Discover the exhibition


L'exposition en image

Extract of the interview of N. T. Binh, Exhibition Curator

“Music and Cinema”: two words with such irresistible evocative power... But what is good film music? Should it be listened to or forgotten? In what way does it serve the image?

From Fantasia to Psycho, from musicals to Italian Westerns, from the French New Wave to rock documentaries, from silent movies to hit songs written for film… there are as many ties between music and cinema as there are films. This exhibition proposes to tell stories that are all special, in that they originate in the very adventure of film-making. It leads visitors through the various stages of motion picture production – before shooting, on set, in post-production, and even after the release – so they understand how music is engrained in the film’s conception and history.

At each of these stages, pride of place is given to those who make the magic of this encounter between two arts possible, beginning with directors and composers, of course.

At the lower level, a projection of legendary scenes with music allow us to relive our emotion as spectators.

1st part Before filming

  • Yellow Submarine, George Dunning, 1968.

  • Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly dans An American in Paris, Vincente Minnelli, 1951.

  • Pink Floyd The Wall, Alan Parker, 1982.

  • Autour de minuit, (1986) by Bertrand Tavernier, with François Cluzet.

  • Alfred Hitchcock during the shooting of the sequence of the concert to Albert Hall, at London, in The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956.

  • Miou-Miou in La Lectrice, 1988, music by Beethoven.

  • Michel Deville and Michel Piccoli, shooting of La Femme en bleu, 1973, music by Schubert and Bartok.

  • Georges van Parys and René Clair, around 1952.

  • Georges van Parys in recording.

  • Original poster of Distant Voices (1988).

Music inspires film

Extract of the interview with Michel Deville

The initial idea for a film might be musical, either because it tells the life-story of a famous musician or exploits the popularity of a particular piece of music. To captivate and get the audience on board, the show brings the characters to life by using a well-known musical score. This can involve all styles of music: serious or popular, classical or contemporary, jazz, pop, rock or “world”… And the music anticipates the images that are to follow.

Ballet choreographers and opera directors had already been doing this for a long time. The cinema offers, on an unprecedented scale, the possibility of the “total art” dreamt of by Richard Wagner during the 19th century: a whole world comes alive to the rhythm of a musical score.

Music can also inspire the creativity of film-makers in their reflective thought processes. They listen to it and become immersed in it during the writing of the screenplay, with the idea that this music might later find a place in the soundtrack. Music thus underpins the development of a film.

Extract of the interview with Georges Van Parys

In some very particular cases, such as films that are entirely sung or danced, the “wall-to-wall” music plays uninterrupted during the entire projection. Therefore, it must be recorded in its entirety before the shooting of the film: it is the duration and rhythm of the music which imposes its rule on all the later stages of the production! This is the case in filmed opera or ballet, but also in adaptations of musicals such as Evita, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, or in Jacques Demy’s original The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, scored by Michel Legrand.

2nd part Shooting the film

  • Shooting of Aimez-moi ce soir (Love Me Tonight , 1931), made by Rouben Mamoulian, wiyh Maurice Chevalier in the number « Poor Apache ».

  • Shooting picture with Victor Fleming, 1926, The director watch the actors Ernest Torrence, Percy Marmont et Clara Bow ; next to the caméra, the director of photography James Wong Howe ; in the foreground , the musicians.

  • Shooting picture of the film A nous deux, with Catherine Deneuve and Claude Lelouch.

  • Jamie Foxx is Ray Charles in Ray by Taylor Hackford, 2005.

  • Gainsbourg (vie héroïque), Joann Sfar, 2009.

  • Shooting picture of the film Chronique d’Anna Magdalena Bach, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1968.

  • Poster of Woodstock (1970) of Michael Wadleigh.

  • Duke Ellington, composer and actor of the film Autopsie d’un meurtre (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959) from Otto Preminger, with Lee Remick during the shooting.

and music

Extract of an interview with Jean-Louis Trintignant

The shooting of a film is not, on the face of it, the stage of production where music is most present. But that is when the resemblance of reality is fabricated, the sets are constructed, and, if music plays a part in the story, the cinematic illusion is created. Musicians are often portrayed in films. Sometimes, directors hire musicians who can act, but generally they choose actors who are able to make believe that they are musicians. If the actor must be a singer but does not have an adequate voice, he or she can be dubbed. If the actor must play an instrument on screen, an intensive period of training is essential. It does not matter whether the actors are “cheating” or not : through them, the music must be embodied on screen. Music in film gives rise to two very different techniques : playback or live recording.

Film set musicians,
from silent pictures to talkies

In the era of silent film, the director gave his instructions to the actors in a loud voice and, on the set, the musicians played constantly to provide an “atmosphere” for the scene. This was current practice from the around 1910 onwards, especially in Hollywood, including for outdoor filming. In general, this involved a pianist and violinist who improvised upon the melodies within their repertory. Very little information remains on the kind of music which they played.

The talkies, with their live sound recording of dialogues, required silence during filming, thus putting an end to the occupation of “film set musician”. But before the development of sound-mixing techniques, musical scenes demanded the presence on set of a full orchestra !

3rd partPostproduction

  • Melancholia de Lars von Trier, 2011.

  • Poster of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, 2011.

  • Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in In the Mood for Love (2000) by Wong Kar Wai.

  • The composer Jerry Goldsmith (La Planète des singes, La Malédiction, Alien) in 2002.

  • Original score by Jean Wiener for the song Touchez pas au grisbi, lyrics by Jaccques Pills.

  • Vladimir Cosma and Yves Robert

  • The composer Terence Blanchard and the director Spike Lee : during the recording of Inside Man, 2006.

  • Recording of the music of the film Le Narcisse noir (Black Narcissus, 1947) by Michael Powell et Emeric Pressburger, avec le London Symphony Orchestra dirigé par le compositeur Brian Easdale.

  • Recording sequence of Superman directed by the composer John Ottman. On the screen, Kevin Spacey.

  • The composer François de Roubaix (1939-1975) in his « home studio » (Le Samouraï, Dernier domicile connu, Le Vieux Fusil).

  • Alain Resnais and the shooting team of L’Amour à mort.

  • Poster of the film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud by Louis Malle, 1957.

Pre-existing music, temporary music

Extract of Mauvais Sang, Leo Carax.
song by David Bowie, 1986

Why chose an original score over a music work that already exists? What matters is not so much the music in itself but the way it gels with the image. If it is already familiar to the audience, music can give particular meaning to images, acting as points of reference (The Ride of the Valkyries and conquering violence) or counterpoints (Marie Antoinette to rock music).

The choice of a pre-existing music may also be made upon the film-maker’s express wishes, according to their musical tastes, memories, or simply their fear of having to face another creator: the composer of the original music!

A pre-existing piece, generally arranged for the film and rarely used in its entirety, in a sense becomes an original piece once again. Frequently, temporary music known as “temp tracks” is used before the composer gets to work in order to indicate where the music will come. Sometimes these tracks end up being “definitive”.


Extract of the interview with Vladimir Cosma

Extract of Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire
Yves Robert, 1972

The term “score”, is used for film music, as is “original soundtrack”, even if the music already exists. Generally, composers join a project once the image-editing is done. The list of musical cues they need to compose is passed on to them, along with the exact length the pieces should be to fit the image. Composers must grasp what filmmakers and producers expect from their work. They have to know (or sense) the role their score will play in the film.

Extract of La Fureur de vivre
Nicholas Ray, 1955

Extract of Huit et demi
Federico Fellini / Nino Rota, 1955

The power of a musical score on the perception of a scene is at once immense and largely unconscious: film music is made to be heard, if not listened to. The music enlarges the image, both in time and space: it has the capacity to pull the image out of its frame. Spectators believe they are seeing what they hear. Music can underscore and magnify an action but also voluntarily contradict it, give it an unexpected meaning, a different rhythm. It can accentuate an emotion or reveal another one. It can also, paradoxically, tone down the impact of a sequence.

  • The composer Mychael Danna and the cineast Atom Egoyan in 2008, at the Gijon festival.

  • The composer Bruno Coulais and the director Benoit Jacquot in the recording studio for Les Adieux à la reine (2012).

  • Alexandre Desplat and Jacques Audiard during the postproduction of Un Prophète, in the Guillaume Tell studio, Suresnes, avril 2009.

  • Le cineaste Steven Spielberg, the composer John Williams and the singer Lisbeth Scott, Munich, 2005.

Film-maker-Composer Tandems

Extract of the interview of Steven Spielberg and John Williams

From the beginning of sound films, except in Hollywood where the producer was almighty, filmmakers have not hesitated to get the composer involved from the outset, and to forge relationships from one film to the next. This type of collaboration gradually became the norm in the 1950s and ’60s, when the auteur theory developed. This more modern approach was striking in Italy, for example, with the music of Nino Rota for Fellini, Giovanni Fusco for Antonioni, then Ennio Morricone for Leone. Even in Hollywood, two of the greatest tandems were born in this period: Alfred Hitchcock–Bernard Herrmann and Blake Edwards–Henry Mancini. Faithful “monogamy” is not the only mode of work between composers and film-makers, but the list of these creative duos that make the marriage of music and cinema so fertile is long. They bear witness to a sharp sense of how music deserves to integrate itself deeply to the mise-en-scène. Ideally, it succeeds in this when film-makers understand music and composers know about cinema.

Music at Montage

Extract of the interview with Maurice Leroux

During most films, music only intervenes sporadically and the filmmaker has to “direct” these interventions. The way music enters of exits a scene can be more or less subtle: a character enters, an ambiance is being created, the camera cuts to another shot … Hollywood’s legacy was to impose a musical treatment that is at once present and discreet, passing imperceptibly from foreground to background according to the narrative. Since then, modern filmmakers have questioned the notion of music’s “transparency”, by imposing brutal or unexpected cues, which paradoxically bring it to the audience’s attention. As a rule, when composers deliver their music, it fits the images perfectly: today, computer-generated music layouts allow for adjustments to definitive recordings. During the sound editing, the music is placed in parallel to the other sounds: dialogues, effects, ambiances, noises… today, hundreds of tracks coexist. Throughout the image editing, the music can still be cut out, repeated or edited again. The music editor, who manages this evolution, is the link between the composer and the variables of editing. It is during re-recording that the relationship with the image is sealed: the relative volume of the music, below the dialogues, competing or in harmony with the sounds and ambiances… Since the inception of stereo, then the evolution of Dolby and digital technology, the spatial dimension of music has transformed the spectator’s sensorial experience. More than ever, music is a “small flame put under the screen to help warm it,” in the words of the American composer Aaron Copland. This phrase also reminds us that music must still serve the purposes of the film.

4th part After the film release

  • Poster of the film Les Poings dans les poches (I pugni in tasca), Marco Bellocchio,1965.

  • Poster of the film Pour une poignée de dollars (Per un pugno di dollari), Sergio Leone,1964.

  • Poster of the film Théorème (Teorema), Pier Paolo Pasolini,1968.

  • Poster of the film Le Clan des Siciliens, Henri Verneuil, 1969.

  • Poster of the film Enquête sur un citoyen au-dessus de tout soupçon (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto), Elio Petri, 1970.

  • Mission, Roland Joffé ,1986.

  • Pat Garret & Billy the Kid, Sam Peckinpah, 1973.

  • More, Barbet Schroeder, 1969.

  • Shaft, red nights in Harlem (Shaft), Gordon Parks, 1971.

  • Phantom of Paradise, Brian De Palma, 1974.

  • Poster of the film Dancer in the Dark, Lars von Trier, 2000.

  • Tommy (Tommy), Ken Russell, 1975.

  • Porque te vas, José Puis Perales, song singing by Jeanette in Cria Cuervos, Carlos Saura, 1976.

  • The River of No Return, lyrics by Ken Darby (in french : La Rivière sans retour, lyrics by Jacques Larue), music by Lionel Newman, song singing by Marilyn Monroe in the film with the same title, Otto Preminger, 1954.

  • Score of the song « As Time Goes by », written in 1931.

  • The Continental in La Joyeuse Divorcée (1934) by Mark Sandrich, the first film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in star.

Interactive modules for listening to iconic composers’ themes

This interactive module enables visitors to listen to more than 80 film themes by ten iconic composers. It also allows them to discover films categorised by music genre: jazz, rock, rap and electro. The visitor clicks on a poster and listens to the corresponding music.

Juke-box: The film song

Film music has been used autonomously since the beginning of sound films, through the publication of scores, radio, the record industry, then television and now internet. Apart from musicals, the original soundtrack is usually made popular by a song that picks up on the main theme, and which contributes greatly to the film’s promotion.