The Clash - music & period

It will come as no surprise after my last post that Sophia Coppola's 'Marie Antoinette' is one of my favourite films, the aesthetics are in a similar vein to the Mert & Marcus editorial in Love magazine.

 I will perhaps go into why I admire the film in another post, but today I wanted to add to my 'virtual tear book' something I watched last night, the first episode of the BBC's 'Our World War' mini-series.

Still from 'Our World War' - episode 1

Still from 'Our World War' - episode 1


The reason I was reminded of Coppola's 'Marie Antoinette' is the production's use of modern music within its period context.  Some purists of the period genre despise such things as it isn't "in-keeping".  Period drama can often have this cross to bare - that everything has to be to-the-letter of that period, and in some cases I agree - costume, set, character mannerisms - these give the production a sense of authenticity, rigidity in these however can stifle.

Period drama is exactly that, a dramatisation of a period, it isn't a history lesson nor should it be.  Like with all visual media the job of the period drama is to tell a story, full stop.  The fact that the story is set in another time period is an element of that story but not the entire story, it is the characters and what happens to them that is the real meat.  So if a piece of music, a prop, a phrase, or a style of camerawork interprets that story in a more concise way then what is the problem?

If Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" evokes the young, frivolous atmosphere of Antoinette's court better than a piece of 17th century chamber music so be it, it shorthands whole swathes of character and situational information (I also think it may be Coppola's way of nodding to the similarities of attitudes to modern day, but that's for a future post).

Maybe another element to take into consideration is that certain music will make the subject matter intriguing to a different audience, one that perhaps wouldn't sit down to the more conventional period dramas? If out-of-period music makes a piece of TV or film (or indeed theatre) more engaging is it blasphemy to the period, perhaps it is for some, but for me I'm all for it despite being a lover of the classic genre.

Unsurprisingly in almost all the reviews of 'Our World War' the music was commented on in the first paragraph, as were the graphics and ariel shots in thermal vision which were used throughout the episode to show where the camps were, where the German army were and indeed the vast size of the German army.  Lacking the imagination to realise creatively and narratively why these techniques were used some reviews stated they "were out of context" with one review beginning "When I was a lad" - need I say more (you can probably guess the rag that came from)?  Reviews were mixed from rave to unsure, which with this sort of juxtaposition production style isn't really unusual.

The intro credits to 'Our World War' set the tone for the whole episode, quick edits, fast modern music and a range of stunning camera angles - this may be a period drama but it is constructed like a film depicting modern warfare. This style of cinematography I think is fitting as warfare is warfare, it is fear, adrenaline, quick decisions and emotion no matter what the era.

I couldn't find a video of just the intro but this trailer will give you a taster:

What I would say is that yes the series isn't perfect, I'm not a fan of what I felt was leading-emotion at the end of the episode, but is is well worth a watch to see this mix of style and period.  I think it's worth watching anything that divides opinion so smartly, 'Tree of Life' and 'Melancholia' are also in my top film list, so perhaps I am biased?

There is also an interesting article written by the producer Sue Horth for on the experiences of making the production which you can find here.