January 12, 2011

The Best Film Music Score Ever

Music scores and sound design have the power to make a good film great. 

Hands down, the best score ever is Bill Lee's music in Do the Right Thing. What a great work. He closely quotes the style of Aaron Copland—those grand symphonic overtures that filled the wide open American landscapes in so many classic westerns. Aaron Copland composed music that was at once majestic, patriotic, and yet sings with a kind of humbleness that belies a deeply personal, modest and hopeful kind of Americanness. Copland's music graced the 1939 film version of Of Mice and Men and the sage production of Billy the Kid. His work Fanfare for the Common Man became the most popular symphony of the 20th century.

Listen to the music at the start of the following clip. Also as Spike Lee's character, Mookie, leaves his tenement apartment (0:40) and as Da Mayor talks to one of the neighbors (5:22):


Bill Lee's score for Do the Right Thing makes subtle references to Copland's works, moving through occasional Hip Hop tracks and Jazz riffs. The end effect is an epic excellent character-driven film about a scorching hot summer day in a Brooklyn neighborhood that layers daily life with race relations, liberty, cultural conflict and the proximity of these themes to the heart of American identity.

Bill Lee's film score symbolically shifts the American frontier from the mythical landscapes of Western movies to the present neighborhoods of inner city America. The shift is so profound that after watching Do the Right Thing, you end up seeing Westerns in a whole new light. Now that's powerful music.

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