The first film score of independent artistic merit and dominant coloration of the dramatic action was not Duke Ellington’s famous score to Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), but Miles Davis’ score to Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), a lesser known film that is nonetheless a paragon of French film noir. Evidently, Malle projected the film and Miles improvised the entire score. Elevator to the Gallows demonstrated how a score could envelop an entire film in subtle shifting atmospherics, paving the way for the spiritual marriage of film and music in masterpieces like 8 1/2, 2001, and Koyaanisqatsi.

Here’s “Generique,” which is the very sound of the wet Parisian streets at dusk.

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