James Cameron in Score: A Film Music Documentary (Gravitas Ventures)

Not quite hot on the heels of Visions of Light, the iconic 1993 documentary on cinematography, comes a loving, meticulous, and entertaining look at film scoring. Score: A Film Music Documentary is a wonderful introduction for anyone interested in the mechanics of filmmaking and a deep dive for pros who are looking for recognition of their art. It achieves these goals in spades.

Score starts off with a history lesson, explaining that silent film was never actually silent; live music was played to hide the sound of the projector. It moves breezily up to the present to focus on composers. Current composers, directors, and film historians extol Bernard Hermann, Alfred Newman, etc. Then the filmmakers chat with the musicians about their working process and get a primer on how film music is woven into film—and a look into the actual recording process.

In between there is a fascinating overview of how film music changed from live piano accompaniment, to orchestral scores, to jazz and rock. Starting with John Williams, composers moved back to the orchestral score with a symphonic sound. (Earlier in his career, Williams was a well-known studio pianist; he played piano for the soundtrack of West Side Story.)

Many present-day composers are interviewed, and they are personalities unto themselves: Heitor Peraira (Despicable Me 3), who is a bouncing ball of youthful exuberance, to the more stately Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, among a long list of credits), who is like Werner Herzog, without the sardonically bleak worldview.

And, of course, there is Williams, who towers over them all. He’s not interviewed, but there is some fantastic footage of him and Steven Spielberg reminiscing about the moment Williams played for the director the two-note riff that presages the entrance of the shark in Jaws. All the composers interviewed are extraordinarily reverent toward his contributions.

Score’s direction is crisp, and the film is never boring and always informative. This is a wonderful love letter to the people who keep us humming when we leave the theater.

Written and Directed by Matt Schrader
Released by Gravitas Ventures
USA. 93 min. Not rated