Grand themes, wall-to-wall scoring, and subtle leitmotifs. These are all techniques that could be considered quite common in studio-era Hollywood, and even silent film, productions. Up until the sixties, film scores showed little, to no, innovation from its operatic predecessors when it came to the use of sound within a film. Even through the jazz era in film scoring, sound did almost nothing other than raise the tension and depict a character’s love through a melody. Like writing, filmmaking, and painting, it took film composers a little while to come up with different uses for their medium. Jean Luc Godard’s 1964 film Band of Outsiders (Bande à Part) takes film scoring and brings it to the avant-garde in order to redefine the role of sound within film. Band of Outsiders takes the role of musical scoring from being grand and objective, to being subtle, individual, and subjective.
Band of Outsiders is a 1964 French New Wave film that used innovation in nearly every aspect of the film. With a French name that literally translates to “doing something apart from the group” (Wiki), it is not a far stretch to understand why the sound department decided to follow no one else’s lead but their own. One of the first sound tricks that Band of Outsiders used were short music cues. Like the composers that preceded him, Michel Legrand, composer for Band of Outsiders, used the leitmotif to describe implicit situations, such as the short ragtime cue in the beginning, which symbolizes the intertwined emotion dance that the main characters, Franz, Odile, and Arthur, metaphorically went on, with each other, before the start of the diegesis. A simple emotion that one would feel, described through the first musical cue of the film.
Most of the musical cues are very short and minimalist, using repeated notes and patterns. However, instead of attaching these cues to the main action in the diegesis, Legrand uses the cues as a mimetic look of the individual character’s emotion at a given time. One of the most used cues within the film is the slow and hypnotizing ¾ cue that closely resembles a waltz. Whenever this phrase is played, the characters are acting in a repetitive, been-there way. The cue is used during times of car driving, as well as just walking into a house. Any instance where the action was apathetic and automatic, or slow and socially influenced, the ¾ cue can be heard. This particular cue could be considered a leitmotif for this emotion of repetition.
Another one of the short cues that is very present throughout the film is the swing themed spy-like cue, which is used during the scenes that take place where, and when, the robbery happens. This cue is centered around the individual thoughts of Odile going through with being an accomplice to a robbery. Diegetically in her mind, Odile hears this repetitive swing beat that entices her into performing her role in the heist to her best. The cue is not longer than five bars, repeated, suggesting that it is under the social influence and not the notion of faire bande à part (to be discussed later). If the process was entirely influenced by Odile’s own actions, the cue would be non repeating, suggesting that it is an action that is entirely individual and not a repeated measure from another character or previous action.
The individualistic nature of cue use comes to the forefront with another cue, one that shows up in chapter 9, after Odile finds the stash of cash and she is running to Franz and Arthur to tell them about it. The scene cuts between the stream, where Franz and Arthur are waiting, and Odile running to the stream to tell Franz and Arthur about the hidden money. Cuts of Odile, who is now feeling on top of the world after her find, feature a cue that is fast paced and jazz influenced, mimicking how Odile must be feeling, fast and upbeat and accomplished. The cuts of Franz and Arthur depict them talking about the news, having no relation to what Odile just saw and is now feeling, with no soundtrack backing the dialogue of the characters. This combination of cutting back and forth, through both the image and soundtrack, depicts the individual nature of the leitmotifs that Legrand was trying to accomplish.
Besides in the cues within the score for Band of Outsiders, the dialogue track uses innovative techniques in order to further illustrate the implicit thoughts and nature of a particular character. One of the first scenes that this could be seen that depicts this innovation within the dialogue track is the “Minute of Silence” scene, found approximately in the middle of the film in chapter 11. The three partners are sitting at a café table. In order to capitalize on a moment where no one has something to say, Franz suggests a minute of silence in order to organize their thoughts and motives. During this “minute of silence”, all sound on the soundtrack are muted. There is absolutely no diegetic sound or accompanying cue, where in actuality there would be the clanging of dishes and ambient conversations within the diegesis. This “actual” diegetic noise can be heard before and after the moment of silence, but not during.
This innovative use of the soundtrack helps the argument of the sound being used as a malleable medium in order to help describe the individualistic nature of one’s own thoughts, the notion of faire bande à part which the entire film is based off of. The absence of any soundtrack during the minute of silence symbolizes the thought process without outside influence, or a faire bande à part. Franz’s decision to take a moment of silence in order to gather and concentrate one’s own thoughts, is extracted from the film’s diegesis and put onto the laps of the viewing audience by the non-use of any diegetic or non-diegetic sound. The minute of silence is not only for Franz, Odile, and Arthur, but also for the audience to realize what unmediated thought feels like. Both Godard and Legrand must have collaborated in this effort to unveil a feeling that was never seen, or necessarily tangible, within the films prior to 1964. This is a large innovation within the use of sound in film, since the soundtrack used to be meant as a mediation, and method of diegetic interpretation, between the image track and the viewer.
The minute of silence is not the only instance where this innovation in sound is utilized. For similar effects, the scene immediately following the moment of silence, “The Madison” scene where the trio dance to a song that is playing on the jukebox, also uses the absence of sound in order to express feelings that are nearly intangible to the much of the viewing audience. Obviously, the diegetic sound from this part includes the music cue that resonates from the jukebox, as well as the sound of the clapping, snapping, and dance steps that are involved in the dance that goes along with this scored musical cue. However, like this scene’s predecessor, the minute of silence, the diegetic sound does not stay constant throughout the whole scene. The soundtrack for this section of the film is also cut, this time intertwining the diegeitic Madison song with the mentally diegetic thought process of Franz.
However, unlike its sister scene, the soundtrack cuts in this scene only cut out the music score and ambient noise, leaving the diegetic sound of the dance steps and Franz’s voice-over, which is used sporadically throughout the film to convey his thought, in the soundtrack. This method not only opens up the conversation to intangible emotions, like the minute of silence, but also helps to depict the individualistic nature of one’s own thoughts, as discussed earlier. True, logically there is much sound in the diegesis, but cuts within the soundtrack help to extend Franz’s minute of silence, as he is still alone within his mind, still sorting over his thoughts with no mediation, other than the dance which becomes rather repetitive. The repetitive nature of the cut up musical cue, added to Franz’s thought voiceover, added to the silent cuts, makes a philosophical stance that individual thought is separate from the semi-forced, automatic actions that are influenced by groups, or society. Once again, Godard is throwing around the idea of faire bande à part, the main theme of the film, through the use of sound innovations.
Band of Outsiders is really a work of its own individual accord. This film takes its namesake, faire bande à part (notion of acting outside of the group), and utilizes the theme within every aspect of the film, especially within sound. Before Godard filmed Band of Outsiders, almost every film soundtrack either mimicked Sunset Boulevard’s score, or the score aspirations of Laura. It is safe to say that the main interest in the studio era, even though Band of Outsiders is unaffiliated to Hollywood film at that time, was to gain money. It is not a far stretch that a French New Wave would take up the notion of faire bande à part and express it through, not necessarily the plot, but the sound.
Band of Outsiders’ soundtrack shows little to no resemblance to its Hollywood counterparts. The notion of faire bande à part is this film’s platform to act outside of other films, or to act away from the group which could be considered Hollywood film. The soundtrack did just that by using short and minimalist cues that are repetitive in times of repetitive or influenced action. Also, the non-use of the diegetic soundtrack within the minute of silence, as well as the depiction of the individualistic thought process seen in the Madison scene.
Film composer Legrand made certain not to follow the standard when it came to scoring this film. Instead of matching cues to actions, he matched them up to individual thoughts and mindsets. Faire bande à part. It is interesting to note that in the beginning of the film, there is a caption that advertises Legrand’s film score for Band of Outsiders as the “last (?) film score”. This could mean a variety of things. This film was made in the early 60’s where film scoring was on the down and out as jazz scores and pop tunes took over. Even though the score for this film was jazz influenced, it was completely original and did not nearly take to the same form as the scores for earlier mentioned films. Also, one might be hard pressed to even consider Legrand’s score as an actual score for a film, since it is so sparse, minimalistic, and hidden. If one were to listen to Band of Outsiders soundtrack record, you would probably only hear about five songs at two minutes a piece. So it is very legitimate to consider Legrand’s score as the “last (?) score for film”. In the year 1964, the film scores were on their way out, and if Godard got his vision of faire bande à part across to everyone in the audience, social influence would also be on the down and out. If his thesis held true, there would no longer be a “film score” or classical way of creating one. There would just many ways to add sound and music to film, none of which would be following a theory of music, but rather creating to the beat of a single drum.
When it comes to film scoring, almost all scores are composed of flowing themes and obvious leitmotifs. However, taking the spirit of the film’s thesis, faire bande à part, Legrand achieved innovation within the use of sound within a film’s soundtrack. From the individualistic nature of short cues, to the non-use of diegetic sound, Band of Outsiders seems to defy the rules of film scoring and still succeed at conveying a strong and dominant message. Faire bande à part, longue vit.