Sunday, February 1, 2009

What You Can't See Will Move You

First an admission. I don't have academic music bona fides, so I can't write about musical structure or debate the virtues of a particular key.

I took guitar lessons for several years when I was a teenager and my text book was the volume above (one of three). I learned to read music, and I loved picking at my guitar and attempting to play along with my Mike Oldfield (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Five Miles Out, Platinum) and The Sweet albums (Sweet Fanny Adams and Desolation Boulevard, two of the greatest rock albums ever; yes, ROCK albums), but I was no musician.

The first soundtrack I ever bought was Star Wars ('77). Hundreds more followed. Now I have a decent collection closing in on one thousand titles, which is close to three weeks of non-stop bliss.

The only response worth a damn (to me) when listening to music is the emotional response.

What does it do for me?

Where does it take me?

Does it move me? -- to tears possibly?

Does it inflate buried emotions?

The following do all these things...

Fly Away Home is one of my favorite films of all time. Directed by Carroll Ballard, who also gave us Never Cry Wolf and The Black Stallion, it is a sublimely beautiful and emotionally transporting work of art.

Mark Isham's brilliant score is in no small part responsible for that achievement.

A track identified as "Dad's Glider", in which Anna Paquin observes her estranged father (Jeff Daniels) soaring through the sky above their farmhouse, is almost unbearably moving.

And Mary Chapin's vocal rendition of "10,000 Miles", heard over the opening montage, and again over the climax as Paquin flies down the river and leads her feathered charges to safety, is both haunting and inspiring in context.

"Father Goose" is delicate but lighthearted, while "Life in the Drawer/The Assembly" has a deep, emotional intensity.

Isham has composed dozens of film scores including a great one for the underrated remake of The Getaway.

His work here feels like it was realized in the purest, most collaborative of environments.

It is perfect.

Unfortunately, Giuseppe Tornatore's The Unknown Woman (La Sconosciuta, 2006) has gotten very spotty global distribution; this is despite winning a sack of European awards and being from the director of the Academy Award winning Cinema Paradiso.

It is a raw, extraordinary thriller about the revenge of a woman sold into sexual slavery.

The score, by Ennio Morricone, is rich, harrowing, brutal, and almost operatic in its unbridled intensity. It is the composer's best effort since the exquisite Lolita.

"La Sconosciuta", the lead track, hints at the darkness to come, and employs a cello that moved me to tears.

"Giochi Infantili" is a beautiful, effervescent piece suggesting the possibility of flight; it refers to the main character's provocative relationship with a young girl.

"Archiu Bianci" is a slow, deep, exploratory piece that resonates with grim inevitability.

A prime example of a brilliant film being the equal of its score.

For mine, Morricone is the greatest living composer.

Carter Burwell's sad, powerful score was a replacement for another composer's work.

Incredibly, it feels like internal dialog converted to music.

Sidney Lumet's film is a mature, groundbreaking piece of work about two brothers (Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman) who commit a crime that destroys their family.

Running only one minute, the title theme fully succinctly establishes the film's emotional landscape. The use of piano is inspired.

In "Andy Doesn't Add Up", we feel lives falling apart and hope crumbling.

"Father's Last Resort" underscores a terrible decision and its shocking consequences. It is beautiful and heart-breaking.

Burwell has gotten more attention recently for his Coen Bros. scores like No Country For Old Men (deservedly so) and Burn After Reading, but this is superior to those.

This riveting vigilante drama from 1983 starred Michael Douglas and failed miserably at the box office.

Michael Small's score is a terrific piece of work with variations on a haunting, subtle motif that creates a rich mood of suspense and inevitability.

Stand-out tracks are "Andujar Trial" and front and end titles.

Small also scored Klute.

There's little I can add to the legend of Jerry Goldmsith.

This is perhaps one of his most unheard scores because the film flopped and was unavailable in any format for many years.

More a drama than a thriller, though you wouldn't know it from looking at the artwork, it is an exceptional film with great performances from Sissy Spacek and Eric Roberts.

The "Main Title", which blends guitar, flute, harmonica and strings, is rich and filled with warmth. It telegraphs tragedy, too, but it does so gently.

"The Kite" captures the magic of childhood and the nostalgia of country fairs.

The Raggedy Man score is one of Goldsmith's richest, most humanistic works, and he should have won an Oscar for it.

Goldsmith, who left an amazing legacy of music including The Omen, Papillon, Extreme Prejudice, Hoosiers, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek - The Motion Picture, Inchon, Basic Instinct, The Mephisto Waltz and Patton, altered the architecture of film music.

1 comment:

  1. You could speak forever about composers; when you mention Jerry Goldsmith, I immediately think 'Twilight Zone; the movie'.

    Silvestri and Jack Nietsche are also favourites.

    I went through a phase where I followed composers like Phillip Glass and Mike Oldfield, but you know when a composers work overpowers the film, and the soundtrack is the only thing you remember- for me, it was particuarly evident in "The Mission". Outstanding music, OK film.

    Give me a film like 'Once Upon a Time in America', or 'Razor's Edge' (the much maligned remake) where the music and the images complement one another all the way along and I am a happy camper.

    What about Giorgio Moroder, who to me IS the 80's, and yet most of the films he scored are crap? My understanding with regard to film music is, if you are noticing the music at the expense of the visuals, you might well have slipped up.

    Not all films need music; I can't think of any off the top of my head- any films you can think of sans score??

    live with the question...

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