The Marriage of Popular Music and Film

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  • Topic: Film, Film score, Sheet music
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  • Published : April 3, 2013
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The Marriage of Popular Music and Film
By Kieran Wallace

‘All popular music contains visual elements. All film relies, in varying degrees, on musical elements’1. The music and film industry have been tied together since the inception of cinema. Popular music has played a significant role within the film industry from a very early age and without this integration the film and music industries would not be what they are today. Music and film are two corresponding media sectors that, throughout the years, have merged together to form a solid and hugely successful partnership that has brought entertainment to the world for decades. Popular music and film integration comes in many styles and forms, ranging from documentaries to science-fiction movies. This essay will look into the history of the roll that popular music has played within the film industry and how the two art forms have successfully complimented one another since their collaboration. I aim to give an understanding into why the two media forms harmonise so well together and how their partnership has blossomed since their inception.

I will first discuss the history and evolution of this integration beginning from the roots of the music and film partnership and look into the technological and idealistic advancements that have helped with the succession of the two industries. I will then look at the effectiveness of movie soundtracks and discuss the use of different musical styles used to suit the varying genres of film.

The earliest films did not include popular music and for the first 30 years since the birth of cinema these films were silent. Despite the fact that they were void of sound the places they were shown in rarely were. From as early as the beginning of the 19th century these silent movies that comprised of projected images were often accompanied by sound effects. These sound effects were integrated with the intention of increasing the entertainment for their audiences. ‘1895 brought us the birth of the piano accompaniment to film’2. Technology was not advanced enough to combine the images with sound so movie theatres would employ pianists to play live along with the movies as they were projected. At this time in history the movie theatre experience was somewhat simplistic. The music used to accompany these films were not so much songs, but rather sounds of the musical kind. It was not until the early 20th century that, which was considered to be at the time, popular music was introduced to the world of film.

A good example of the introduction of popular music into film is the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation directed by D.W. Griffith. He specified the music that was to accompany his film and so ‘his audiences heard such folk and patriotic songs as Dixie, Home Sweet Home, Bonnie Blue Flag and Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries’3. As the technology of music within film was still not present at this time musicians were employed to perform these pieces accompanying the films. This technique birthed the role of popular music within film and set motion to what would become one of the biggest factors in the succession and popularity of the movie and film industry that we are accustomed to today. Not long after this evolvement the marriage of popular music and film grew even stronger. The late 1920s brought us the integration of music into film where the transference of the two sectors was passed from the exhibitors to the production companies. Alan Crosland’s 1927 movie The Jazz Singer played a significant role in popularising of synchronized sound within film.

‘The Jazz Singer was significant in a number of ways. At one level it represented the transformation of sound cinema technology into a fully social technology, into something that was to become part of people’s everyday experience’4. The impact of the movie’s release was so great that more than two hundred musical films were produced in the following three years. Although this...
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