As an audience member, I never noticed the impact of sound effects, music, and lyrics in movies. I have recently gained an appreciation for the intricate thought process and detail required for the compilation of a movie soundtrack, especially for A Knight’s Tale. The directors and composers subtly add sound to subconsciously make the audience feel something. In movies, sound has a purpose in a scene to draw emotion from the audience, set the tone or mood, or provide an argument.
Often times, directors use music to summon an emotion in the audience, as seen in A Knight’s Tale. In Everything’s an Argument by Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz, the authors discuss how humor puts the audience “at ease, thereby making them more open to a proposal” (48). After a brief introduction of the history of jousting and the foundation for the setting, the audience witnesses the peasant William, played by Heath Ledger, as he prepares to joust in the place of the late royal, followed by a musical scene with “We Will Rock You” by Queen. The director subtly promises the movie is a fun comedy and worth your time and money, as “We Will Rock You,” a well-known classic, instills excitement and happiness in the audience. Upon hearing the beat, you want to join in the fun, sing along, and celebrate with the characters in the movie. In addition to the use of humor, Louis Giannetti discusses in Understanding Movies that “sound effects can be primarily atmospheric,” as well as “precise sources of meaning in film” (208). When the audience hears “Taking Care of Business” by Randy Bachman as William defeats all his opponents in the compilation of events, the upbeat song draws the excitement and happiness from the audience. Witnessing the celebration on screen, supplemented by the upbeat song, urges the audience to join in the jubilee.
Although songs create emotions in the audience, directors also use songs to set the tone and mood of a scene. Giannetti argued music at the beginning of a film serves “as a kind of overture to suggest the mood or spirit of the film as a whole” (214). The use of “We Will Rock You” sets a comedic expectation, as well as a tone and mood for laughter and excitement, as rock ‘n roll didn’t exist in medieval times. In addition, people use sound to persuade or develop the feeling of necessity to take action (Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz 42). “Taking Care of Business” adds a feeling of relationship, or identification, with the character and the need to get involved. The audience wants to celebrate William’s peasant triumph, or rather Sir Ulrich’s triumph (William’s name to disguise his identity), over royalty.
Most importantly, music adds or creates an argument for a specific scene or for the entire movie. Giannetti discusses that in silent movies in the early 1900s, “the major source of meaning was dialogue” from the narration of the story on a microphone, and the same is true for lyrics in a song (202). The words “taking care of business” argue that the character is getting stuff done, winning, and taking care of his business. This song choice convinces the audience that William is taking care of business as flags are added for each strike in a sword fight, lances are broken in jousting, and forfeits in the sword ring. The argument is so convincing that if a random person walked into the theater during this scene and knew nothing about jousting, he/she would know William was winning, or at least doing well…taking care of business. The music and lyrics are equally important and perfect for “We Will Rock You” at the beginning of the film. The lyrics “mud/blood on your face, you big disgrace” conveys the severity and disgrace of a peasant impersonating a royal to joust and improve his social ranking instead of accepting his status with the “muddy” peasants. Not only do the lyrics fit the scene and meaning perfectly, lyrics “can be used as foreshadowing” (Giannetti 214). ***SPOILER ALERT*** Although the audience remains skeptical through William’s losses throughout the movie, “We Will Rock You” foreshadows his triumph over his nemesis! He “rocked” everyone, succeeded in improving his social status, and won glory, riches and pride…and the girl!
In conclusion, I love the soundtrack. The music, lyrics, and instrumentals are perfectly placed and consistent throughout the entire movie. The two songs I analyzed were well placed and conveyed a convincing argument. Ultimately, the theme of incorporating modern music in a movie about the medieval sport of jousting was brilliant. Incorporating the classic, well known, rock ‘n roll songs with jousting makes this movie appealing and relatable to everyone.