A Theory of Film Music

In September 2016, Every Frame A Painting posted a video essay dedicated to the film music of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the video, Brian Satterwhite,  Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou compare the scores for Marvel superhero movies to “the airconditioner in the background” that you forget about after a while. The Marvel Symphonic Universe is a great piece of videographic journalism, using various tried and tested techniques that we know from television but rarely appear in video essays, such as street interviews. In addition, it includes some impressive research to unearth blockbusters that have sound-alike scores to previous successful movies. In general, it is a powerful piece that convincingly faults Marvel for the blandness of their music.


Within a couple of days however, film lecturer Dan Golding posted a reply. That response also came in the form of a video, effectively setting up an audiovisual conversation of sorts. A Theory of Film Music is arguably an even better piece. Golding puts Marvel’s musical practice in a wider historical perspective, arguing that “film music is an embrace of rampant unoriginality” and that originality is, if not entirely beside the point, certainly the wrong criterium to use when judging film music. His video essay takes Zhou’s as a starting point, but then develops into a veritable theory of film music, incorporating both the thinking of Adorno and technological advances in composing.