect. (What was very much not perfect was my frustration when I bought the soundtrack and found that almost none of the piano music was on the CD. There’s no accounting for corporate decisions.)

And then we have the opposite case: films whose soundtracks feature music so jarringly wrong that I almost can’t watch. The movie that always jumps immediately to mind under this heading is Ladyhawke. Beautiful, talented actors working against a stunning backdrop of medieval sets and mountain scenery, all to the tune of … loud, obnoxious, heavily overdone synthesizers. The music has no perceivable connection to what’s onscreen; instead of drawing me into the mood, it screams about its own importance and distracts from the story. Yuck.

Music matters.



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