The Big Picture

The Big Picture
The film O Brother, Where Art Thou? exposed millions of new listeners to bluegrass. Here, 100,000 Americana music fans enjoy the Waybacks at Merlefest, in Wilkesboro, NC. Photo by Jacob Caudill

Music and film alter our daily lives even if we don’t hear the music or see the film, because both change society; when those two forms meet perfectly, the union can spark a revolution. The first bombshell exploded around the turn of the 20th century.

Some people call them “silents,” but more properly, early films were “non-talkies,” because music, from a single piano to a full orchestra, accompanied every film, as much to cover the projector’s rattle as to add context. Birth of a Nation (1915) boasted the first score compiled specifically for a film; the first completely original score was for King Kong in 1933—these films’ major success was no coincidence. Song-and-dance film hits (think Fred Astaire) led to the translation of Broadway musicals onto the silver screen, where the soundtrack took center stage, as it were. 

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