Last night's viewing: BBC4's Sound of Cinema makes you realise just how important music can be

 

Occasionally, a documentary comes around that manages not only to entertain and inform you, but also to change the way you look at its subject. BBC4's magnificent Sound of Cinema: the Music That Made the Movies is one such series.

Its premise is a simple one: composer Neil Brand, the regular silent-film accompanist at the National Film Theatre, guides viewers through the history of film soundtracks. Put that baldly, it sounds a dry affair. The reality is anything but, as Brand talks to the men behind some of cinema's most memorable scores (this week, the talking heads included John Barry, Martin Scorsese and Angelo Badalamenti) while demonstrating how music works its magic on film.

That sense of magic is helped by the fact that Brand is a wonderful guide: erudite, impassioned and interesting about his subject. The moments when he picks out themes on his piano, demonstrating how a composer used this change in tempo or that difference in key to suggest everything from the sultry sensuality of A Streetcar Named Desire to the effortless cool of Steve McQueen's Bullitt, were absorbing and eye- opening, forcing you to listen to those well-known scores as though hearing them for the first time.

It also makes you realise just how important music can be. While Brand touched on commerciality and how the arrival of MTV and the pop video created a whole new outlet for the movie marketing men, he also demonstrated how films such as A Fistful of Dollars owe everything to their soundtracks, the characters remaining almost silent as the music constructs a personality for them.

There were some interesting titbits, too. We learnt that Alex North, the composer on Streetcar, had to recut the famous scene where Stanley calls for his "Stell-ah", replacing the suggestive jazz with strings to appease the National Legion of Decency; that John Barry's only knowledge of James Bond came from a comic strip in the Daily Express; and that Quentin Tarantino, arch control freak that he is, wrote Reservoir Dogs with the song choices written beside each scene.

Best of all, though, was the interview with the enthusiastic Badalamenti, who talked at length about his partnership with David Lynch and in the show's highlight, demonstrated how the director got him to score Twin Peaks: "We're in a dark wood and there's a girl… these are beautiful notes, Angelo, but slower, slower, slower… yes and this girl is beautiful but she's so sad, her name is Laura Palmer. She walks out of the woods… that's it, Angelo, reach a climax. Now we're back in the woods and there's an owl…" It was a wonderful moment, both illuminating and funny, much like this understated, intelligent and unmissable show.

The makers of Peaky Blinders would agree with Brand's theory about the right soundtrack creating the right atmosphere. There are some who feel that the period crime drama's anachronistic use of the likes of Nick Cave and Jack White undermines its credibility – as though any show featuring a brave undercover colleen with a desire to avenge her dead Pa is aiming for credible – but I feel it adds another layer of swagger to an enjoyably exuberant series.

This week we finally saw those much mentioned razors in action as the Shelby brothers entered into a war with Gypsy family the Lees, in what turned out to be an unusual way of drawing racing kingpin Billy Kimber's attention.

Not content with starting any number of gang wars, Tommy also found time to ask Grace out, informing her: "You're a posh girl, get yourself a nice dress, I'm taking you to the races at Cheltenham." Be careful, Grace, the last time a young man said that to me I ended up married and living in Shepherd's Bush with two children.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick