Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Redrum: The Music of The Shining


Continuing with our music in horror film theme this week, I’d like to focus on Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining. While a variety of composers are used in the compilation score for this film, today I would like to focus on the significant use of one particular work: Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (Movement III). If you listen carefully, this piece appears three times throughout the film, each time foreshadowing the impending doom to come.

The first occurrence of Bartók’s piece begins when Danny and Wendy first enter the maze to explore. They are still new to the hotel at this point. What they do not know but the music foreshadows for the viewer, is that Danny will be chased through the maze at the end of the film by his father who intends to kill. The music hints that something frightening will happen in connection with the maze later on in the movie.

The second occurrence of Strings, Percussion and Celesta appears when Danny rides his tricycle around the hotel. He stops to look at room 237, curious what would happen if he opens the door. At this point in the film, he rides on. The music, however, again foreshadows the doom to come when Danny is attacked upon entering the room later in the movie.
The final occurrence of Bartók’s music begins when Danny enters his parents’ room to talk with his father, Jack. Frightened, he asks Jack if he intends to hurt his family. At this point, despite the fact that Jack denies cruel intentions, you can see in his facial expressions and tone of voice that he intends murder. The music significantly insinuates his plot to harm the boy.


Though Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was not originally written for this film, it accompanies it perfectly, adding to the fear Kubrick hopes to instill in his viewers in connection with the terrifying narrative.


Do you think the score to The Shining contributes to your fear when watching the film?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Music in Horror Films: Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann


This week, let’s look at music as used in horror films. One of my favorite film directors has to be Alfred Hitchcock, the man known for his cameo appearances, use of blond actresses in his movies, and twisted plot endings. Though known for his work on many popular films including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and The Birds (1963), today I would like to focus our attention on his 1960 hit Psycho starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.

Composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for this horrific picture and many people admit that his score is more terrifying that the visual images themselves. Do you remember when we talked about diegetic and non-diegetic music earlier this month? Well, Herrmann’s score is an example of non-diegetic music because it can only be heard by viewers and not the characters on screen. Herrmann’s use of drones and dissonances when writing the score helps contribute to the physical characteristics exhibited by the actors on screen such as paranoia, anxiety, rage, and insanity . He also writes the music for a string ensemble, giving a claustrophobic quality to the sound, foreshadowing that time is running out.  

It is interesting to note that the same music used to depict Marion Crane’s anxiety as she drives through the rain early on in the film is the same music that is used to accompany her death in the shower scene.

Do you think that this musical sequence characterizes Marion or does it foreshadow her fate or both?

How do you think the use of silence at the beginning of the shower scene is effective?

Have you seen the newer, 1998 version of Psycho? Here is a clip from the shower scene in this version. In your opinion, which is musically more effective (specifically listening to the music right before she enters the shower)?


Have you ever noticed the use of this “Psycho Theme” in other films? If so, which ones? Here’s an example I found from FindingNemo. People who are familiar with Psycho can certainly discern Darla’s character based on this association.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Flicks

What movies do you plan to watch this weekend? Write to me and let me know your impressions of the music. Do you feel like certain films help expose you to classical music you might otherwise have never heard?

Another classic example of setting cartoons to classical music is Disney's Fantasia and the newer Fantasia 2000. I may re-watch these this weekend to bring back memories of my childhood and first exposure to classical music. Do you have a favorite selection from either of these films? My favorite is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue set to a scene in New York in Fantasia 2000. Here is just an excerpt from the film.