Score of the Week, or: How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Love his Placeholder Music

I bet you thought we were going to write about 2001: A Space Odyssey for Score of the Week.

You’re half right.

In A Clockwork Orange (both the novel and the film), the droog protagonist Alex undergoes the Ludovico technique. This is the infamous scene in which Alex is forced to watch violent films by use of metal tools to keep his eyes open at all times, all while being in a straight jacket. To accompany the films he watches, they play Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”

As those who’ve seen the film know, the music becomes so intertwined with the violence he sees on screen that he remembers it every time he hears the music.

This, in a nutshell, is what Stanley Kubrick had done on multiple occasions throughout his prolific career.  As you’d expect, let’s take a look at 2001: A Space Odyssey next.

While working on 2001: A Space Odyssey, the music was originally supposed to be composed by Alex North (who worked with Kubrick previously on Spartacus) but Kubrick had edited his film with placeholder music, and that placeholder were some of the classical pieces that ended up in the final product. So when North submitted his music Kubrick chose against using it. It wasn’t until the premiere that Alex North found out that his music wasn’t used.

Honestly, Alex North’s music doesn’t work well with the film, even though it’s a great soundtrack on it’s own merits, it doesn’t have the same impact as what ends up being used.

But here’s the other thing, “Blue Danube” is now entirely connected to 2001. Whenever I hear it, I remember the docking scene in which it is used. It’s utilized in which you can no longer separate one from the next. It becomes almost Pavlovian, in which if I see/hear one, I expect the other. The only argument against imagining something other than the scene from A Space Odyssey, is a scene from The Simpsons, in which they use the same music as Homer (now an astronaut) floats around the shuttle in zero-G attempting to eat all the chips he had previously let loose. Even though one is far less serious, The Simpsons uses the same song as an homage and tribute to Stanley Kubrick, who is extremely beloved in the writers room.

Something you’ll read on this site over the next week (and probably more often if you even bring up Kubrick’s name to me) is how influential he has been. And with film music, he had his share in that as well.

In terms of film history, for many reasons, you can argue that this film changed how films would be seen so much that it can be organized into pre-2001, and post-2001. Science fiction films had a high bar to compete with, as did special effects, and now even music did as well. After 1968, the reasoning behind the music choices were different. It wasn’t necessarily what was the biggest or loudest, but what fit the film, or actually expanded on the narrative of the film.

After all, Cinema is the combination of images, and sound. To get the best product, you need to use both, and sometimes that is by using placeholder music to make one of the greatest films of all time.



One comment on “Score of the Week, or: How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Love his Placeholder Music”

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