Next time you sit down to watch that favorite flick of yours, movie guru Matthew Socey poses a challenge for you:
“Put on one of your favorite movies, watch it without the sound and see what that does,” says Socey. “If it’s a film you’ve seen dozens or hundreds of times, I bet you start humming the score as you’re watching it in silence.”
This Wednesday at Clowes Memorial Hall, the host of WFYI’s Film Soceyology and The Blues House Party will lead a discussion on the art of music composition for film. And he will be joined on stage by a pair of graduate composers from Butler University’s Jordan College of the Arts School of Music. Sky Blue Window recently caught up with Socey to discuss his early love for film, the world of movie scores and much more.
Sky Blue Window: When was your interest in film first sparked and by what movie?
Matthew Socey: Summer of 1975. The film Jaws scared the living crap out of me as a kid. It also didn’t help that the next day my dad and I were at the beach, and he lifted me up over his head and marched toward the water singing the theme. Looking back, I’m like, ‘A piece of celluloid did that to me.’
SBW: How did that initial intrigue evolve, leading you to become the film guru that you are today?
MS: My dad (much to his credit) would take me to films at art houses and college campuses. I got exposed to not just kid films, but Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers and Monty Python. I wound up seeing some films probably ahead of my years -- ya know, being the only kid at a grown-up picture. That sparked something in me. If there’s something that I like, I want to find out more about it. So I saw one Woody Allen film, and I kept asking, ‘Dad, what else has he made? Let me see it.’ Same thing with Python. Same thing with the others. That’s a habit I continue to this day -- just diving in and realizing what a fantastic piece of art [that] film can be.
SBW: The upcoming Clowes Conversation that you are leading will focus on scoring music for film. With the movie knowledge that you have, can you walk us through the steps that filmmakers typically take when choosing musical accompaniment for their works?
MS: Everybody has a different approach. You’d have to back me up on this with a musician, but I’m sure that the director has a particular style of music or a type of composer in their mind. And on the flipside, I don’t see a composer going, ‘Ya know what? I’m going to score an action movie. I’m going to sit here, and I’m going to write down music that’s going to be in an action film.’ It just kind of comes out. Now I know there are times where a person is hired, and once they are able to see some of the footage they are able to write music based on that. And I’m sure there’s a reversal of that. I think everybody has a different approach.
One of the things I always hear about, and I’m going to bring this up at the event, is … composers have said, ‘If you don’t notice the music, the music is doing its job,’ and I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think you have a John Williams or an Ennio Morricone or a Hans Zimmer score, and it’s a part of the experience. I don’t think it’s distracting to know that the music from Inception is beating you over the skull. I think that it’s supposed to.
SBW: What elements must be considered from a composer’s side when scoring a film?
MS: Just add to the film. If you look at Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan. If you look at John Williams and Steven Spielberg, or Danny Elfman and Tim Burton. There’s a reason why there’s a lot of pairings of director and composer that have been together for decades, because they know the person’s work, they like the person’s work, and the composer is able to capture the film’s tone with their music.
SBW: Give me some examples of where music composition is used incredibly well in a movie.
MS: I think any Ennio Morricone music for a Sergio Leone film -- the Spaghetti Westerns, Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America. I absolutely love Morricone. He is my favorite. Hans Zimmer and Inception. I love that bombastic score. It just cracks me up. And, I mentioned Jaws. The fact that my father sang two notes, and that scared the daylights out of me. That’s an example of something that is a very simple piece of music. Or, the theme from Halloween, which is taking a couple of notes and repeating them. It’s simple and effective and almost 40 years later we’re still quoting it.
SBW: What are you hoping to accomplish through the upcoming discussion at Clowes Memorial Hall?
MS: A lively evening of film music discussion. We sort of have an idea of what we want to talk about and what we want to present, but we’re also excited to see what the audience has to say. So this is almost like a jazz trio. You can start in one direction, but it might go completely elsewhere, and we’re going to be ready for that.
For more information on the upcoming Socey-led discussion, visit the Clowes Memorial Hall website.
Cover image of John Williams' score for Star Wars by Flickr user Sam Howzit, 2010 Creative Commons CC-SH-AD-AT license.