In overwhelming times, I find myself turning to either music or film as a short-term remedy to my problems. So naturally, movie scores and soundtracks, being the perfect intersection of the two, are my little haven. Film scores are inherently personal in their composition; they need to act as a constant sonic aid to a set of complex and varying accompanying visuals. They set the tone, render the implicit explicit, and animate characters in a way that writers, directors, and actors simply cannot. I mean, what’s Halloween without John Carpenter’s hauntingly iconic theme or La La Land without Justin Hurwitz’s warm invocation of 1950s musicals? Granted, the deliberate omission of music from a film can serve as a point in itself about the story, but it’s safe to assume that most films need scores or soundtracks to feel complete. While listening to good scores tends to bring me pure unadulterated joy, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had my fair share of messy moments as a direct result of them. Sound ridiculous enough? Good, let’s sift through some of my recent embarrassments.
When I drunkenly decided to change my major while listening to the Lady Bird score.
Why not start at my best/worst? I laid on the floor mildly buzzed and wholly unprepared to be a lawyer, so obviously I threw on the Lady Bird score (the vinyl, of course, because I’m insufferable). I fantasized a faraway life of screenwriting and movie magic for myself. If only young Saffron could see me now… She’d be catastrophically disappointed and nearly impressed by how far I’ve veered from where I was supposed to be. The prospect of pursuing film as a career was something that always terrified me to my core, and despite knowing that that’s definitely the avenue I should’ve been taking all along, I was too rigid to actually do anything about it. But I was emotional and north of tipsy and decided to let Jon Brion whisk me away to a different place. The different place in question? University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies program website. So with the aid of a little gin and a poignantly beautiful score, I decided to stop being so afraid and drop whatever lawyerly facade I had built for myself. I refashioned my school schedule and lovingly called everyone who told me to take this path years ago. And I’m much happier now than I was then. The future is scary but warm, and who better to understand that than Lady Bird herself?
When I spontaneously bought a flute because of “Rey’s Theme.”
After a week of binge-watching the Star Wars movies for the first time, I became severely attached to the music of The Force Awakens. Like many, I found myself particularly obsessed with John Williams’ “Rey’s Theme,” which seamlessly balances the delicacy and strength of its namesake. Now, as anyone who attended middle school with me will attest, I played the flute as my mandatory music class instrument. And if you were to pester them further, they would not speak of my musicality fondly. From what I remember, my fluting sounded like a cross between a slowly asphyxiating animal and a clogged tin whistle. There was virtually no reason for me to ever look at a flute again after those days, but I am nothing if not determined—so I thoughtlessly hopped onto Amazon dot com. I’m not sure if it was the overwhelming desire to use my time in quarantine to pursue a tangible skill or if I just really wanted to be able to whip out a flute at any given moment and play that specific tune, but I dropped $90 on one. I instantly regretted it, but hey, it’s coming in the mail now so I have no excuse not to play it.
When I literally made Meryl Streep appear by listening to the Beale Street score.
I swear to God, I conjured her with this one. As a regular and very fortunate TIFF-goer, I know that when a giant crowd forms, you immediately gravitate toward it. It doesn’t matter how cool you think you are or how aloof you wish to look, should the opportunity present itself, you will inevitably rush over and take part in the human blob. During the 2019 festival, after having just seen Bad Education (subtle plug since it’s my favorite film of the year), my friend and I stumbled upon an aggressively enthusiastic crowd. She had a screening soon after and I had a lecture to get to, so we didn’t intend to get too caught up in the glitz and glamour of yet another sweaty mob. But lo and behold, somebody yelled “Meryl!” and as can only be expected, we immediately assumed our positions in the blob. Now, Meryl was actually nowhere in sight at this time. In fact, the red carpet was entirely bare. My friend then left and another ten minutes went by before I realized it was time to give up and be a good student. I stuck my earbuds in and started playing “Agape” from If Beale Street Could Talk (perhaps my favorite piece of music from a film), but before I could melancholically meander to the nearest subway station, the song was drowned out by shrill noise. It took me a few seconds to realize that Meryl had arrived. The once fun and enthusiastic blob suddenly turned into a catatonic mosh pit with arms flinging about and phones raised to an ungodly degree. Admittedly, I took the elbows-up approach and started pushing away everything in sight. But in the end, who cares? I got to stare at Meryl Streep up close and in person. Now, was this in any way because of my playing film scores? No, I’m a liar. But did the dramatic music enhance that chaotic moment and allow me to tell this story in the most fitting way? Absolutely. It’s now one of my fondest memories.
When I “took up skateboarding” because of the Skate Kitchen score.
I can’t say I’m entirely proud of this one because of how colossally badly it ended… But after a lazy Sunday night of rewatching Skate Kitchen for the umpteenth time and dancing around my room to its accompanying album, I suddenly decided I wanted to learn to skateboard. I daydreamed about living in New York and having friends like Kurt and Janay and the sheer sense of liberation that skateboarding seemed to foster. It was the titular track, Aska Matsumiya’s melodious love letter to young women, that brought me to my feet, ready to start a new hobby. I fought the urge to manically drop $200 on a cute skateboard and instead opted to pull out my little brother’s unused board, equipped with a pizza deck designed to support an eighty-pound child. Can you already see where this is going? It was the dead of Canadian winter, so like the perfectly sane adult woman I am, I decided to take up skateboarding in my garage. My very small garage with concrete flooring. Since we’re on the topic of film scores, this is the moment when Goblin’s terrifying and ominous “Suspiria” would play. Admittedly, I did practice enough over the course of a few weeks to accumulate a fun number of bumps and bruises and I sure felt cool doing so. But I began to dread the thought of the spring melting the snow away and my garage door opening, and it was then that I realized this was not quite for me. Ultimately, I am a woman of many passions but unfortunately, skateboarding was just not one of them.
While each one seemingly more ridiculous than the next, these experiences were all formative in their own ways (minus the flute one, that was probably just a waste of money). If anything, it just goes to show how strong a hold mediums like film or music can have on our everyday lives and our capacities to learn and create. Maybe it’s the desire to feel like you’re inside your own film and, in turn, to be important enough to warrant your own soundtrack. Maybe you feel like that specific orchestral assortment just speaks to you. Whatever your motivation for listening, it’s a valid one. There truly is a score for every mood, so hop to it!
If you need a good cry: “Agape” – Nicholas Britell (If Beale Street Could Talk), “Cornfield Chase” – Hans Zimmer (Interstellar), “Consolation” – Jon Brion (Lady Bird), “Honey Boy” – Alex Somers, Zach Shields (Honey Boy), “Slim Lets Go” – Devonte Hynes (Queen & Slim).
For a sunny day: “Annie and Owen” – Dan Romer (Maniac), “Breaking Ground” – Ryan Miller (The Kings of Summer), “Mr. Moustafa” – Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel), “Herman’s Habit” – Justin Hurwitz (La La Land), “Elisa’s Theme” – Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water).
Honorable mentions: “Une Barque sur l’Ocean from Miroirs” (used recently in Call Me By Your Name), “Red Hook” – Keegan DeWitt (Hearts Beat Loud), “Banana Trippin” – Aska Matsumiya (Skate Kitchen), “What I Love About Nicole” – Randy Newman (Marriage Story).