Gramophone Magazine, ‘the world’s authority on classical music since 1923’, has dedicated a recent issue to film music. There’s not much in its guide that’s likely to be a revelation to anyone in possession of even a fleeting interest in music and a pair of their own ears. The usual suspects are all present and correct – John Barry, Ennio Morricone (in a profile written by Hans Zimmer, of The Lion King fame!) and a handful of familiar French film soundtracks. But the venerable publication also poses what’s presumably a contentious question for its readership: can film music be classified as classical music?
I don’t know about you, but like lots of middle-class people, film music has been serving the same purpose as classical music in my CD collection for as long as I’ve had a CD collection. Instrumental music that signifies the listener (me) can cope with something more cultured than Coldplay or Deadmau5, but where you’re under no obligation to know your concertos from your symphonies. Filed after ‘Z’ in my alphabetised CD library, my OST collection has grown to a reasonably impressive two-and-a-half-shelves worth over the years. The roots of my collecting go back to the days of being a slightly pretentious student. Not pretentious enough to attempt some Prokofiev or Mahler but pretentious enough to know that the soundtrack to 37°2 Le Matin (i.e Betty Blue) and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly looked good in the rack alongside The Queen Is Dead and Lloyd Cole. The Best Of Michael Nyman also enjoyed its airings in the Halls Of Residence – mainly because it reminded one of the fruity Peter Greenaway films he used to soundtrack. Then there was the girlfriend who used to use Vangelis’ Blade Runner as, oh dear, ‘mood music’.
The OST collection has swelled as the disposable income has grown. Included therein are The Last Waltz (on boxset, natch). Pulp Fiction (from when Tarantino’s soundtracks commanded as much attention as his films). Koyaanisquatski (because it’s Philip Glass). The Italian Job and Get Carter (because they star Michael Caine). And The Wicker Man (obviously). Then there’s the real connoiseurish stuff: The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg for its kitsch appeal and Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party, a collection of 1970s European ‘horotica’ soundtracks, because of its cool cover and the fact it’s available on import only.
Do I ever listen to this stuff? Not really. But then a music collection isn’t just for listening to. None of my dinner party guests are going to get a conversation started based on Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1/ 3S/ C. I mean have you seen the cover art to most classical CDs? It’s really boring. There’s not a gun or a 1960s Mini or a lesbian vampire in sight.