Saturday, September 17, 2005

Swing it, Schultze!

Speaking of film music, last night we watched Schultze Gets the Blues, a very quiet movie in more ways than one. The action progresses very slowly through the whole movie, though I found it interesting. But what also makes this movie so quiet is the decision by director Michael Schorr to use only source music. That is, the only time the viewer hears music is when the movie characters hear music. That music is a primary focus of the film, contrasting traditional German folk music with Zydeco, with poor Schultze caught between these two worlds. The lack of background music emphasizes how often music is part of Schultze's life, from the sparse quiet of his time as a salt miner to the ubiquitous sounds during his travels in the United States.

Do any of you know of other modern movies that use only source music? This almost felt like a documentary, though most modern documentaries use background music as much as commercial films.


Brian Clark said...

Hey Dr. Spigelberg,
I know the Hitchcock film Rear Window also only uses music that the characters hear. I think it says more about the director if he's able to hold the viewer's attention just as well. I wish more directors used that technique, because sometimes outside music is obtrusive. In Rear Window I felt more immersed in the story because there were no distractions like that.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Thanks for the comment, Brian. It's been a long time since I saw Rear Window, I'll have to check it out.

Scott D. Strader said...

I believe that O Brother, Where Art Thou? uses only source music, but I can't find a reference to support that right now.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

O Brother is not all source music. The sirens sing to an unseen accompaniment, and background music accompanies the attempted lynchings (I have the soundtrack and listen to it a lot).

Scott D. Strader said...

Aha! I finally remembered the other movie that was bugging me: Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. The IMDB trivia page confirms this (for what that's worth):


Scott Spiegelberg said...

Ooh, good one! Thanks, Scott.

James Paul said...


Hi! Very interesting site. I just finished watching "Schultz" for the second time tonight and highly recommend it. Great themes such as retirement, friendship, aging, and, of course, music!

Your comments regarding background music vs. source music are interesting. Less is more. I can't imagine Star Wars without the soundtrack. But Shultz was made that much better, IMHO, without the clutter.

Mike Goldstein said...

Hi Dr. Spiegelberg,
You might be interested in Max Ophuls' film Letter From an Unknown Woman. It makes heavy use of source music - which also known as diegetic music amongst film wonks - but I warn you that it's a sad one. Alexander Dhoest has written a very thorough analysis of the films use of music:
Mike Goldstein