October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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DVD Review

The Talented Mr Ripley starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Cate Blanchett; directed by Anthony Minghella.
  Paramount/Miramax VFC 16776

I have had the opportunity of comparing the video and DVD of this film. What a difference! The DVD colour fidelity and image sharpness is far superior; and the soundtrack is much clearer and more dynamic. These are particularly important considerations because the music and the gorgeous Italian scenery (of the Neapolitan and San Remo coastlines, Rome and Venice) are major 'stars' of this gripping thriller.

As director Anthony Minghella says, in the fascinating bonus feature on the soundtrack, music was used to help delineate the character differences between Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf. Dickie plays jazz is free thinking, fast and loose and lives for the moment; whereas Tom is the classical pianist, restrained, deep and controlled. Interestingly, Matt Damon learned to play the piano and Jude Law the saxophone for this film. Minghella also talks about the use of the late 1950s jazz as used in the film with the music of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie creating that special ambience supportive of the period art direction. The popular Italian song 'Tu Vuo Fa L'Americano' (about Italians wanting to be American) is also very much of its time, and in accordance with the film's theme of someone from a humble background wanting to enjoy a privileged existence. This song, from the night club scene, featuring Damon, Law and Gary Barker's International Quintet is reprised in the bonus features; so too is Matt Damon's rendering of 'My Sweet Valentine' (definitely the untalented Mr Damon - we'll ring you!)

Composer Gabriel Yared is seen commenting on his music and we see him in the recording sessions. Interestingly, the classical song heard at the beginning of the film when Ripley wearing the borrowed Princeton blazer is the piano accompanist, is used as a basis of the music played by the 90 piece orchestra (conducted by Harry Rabinowitz). The music works very well in conjuring the hot sultry atmosphere of the Bay of Naples and later the increasing desperation and tension as Ripley juggles his two personnas. Classical source music used in the film includes works by Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and a scene (from the opera house sequence) from Tchaikowsky's Eugene Onegin.

By the way, people who expressed disappointment about the inconclusive ending of this film will no doubt be interested to learn that Patricia Highsmith wrote sequels about the fate of Tom Ripley. One of these, Ripley's Game is to be filmed starring Pierce Brosnan as an older Tom Ripley....The Talented Mr Ripley was honoured with five Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor, Jude Law and Best Adapted Screenplay.

A much higher than average DVD release and strongly recommended. Below we repeat Gary S. Dalkin's review of the soundtrack CD as published on this site in March this year.

Ian Lace


CD review by Gary Dalkin

This album features 7 score tracks by Gabriel Yarded. In addition: 8 new recordings made for the film: classic jazz numbers featuring Guy Barker and various line-ups, one extract from Vivaldi, and one song by performed by Sinéad O'Connor with lyrics by Anthony Minghella. Plus original recordings by Miles Davis: Nature Boy, Dizzy Gillespsie: The Champ, Charlie Parker: Ko-Ko, Marino Marini: Guaglione.

This soundtrack, and of course the film from which it comes, are automatically guaranteed to attract attention if for no other reason that they unite composer Gabriel Yared with director Anthony Minghella for the first time since the enormously successful The English Patient. Yared's Oscar-winning score for that film had some fine passages, but all too often seemed as shapeless and hollow as the drama it accompanied. This was especially noticeable on disc, though some very attractive excerpts appear on The English Patient and Other Arthouse Classics. But then, what was a film musician to do? Yared is a fine composer and his scores tend to match a particular film so well as to work to their detriment away from the screen - his score for Betty Blue is marvellous film music, though rather fragmented away from the images.

Happily, the soundtrack album to The Talented Mr. Ripley is rather more enjoyable, even fun, than any Yared CD I have heard before. The film is a dark drama set against the burgeoning modern jazz scene in 1950's Italy, and there is a lot of warm, sunny, joyful music here as well as the expected romantic elegance. There are actually three aspects to the disc, intermingled to sometimes disconcerting effect.

There are 7 tracks of Gabriel Yared's score. Clarinet and accordion play over strings for the gorgeous 'Italia', a piece of gossamer-dreaminess over all too quickly. The theme is restated more urgently in 'Crazy Tom', and though an Arabic influence appears, anyone listening to Angela's Ashes recently might be forgiven for thinking this was prime John Williams. 'Mischief' heads into understated atmospherics, vibes tying to the jazz flavour of the movie, while 'Proust' is darkly glittering, introducing a secondary theme which forms the basis of the song 'Lullaby for Cain', sung by Sinéad O'Connor over the end titles, but strangely, placed 4th on the album. The song itself is bleakly haunting, and given O'Connor's flair for jazz and torch songs as evidenced by her covers album Am I Not Your Girl? she proves an appropriate choice for the number. Everything comes together in the early morning resignation of 'Syncopes', making Yared's selections here much more attractive than the complete score presented on The English Patient album. In fact in its mournful way this music has the hallmarks of another fine Italian journey into darkness in the tradition of Donaggio's 'Don't Look Now', Mole's 'Othello' and Shearmur's 'The Wings of the Dove'. After this an excerpt from Vivaldi's Sabat Mater (specially recorded for the film) is not the least out of place.

The other two aspects of the album are jazz recordings, old and new. Matt Damon, one of the film's stars, covers 'My Funny Valentine' in Chet Baker style, his slightly flat detachment suiting the mood well. The album closes with John Martyn singing 'You Don't Know What Love', his trademark world-weariness taken to the very limit over the orchestral jazz backing. At the opposite extreme is the foot-tapping, seriously swinging 'Tu Vuo' Fa L'Americano', featuring both Damon, and co-star Jude Law. This is one to play LOUD, and it's sure to put a smile on your face. Elsewhere comes a selection of original jazz classics by the likes of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, in other words, the best in the business. The new jazz tracks all feature Guy Barker and various side-men, and they recreate the sound of 50's jazz with impeccable aplomb.

That all this glues together remarkably well as an album must in large measure be a tribute to Anthony Minghella, for he actually co-produced the new jazz recordings. And this isn't a vanity credit either, for in his very detailed an informative notes we discover that he used to write music himself and is very thoughtful about the roll of music in film, considering that "Music is at the heart of the film..." You might have misgivings about this album, but, and especially if you like jazz as well as orchestral film scoring, it is well worth acquiring. In some ways it covers similar territory, mixing orchestral melancholy with jazz, as Ennio Morricone's hugely acclaimed The Legend of 1900, though for my money, and on disc at least, The Talented Mr. Ripley does it just that little bit better.


Gary S. Dalkin

Ian Lace adds

Having seen Anthony Minghella's film now three or four times, I have become increasingly impressed with the music, not only by the very well chosen jazz and classical music, but even more so with Yared's original score. The mood is quickly set with the melancholy classical-style song, as delivered by the singer accompanied by Tom Ripley wearing the borrowed Princeton blazer, during the New York party at the beginning of the film. This song, 'Cain's Mother, A lullaby' (performed by Sinéad O'Connor) has lines about leaving - "…your nightmares on the pillow, sleep now..." that resonate eerily and uneasily creating a delicious sense of scary anticipation. Yared uses this melody to develop his score.

Moving to Italy, the cue 'Italia' evokes all the heat and languor and romance of the Neapolitan coastline and the sparkle of its waters. This cue, and the more astringent 'Crazy Tom', reminded me somewhat of the music of Sir William Walton who made his home on the Isle of Ischia also in the Bay of Naples. The increasing tension of 'Crazy Tom', cleverly underlines Ripley's murderous determination to maintaining his Dickie impersonation. 'Mischief', is a light scintillating little number, with an edgy seam employing vibes over tremolando strings for the early playful scenes between Tom and Dickie Greenleaf. With 'Proust' the celeste, bells and treble percussion show Tom becoming increasingly unhinged and there is something infinitely sad and isolated about this music. On the other hand 'Promise' has a warmer, more romantic and wistful feel about it. Another haunting Yared cue is 'Syncopes' that develops into an infinitely sad and prayer-like variation of 'Cain's Mother'.

A memorable score that really does enhance its screenplay and an album that is well worth listening to away from the film. What other recommendation could you want?

Ian Lace


Ian Lace


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