October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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  SONY SK 89171   [61:55]

When the best mainstream film in months stars Plasticine chickens in a story which is essentially pastiche you know something is rotten in the state of distribution. Likewise, this year's film music has been disappointing. Great film-making inspires great scores, and in 2000 inspiration seems to have been in short supply. The most enjoyable new soundtrack album came not from a movie, but Christopher Gordon's score for the Hallmark mini-series On the Beach And no one bought it.

Titus was actually released in America a year ago, and has sat on the shelf since dying with a take of less than $2 million, hovering in limbo whilst someone decided whether to dump it straight-to-video or actually let us see it on a cinema screen. Well, allegedly, even as I write this Titus is on UK release, though it hasn't come to any of the 20 screens near me. On the day it was supposed to open what happened was that a pastiche of a pastiche opened on all four of the largest screens in the area. What hope is there when Scary Movie, a parody of the Scream series, grabs all the glory from Anthony Hopkins starring in the most acclaimed Shakespeare film since William Shakespeare's Hamlet?

With the film flopping so badly, perhaps it is no surprise that it offers by far the most interesting soundtrack album of the year so far. The problem in reviewing it without having seen the film is that I can't begin to say if this is good film music or not. It may work brilliantly, or it may completely sabotage the on-screen action. What it will not do is sit there blandly, wittering away in the background. Elliot Goldenthal has written a wild, bold, iconoclastic score which on CD is a thrilling, exhilarating ride. Of course it helps that Goldenthal has the gift of writing for not just Shakespeare, but the Bard at his most extreme. This is Shakespeare as furious young man, burning taboos wherever he can find them, filling the stage with more blistering excess than exists in the philosophy of Hollywood's posturing bad boys. Of course it helps that Goldenthal is working not with a tame Hollywood director, but an innovative New York stage-hand, Julie Taymor. And of course, in getting his music taken seriously by his director, it must help enormously that Goldenthal is married to Taymor. Presumably here is one director who understands what a composer does and can contribute; and more particularly, what this particular composer can offer.

Goldenthal has never played by Hollywood formula, as anyone struck by his great score for David Fincher's debut Alien3, will testify. From what I have seen, it looks as if Titus has more in-common with Fincher's Fight Club than the conventional Shakespeare adaptation, so prepare for the unexpected. Prepare for an album which builds massive studio production onto a huge orchestral score, producing a great sounding album of breathtaking clarity. Fincher employs everything here, from orchestra and chorus - the opening 'Victorius Titus' displays the composer's fondness for vast Latin choral passages, demonstrated on an overwhelming scale - to electronics and jazz band. There is one cue lifted, and credited, directly from A Time to Kill ('Pressing Judgement'), though to these ears it could as easily be an outtake from Alien3. 'Pickled Heads' is a virtually unlistenable techno-metal assault which hopefully works somehow in the film, but might have been better left off the album.

Much of the score is orchestral and full of darkly brooding majesty and understated power. The textures are imaginative and even when the melodies are absent, constantly grip the attention. Elsewhere cues of 1930's swing-jazz interrupt the proceedings, delivered with a hard-edged mutant ferocity like something from pre-war Berlin's most illicit and dangerous night club; like John Williams 1941 jazz after it's drunk way too much. Then there is the 'Finale', an elegy building over eight minutes to a peak of moving resignation. One can not help but recognise echoes, forgive me for mentioning it again, of the 'Adagio' from Alien3, but this is still superb writing.

Titus is certainly the best new soundtrack album I have heard this year, even if it really is one of 1999's scores. Once I have seen the film I strongly suspect I shall be declaring it the best film score to grace a film released in the UK this year.

Gary S. Dalkin


Ian Lace adds:-

This is certainly an unusual and individual score. It is often riveting. It reaches out and demands your attention right from the start - its a cappella male chorus swiftly followed by harsh metallic military music that makes Alex North's Spartacus sound like something out of Teletubbies. Harsh, cruel and pungent; serene and tender; brooding and melancholic; and brazen and sleazily jazzy, this extraordinary score, as Gary intimates, is cast in a bewildering assortment of moods and styles. Detected influences are wide and many: Richard Strauss and Wagner clearly, the Russian Romantics, Ligetti, Philip Glass and medieval modes etc. etc. Quite a bit deeper than the normal score, Goldenthal's music demands repeated listenings for full appreciation.

The dreadful synth track 'Pickled Heads' should really have been omitted - and the synth aspect of 'Mad ole Titus' jars too.

The sound is stunning.

I have to say that after due consideration I began to feel that, even though the merits of Goldenthal's Titus music are considerable, it tends to be that just bit too eclectic and too clever; and, dare I say it, a tad monotonous and repetitive before the end. This could be partly due to Sony's predilection for including every bar of a score, when little is so often more. It was this impression that inhibited me, by a small but significant margin, from awarding five stars and an Editor's Recommendation.

Ian Lace



Gary S. Dalkin
Ian Lace


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