An Integral Approach to Film Music Criticism
Among contemporary film music critics there are two standard approaches: (1) the album review, making an evaluation of the intrinsic musical value based on the soundtrack, and (2) the film score review, evaluating music within the context of the film. There is precedent for the album review. It creates a demand for enthusiasts interested in listening to music outside of the film for which it was written, and it facilitates a practicality among critics unable to view every film they review. The independent nature of an album review also circumvents the problem of spoilers insofar as the track titles do not give away plot details, but it is here that the virtues of the album review are unable to exceed further expectations. Album reviews fail to address the axiomatic context in which the music is performed and for which it was written; the film. It is not through a presentation of programmatic music that film music is exposed to the public for mass consumption but through the medium of film, a greater context by which film music enthusiasts are the minority. In neglecting this inherent condition film music critics dismiss any opportunity to understand the decisions that informed the composition process and consequently waive any possibility of providing proper feedback. The merits of a film score may be musical rather than functional, this is true. But it is not in the nature of film music to exist qua music due to the functions which limit its potential. Evaluating film music is not about examining the music separate from its visual context, but rather the interaction between the two. This does not necessitate a meticulous account of the precise cine-musical relationship experienced in film, but a review should take into account why the music was written and the narrative or dramatic function(s) it serves. To put it simply, the album review is a blind review, invariably promoting industrialized art and radiating ill-equipped judgments on the composer. We would not review an actor or a cinematographer separate from a film, so why are we treating music differently?