The more I teach the film music analysis in AMus course, the more I find student’s poor English in their answers of the paper question. Undoubtedly, the standard of English of the present Hong Kong students is increasingly worse than the previous generations. Perhaps, this is why I use one of the questions in the past paper as the issue to write the following essay. This writing is not a model answer but an essay, reflecting my viewpoints on the use of leit motives in two scenes of the Lord of the Ring II. As such, it is good for students to treat this essay as a reference, rather than a model answer for the examination.
Firstly, I would like to introduce part of a student’s writing for the Novemeber 2011 AMus Examination question. Readers can grasp a rough idea of the English standard of the present university student.
One of a remarkable example of “Music against action” can be found in the scene about “Treat to Hornburg”. The scene is about the Rohan army could not keep the enemy outside Helm’s deep, and retreating to the keep, enemies were everywhere, Haldir was ambushed while protecting his last retreating troops. The scene slowed down when Haldir took the first hit. Then the camera changed to his Point of view in slow motion while he fell and looking at his dead fellow, suggesting his own death. There was no music in the battle, building up an agitating feel for audience due to they won’t know what to expect. The enlogy of medieval solo female singing came in when Haldir receive the lethal hit, mourning the lamentation of Haldir. The enlogy was sing in recitative style, including melisma, along with the slow tempo to support the slow motion shot, expressing the endless sorrow which deeply interlock audience’s heart. Music against action is widely used in expressing death, for example, in the Hong Kong movie “Internal affair 1in the scene of Anothny Wong felling from the roof of the building to a car, Tony Leung was shocked and the enlogy sang by solo female in medieval style representing his inner emotion. The used melody and style is alluding to funeral music, telling audience the death of Anthony Wong is a huge impact to Tony Leung as his true identity will never be recover.
“Music is and always must be a vital part of film art.”
Discuss this statement. (AMusTCL Nov. 2011)
Music is an inseparable part of film art. If there is only dialogue in the film, audiences may understand the story, but may not be able to experience the drama of the plots, or to grasp the true meaning behind. In addition, music can create a proper atmosphere, which cannot be expressed by the characters’ dialogues alone, in accordance with the scene. As such, music is a useful tool to equip audience to prepare for, as it were, anticipating and experiencing the enchantments created from the particular scene, and even to share part in this fantastic imagined world. This is how a successful film penetrates into the deepest side of the audiences’ hearts, stirring up their emotions. If music is absent from the moving images, the film art is said to be incomplete.
For example, in the scene of the “Riders of Rohan” of The Lord of the Ring II, the leit motive of ‘fellowship bond’, which is a recurring melodic unit functioning to represent the union fellowship formed by Aragon, Lagolas, and Gimili, is used to act not only as an essential coherent element to the series of similar battle related scenes (fighting in battlefields), but also as a sparkling catalyst aiming to stirring up the audiences’ emotional response to the fellowship union’s courageous, yet heroic spirits shown in the times of danger. In this scene, our three heroes attempt to rescue the two hobbits, Merry and Pippin, from the custody of the fierce Uruk-hal, a brutal mob of half-beast, half-man. They chase the enemy behind, climbing up the steep mountains and hills, running across the ample plains and rivers. Facing hundreds and thousands of wild beast barbarians without fearing to put their lives in jeopardy, our three heroes show incredible valor and boldness that above any ordinary man can possess. At this very moment, audiences never fail to be caught up in the series of escalating crisis under the sonic support of the leit motive, which establishes the overall mood of the bravery, yet daring, of our heroes’ fearlessness of death, filling up every theatrical spaces.
To the more or less, the magic power of the ‘fellowship bond” motive is originated from its complex mixture of multifarious timbres. It is created by the usual battlefield timbres of horns and trumpets (horn call), sometimes going along with the wordless choir (vowels only) singing in an unusual style under the ageis of agitated strings in the background.This strange timbre, with a little exotic, is heard as if coming from a pious religious music such as the Mass or Passion. The effect is that the music sounds somewhat like a narrator occasionally dramatizing the heroic story to the audiences. The diffusive ‘distant’ sonority not only creates to audiences a sense of ‘being alienated’, but also seem to force them to wander off from the reality to the imagined world of the scenario, fighting together with the three heroes, sharing their tears, their laughter, their exultation, their anxiety, and even their desperation. Whenever our heroes face the similar predicaments, this overwhelming leit motive (fellowship bond) never fails to linger unnoticeably. Try to imagine, if the film is absent from the support of music, not only every dramatic battle may become mundane, but also every related scenarios may lose the coherence. Conceivably, audience will hardly follow up the story-line and feel indifferent to the dramas.
Another exemplar of using leit motive to replace the dialogues of the characters, bringing a full meaning of the scene to audience, is in the final scene of Ring II. The motive is a pastoral style folk tune played with shepherd pan-flute, half improvisatory, half cantabile, floating above the tender strings, which is firstly heard in the Lord of the Ring I – The Fellowship of the Ring. In the beginning scene, while Frodo (hobbit) is sitting on the greenish meadow and reading book pleasantly, this haunting “Frodo Fellowship” motive appears and disperses an aura of serenity, so placid, so peaceful. However, the peacefulness of Frodo, all human of Middle Earth in particular, is not lasting long, since all creatures in the Middle Earth are doomed to face the coming greatest tribulation. Frodo, though unwillingly, is forced to bear the seemingly impossible mission—destroying the evil ring by throwing it into the Mount of Mordor. He starts his journey with his full companions, fights side by side with them, and even watches one of them dead. In the final scene of Ring I, Frodo intends to leave Sam and takes the boat to set off the mission alone, for the purpose of avoiding the further blood shedding of his faithful friends. However, without giving up his companion, Sam, even though he cannot swim, struggles to follow Frodo. Before sinking down to the river bed, Frodo rescues Sam to the boat. Replete with all hearty thanks, even tears, Frodo gazes at Sam wordlessly. All dialogues become excessive at this very touching , yet placid moment. The serene “Frodo Fellowship” pan-flute folk tune recurs, expressing the profound affection of both Frodo and Sam, recalling audience of their unshakable friendship. Without music, audience may understand the story but will hardly be moved.
Similar use of this “Frodo Fellowship” motive can be found in The Lord of the Ring II when the scene is describing Frodo’s deep affection of his intimate fellow companions, Sam in particular, and the remembrance of his lovely homeland. As we have pointed out in the previous discussion, the re-appearance of the “Frodo fellowship” leit motive in the final scene is remarkable among all other occasions. Here, Frodo is eager to give up his mission because he feels that he is too small, too weak, too fragile to accomplish the formidable mission, especially at the time he almost loses his life after the Night-rider’s attack. Sam, the faithful servant as well as the true friend, genuinely encourages Frodo to face boldly all daunting challenges and menaces that lie ahead, and to carry on this seemingly unfeasible, but meaningful mission. Sam uses the continual existence of the great heroes in all great tales as the illustration to reason with Frodo. He emphasizes that those heroes, in the history, might have chance to turn back but they did not. The reason is that they are holding on something worthy of fighting for. When Frodo asks Sam what this is, Sam gazes tenderly at Frodo without giving a single word. Again, the recurring leit motive functions amazingly as it did in Ring I. To audiences, the answer is clear, albeit without any verbal expression. The comforting, yet peaceful, pan-flute folk tune (Frodo Fellowship motive) seems to undertone that the ‘thing’ worth fighting for is the precious brotherly affection among Frodo and his fellowship companions, and of course, the deep love of his homeland – Shire. In this very moment, music speaks of all things.
From the above discussion, it is clear that music is a vital part of film art. Numerous examples can demonstrate this. Music is the spirit whereas the film story is the body. Music is capable of expressing all meanings, replacing the function of dialogues in the most important moment. Furthermore, the recurring leit motive enhancesthe coherence of the story line, connecting each similar scene, and preparing an atmosphere for the audience ready to immerse into the movie world. This is how the effective film music works, evoking audiences’ emotionsand touch the deepest side of their hearts. As such, music never fails to add immeasurable artistic value to the film, always completing film as a form of art to the fullest.
David Leung (theorydavid)2013-03-08 (Published)