September 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Piercing the Celluloid Veil
Wrightwood Records

A Hollywood calling card. Or selected themes from non-existence films. Piercing the Celluloid Veil is quite an oddity really.

Few composers get an opportunity to set out their stall in such lavish fashion. But Mark Wolfram in effect has done just that and this compilation of various diverse dramatic cues demonstrates that while he is technically accomplished, he lacks that special indefinable something that makes the truly great composers stand out from the crowd.

If I said these pieces sounded more like TV music that might seem derogatory, but I don't mean it that way. The work here just has a certain style and sound to it that makes me think either of movies from the sixties and early seventies or of television. A lot of the music really does have a rather old fashioned character to it.

'Dogged Pursuit' for instance is an action motif with a distinct sixties feel (which is actually quite appealing). 'Big Sky' is also very much old-school film writing in what is a big, enjoyable outdoors theme.

In fact the early pieces on the CD are the best with 'Wistful Disappointment' and 'Farewell' promising better things. But ultimately and unfortunately this quality is not sustained, despite the appearance of the notable 'Ethical Dilemma' which is very brooding and suspenseful. Actually this piece seemed to me to be Howard Shore by way of Bernard Herrmann. And these kind of influences can only be a good thing, as long as they are fresh enough to stand in their own right.

Sadly too many other tracks are standard suspense cues, such as 'Serpentine', 'Unseen Terror' and 'The Slasher', the latter as formulaic as its title.

Much better is 'Credo', a choral piece with a Germanic flavour that blusters away and makes a good impression, but others like 'The Test of Time' and 'Brass Trio-Mvt. 1-3' are not nearly as engaging and outstay their welcome. The first is a modern, slightly saccharine piece, the kind of thing that really would turn up in a TV movie, while the second is (obviously) a brass only work that has a rather remote quality and I personally found it wholly resistible.

There are two much longer pieces (most range between one and three minutes) which really should be the tour de forces of the entire work, but disappointingly the titular 'Piercing the Celluloid Veil' is almost self-consciously restrained and meanders along without ever really grabbing the attention. But if those six minutes were less than captivating, the eleven plus of 'Corridors (A Concerto for Orchestra)' are a distinct let down in what becomes an increasingly bland and self-indulgent exercise.

Although this is a professional job, after starting out on good solid ground it all becomes increasingly dull. While this is an interesting experiment that will surely have many other composers envious of the opportunity, it's just a pity that there isn't more here to get enthusiastic about.

Mark Hockley



Mark Hockley


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