A good film score, for the most part, knows to speak only when spoken to, to leave necessary space, fill in enough gaps. It reveals what may not be so clear in the film’s narrative, substitutes for missing emotions or ideas. Mica Levi’s score to the 2013 sci-fi piece Under The Skin is a prime example of this – it sounds like a collection of long-lost alien love songs, a Martian answer to Hank Williams. Given that the central character is distant from the audience (literally an entire other species) the score gives us an ‘in’ into her world, with throbbing, pitched-up drone-like synths, the sounds of pure heartbreak. This is a similar case for Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood (2007) score – Greenwood delivers not so much ‘music’, as a series of primal, aggressive sounds trapped inside an oppressive box. The score mirrors the film’s claustrophobic superstition alongside strong visuals of mammoth oil rigs and newly built churches with paper thin walls.
Of course, when it comes to my favourite film genre – Bollywood – music is hardly an understated affair. Music in Bollywood is not so much set up in scores, rather the songs become characters themselves, with important lines/lyrics, dances/actions. The 1995 Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (incidentally one of the best films of all time) introduces a dancing Simran with the joyous song ‘Mere Khwabon Mein’, without which we would simply not understand the carefree, ecstatic youth of her character. Similarly, ‘Maar Dala’ in Devdas (2002) is a piece wherein Chandramukhi laments her broken heart with an overwhelmingly bittersweet song alongside all her fellow courtesans. This scene, as with so many Bollywood scenes, reflects more widely how music in film transcends beyond the purely visual or purely sonic – finding ways to tell a story that is unspoken, non-narrative, and beautifully effective.