How much can changing the music in a movie scene change the scene itself? A new contest challenges people to use the same piece of music over any movie clip they can think of.
Recently, actress Kim Novak had the experience of encountering Bernard Herrmann's iconic score from "Vertigo," the movie she starred in more than 50 years ago, in an unexpected place -- another movie.
"I want to report a rape. My body of work has been violated by 'The Artist,'" Novak wrote in a press release. "This film took the love theme music from 'Vertigo' and used the emotions it engenders as its own. Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart can't speak for themselves, but I can. It was our work that unconsciously or consciously evoked the memories and feelings to the audience that were used for the climax of 'The Artist.'"
Them be fighting words! Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"'s director, responded simply, saying, "I love Bernard Hermann and his music has been used in many different films and I'm very pleased to have it in mine."
Hazanavicius isn't the first director to turn to Herrmann. Apart from Herrmann's original scores for specific films, and his general influence on the style and usage of movie music, Herrmann's music has appeared in everything from "Kill Bill" to Lady Gaga's video for the prologue to "Born This Way." And, despite Novak's objection, it's worth keeping in mind that Herrmann engaged in some borrowing of his own for "Vertigo," citing and adapting phrases from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" for his score.
Over at IndieWire's blog, "Press Play," in the same copy-and-paste spirit, film editor Kevin Lee decided to take Novak's complaint and run with it. Lee matched up Hermann's "Vertigo" cue from "The Artist" with the final few moments of "Star Wars: A New Hope." The result confirmed that Hermann's score "is so passionate and powerful that it can elevate an already good scene -- and a familiar one at that -- to a higher plane of expression."
"A New Hope," as scored by Bernard Herrmann
Naturally, the only thing to do was to keep Vertigo-ing more movies. Trying out scenes from "Rocky" and "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" further demonstrated the versatility of Hermann's music, creating sequences that seemed "deeper, subtler and more haunting, solely because of Herrmann's music."
Rather than have all the fun themselves, Press Play announced "Vertigoed: A Press Play mash-up Contest," inviting readers to try their hand at Vertigo-ing any movie clips they want to. The rules of the contest, which ends January 20 at 5 PM eastern, are simple. Using Hermann's "Scene D'Amour," entrants pick any clip from any film and use the Hermann to score it -- without editing the original clip at all.
As IndieWire observed in the early stages of the experiment, a peculiar alchemical reaction occurs when Herrmann's score is grafted onto scenes that seem at first, totally unsuited for such music. Herrmann's composition, with its swelling orchestration, lushly plaintive melody, and dramatic sense of foreboding, like many great scores, seems to be imprinted with its own narrative.
Of course, it works better with some movies than with others. We took a look at some of the entries so far to explore the variety of the music's result on the films. Watch below:
In some videos from the contest, the music's narrative perfectly complements that of the movie in question, as in this grave, moving clip from the finale of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."
Not every movie concerns itself with such gravitas, however. In this impeccably timed scene from "Mean Girls," the soaring drama of the "Vertigo" score turns the movie's black comedy slightly more satirical.
In some cases, Herrmann's music transforms the movie completely. Here's the opening of Disney's "The Lion King," which is usually set to the rousing jam "Circle of Life." Replacing the tribal drumming and power vocals with Herrmann strips the scene of its vigorously earthy life-affirming quality. As the animals stride in packs across the desert, it's almost eerie -- and when Simba is raised above the cliff, it feels less like celebration than some bizarre anointment ceremony.
It's not just emotional consonance that makes for a good Vertigoed clip. Because of the contest's stipulation that scenes cannot be edited, naturally, some hew closer to the pace of Herrmann's piece than others, a few even to the point of near-unbelievable synchronization. Consider these two very different clips from "The Jetsons" and David Fincher's recent "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Both were originally set to music ("The Jetsons" theme, and Trent Reznor and Karen O's cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," respectively), and, watching the Vertigoed "Dragon Tattoo" clip, you can see that "Immigrant Song" has a much faster beat than "Scene D'amour."
Now watch "The Jetsons," which syncs up well with Herrmann's music, lending the title sequence a weird loneliness as George zips through space, shooting his family out of the ship, one by one: