I Hate Background Music!
by Tina Blue
January 2, 2002
I love movies, but like most people with a severe hearing impairment, I find it quite challenging to follow the dialogue, even under the best of circumstances.
Fortunately, I have friends who are willing to repeat key dialogue that I have missed, so I am still able to go to the movies, and I can usually follow what is going on.
It works even better on video. My friend Michael has a set of earphones (my "hearmuffs") set up for me on his VCR. With those earphones, I can turn the VCR volume up full blast, while the TV volume remains at a normal level, so I don't end up blasting Michael and his neighbors into the next county.
The earphones also channel the sound directly into my ears, with none of it dissipating into the surrounding air. Just as I can sometimes hear surprisingly well on the telephone because voices are poured directly into my ear, I do much better with earphones than with uncorralled sound.
But even under these optimal conditions, with the VCR volume up full blast and pouring directly through the earphones and into my ears, I still miss some important dialogue, so Michael always has to be prepared to stop the tape and tell me what was said.
Whether in the theater or on videotape, one factor can be identified as causing most of my trouble with dialogue in movies--background music.
At crucial moments in far too many films, the background music swells to the point where it completely drowns out what the actors are saying. In fact, the music is often so loud that Michael can't understand the dialogue--even on video, and even if we replay that part of the video several times!
That has also happened to many of my other friends. Despite the fact that they have normal hearing, they can't make out the dialogue through the loud music.
And like commercials on broadcast TV, the music is cranked up louder than the normal volume of the film, so my earphones--which, remember, are turned all the way up--deliver a physically painful blast of music into my ears. I have to rip the earphones off and then stop the video until my ears recover from the trauma.
I cannot fathom why a director will layer such loud music over important dialogue in a film. Certainly as we Baby Boomers grow older, enough movie-going adults have reached the point where they are suffering from age-related hearing loss, so it probably isn't just people like me who find the practice obnoxious. And since even people with normal hearing are often unable to hear the words through the music, it is evident that the music really is far louder than it should be.
Frankly, I'd like to see background music removed altogether from films. To me it's just noise that blocks out dialogue. But I know that most people want some background music. Still, I do not believe that most people want it to get that loud during dialogue-driven scenes.