Sounds of cinema

In Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 film "Psycho" is a scene where Janet Leigh, the film's female lead, steps into the shower of a low-rent hotel room. As she bathes, a shadowy figure steps inside, opens the shower curtain and repeatedly slashes Leigh with a butcher knife.

While the violence of the scene is eerie and visceral, what has truly helped retain this moment in the minds of film viewers are the screeching violins that crescendo as Leigh meets her gruesome fate. The "Psycho" score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a film composer who also wrote the music for classic cinema such as "Citizen Kane," "Vertigo" and "Taxi Driver."

"Psycho" is just one example of how important music is to make a film not only work but stay in the memory. John Williams, world famous film composer known for his music for "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park," would later reference the "Psycho" score with his scratchy but fearful strings in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws."

"Movies are made to tell stories, and the score of a movie is a fundamental part of storytelling that manages to provoke emotion by applying to the sense of hearing," said Santa Monica College student and filmmaker Ronja Jansz, who has just completed her first major short film "Annabel Lee" as part of a short film directing class at SMC.

Music for a film can either be gargantuan or small, with a mood expressed in just one note.

Recently in the entertainment journal FirstShowing, Darren Aronofsky, director of "Black Swan," announced he would team up again with composer Clint Mansell for the upcoming movie "Noah."

"He's able to boil down the thematic of a film into a melody into two or three notes," Aronofsky said in the journal. "He captures the whole essence of a film in two or three notes."

The film soundtrack has evolved since the days of "Psycho." It has branched out into every facet of modern music from top 40 hits to new age. Many soundtracks have made the Billboard charts and become bestseller hits.

Soundtracks have a unique way of capturing the spirit of the times. In the 1960s, soundtracks for films such as "The Graduate" and "Bonnie & Clyde" became Billboard bestsellers thanks to artists like Simon & Garfunkel, whose "Mrs. Robinson" became a defining song in a decade of youthful energy and change.

In the 1970s, "Star Wars" inaugurated the era of the big, popular blockbuster score, which other composers have tried to imitate, such as David Arnold in his score for the 1996 sci-fi smash "Independence Day" and Michael Giacchino, whose recent scores for 2009's "Star Trek" and this year's "Star Trek into Darkness" continue the sound of a big, symphonic space opera.

In the 1980s and 1990s, soundtracks went through a change as modern pop music evolved through the introduction of electronic compositions.

The "Top Gun" soundtrack song “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin became just as popular as the Tom Cruise-starring action flick about fighter pilots and their love lives, becoming a number-one smash hit on the Billboard charts.

Well into the 1990s, soundtracks helped create some of the defining songs of the decade, ranging from Elton John's "The Circle of Life" for Disney's "The Lion King" to "My Heart Will Go On" from James Cameron's record-breaker “Titanic.” Composed by James Horner, “Titanic's” soundtrack earned him the Oscar and became the top selling single of 1998, as recorded by Billboard.

Hip-hop also became a soundtrack force when the genre started topping the Billboard charts in the 1980s and 1990s with artists like Public Enemy and Coolio producing songs like "Fight the Power" for "Do the Right Thing" and "Gangsta's Paradise" for "Dangerous Minds."

With the emergence of iTunes, soundtracks have not been as chart-topping. This month's Billboard numbers have not had a soundtrack in the top 10. But instrumental scores are still garnering attention. This year for example, the atmospheric, electronic score by Stephen Price for Alfonso Cuaron's space thriller "Gravity" became a bestselling soundtrack on Amazon's chart designated for the soundtrack genre.

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