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Sound of Cinema: the Music that Made the Movies

Thu Sep 12, 9-10pm, BBC4

Episode one
The thunderous crash that announces ‘Star Wars’, the wonky zither of ‘The Third Man’, the eternal dread of underwater cellos in ‘Jaws’… modern audiences take it for granted that the soundtrack is an integral part of the filmic experience. But as this first of three programmes investigating the role of music in cinema reminds us, it wasn’t always the case.

Concentrating mainly on orchestral music (forthcoming episodes cover pop/jazz and electronic noodling), composer Neil Brand takes us back to the silent era to chart the rise of the movie music from live accompaniment to the first full-length film with prerecorded soundtrack for 1926’s ‘Don Juan’ to the subtleties of Max Steiner’s score for the original ‘King Kong’ in 1933.

Things get a little more up to date with the modernist-influenced, postwar ambiguities of film noir sounds of ‘Double Indemnity’ and the woozy, knife-edge sumptuousness of ‘Vertigo’ and the work of John Williams. Vangelis, Hans Zimmer and – but, of course – Martin Scorsese add their thoughts, but this episode mainly forgoes the talking heads in favour of a straight-up history lesson which can tend to get a little fusty.

Brand is a game guide, but not everyone is going to be entirely gripped by the sight of him swooning over the actual baton used to conduct the music for 1938’s ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’. A necessary and very decent scene-setter, but hopefully later episodes will prove a little more energetic.