Film Review: ‘Score: A Film Music Documentary’ Is a Nostalgic Delight

Think of your favorite films. Now imagine them without music. For movie fans all over the world, this is a near impossible task. And yet, film music is often taken for granted, as we more often heap praise on the visuals, story, and direction. In “Score: A Film Music Documentary,” however, director Matt Schrader puts a necessary spotlight on the contribution of composers to the popularity of cinema, in this wonderful look at the world of film music.

Indeed, music has played an integral part in film production since the earliest years of the art form. As the documentary reminds us, even the movies of the silent era were never fully silent. In fact, those first films used music for functional purposes (i.e. to cover up the noise from the projector), rather than the more artistic usage in contemporary cinema. From those modest beginnings, “Score: A Film Music Documentary” traces the evolution of film music, showing how shifting tastes and trends impacted the sound of our most beloved films. Along the way, it introduces us to the people behind these melodies and rhythms. And through this crash course on film music, these composers emerge as the literal and metaphorical rock stars of the film industry.

From Alfred Newman to Hans Zimmer, “Score: A Film Music Documentary” puts a welcome human face on those iconic notes. And with a combination of select film clips, interviews, and behind the scenes footage, we’re taken on an engrossing musical journey. With an almost geeky curiosity, Schrader guides us through the cultural changes that impacted the music (and vice versa), the physiological and emotional effects, and the techniques behind composing. The latter is especially fascinating, as the film demonstrates the wide range of approaches used to develop the perfect score. In doing so, Schrader displays a genuine interest in these talented artists, giving us intimate insight into their personalities and unique skills.

In this regard, the highlight of the film is undoubtedly the segment dedicated to John Williams. Certainly the most famous of all film composers, it’s truly staggering to be reminded of the numerous iconic scores he has produced. Looking at clips and listening to themes from “E.T. the Extra-terrestrial,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and many more, is sure to elicit feelings of euphoric nostalgia. Indeed, the music term “encore” comes to mind when Williams discusses his groundbreaking work on “Jaws,” as the rewatchability of Spielberg’s blockbusters owes a lot to Williams’ music.

Schrader could have easily made this film purely about John Williams and his contribution to cinema. As scholars and peers alike wax lyrical about his genius, it’s clear that he is revered as a god among men. But in further expanding the film’s scope to celebrate the other game-changers and delving into the film history and theory behind the music, Schrader crafts a delightful treat for movie fans. By the end of this documentary, there’s no denying that composers possess many of the same skills as directors, actors, and screenwriters. They are instrumental in setting the tone, conveying emotion, and telling the story. Though Schrader’s conventional directing style may not be as innovative as the composers he showcases, “Score: A Film Music Documentary” honors them with the adoring tribute they deserve.

“Score: A Film Music Documentary” opens in select theaters June 16.

GRADE: (★★★)