Music and Movies: History of the Soundtrack – Pt 1

Music and film have always gone together. In fact, before ‘talkies’ came along, the only sound you’d hear in a silent movie would be music. Silent film star, Charlie Chaplin was one of the finest physical comedians to ever grace the silver screen. But despite this, without music in the background, even his best films would be missing something. There’s no doubt about it, music adds an emotional element to whatever may be occurring on film. Music can enhance and punctuate the entire spectrum of human emotion. Can anyone imagine a movie without music? Would you even want to?

One the first great musicals, the 1939 fantasy masterpiece and timeless classic, “The Wizard of Oz”, starring the velvet voiced Judy Garland, is probably most peoples’ first exposure to a movie musical. The longtime children’s classic about a Kansas farm-girl named, Dorothy, who, along with her dog, Toto, is whisked away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz. There she befriends many strange and wonderful characters and makes a serious enemy in the form of a wicked witch, as she tries to get back home. Along with the imaginative story, the songs such as, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!”, have since become a part of our popular culture. That same year, the first full length color film, the sweeping epic, “Gone With the Wind”, about life in the south before,during, and after the civil war. The film’s main musical theme was widely popular and still recognizable even today. Another very popular soundtrack was Walt Disney’s first full length animated film, the classic, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Released in 1937, Snow White made musical and movie history by being the first film to have it’s soundtrack transferred to record disk. Other notable Disney film soundtracks were 1940’s “Pinocchio” and the animated and live action, “Mary Poppins”, released in 1964.

In 1955, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s broadway musical, “Oklahoma”, was brought to the big screen. Director, Fred Zinnemann fillmed the movie in the wide open spaces of Arizona. The visually beautiful film was big, bright, and colorful. However, the cinematography did not overpower Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical score, but rather complemented it. Oklahoma is classic musical film fare for all audiences. Remember “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin”? That song, along with other classics graced the film’s soundtrack. Another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical brought to the big screen in 1965 with movie classic results, is the beautifully filmed, “Sound of Music”. The memorable songs and Julie Andrew’s outstanding performance as the governess of a wealthy man’s children in Nazi occupied Austria, is a wonderful musical about the human spirit’s ability to be uplifted by song in the face of unspeakable madness.

In 1961, we saw a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s,”Romeo and Juliet” in the film “West Side Story”. Starring the beautiful Natalie Wood, the story revolves around two rival gangs, the ‘Jets’, a white gang, and a Hispanic gang called the ‘Sharks’. Complications arise when Maria,(Wood), the sister of the Sharks gang leader falls in love with the leader of the Jets. True, the fighting/dancing sequences are a bit corny, but the songs in the film, such as, “Somewhere”, “I Feel Pretty”, and of course, “When You’re a Jet” are all classics. In fact, the 2003 film, “Anger Management”, starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson, there’s a scene in which Nicholson playfully goads Sandler into singing, “I Feel Pretty”, to ease his tensions. 42 years later, and yes, youthful audiences may not have known where the song came from, but they recognized it.

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