Call For Comments: Listening for Leitmotif

From Mav: I could swear we’ve done more soundtrack episodes. Like… I really thought we had. We’ve got one generally about what makes for a fun soundtrack from the beginning of the pandemic, but that was more about needle drops. We’ve talked about musicals and the about how music affects specific films like Josie and the Pussycats or Under the Cherry Moon. But we haven’t actually devoted a whole episode to it since then. Well, let’s fix that. A few weeks ago I went to a conference all about Spider-man and his influence on popular culture and there I met Trinity Vélez-Justo, a composer and academic who does a lot of work on the way film scores use leitmotif to establish character and how and why that works.

What does that mean? Well, that’s what this episode is going to be about. However, the short form is… you know how when you watch Star Wars and Darth Vader comes out and you can hear “dun-dun-dun dun da-dun dun da-dun!” and it’s so iconic that you can totally hear it when you just read my “dun-dun-dun”s? Well, THAT! Darth Vader’s Imperial march theme is a part of the character… as much as the voice or the cape or mask. If you don’t have it — if you try to watch the movie without the Williams theme piped in behind him — Vader just feels… weird!

I feel like Vader is probably the most obvious version in cinema but this is really a part of the language of film beyond that one. In any ensemble piece, you have this… I met Trinity when she was talking about the ways in which character is subtly established through sound for all of the characters in the Spider-verse films… and I expect we could see a text book example of this in Peter and the Wolf. But I’m sort of interested to see where it happens in the non-obvious films.

What are your examples? What ones should we look at? What are your other questions? Let us know in the comments!

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