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Film Music / Study 1

How much does music add to the emotional quality of a scene and how much can it detract from it? Observational studies of which music has worked and which music has not worked can be done by looking at reviews, journals, and memoirs during the silent film era.

These films are our "purest" sample, as silent films were accompanied by music only. Max Winkler recalled that "[m]ore and more musical mishaps began to turn drama and tragedy on the screen into farce and disaster" (Winkler, 1974).

Dimitri Tiomkin states that music "has come to be one of the means of story-telling. It is easy to prove this. Just try to transplant any picture's musical score to similar scenes in another picture. You will find that the transplantation doesn't live" (Tiomkin, 1974).

Tiomkin's suggestion is easy to implement in a laboratory experiment which could involve showing the famous battle scene from Laurence Olivier's Henry V to viewers. In such a study, the feelings, body posture, facial expressions, and/or level of arousal should be recorded for one group of subjects.

In a second group, the same scene would be presented without music while a third group would see the same scene with music, such as jazz, that does not fit the mood of the scene.

After listening to the score without the visual, a fourth group would be asked to write down what kind of scene the music might portray. A fifth group should listen to music which has been taken from Kenneth Branagh's Henry V.

Although Branagh and Olivier work from the same source, their approach to the scene is quite different. Can we successfully switch the scores without damaging the original artistic intent of each film?

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