Evoking terror in film scores

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It is peculiar that we so urgently seek out the emotion of fear in film. We have a thirst for fear, and we go to elaborate means to experience it. It would be convenient if we could invoke the experience of fear without the apparatus of a cinema, but such intermediaries are necessary. We cannot will ourselves to be afraid. To evoke an emotion, we must organize our environment -- or invoke mental images of such an environment -- which then triggers the emotion.

One of the great discoveries of the 20th century was the powerful effect of combining film with musical representations of emotion. It is possible to combine these two media in a way that reflects no naturally occurring visual-auditory correlation, such as the correlation between the sight and sound of a person running.

That two such distinct media should combine so readily may seem puzzling. Background music is not part of the diegesis of the film and has the potential to create confusion (Cohen, 2). This potential was illustrated in Mel Brooks' comedy Blazing Saddles (1974). A sheriff rides in the desert set to suitable background music, but then meets the Count Basie Band performing the now foreground music. The music, initially interpreted on a subconscious or emotional level, is unexpectedly thrust into the fictional component of the film and processed on a conscious level.
Original languageEnglish
JournalM/C Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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