Michael Phillips has an excellent piece over at Talking Pictures on the music that plays during the end credits of a movie. Though a facet of the filmgoing experience that's largely ignored by most people, I consider it a vital contribution to a picture's appeal. It's something more than just having a nice sounding song playing while the credits roll; a well chosen piece of music does not just provide closure, but it loops back around and takes you through the whole film on a purely emotional level. What you've felt through the whole film, or at least the dominating emotion, should be encapsulated in the closing music. This is why I really only crave good end credits music when I've seen a great film. A perfect, albeit subjective, example would be music choice for the closing titles of The Assassination of Jesse James. As Hugh Ross announces the death of Robert Ford and the screen cuts to black, we're given in huge white block letters the film's title accompanied by the track What Must Be Done. It's a beautiful, slow, and melancholy piece that had previously played during the assassination scene. Listening to it during the end credits not only recalls the emotions of that pivotal moment (which are, in my mind, rather withdrawn, ironically only making it more sublime), but really the mood of the whole film.
There are so many other films that use great end-credits music, be it an original piece or a previously written song. Maybe the best use of a pop tune in terms of tonal and thematic relevance is one that Phillips alluded to, ELO's Livin Thing from Boogie Nights. Michael Mann is always great at getting good music for the credits of his movies, like when he used God Moving Over the Face of the Waters in Heat. One that I'm particularly drawn to right now, thanks to Phillips, is a Vladmir Martynov composition that plays at the end of Paolo Sorrentino's new film The Great Beauty. It's a a mesmerizing and deeply lovely piece, which can be listened to right here. Phillips describes the scene in the theater at Cannes when the music commenced:
"at the close of the film's Cannes premiere, an astonishing number of people sat, or stood, transfixed, straight through to the end, even with deadlines to meet or dinner to be eaten (this was close to midnight). The end-credits music chosen by Sorrentino was too beautiful to miss."
I do hope the movie itself is as beautiful as this closing response was at Cannes. Tying back to what I was saying earlier, I have a suspicion it wasn't just the music but the entire film that contributed to such a reaction. However, the emotional sense of euphoria is exclusively attributed to the music, which, again, is why its vitality can't be stressed enough.
However, on the flip side, sometimes silence during the end-credits works a certain kind of wonder. If I recall, A Separation chose that route and the result was actually greater than if music had been playing. I'll always take silence during the closing credits, because, although it could be seen as safe (though really all the films that choose silence over music tend to be the more risky cinematic endeavors), it is still almost always guaranteed to be effective. Watching credits roll with no accompanying music is almost like a religious experience, a moment to reflect in silence, to ponder rather than feel (which is the opposite of having music playing). Or other times it can be just plain haunting, as in No Country for Old Men. The thing about silence is that it's not centered on quality or judgement. The only time music is truly appropriate during the end credits is when it actually sounds good.
And when it does, that's something I value more than that peaceful nothing. For me, a love affair with a film most often begins when those beautiful, exciting, or devastating vibrations travel to my ears.
I thought about tying this piece in with the essay on film music and cognition I mentioned a few weeks back, but I haven't finished the essay yet or thought enough about what of it I have read to make a coherent piece out of it.