A great movie engages all senses, not just sight. The classic indicator of a great movie – that chill creeping down your spine at a crucial moment – is usually caused by a snippet of music punctuating the action on the screen. While moving images possess a power that has captivated audiences for more than a century, music has been a hallmark of the human experience for much, much longer.
The reason why can help explain the importance of music in movie production: because music makes us feel. Inspired, afraid, melancholic, joyful, and not least of all a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves. Not coincidentally, music is an important component of many religions.
What it means to be human
Take the mammoth-bone flute, a European fossil discovered in 2012 that proved Europeans' earliest ancestors were gettin' down with their bad selves over 40,000 years ago. According to the University of Oxford, "The first modern humans in Europe were playing musical instruments…as early as 40,000 years ago." Wherever and whenever there have been human civilizations, there has been music.
There is an elusive quality to music that speaks to deep, dark places of the human psyche like few things can. Which is why encountering a song from your fast-fading glory days, you can instantly recall where you were, who you were with, and what shenanigans you were getting into when you first heard the melody. Like catching the scent of a long-ago lover, music can transport us to another place and time to provide a moment of escapism.
Music's role in movies
And isn't that exactly what movies are trying to accomplish? This marriage of music and movies was meant to be. Imagine watching the climax of your favorite action movie without the adrenalizing score in the background to quicken your pulse and goad your ego into believing that sure, even you could stop that crazed German at the Christmas party. Or what about watching that gut-wrenching scene of two lovers parting for the last time without the swelling of violins to coax along the tears.
This is easily proved with the existence of the Academy Award for best original score, a tangible acknowledgment of the importance and power of music in movies. Can you imagine even one movie without music? Not to mention:
- "Jaws" without the "da-da…da da…"
- "Star Wars" without its epic opening of intergalactic symphony
- "Psycho" without the stuttering screech of that plunging knife
- "Once Upon a Time in the West" without the fluttering flute now so identified with the entire Western genre
- "Wayne's World" without "Bohemian Rhapsody"
And on and on. You get the point.
Packs a punch
Whether a song or a score, whether accompanying an iconic scene or providing ambiance throughout, movies without music would lose much of their emotional impact – and we would lose a chance to fulfill a desire that has persisted for more than 40,000 years: to connect in an instinctual and primal way with our own humanity, and with what it means to be human. Thank God for "Bohemian Rhapsody."