Friday, October 1, 2010

Irony in Film Music

When I first heard about "The Facebook Movie," I must admit I was skeptical.  Sure I've loved most of David Fincher's movies and often imagine myself speaking Aaron Sorkin's dialogue when I'm teaching, but a movie about Facebook?  Come on.

Then I saw this trailer:

Do you know why this trailer works?  It's the music.  The images are nothing special in and of themselves - the standard teaser images we are used to seeing.  But notice how the music works with the images.

The song sung by the choir, "Creep," was originally recorded by Radiohead in the early 1990s (you can hear it here if you are not familiar with it.)  As much of Radiohead's early material, "Creep" feature a hard driving, heavy guitar sound, the opposite of what you hear in the trailer.  The lyrics basically describe a man obsessed with a woman who cannot figure out how to talk to her and sees himself as he believes she sees him:
"But I'm a creep,
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doin' here?
I don't belong here."
Musically, this obsession plays out in the relentless modal ostinato that rocks between the tonic, sharp 3rd, and 4th scale degrees.  Even the intrusion of power chords around the chorus do nothing to stop the driving nature of that harmonic figure.

If the trailer's designers had decided to use Radiohead's version of "Creep," the impact would have been similar, but muted.  By using the Scala & Kolacny Brothers Bulgarian girls chorus version from the album "On the Rocks" instead, they highlighted one of the most marvelous things music can bring to an image that moving pictures have a hard time creating on their own - irony.  We are used to seeing how music can work with an image, but sometimes it is more effective to have the sounds consciously go against the image.

For instance, the trailer opens with images taken from Facebook user profiles while the choir sings about wanting control and a perfect body and wanting people to notice us (all matching the images we are seeing).  Because of cultural conditioning, we hear the resonant girls' voices and simple keyboard accompaniment as heavenly or other worldly - as though we were getting an outside comment on our current cultural condition.  But then, just as the chorus begins to kick in with "I wish I was special," the face of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pixilates into view and we slide into a traditional trailer.  At this point, the music falls down in the mix and instead of working with the images, creeps toward irony.  As we see a young man create a transformative website and have the standard movie-issued problems that are associated with success (jealously, mis-understanding, rivalry, sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll), we hear the choir sing that he is a creep.  We accept the sounds which seem to float above the images as truthful and when we should be admiring the self-made man, we begin to question him.  Then notice where the music stops - as Zuckerberg asks for recognition.  The choir returns with one final comment - " I don't belong here" - a thought that contradicts the trailer's written message of having 500 million friends.  The images, lyrics, and sounds all work together to create an additional layer of meaning to the trailer that at once distances us and makes us want to see the film.  It is a masterful use of music, and I only hope the film's music is as smart as its trailer's.


mistyg said...

I thought the use of this song was brilliant as well but didn't have the music background to explain why it worked so well for me. Thanks!

Jaime Olson said...

Andrew, I think you are a genius. I don't know anything about music theory and I don't really care... except when you are talking about it. You make it accessible and understandable and while I could never relate your thoughts in my own words, I understand what you are saying. !!!!
This is obviously an invaluable trait to have as a music professor but I keep thinking about the underlying cause. The things you love become lovable to others just by the way you present them - you imbue your interests with an attractive quality so that others are interested too. I have seen God use this gift in you for His Kingdom and I can only imagine how effectively He can work through you for His purposes. It's super cool.
We're extremely proud of you!

Andrew said...

Thanks for the love, guys. I actually wrote this out because I want to use it in my film music class and wanted to get my thoughts about it down before I forgot. You'll see I occasionally put lectures together here like this, so I'm glad it all makes sense.

Mary Ann said...

I loved this entry, I never thought about it that way! But now that you explained it, it makes perfect sense. I miss your class by the way. It was always very interesting and I never left without learning something new and exciting!

P.S. The Facebook movie is fantastic, so you should go see it if you can. It's one of the best movies I've seen all year. Inception was the other movie, which if you haven't seen it, it's a must-see. The music in it was so daunting I heard it in my sleep, not to mention the movie forced an out of body experience on me for the rest of the day.

laura gayle said...

Excellent analysis -- spot on, IMHO.

Which makes me ask: who put this trailer together? How conscious were they of the timing -- they HAD to have been, I would think. And then again...

Andrew said...

Generally, movie marketing people put trailers together, which is why you see the same music used over and over and over. I'd like to know what firm put this one together and if the director had input, because they sometimes do.