Film & TV

The Power of Music

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 13:38 min

Martin shows how music serves as part of the spiritual lives of his characters and talks about the films whose music influenced him, from director Kenneth Anger's independents to the traditional scores of Hollywood films.

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Martin Scorsese
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As I was growing up, music was a very important part of our lives. It wasn't a bookish culture I came from. But there was a great deal of music-- records, radio. Eventually, music everywhere-- in the streets, through people's windows in the summertime. And as I started to put together the impulse to tell a story, I found that very often, the music was something that created that moment of visualization, so to speak. And often, the music that was being heard or being played in the street or in the car radio counterpointed to the scenes I was seeing around me-- created the films. And eventually, this all led to my use of music in "Who's That Knocking" or particularly "Mean Streets" and eventually even "Alice" and eventually "Raging Bull" into "Goodfellas," et cetera. But in an odd way, pulling all those scenes together, hearing that everybody talking about movies at the time, in 1950s. And my father, my uncles talking about certain films and then mentioning other stories that are going on in the family or in the street. And somebody would say something like, oh, they could never make a movie of that. And that's what I wanted to do. So why not? So all this was coming together, and music was so prominent and almost like what you would call the sense memory, in a sense. So it really begins with the music for me. And once I hear the music, I mean, I really start to feel the story. Sometimes a piece of music reflects a character for me, and I start to imagine scenes. It isn't that I sit down and start . They sort of come to you while you're listening to the music. When I finally started making feature films, I knew that my movies would not have a proper score. They weren't meant to have that. In a way, they weren't deserving of that because those films, or the pictures that were made up to that time around the world are- they were something that were unattainable. They were the guides. They were the something we aspired to and couldn't really do something like them, even though you try. So the kind of films I was making just didn't lend themselves to this kind of thinking. At times, not in more negative sometimes in terms of Hollywood scores or traditional scores, sometimes they were coded, and the narratives were very different. There are different ways of indicating emotions and characters in music and in that tradition, and I was not from that tradition, I felt. The only thing trying-- the only thing that-- the only thing that restricted us to a certain extent was that at that time, we did not have the budgets to pay for licenses. And so we did want the films to be shown in theaters, if possible. And so that became a bit of a problem in terms of how much we could use, where we could get it, who would allow us to use it et cetera. Well, for example, the use of Ray Buretto's "El Watusi" and "Who's That Knocking On My Door" was a pivotal moment for me and in trying to shape a film together. Or in "M...


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Comments

RJane @.

As I grew up, the music was simple and elegant, and the vocals are authentic. Nowadays, most vocals are auto-tuned by technology. @RJanesRealm

EK T.

Goodfellas is probably the most obvious example of what he is talking about here.

Anastacia S.

This discussion is so rich with information and it fires my imagination. Hahaha. I would give anything to be able to work on a film with Martin. BTW, the only song song I know of with my name in it is "Sympathy for the Devil." Hmmm...

Jo E.

Music in film...what a great subject...! While writing my script that takes place in 1969 I researched the popular songs that were played during the period. My favorite decade the 60's...great music for a tumultuous period in our history.

Gene B.

The music in a film enhances and reflects the point of the film really well, as well as conveying the emotions of the characters really well and the point the film is at as well. Plus, it also sets a tone and atmosphere that could be used to dive in into the overall theme of the film in a further, deeper​ manner.

Mia S.

"But I knew that I wanted something that would be kind of at odds with the rhythm of the city in the way it was being depicted. It was Travis' rhythm, you see. That's the thing - I didn't want to use popular music because he didn't listen to music, so it had to come from inside of him, something that was obsessive, that was coiled and sort of ready to strike and explode. It's all happening inside - he doesn't let the outside world in, doesn't let the music in. There is one piece of popular music - 'Too Late for the Sky' - but he's watching television with that, it's coming off the TV. The rest of it is the score, of course. By the time we did 'Last Temptation of Christ,' the score, again, was somewhat experimental, with Peter Gabriel. After that was 'Goodfellas,' which again was popular music, or source music, so to speak. I was very disappointed when I learned as I started to make my first films that playing back music on the set and having the actors talk over it ruins the soundtrack of the actors. But it kept the energy going, an dI figured - 'You could loop some of it.' I didn't want to do that, because I wanted the energy of the actors plus the music. And so over the years, I'm finding ways to try to play with that. Sometimes - and I've done it often - the case for example in 'Goodfellas,' when the last section of 'Layla' is heard, I would play that back on the set to design - for the pace of the camera tracking. And the sense of the whole quality - the spirit of the film at that point. And this helped with the crew, it helped with the actors, and made it something very special. I would do things sometimes and use music that would not be used in the film, but I liked the feeling of it for camera moves, like 'The Lantern' from 'Satanic Majesties Request' by The Stones, playing that back on set sometimes. So primarily though, if I do play back on set, it's in the film, and it creates a great atmosphere on the set"

Mia S.

"By the time I finished 'King of Comedy,' again, there was no traditional score and what I found was through a series of circumstances, I found myself starting all over again in a way. Make movies; and I wound up making an independent film in New York called 'After Hours,' and I found there that that needed a score, and I felt at that point in time, I could experiment with actually working with the new composer. Howard was the one that really began a series of films for me. Howard and I was able then to work with Elmer Bernstein, they were the ones that actually who created the score, which one relates to a straight narrative film. They were the ones who created first for me. When we finally did work with scores, a score like one that Howard Shore did for 'The Departed,' which was an electric guitar, a tango rhythm. They work in counterpoint with the popular songs in the soundtrack, and the tango itself of course has a sense of danger. It becomes a kind of dance of death between these two characters, played by Leo and Matt, leading parallel fall slides and slowly converging. Different kind of example, this was scoring not using a score: the score for 'Shutter Island,' made up of pieces of modernist composers. In that film, I wanted a sense of otherness, of constant intrusions, which sort of echo the inner experience of this character played by Leo DiCaprio. Something that couldn't really have happened with a composer, I felt. Somebody once pointed out, it's almost as if you hear the music seeping through the walls, like coming out of a waking dream. That was the idea; I didn't want one voice, but many different ones - you never knew which voice was going to come at you. We kept going back to the music of Ligeti, which most filmmakers know from Kubrick. And this kind of score also starts with him. This is the opposite of the score for 'Taxi Driver,' where I was lucky enough to work with Bernard Herman. There the music is a singular voice, growing from deep within the tension between Travis and the world around him, the City of New York in the 1970s. When I told people that I wanted to ask Herman to compose a score for 'Taxi Driver' (turned out to be, sadly, his very last score), they weren't quite sure what I was getting at."

Mia S.

"This was not common practice in Hollywood filmmaking; it really started later. But there were certain pictures in which it was a very important factor. For instance, there was use of popular music in the early '30s, but not the actual recordings the way they use now. The entire score - there is no score for this particular film, only popular music - and that was 'The Public Enemy,' the James Cagney, William Wellman film classic, would use the tune 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' as a key element, though it's not the original recordings. But all the music in that film comes from the source. Whether it's a band in a nightclub or a record on a machine, there's no scoring the way we know of it today. And then in the early '60s, it was the great Kenneth Anger film, 'Scorpio Rising,' which was, of course, a revelation to me and many others. Of course that was not a feature film; it's what's termed as an 'avant garde' film, and wasn't made for the general public. When I started to make my own films, the score for that film freed me in a way, and I realized that I would be able to use the music I was growing up with, the music that was around me all the time - whether it was standards, rock and roll, opera, classical, swing, jazz, anything. When I was growing up, I remember loving the music from the Hollywood films. Immediately could tell you if Dimitri Tiomkin did something; I love Miklos Schwartz's music,David Raskin - his scores were extraordinary, especially for 'Force of Evil.' The '50s Elmer Bernstein scores were remarkable, also for the breadth of his work; his first two scores were 'Man with the Golden Arm' and 'The 10 Commandments.' I think it was in the same year. Memorable, and as I used to say, his music inhabits the film in a way. I do love traditional scores, and I did wind up working with many myself, in my own films. But the traditional scores tended to have a uniformity to them - as I said, they were locked into certain thematic codes. Nowadays of course, a different kind of uniformity - pop songs, lyrics, and sometimes they actually just literally echo the emotions of the characters or whatever, and they comment right on the action or ironic comment on the action, which is something else entirely."

Mia S.

"I knew that my movies would not have a proper score. They weren't meant to have that - in a way, they weren't deserving of that, because those films or the pictures that were made up to that time around the world, they were something that were unattainable; they were the guides, they were the something we aspired to. Couldn't really do something like them, even though you try. The kind of films I was making just didn't lend themselves to this kind of thinking. At times, in more negative sometimes terms of Hollywood scores or traditional scores, sometimes they were coded, and the narratives very different. There are different ways of indicating emotions and characters in music and in that tradition, and I was not from that tradition, I felt. The only thing that restricted us to a certain extent was that, at that time, we did not have the budgets to pay for licenses. And so we did want the films to be shown in theaters, if possible, and so that became a bit of a problem in terms of how much we could use, where we could get it, who would allow us to use it, et cetera. For example, the use of Ray Buretto's 'El Watusi' was a pivotal moment for me in trying to shape a film together. In 'Mean Streets' was where it all finally came together, where somehow the producers, all of them somehow found a way to in a very low budget able to pay for licensing music. The scene was designed around that song - all the scenes in the film were designed around those particular pieces of music. We were able to get for the most part some of the licensing done. And so for me, that's how the movies were made. I never thought of making a score, or having a score created for a film at that time. The music that I was using was part of the world in which the characters live - they echo; I would hear them echoing through the hallways, streets, windows, car radios. It was like a physical as well as mental architecture of the world I was trying to create. In a way, the music I chose - very carefully - inspired me for certain scenes and films. They're part of the spiritual life of the characters."

Adonaldo A.

De acuerdo con el maestro Scorsese. La música hace que el film tenga una atmósfera diferente, acentúa las acciones.