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Jul. 01 2022

Bowling, Bond, and Bach – A Few Thoughts on Classical Music in Films and on TV

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | Comments Off on Bowling, Bond, and Bach – A Few Thoughts on Classical Music in Films and on TV

Way back when I started working at WBJC in 1993, I quickly learned that, in addition to classical music, two of the most popular topics of conversation in my workplace were food and movies. These days, of course, we’ve added streaming various TV series to that list. Something that Jonathan and I have pondered more than once is the disappearance of classical music from films as either an activity or a profession for the characters. In some vintage comedies, the music is almost a character in its own right. Remember Dudley Moore’s lascivious maestro in “Foul Play?” The extensive use of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “The Mikado” has always been a highlight of the film for me.  How about “Micki and Maude”, in which Amy Irving played a professional cellist caught in a love triangle with Ann Reinking and Dudley Moore? Moore was a very talented musician in his own right and played piano onscreen several times, notably in “10” and “Arthur”. He also portrayed a composer/conductor who suspects his wife of cheating in “Unfaithfully Yours.”  With regard to characters attending classical performances, would Way back when I started working at WBJC in 1993, I quickly learned that, in addition to classical either “Moonstruck” or “Pretty Woman” have been the same without their famous scenes set at the opera? I think not!

Classical music has been a staple of movie soundtracks for decades, used in brilliant – and sometimes unexpected – ways in films like “The Shining”, “Platoon”, “The Big Lebowski”, and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” However, the way the art form is used and represented in films is sometimes a bit problematic for those of us who love it.  Back in the day, it was often referred to as “that longhair stuff” to indicate that those who performed or listened to it were elitist or otherwise set themselves apart from the population at large. It’s also been associated with Bond villains in the films “Live and Let Die”, “The Spy Who Loved Me”, “Moonraker”, and “Quantum of Solace.” In “The Living Daylights”, Bond himself treats his innamorata’s priceless cello in a cringeworthy manner by commandeering its case as a sled and using the instrument itself to steer down an Austrian mountain. Wonder what Yo-Yo Ma thought if he saw that movie?

Soundtrack-wise, classical music is doing pretty well on the small screen – two TV shows that we’ve binged during the pandemic have used it in ways I find particularly effective. Of course, one expects “The Crown”, a show about the British royal family, to include classical music and Sarah Bridge, the show’s music supervisor, incorporates a good deal of it along with period-appropriate popular tunes. When we watched “Russian Doll”, however, I wasn’t prepared to have Beethoven appear on the soundtrack along with Harry Nilsson, Depeche Mode, and other current and retro pop acts, but I was very happy about it! Kudos to music supervisor Brienne Rose for that.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some recent movies and shows that showed average people performing or enjoying classical music?  Well, there is at least one – the teen comedy “Metal Lords”, which was released this year and features a character who’s a classically trained cellist. She’s not treated as weird or stodgy by her peers, so even though there’s a lot more rock than Bach in the film, it was very refreshing to see classical music getting some respect in a movie about high school students. Is this the start of a trend? Maybe, maybe not, but a DJ can dream.

If you’ve noticed classical music in a recent film or TV show, I’d love to hear about it – my email is dneal@bccc.edu

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

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