Some of the finest background scores for movies I have heard are from Ilayaraja. I used to love the score he made for the Malaylam movie called Guru, in which, when the protagonist moves from our world to another in which people lack the sense of sight and hence carry out all their activities based on sound and vibrations, the background score also glides and becomes exotic and fantastic.
However, there aren’t many Hollywood movies that I can think of, the background score of which, did impress me (There are exceptions, of course; Ronin is one that comes to my mind immediately).
Alex Ross, in his latest New Yorker piece seems to agree that Hollywood does not pay much attention to background score, but has some nice things to say about the background score of the movie There will be blood:
There may be no scarcer commodity in modern Hollywood than a distinctive and original film score. Most soundtracks lean so heavily on a few preprocessed musical devices—those synthetic swells of strings and cymbals, urging us to swoon in tandem with the cheerleader in love—that when a composer adopts a more personal language the effect is revelatory: an entire dimension of the film experience is liberated from cliché. So it is with Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie “There Will Be Blood,” which has an unearthly, beautiful score by the young English composer Jonny Greenwood. The early scenes show, in painstaking detail, a maverick oilman assembling a network of wells at the turn of the last century. Filmgoers who find themselves falling into a claustrophobic trance during these sequences may be inclined to credit the director, who, indeed, has forged some indelible images. But, as Orson Welles once said of Bernard Herrmann’s contribution to “Citizen Kane,” the music does fifty per cent of the work.
Take a look!
This winter produced two epic Westerns, both powerful and unconventional, both filmed in the same landscape, similar in some dimensions and contrasting in others. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood present visions of the American dream gone haywire, one in orgies of killing, the other in a labyrinth of greed and madness. One thing that unites them is how all the elements of their soundtracks—dialogue, effects, music—work together to shape the story. What divides their approach to sound is that Jonny Greenwood’s score for Paul Thomas Anderson plays out in the usual musical fashion if not with the usual sense, while the Coen brothers created a soundtrack of great expressive effect with next to no “music” at all.
Take a look!