movies without soundtracks?
November 22, 2009 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Can you think of movies that have no soundtrack?

I've been realising lately how much movie soundtracks irritate me. I feel that they instruct you how to feel rather than let you figure out how you feel about what's happening in the film. Not just blockbusters, but "indie" movies too. I kind of feel that it dumbs things down when there's a piece of music that lets you know you should be happy, sad, scared, uplifted, or just points to the "delicate poignancy" of the moment. All of it ends up being corny in my ears.

I want to compile a list of movies without soundtracks. Also if anyone knows of any writing on this topic (anti-soundtrack) please point me to it.

Thanks!
posted by saturn~jupiter to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hitchcock's "The Birds" immediately comes to mind, just the sound of... the birds.
posted by dbiedny at 4:59 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two with no soundtrack except for a short scene at the end of each movie:

Slacker

My Dinner with Andre

(both wonderfully unconventional movies, BTW)

A few more here.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:03 PM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Into Great Silence. It was one of the conditions on making this, that there would be no soundtrack and only natural light (it's beautiful).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 5:03 PM on November 22, 2009


Network doesn't have any non-diegetic music (unless you count the end credits), and there's hardly any diegetic music, either.
posted by equalpants at 5:05 PM on November 22, 2009


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an incredible movie, sans soundtrack.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:07 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The following list (and more in the thread) from here:

1. The Tall Target (1951) directed by Anthony Mann.
2. The Narrow Margin (1952) directed by Richard Fleischer.
3. Shadows (1959) by John Cassavetes.
4. The Birds (1962) directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
5. Fail-Safe (1964) directed by Sidney Lumet.
6. The Hill (1965) directed by Sidney Lumet.
7. Marooned (1969) directed by John Sturges.
8. The Offence (1973) directed by Sidney Lumet.
9. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) by John Cassevetes.
10. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) directed by Sidney Lumet.
posted by sharkfu at 5:08 PM on November 22, 2009


All the movies of the "Dogme 95" filmmaking movement essentially are not allowed to use music unless it is diegetic; that is, in the actual scene (i.e. a radio playing on a kitchen table, or a car stereo tuned to the radio).

Looking through that Wiki article would reveal several movies that you would assume have followed that rule. The only "Dogme" I've seen is Kira's Reason, and as far as I recall it had no soundtrack to speak of.
posted by Askiba at 5:08 PM on November 22, 2009


The winter of 2007-2008 was a banner time for this. Depending how closely you define your terms, Cloverfield, I Am Legend and No Country for Old Men had zero or closer to zero soundtrack (there is a little bit of diegetic music in the party scene in Cloverfield and a single muted bit of soundtrack music in NCFOM, but I think that is it).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:12 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dog Day Afternoon.

Also, while not being anti-soundtrack, Michael Ondaatje's book "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film" has some interesting insights into the way music, and sound in general, work in films.
posted by Crane Shot at 5:15 PM on November 22, 2009


It was part of the Dogme 95 film movement that there be no extra-diegetic music. Of those films, I would say that The Celebration (Festen) is the best (and actually an awesome if EXTREMELY dark comedy in its own right). That said, when I was in college (film major), my friend and I wanted to make a silent movie, and our instructor pointed out that there is *always* sound in film because whatever ambient sound/noise/chatter existed in the theater becomes a silent movie's soundtrack. I don't know where I was going with this.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:18 PM on November 22, 2009


Askiba beat me to it!
posted by unknowncommand at 5:19 PM on November 22, 2009


THANKS PEEPS. loving the list.

diagetic music I have no problem with. it's the music that only the audience can hear that bugs me.

I am thinking of Nashville -greatest movie ever made IMO- and it has an amazing soundtrack but all of it is diagetic I think. Can anyone recall if it has any non-diagetic music?
posted by saturn~jupiter at 5:22 PM on November 22, 2009


Read Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer.

Really, there are hundreds of films that don't have soundtracks and they are not difficult to locate. Try the Dardenne Brothers for a start.
posted by fire&wings at 5:22 PM on November 22, 2009


The Wire is a great TV show that only contains diegetic music.

Goodfellas is the same way, IIRC.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:26 PM on November 22, 2009


Lucas' THX 1138 only has a little elevator music.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:27 PM on November 22, 2009


All The President's Men didn't have much musical soundtrack, and I really enjoyed it (political thriller)
posted by Khazk at 5:45 PM on November 22, 2009


Every movie made from 1885 to about 1925.
posted by grumblebee at 5:45 PM on November 22, 2009


Executive Suite (1954).
posted by stopgap at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2009


The China Syndrome only contains diegetic music as well.
posted by Lucinda at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2009


These aren't movies, but I've found that almost all of HBO's original series have no background music, excluding the opening/ending credits. In Treatment and Tell Me You Love Me come to mind, I'm sure there are more.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2009


"Castaway" doesn't feature any music while Tom Hanks is stuck on the island, which is most of the film.
posted by maishuno at 6:03 PM on November 22, 2009


Movies without soundtracks came up in Ken Jennings' Tuesday Trivia quiz a few weeks ago. The movies he listed were Belle de Jour, Blowup, Dog Day Afternoon, Executive Suite, Interiors, Network, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, Paranormal Activity, Rachel Getting Married, Rear Window.

(To subscribe to Tuesday Trivia, see the lower left of this page. It's a fun little weekly email.)
posted by Georgina at 6:05 PM on November 22, 2009


IIRC, Slacker has no non-diagetic music except in the closing scene, which starts as diagetic but then expands to be the soundtrack to the scene, so it's still sort of diagetic.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:06 PM on November 22, 2009


Blair Witch Project?

Even though there is an offical "Soundtrack", none of the songs on it actually appeared during the movie.

Wikipedia info
posted by trialex at 6:35 PM on November 22, 2009


La Promesse (The Promise) has no background music.
posted by datarose at 6:41 PM on November 22, 2009


Sticherbeast, I don't know that you do recall correctly :P

All I can remember from Goodfellas was non-diegetic music: the Muddy Waters tune when Ray Liotta's character first meets De Niro's; the Tony Bennett that accompanies his 'rise', and the Clapton song that plays while the end credits roll.

I think a big part of the reason that films with non-diegetic music are so alien to (predominantly) Western audiences is that signposting for lowest common denominator-audiences seems to be Hollywood's bread and butter. This is why exposition has to be cack handedly shoehorned into dialogue ("Why'd you beat up your best friend? You've changed, man!"), and why Generic Lo-Fi Indie Guitar Band #3572's songs pop up whenever the lead character's life takes a bad turn. Test audiences walk out of a film saying that 'they didn't get it' and 'that was boring', and the studio's answer is to throw in a voiceover and an explosion.

Having said that, I'm now going to go and defend it. Admittedly, it's not to everyone's taste, but Sofia Coppola's film Lost In Translation makes (to my mind) excellent use of diegetic music. Also, though the aforementioned TV series The Wire is a prime example of non-diegetic music, the opening credits play a song that, given the resulting lack of soundtrack, does a great deal to set the tone of the show. It shouldn't be forgotten too that the montage of sorts that marks the culmination of each season is underscored by diegetic music that says a great deal about what preceded it.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 6:53 PM on November 22, 2009


Hmm.

When I read your question, the first movie that comes to mind for me is Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend. That's not because Weekend doesn't have a soundtrack – it does, in a way, at least in the sense that there is non-scene music played over parts of the film – but because it's a good place to start if you'd like to uncover ways that film might use soundtracks in a way that isn't manipulative of the viewer. Weekend is high on my list of recommendations of movies in general; it might be the greatest French-language movie ever made, in my estimation anyhow. Every single scene carefully pulls apart and dissects what people are supposed to feel when they watch movies. The soundtrack is a good example. There aren't really any themes, and all the music is almost exactly the same - a simple, ominous drone which seems intended to convey foreboding. But Godard hamstrings it, sabotages it; it will start randomly, during scenes which don't seem particularly foreboding, it will get louder and louder until you can't hear people talking, it'll drone on and on and on with the same note for no reason at all, it will fade in and out without rhyme or reason, and it'll stop abruptly in the middle of a scene. The point is that the soundtrack suddenly stops setting the tone for the viewer; the viewer is lost, and is forced to consciously ignore the soundtrack in order to get what's going on. I recommend this movie because I think it's really a very worthwhile realization you're having, this realization that almost all movies are just senselessly manipulating their viewers, is a really important insight, one worth encouraging - and because Weekend is probably the one film I know of that best deals with the crude, callous way that most movies are manipulative.
posted by koeselitz at 6:58 PM on November 22, 2009


Didn't Touch of Evil only have diegetic music? Trying to remember from my film classes in uni. I definitely remember the famous opening shot, where the music was coming from the car's stereo...
posted by web-goddess at 6:58 PM on November 22, 2009


The Passenger.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:06 PM on November 22, 2009


Every movie made from 1885 to about 1925.

No, silent movies had soundtracks. They were just played live.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:08 PM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Stranger Than Paradise, if I recall correctly, had no soundtrack, although the Hungarian cousin carried around a cassette player (?) that played Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You."

Hysterical movie, BTW.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:09 PM on November 22, 2009


Everything directed by Michael Haneke. (I haven't seen his latest but can verify none of his previous films have scores.)
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:17 PM on November 22, 2009


Also, lately I've been really digging the German director Wim Wenders' films (you've probably seen or heard of his Wings Of Desire or Paris, Texas). The movies in his early road-movie trilogy, Alice in den Stadten ["Alice in the Cities"], Falsche Bewegung ["The Wrong Move"], and Im Lauf der Zeit [literally "in the course of time," released as "Kings of the Road"] all have almost no soundtrack material, as far as I can recall, and what soundtrack there is does not intrude on the film or attempt to manipulate the viewer so much as comment lightly. These films are also well worth watching; they're some of the best I've ever seen. Wim Wenders has a quiet, thoughtful approach to making movies that I really like.
posted by koeselitz at 7:19 PM on November 22, 2009


The remake of Fail Safe also has no soundtrack, if memory serves.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:26 PM on November 22, 2009


All I can remember from Goodfellas was non-diegetic music: the Muddy Waters tune when Ray Liotta's character first meets De Niro's; the Tony Bennett that accompanies his 'rise', and the Clapton song that plays while the end credits roll.

Yeah, I have to agree with jaffacakerhubarb here -- I saw it again a few months ago for the first time in years, and was struck by the amount of music in it. Some of it is in-scene ("Happy Birthday," the Bobby Vinton tune when Hill and his wife go to see Vinton) but much is not. The IMDB listing for the movie lists an astonishing 43 songs in the soundtrack.

On the other hand, I think that it has no soundtrack in the sense that no orchestral score was written for it to underscore emotional cues. Unless I am mistaken, all of the music was in existence before the film came out.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:57 PM on November 22, 2009


Potemkin

If you haven't seen it, you don't know what movies are about.
posted by charlesminus at 8:09 PM on November 22, 2009


I am baffled. I recall a great deal of music played throughout Goodfellas. Hunh?

Ah, that old Donavon tune.

What is it with this word "diegetic"?
posted by ovvl at 8:20 PM on November 22, 2009


Ballast has only one incidence of in-film music, and it is diegetic.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:20 PM on November 22, 2009


What is it with this word "diegetic"?

It's how you tell the folks who took film courses in school from those who didn't.

I want to say Farewell, My Concubine has no non-diegetic music either, but it's been so long since I've seen it. Its leads play Chinese opera singers, so there's plenty of in-story music, I know that much.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:27 PM on November 22, 2009


Sticherbeast, I don't know that you do recall correctly :P

You're right, I don't. I had my wires crossed between its lack of *score* and thinking that all of the pop music that *is* in it was diegetic. It's been a while.

The Wire, though, still only has diegetic music.

What is it with this word "diegetic"?

Diegetic roughly means "in the story." If the characters are listening to a rap song within the story of the movie, then that's diegetic music.

Non-diegetic music is outside of the story. Almost all movie music is non-diegetic. Think about how Indiana Jones, the character, is not aware of the fact that he has a theme song. Now think of Mel Brooks jokes where there's soaring music and we cut to the orchestra that's in the scene playing that music.

Now compare this with the music from the pocket watch from For A Few Dollars More, where the diegetic music (the pocket watch) intertwines with the non-diegetic music (the score). Cool stuff.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:33 PM on November 22, 2009


Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985).
posted by kirkaracha at 9:39 PM on November 22, 2009


Martin Scorsese's After Hours

Not so. Definitely has a score.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:45 PM on November 22, 2009


I'm fairly certain that Hany Abu-Assad's movie, Paradise Now, has no music.
posted by anonymous78 at 10:03 PM on November 22, 2009


On the other hand, I think that it has no soundtrack in the sense that no orchestral score was written for it to underscore emotional cues. Unless I am mistaken, all of the music was in existence before the film came out.

Ah, but that music underscores the film perfectly none-the-less. Scorcese's one of the best at finding the right tunes for his movies.
posted by timeistight at 11:19 PM on November 22, 2009


Cache (Hidden) 2005
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387898/
posted by Suciu at 11:56 PM on November 22, 2009


I transcribed some interviews recently with famous composers and directors, and it was funny how often this came up. A lot of them complained about the overuse of music in films, but it seems it's hard for them to go against the Hollywood studios who think there should be 'wallpaper' music all the time, pulling at your heartstrings.

Anyway, Bruce Beresford (of Driving Miss Daisy fame) is pretty sparing with music. Some of his early pre-Hollywood movies have only diegetic music, or only a tiny bit of additional music - Breaker Morant, The Getting of Wisdom, Don's Party, Tender Mercies.
posted by Emilyisnow at 12:03 AM on November 23, 2009


Martin Scorsese's After Hours

Not so. Definitely has a score.


Yes, this is an unconventional movie with a conventional soundtrack.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:38 AM on November 23, 2009


Other than music for the opening credits, neither Dracula or Frankenstein have soundtracks.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:24 AM on November 23, 2009


There's one episode of The Wire w/ non-diegetic music, when the guy who operates the boxing gym is out for a run. They cheat at the end of his run and show that he was listening to the song on his headphones, so that technically, it's diegetic, but even David Simon admits that it was a cheat.
posted by nushustu at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2009


While there is a little bit of theme music here and there, Blood Simple is pretty sparse.
posted by mbatch at 10:54 AM on November 23, 2009


I have to correct my earlier answer.... I said My Dinner with Andre has music only in the short final scene. That's not true. I know there's diagetic music in the restaurant, when Wally gets there and Andre hasn't arrived yet. I'm not sure about the rest of the movie, but I believe the rest is conversation with no music.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:38 PM on November 23, 2009


Thanks for the great list and discussion here peeps. I'm glad to find that some others feel similarly disenchanted by overwhelming soundtracks.

definitely agree with you here, jaffacakerhubarb,

I think a big part of the reason that films with non-diegetic music are so alien to (predominantly) Western audiences is that signposting for lowest common denominator-audiences seems to be Hollywood's bread and butter. This is why exposition has to be cack handedly shoehorned into dialogue ("Why'd you beat up your best friend? You've changed, man!"), and why Generic Lo-Fi Indie Guitar Band #3572's songs pop up whenever the lead character's life takes a bad turn. Test audiences walk out of a film saying that 'they didn't get it' and 'that was boring', and the studio's answer is to throw in a voiceover and an explosion.


and am intrigued by this film Weekend that you mention, koeselitz.

and yes I love Stranger Than Paradise, ZenMasterThis, thanks for the reminder.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 9:01 PM on November 26, 2009


Coming late to this thread, but:
Day of the Jackal contains no non-diagetic music after the first five minutes.
Blowup has long periods in which not only is there no soundtrack music, there isn't even any dialog.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:42 PM on April 23, 2010


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