Is it just me, or should soundtracks not be listened to beyond the movie?

As you can probably imagine, movie soundtracks frequently clog the airwaves in the Total Film office. So it makes me pretty unpopular when I veto the latest OST from the office stereo. Well, I say veto... I normally end up doing a silent protest with my headphones, while the offending LP spins.

It might seem weird that a movie obsessive like me would want to keep all film music away from my ears outside of the viewing experience, but hear me out. For me, the true power of film largely comes down to its ability to synthesise so many sensory stimuli into one satisfying piece of storytelling. So it doesn’t seem right to just rip out one element to enjoy in isolation. More importantly, however, listening to those themes repeatedly will gradually diminish their impact.

Does Vangelis’ legendary Blade Runner score have the same impact after it has soundtracked your elbow-to-chin rammed daily commute? Would Max Richter’s heart-swelling On the Nature of Daylight still hit you square in the feels as it bookends the opening/closing moments of Arrival if you’ve listened to it on repeat until you’ve wrung all the emotional juice out of it? And what possible use would Hans Zimmer’s pulse-pounding Dunkirk score have outside the film, besides scoring a particularly intense deadline?

Familiarity breeds boredom, and no movie-watching experience is as exciting once you know every cue, beat and key change, your brain absent-mindedly tracing the film’s rhythm ahead of the action. To single out a recent example: the yearning melancholy of La La Land’s City of Stars, so heartfelt and poignant on screen, becomes cloying when listened to again and again. Scores are the most problematic for me, but even a curated soundtrack – such as the hit Guardians of the Galaxy mixtapes – provides too much of a shortcut to the film’s structure.

In the same way that being too familiar with a scene from a trailer or an overused publicity still can pull you out of the moment when it pops up on screen, soundtrack-listening can equally ruin the viewing experience, so should be avoided at all costs. Or is it just me?

Each month Total Film magazine argues a polarising movie opinion and gives you the opportunity to agree/disagree/tell us we’re mad. Let us know what you think about this one in the comments below and read on for more.

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Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.