Corporate Classicism and the Metaphysical Style: Affects, Effects and Contexts of Two Recent Trends in Screen Scoring

Reyland, Nicholas (2015) Corporate Classicism and the Metaphysical Style: Affects, Effects and Contexts of Two Recent Trends in Screen Scoring. Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, 9 (2). pp. 115-130.

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In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), the great detective goes to the opera. Don Giovanni is playing – but not as we know it. Moriarty has deceived Holmes into deducing that his nemesis has placed a bomb inside the base of the Commendatore’s statue. When Holmes breaks into the prop from beneath the stage, he discovers that he has been misdirected: the explosion will happen elsewhere. To suggest that the scene lacks detonations, however, would be to ignore Hans Zimmer’s contribution, composed in collaboration with his Remote Control colleagues Lorne Balfe, Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis. As Holmes experiences his moment of recognition, Mozart is exploding all around him. To say ‘explodes’ in this context might suggest a terrorist act, or a musical murder, and lead one into a recitation of tired tropes concerning the co-option of high art by mass culture. Of greater interest in the context of the present essay are the affective intensities generated by this sequence. The Commendatore scene in Don Giovanni already delivers one of the more sublime shocks in opera, but to compete with the battery of audio-visual effects and punch its weight in the context of the hyperbolic Holmes universe created by director Guy Ritchie and co-workers for this Warner Brothers franchise, merely dropping Mozart into the mix would have led to a problematic dip in intensity. Mozart, as such, needs to gain some extra musical muscle. As Holmes, Watson and Sim race to the opera, a portentous minor mode horn call, scored low for heavy brass, sounds against a string and drum ostinato. Briefly – giddily, delightfully – the key shifts down a major third and into a passage from Mozart’s scoring of the build-up to the Commendatore’s manifestation, replete with shots from within the opera house of the onstage action, before cutting back behind the scenes and to Remote Control’s cue. This switchback is not the only way in which the fabric of the narrative discourse intensifies or warps. Meta-diegetic imagery interrupts the action, evoking Holmes’s problem-solving genius, with the cuts into and out of these ‘visions’ marked by non-diegetic accentuations from the sound designer. Temporality becomes even more fluid when a sinister smoking character – one of Moriarty’s gang – observes Holmes and team heading backstage. The villain’s drag on his cigarette is sonically sweetened by a sizzling effect and underscored with a dissonant cluster and glissando; the glissando’s stretching of pitch exaggerates the impression of time drifting, while cueing unease. When Holmes realizes that he has been deceived, the shot of his face (glimpsed through the ‘O’ of ‘Imperatore’ on the statue base) actually flexes, as if filmic representation itself is buckling in response to Moriarty’s manipulations. In this context, then, it comes as no surprise, as the Commendatore begins to sing, to hear that Mozart has been manipulated too. Scoring and mixing retool the original opera music, rendering it fitter for contemporary cinematic purposes in both subtle and more obvious ways. These add undeniable dramatic heft to the sequence – not least by inducing the contrast between this ‘Mozart’ and the earlier snippet of opera. One can also note the following features: the music’s bass end feels immense; voice and accompaniment are close miked and punchy; reverberation unrelated to the opera house’s architecture inflates one’s impression of the music’s acousmatic and symbolic might; hammer blows of percussion help marshal the dramatic and musical rhythms into an appropriately epic expressive register. Mozart’s music, pumped up to deliver scene-specific jolts of affect, thus becomes an unlikely contributor to one of the dominant modes of mainstream screen scoring in the early twenty-first century: corporate classicism.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Depositing User: Thomas Wise
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2021 16:01
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2021 16:01

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