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Haven't we heard this song before?

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In a world where movie trailers have only a few minutes to sell a film, one musical score will rise from the rabble. And that score is…The Life of David Gale. By a quirk of fate, trailers for two end-of-year films, The Artist and The Iron Lady, both use the same orchestral cue from the 2003 death-penalty drama, a cue that was also used in previews for films such as Munich and Milk. So how does a minute or so of mournful strings from a not-well-remembered Kevin Spacey film end up everywhere? ”There’s a big build, which I think is compelling to people putting together trailers,” says Jake Parker, who composed the original score with his brother, Alex. ”Also, the film wasn’t entirely successful, so perhaps one of the reasons they like it is that people won’t have familiarity with it. ”

Trailers are more than just Hollywood’s elevator pitches to the public — they’re condensed movies-in-a-can, conveying tone and genre as much as plot or character. Music is often used as atmospheric shorthand. ”You’ve got two hours’ worth of emotion that you’ve got to put into two minutes,” says Bobby Gumm of production house Trailer Park, who chose another part of the Gale score for the trailer for 2006’s World Trade Center. ”You need to find a piece of music that lets you accomplish that.” It’s inevitable that certain pieces get reused: You need whimsy? Here’s Camille Saint-Saëns‘ ethereal ”Aquarium.” Heart-pounding thrills? Why not James Horner‘s oft-used Aliens soundtrack? The score for Come See the Paradise, a 1990 drama also by Gale director Alan Parker, became a trailer staple for the next decade. Songs, too, make repeat appearances. Snap!’s ”The Power” seems to have been replaced by Pink‘s ”Raise Your Glass” as the celebratory anthem du jour, sneaking into multiple 2011 previews. ”Actually,” admits Gumm, ”I think I’m responsible for a couple of those.”

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