Matt Schrader’s documentary explores the art and history of the film score. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Brian Tyler, composer for such films as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Thor: The Dark World,” admits something toward the end of “Score: A Film Music Documentary” that is, well, “a little embarrassing.” After screenings of movies with his music, he’ll scoot into a bathroom stall and eavesdrop, to see if anyone’s humming or whistling the theme. “It’s amazing how many times that’s actually happened,” he says in the documentary. “I feel like I affected them on a level that they’re not aware of.”
All of us who love movies are deeply affected by film music; a skilled composer can “change the temperature of a movie” (as one notes in “Score”) and cement it in our minds. Think, for example, of how the iconic splendor of John Williams’ music sets the tone for “Star Wars,” or how the ominous tendrils of Danny Elfman’s score flavor Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies. “Score,” directed by Matt Schrader, breaks no new ground in the art of documentary — it’s mostly talking heads — but it’s an enjoyable walk through the art and history of the film score, with dozens of contemporary composers lending their voices.
Schrader walks us smoothly through a primer on film-score history: Originally intended, in silent films, to cover the noise of a projector, film music was revolutionized by Max Steiner’s 1933 score for “King Kong.” (Its grandeur made the film less schlocky and more frightening.) Orchestral scores were popular for several decades, followed by a rise in more jazz-flavored music in the ’50s and ’60s (Alex North’s score for “A Streetcar Named Desire”; Henry Mancini’s theme for “The Pink Panther”; the James Bond theme by Monty Norman). Williams, in the ’70s, ushered in a new era of orchestral scoring, with his sweeping music for “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and many more.
Movie Review ★★★
‘‘Score: A Film Music Documentary,’ written and directed by Matt Schrader. 92 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
Along the way, some treasure is mined from the film’s numerous speakers, all of whom seemed happily enamored with their work. I loved composer Christopher Young’s description of the elaborate, brilliant coils of Bernard Herrmann’s “Vertigo” score as, simply, “stay away, but please come.” And Hans Zimmer (“Inception,” “Gladiator,” the upcoming “Dunkirk”), his voice as velvety as the purple blazer he wears, explains how he hides within his work. “We can chat for hours and … you’ll never really figure me out. But when I play you a piece of music, I completely expose myself,” he said. “I love, love, love what I do.”