FILM COMPOSER BLOG
How to score a sex scene? I’ve been researching this today, mostly because I need to score one, and this is one place in a film where the sensitive film composer doesn’t want to screw things up. ;-)(a) License some pop song. In this Sarah Michelle Gellar / Selma Blair kiss scene in Cruel Intentions, the problem is that the music doesn’t really reflect the emotions of either character. This can happen when the music is intended to drive soundtrack sales as much as it is to tell the story:

(b) Go noir. Jerry Goldsmith did this to the hilt in Basic Instinct, but you better make sure the movie’s got some murder happening somewhere to go along with the chromatic harmonies (this embed is just a music clip):

(c) Avoid anything resembling Wild Things. It’s a great score by George Clinton (who composed the Austin Powers theme), but it’s been unfortunately imitated by one too many cheesy soft-core films. The sexy tenor sax and Stevie Ray Vaughn-style electric guitar bends have worn down after 12 years. Only use this style if your film is strictly NC-17 or higher:

(d) Go romantic. In the Mood for Love uses a minor-key waltz with violin. This is about a man and a woman who discover their partners are having an affair. As their friendship develops, the relationship moves into unfamiliar territory.  Shigeru Umebayashi’s Gypsy melody unfolds over a mechanical pizzicato rhythm (those pizz strings don’t sound great, and are probably the result of an unduly tight production budget that couldn’t afford a live ensemble recording session). The violin plays in a low range, giving melancholy and longing. As the melody unfolds, there are more dramatic leaps and portamentos. The Gypsy style lends the film an association with endless wandering and travel, well-suited to the couple whose static lives are becoming unrooted:


(e) Go understated. Vibrato electric piano and a very natural snare drum sets the atmosphere in Out of Sight’s big sex scene. The scene is frequently cited by filmmakers I’ve met, as the editing, dialogue, acting, lighting – everything is in full virtuoso mode. Notably, the music ain’t much to listen to on its own. But it’s intimate and quiet, just like everything else in the scene. It’s also very subtle in places – notice how the drum beat drops out as Jennifer Lopez’s character is making the decision in her mind to go bed with george Clooney. Once the scene cuts to the actors embracing, an organish keyboard patch enters that just barely doesn’t hold up to my ears anymore – the music is from 1998, the same year as Wild Things – but if you did it today with a newer keyboard you could get the same effect with a warmer, richer-sounding patch.

So, the perfect sex scene music? Everyone has their favorite, and I’m partial to Secretary. In this opening scene, we see Maggie Gyllenhall doing her work while chained to a bar. She staples papers with her chin, and turns sideways to fit through doorways. The office has an Asian accents in the decor. Angelo Badalamenti, who scored films for David Lynch, knows how to do weird. The opening scene’s music emphasizes percussion, latin guitar, electric bass, and lots of reverb. A little exotic, a little secretive, and a little bit of wry humor. Embedding is disabled, so click over for yourself.

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

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