You Can’t Stop the Music

R-3690878-1340535756-5254.jpeg.jpgHave you noticed with some films, no matter how uninterested you are in the story or the characters, if it has the right music, and a good soundtrack, you will be humming the tune in the shower, pub, or, God forbid, at the local Karaoke pit-stop? Take for instance, The Wizard of Oz and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Officially, these two films were box office bombs and didn’t make money until well after they left the theatres. Yet ‘Over the Rainbow’ and the ‘Time-Warp’ have etched their way into the history of ‘classic’ songs.

Realising that I had to write something remotely interesting in this week’s blog, I thought the blending of the visual with the audio might do the trick.


It all started with the era of silent film.

While it would be a nice to think that in combining music with film, the early directors and producers in Tinsel Town were forward thinking with artistic endeavours, in fact music was used to drown-out the noise of the very loud projector and a talkative audience. However, the accompaniment of music began to play a larger role in the presentation and entertainment value of the film. Unlike today, there were no sounds affects, meaning the music had to be used to further a story’s plot, pace and energy (which is the function music continues to play in films). As a result, the music that accompanied a film could either make or break it, insomuch that it could either vastly improve the quality and enjoyability, or completely shipwreck it.

As the industry moved from the usage of a solitarily pianist pounding away on the black and white keys, to a full blown orchestra, and eventually, to recorded sound affects and music, the relationship between film and music was guaranteed, and moving images cemented its status as the most important audio-visual medium of our time.


The Jazz Singer, which marked the first time dialogue and music were synchronised, began the very quick decline of the silent film era.

What’s interesting, is the film was based on the play; the play was based on the legendary Al Jolson’s life; and the star of the movie was – wait for it – Al Jolson. Even more interesting was that the early Hollywood moguls at Warner Brothers chose a pseudo-musical as the first film to introduce synchronised sound to film. In doing so, they created a new need for music – sheet music. This new need led to movie studios buying music publishing companies, gaining both catalogues of music and experienced composers.

Not only did the music in films lead to an increase in the sales of sheet music, but with the introduction of the gramophone, songs used in films could also see a dramatic increase in sales. For example, “Sonny Boy” a song featured in the second Al Jolson movie, The Singing Fool, led to 2 million records being sold and 1.25 million sales of the sheet music for the song.


Even poorly constructed films, with bad acting and unbelievable story lines can use music to have the same affect.

Take the porn industry for instance –

I know you’re thinking, “how very dare you! I have not, nor will I ever watch anything so disgusting.” I beseech thee, do give me a couple minutes to make my point.

While I would never dream of insinuating that any of you fine, upstanding, worldly citizens would watch anything so unnatural, the porn industry does generate around $13+ billion in the USA alone; Hollywood generates $20+ billion. If we do the maths that means, while none of you are watching something so nasty and immoral, at least half the American population are. And those nasty, immoral degenerates are reaching deep in their wallets to get their … ummm… juices … flowing.

Have you ever tried getting ‘busy’ with your better half without making a sound? I mean NO sound. No sighs, no grunting, no shouting ‘you’re the daddy’ while daintingly swinging from the chandelier? It would be pretty boring. From what I have been told, the same is true for pornographic films. I wouldn’t know, but from what I have been told, sound and music play a major role in the cinematic enjoyment of pornographic films. While porn groove (term used to describe the music in porn), won’t make or break the film, it could change the aesthetics of the film (so I have been told).

What Would Debbie Allen Do?

5c810e9ebe8ffcd5ab1a0b350af11754.jpgEvery time I watched Fame and heard Debbie Allen encouragingly tell her pupils, week after week, “You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.” My first thought was – mind your friggin’ business! a) I don’t want fame, and b) only the morbidly obese sweat.’

I know that in her heart, Debbie was trying her best to offer inspiration, guidance and a good kick up the arse for her United Colors of Benetton band of misfits. However, one thing Ms Debbie never did was to tell her students that they were crap (although in hindsight, someone should have laid down that truth on those songwriters – have you listened to ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Mannequin’ lately)?. In this, Ms Debbie was living up to the age-old adage….


Never, ever critique someone’s work unless you are asked. If you start a sentence with, ‘if you want my opinion’, you are asking to loose friends, family members, or your job. If you are absolutely dying to critique something, or give advice, the best way to do this is to ask pertinent questions to allow the person on the receiving end of your meddling to find solutions for themselves. Doing it this way will also allow you to seem less patronising, giving the illusion that you don’t have all the answers (which of course you do).

You should frame the questions around the five Ws: what, when, why, who, and how (yes, I know, but ‘how’ ends in a w). Your W questions stand the best chance of being effective if they are specific. For example:

  • What the hell were you thinking when you wrote that?
  • When are you going to get a grip and learn how to write dialogue?
  • Why are you so stupid and why haven’t you listened to my advice I’ve given you? Or, Why do you think you write sh**ty dialogue like that?
  • Who in the hell do you think you are not listening to the advice I’ve given you?
  • How can I help you when you won’t help yourself and listen to the advice that I’ve given you?


The following is true story that I made up for this blog.

Back in 1980, when I was auditioning to get into New York School for Performing Arts, I met my current BFFs Doris, Coco, Bruno and Danny. Of course, I got into the school and from that point onwards, my high school experience was one big dance number. One minute we’d be eating our lunch in the canteen, and the next, from out of nowhere, a pianist would start banging out an unknown tune, to which Coco would start singing, flawlessly making up the words as she went along, while the rest of the school would join in with an unrehearsed, impromptu dance number.

In my senior year, I had been offered a spot in the Alvin Ailey dance company. In order for my acceptance to be final, I needed to graduate – which was not looking good as I had found out that Mrs Robinson, my English teacher had failed my final essay, ‘Spiderman: Fact or Fiction’ and I would not be graduating. Looking to confront Mrs Robinson, I miraculously found her at a local hospital where her husband’s was recovering from a heart attack. One thing led to another and several hours later, we found ourselves in my bed exhausted from our love-making (it was fortuitous that I had turned 18 two days beforehand). Falling into my arms Mrs Robinson, proclaimed, ‘That was out of this world! For that you get an A+, I looked lovingly into her eyes and replied, ‘But I didn’t think you even liked me’. Smiling, Mrs Robinson said, ‘I was talking about your performance during the shag. For that you get an A+….. outside that, I still think you’re a prick.’


I don’t want to be too harsh on Mrs Robinson. In her defence, she did what any good critiquer should do – she used positive language, started her critique on the strengths, and then addressed the weak and/or problems areas. But, looking back, I think that Mrs Robinson could have given a clearer indication on how on I could improve. Wouldn’t it have been better if Mrs Robinson gave me comments that didn’t leave me guessing on what she was trying to convey? Instead, I’m left with the fact that I don’t know the scale of her criticism.

To this day, I still don’t whether am I a big prick, or a little prick? I guess only time will tell.