SONY SK 89171
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
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
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.