Insightful ‘Score’ profiles the people making music for the movies

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Harry Gregson Williams is one of the composers celebrated in “Score.” | Gravitas Ventures

The next time you’re flipping around with the remote and you come across the opening scene in “Jaws,” when the girl goes skinny-dipping on the beach and feels a tug from below …

Or the scene in “E.T.” where the bicycling boys elevate above the police blockade and fly through the sky, profiled against the setting sun …

Or the moment in “Psycho” when Norman Bates pulls back that shower curtain and starts hacking away …

Hit “mute.” Lose the music. Experience how much of the dramatic power is drained from the moment.

Matt Schrader’s documentary “Score: A Film Music Documentary” is a celebration of the artists who create the musical heartbeat of the movies we love, from “Star Wars” to “Rocky,” from the James Bond movies to Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns, from “Superman” to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Through conversations with filmmakers and composers, archival footage of old interviews and of course a liberal dose of clips, Schrader celebrates the invaluable contributions of the greats, including Bernard Herrmann (“The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Psycho,” “Vertigo”), Alex North (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Spartacus”), Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King,” “Gladiator,” the “Dark Knight” trilogy) and of course John Williams, whose work is ingrained in the consciousness of virtually every moviegoer of the last half-century.

“Jaws.” “Star Wars.” “Superman.” “E.T.” “Jurassic Park.” “Indiana Jones.” “Harry Potter.”

All those songs you can hum by heart, all from the imagination of John Williams.

“Score” is a straightforward film told in relatively broad strokes. We get a brief history lesson, reminding us movies were never really silent (organ players provided accompanying music for films going back more than 100 years), and studios preferred big, sweeping, orchestral scores until the middle of the last century, when jazzy and more avant-garde sounds emerged.

Trent Reznor tells a story about getting a call asking him to score a film by David Fincher. Reznor was elated — until he was told the movie was about the beginning of Facebook, which on the surface sounded like the dullest material imaginable. Of course, Fincher went on to make a brilliant, exciting film that played like a thriller, and Reznor’s score was so integral and memorable it won an Academy Award.

In a similar vein, Steven Spielberg was underwhelmed the first time John Williams plinked out the destined-to-be-famous music sting from “Jaws” on the piano. Stop kidding around, Spielberg told Williams. This isn’t a comedy; it’s a serious film.

But when the music merged with the visuals: movie immortality.


Gravitas Ventures presents a documentary directed by Matt Schrader. No MPAA rating. Running time: 93 minutes. Opens Friday at Arclight Chicago.

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