I've been happily reading Michael Ondaatje's The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. It's a series of nicely freewheeling conversations Ondaatje, an author of some repute (good or bad, I don't know), had with the respected film editor/sound designer and all around polymath, Walter Murch. Ondaateje, who wrote The English Patient, became friends with Murch during the making of the film adaptation of that book. Murch was the film's editor and played an active role in helping to shape its overall sound design.
The book is winningly casual and Murch is completely game, wise and answering Ondaatje's questions with those elegant, perfectly formed paragraphs that I find myself both jealous of and thrilling to. The gift of highly articulate, maddeningly interesting gab.
In one of their conversations, Murch explains the decision behind not playing any music during the infamous restaurant scene of The Godfather where Pacino's Michael Corleone murders the police Captain and Sollozzo.
In the hands of another filmmaker, there would be tension music percolating under the surface. But Francis wanted to save everything for those big chords after Michael's dropped the gun....It's a classic example for me of the correct use of music, which is as a collector and channeler of previously created emotion, rather than the device that creates the emotion.
To which I found myself nodding my head in vigorous affirmation. I can't tell you how many films I've seen that have made my teeth ache with an overload of musical frosting. These scores have all the bombast of an advertising jingle, their mission being to make the viewer feel something the narrative hasn't already managed to accomplish on its own. This is either because Michael Bay is directing or simply because the film should never have been rendered into existence in the first place.
My favorite films have musical cues that do just that--they collect and channel previously created emotion and they remind me of the breathtaking power of music and occasion. There's this great, magical music moment in one my favorite films from last year, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Ploy, where a hotel maid who's just had some very naughty relations with the hotel's bartender lays back on the bed she's just made, turns directly to the camera (the first and only time a character addresses the viewer) and lip-synche's a wonderfully languorous, post-coital Thai pop song. It's completely unexpected and yet a perfect, even giddy encapsulation of what's just come before it. The music acts as an exclamation mark. It's funny, touching, sexy and devastatingly charming.