Monday, January 19, 2015

Music & 'American Sniper'

If you haven't seen American Sniper and don't want to know anything about it, don't read this post.
If you've been living under a rock for the past couple of years and don't know anything at all about Chris Kyle and don't want to until you see the movie, don't read this post.
I have no interest in spoiling anything, but if you don't know by now about the life of Chief Petty Officer Kyle, then it's not my fault if you read something on this blog that ruins something for you.


American Sniper is a terribly beautiful movie. It is harsh and brutal, touching and heartrending, conveying its message and subject matter through some masterful performances, intense battle sequences, and the reality of its source material. But one thing it is noticeably devoid of is music.

Warner Bros.Pictures
Well, alright. Perhaps "devoid" is too strong a term. Nevertheless, there is precious little music scattered throughout the film. There are a few moments of light piano theme: soft, single notes played to subtly enhance the mood of a scene here or there. There is a Van Morrison song playing during a wedding reception. But, by and large, the movie delivers the lion's share of its emotion without any musical accompaniment.

And it does so brilliantly. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty remarkable accomplishment all on its own. Background music is such a ubiquitous part of modern society - we hear music when we eat, when we shop, when we're waiting on the phone, when we're doing anything, really - that to deliberately remove it from a place where people are so used to hearing a lot of it (like in a movie) certainly stands as a gutsy call.


After the screen goes dark and the audience is informed of his tragic & untimely fate, the movie closes with authentic footage from Chris Kyle's memorial service & funeral procession. It is a powerful moment, to be sure, and one director Clint Eastwood elected to pair with a song. After more then two hours of perhaps the sparsest use of music I have ever heard during a motion picture, the addition of it to what is already an intensely emotional setting registers pretty deep, to say the least. As the song ends and the real-life footage fades, the credits begin to roll, and they, too, do so silently (another unconventional move). And, I have to tell you, I don't know that I've ever been in a movie theater quite as still as the one I left after American Sniper. The atmosphere could be described as reverent, introspective, reflective. The music - in both its absence and its deliberately restrained use - combined with the power of this man's story (and how it represents thousands of others who laid their lives on the line for the benefit of the country they love) to forge a rich and memorable moment for me. Movies - even movies that I love - rarely impact me like that. I'm still absorbing it.

But, as I am so inclined to do, I couldn't wait to figure out what the haunting melody was that played during those final moments. I got online and discovered that Eastwood had not contracted original music be written for the scene, but instead chose a piece from the 1965 spaghetti western Il Ritorno di Ringo, aptly entitled, 'The Funeral'. What I couldn't help but notice was that the music was composed by Ennio Morricone, who also wrote the legendary score to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, one of the movies most credited with launching Clint Eastwood's acting career to iconic levels.

I also couldn't help noticing the circle that seemed to have been formed: Eastwood, so well-known in large part for his role in a movie for which Morricone composed such timeless music, uses a lesser-known but equally beautiful piece of Morricone's to underscore the powerful final moment of perhaps the most important film he's ever directed - 50 years later. The entire thing just screamed to me of the power of great art: it always seems to find its way to where it is most needed. Time and age are not factors. What is truly beautiful will be truly beautiful forever, and when it's needed, God-willing, it will be there.

American Sniper doesn't necessarily try to make a great statement about beautiful art. That's not what it's concerned with. But it does so, anyway, (in, I admit, a rather subtle way) because the people who made the movie care about beautiful art. When all of these things come together - a powerful & moving story, great music, masterful artists - what results is something a person like me will not soon forget.


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