Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Context conflab...

Watching BBC One’s The Apprentice is often an entertaining experience – though it has turned into something of a pantomime in recent years. Comedy aside, watching the show has – for me at least – become a weekly round of ‘Name that Tune’. Composer Dru Masters is credited as the series composer in the end credits, but there’s little evidence of his presence. Instead the producers happily seize upon an array of film music cues week in, week out.

Last Wednesday’s edition saw a host of filmic tones slapped onto scenes of ineptness, comedy and otherwise, with notable use of cues from Thomas Newman’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Murray Gold’s Doctor Who (Series 3 to be exact) and music Debbie Wiseman penned for a Bertolli commercial some time ago. Thomas Newman is a firm favourite it seems, as his music often appears in the series – particularly pieces from Wall•E, Little Women and the aforementioned Lemony Snicket adventure – while cues from Rolf Kent’s About Schmidt feature almost weekly.

Sir Alan’s stage is not the only platform to do such a thing, in fact innumerable BBC programmes use music from film to underscore documentary, current affairs stories and even drama from time to time. Last year’s delightful travel series Stephen Fry in America is a case in point too; the six-part series was treated to original music by both Debbie Wiseman and composing duo Molly Nyman & Harry Escott, who each did a fine job. While the episodes Debbie scored featured entirely her own music, the Nyman/Escott instalments were littered with film music references. The most bizarre instance saw Fry enjoying a hot-air balloon ride to the tune of Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘Main Title’ from Alien. Now we all know that score was a bug bear for the late composer, but I’m sure even he would have shivered at the thought of his composition being used in such a way. Or would he? Do composers care that much about what happens to their music after it’s finished, being that it is written for a commercial medium to begin with? I ran the question by Debbie Wiseman and she finds a positive spin on the issue:

“To be honest, once the music is delivered for the particular project, and everyone is happy with what I've delivered, I feel my job is done, and I'll move on to the next project. Of course, the music can sometimes show up on other projects, in a completely different context, but in a way that's a means that the music was liked and used by another producer!”

The Alien example is surely down to temp-love of course… but when you have composers of that calibre scoring the entire episode, why would you need to insist on keeping the temp? Maybe the editor was a Goldsmith fan.

Back to The Apprentice though, and while I appreciate how it is much easier to simply cut and paste existing music onto a piece of footage (and I’ve done it myself many a time) rather than scoring it from scratch, couldn’t the producers have commissioned a set of cues which they might similarly chop and change around? I suppose it comes down to £’s and pence at the end of the day.

I am ranting about this a little, yes… But I can’t help but shudder whenever I hear music written for something so specific, chopped up and slapped onto an image that bears no kind of relation to its creation/inspiration. Perhaps a poll on the most random use of a piece of film music might be fun? What’s the weirdest context you’ve seen/heard a film music cue used in, outside of its original intent?

The Apprentice can be seen on BBC One at 2100GMT every Wednesday, followed by You're Fired on BBC Two at 2200.
With thanks to Debbie Wiseman.

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