‘Score: A Film Music Documentary’ reviewed

Score is a joy for music nerds and a must for movie fans, writes Kara Dennison.

Movie scores are an ironic beast, in that we seem to simultaneously notice them hugely and not pay them a bit of mind. We may put the major themes to Pacific Rim and Pirates of the Caribbean on our workout playlist, and the next day find ourselves in tears over a scene thanks primarily to its score. And it’s this simultaneous awareness and unawareness that makes Matt Schrader’s Score not only a joy to watch, but also essential viewing for any film fan.

Schrader left behind his career as an investigative journalist to pour his heart and soul into this documentary, and it shows. Score is potentially one of the most complete documentations of film music as an art form, covering its history, its evolution, a goodly number of its important figures, and the science and psychology that make it tick.

Taking on this degree of material means that a documentary has two choices: stretch its format to the breaking point, or play fast and loose with the format. Score errs on the side of the latter, with the pretense of a timeline that veers off onto occasional tangents. It lends the film an almost conversational tone – like friends dropping in on a conversation to add their own experiences. For someone in search of a scholarly study, this occasional break in structure may not fit the bill, despite the wealth of information present. But for a fan in love with music and film, it’s like being in a pub snug with all your favorite composers and several hours to kill.

There is a timeline, granted – we start with the early days of silent film, accented by Wurlitzers and chimes. We shift into King Kong, and how the score brought emotion to kitschy visuals. And the documentary gives us a steady stream of touchstones to remind us of when the form evolved, and who was behind each step of progress. The moments spared for Star Trek and Planet of the Apes composer Jerry Goldsmith were especially welcome, tracing the experimental spin he brought to 1960s films.

For better or for worse, a major section of the piece is dedicated to usual suspect John Williams. His contribution to the art form is, well, undeniable. But at the same time, these contributions are already well and widely documented. His presence in Score isn’t unwelcome in the slightest, but with spots on Elfman, Morricone, and the aforementioned Goldsmith clocking in far shorter, devoting this much time to Williams seems a bit shortsighted. Especially when much of his coverage consists of reminding us how great the Star Wars and Indiana Jones soundtracks are.

That is, however, balanced out to some degree by the more personal moments of the documentary, allowing less name-checked composers to step into the spotlight briefly. We get to see Manchurian Candidate composer Rachel Portman as she scores a scene from Race at her piano. We follow The Avengers: Age of Ultron composer Brian Tyler as he shares his habit of spying on moviegoers to see if his soundtracks have affected them. And we follow multiple other modern composers as they talk frankly about the strangeness of their career – from deadlines to personal script interpretations.

Overall, Score is a joy for music nerds and a must for movie fans. It was a shame to see some focus pulled from deserving topics, but the fact that they were addressed at all is a wonder in and of itself. It may not be the catch-all primer it hoped to be, but it’s still a worthy addition to any fan’s library.


 Score: A Film Music Documentary’ was released on DVD and VOD, complete with a slew of special features on 2 April 2018 from Dogwoof. Rent or Buy  from Amazon Prime Video. 

❉ Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, interviewer, and over-analyser of geek entertainment. She can currently be read in Stranger Tales of the City from Obverse Books. Find more of her work at karadennison.com or on her Twitter @RubyCosmos.

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