March 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /March01/



Shadow of the Vampire
PACIFIC TIME PTE-8531-2 [49:46]
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Dan Jones is not a name that is very familiar but judging from this remarkable inventive score, he could well be destined for A-List film composer status. Shadow of the Vampire is about the making of F.W. Murnau's silent film classic Nosferatu. It stars John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Schreck, the real vampire, who is promised the tasty neck of the film's star, Greta after filming has been completed.

Jones's score is performed with great relish by the BBC Orchestra of Wales (BBC Films is a co-producer). It is genuinely scary music. Tracks like 'Blood' being literally blood-curdling and not for the nervous to listen to alone late at night. Jones uses synth material cleverly and sparingly -- often muted. Much use is made of voices barely audible whether these are observers in a street crowd or theatre or night club audiences; sometimes alarmed, sometimes derisory. The opening track 'A Street in Wismar' begins with hollow footsteps, church bells toning midnight and muffled screechings that might be an owl or more likely, distant female screamings, before low deeply sighing strings creep in. Next comes the remarkable cue (it's reprised later) 'The Bunker'. Beginning with Herrmann-like quietly whirling harp figures from Vertigo, the music develops bleakly, eerily into a relentless trudging 'crescendoing' ostinato beneath a disturbing violin solo in high register with screeching horns, suggesting a slowly encroaching and inescapable menace. This is followed by another impressive piece 'Murnau's Vision - The Journey' in which the textures lighten slightly yet I could not dispel a mental image of dark lace curtains billowing in a midnight breeze. Then 'The Woods' is another powerful evocation of black twig fingers against a night sky. Thunder bolts rage across the sky as heard, in the mid-distance, is dissonant 'Music at the Inn'. I could describe every one of the 28 tracks on this album, they are so impressive. Besides the nerve-shredding cues, there are tracks with material appropriate to the period of the film - 'Good Living' takes us into the decadent, desperate smoky atmosphere of 1920s German night-club jazz. A twisted and gritty tango is heard in the peculiarly named 'Wagner Arrives' cue. Another oddly named cue 'The Ship Building Waltz' is a welcome relief offering warmer more sentimentally nostalgic material. Yet another memorable cue is Greta's Waltz beginning bleakly menacing, before the waltz develops as though played on fairground instrumentation. It is attractive and catchy but there is more of an air of desperation about it than merriment. The most substantial cue is the Title Music - oddly placed as the penultimate cue. Again it is novel for it begins with an ancient gramophone playing a sentimental salon piece before the Jones's music, preponderantly strings, creeps in to develop into a powerful crescendo that becomes increasingly darker and more menacing.

A powerful and innovative score that not only must enhance the film immeasurably, but also makes an absorbing listening experience in its own right

Ian Lace

Yet Paul Tonks is not quite so enthusiatic:-


This tongue-in-cheek blackly humorous movie might have been scored a number of ways. British composer Jones fashioned a serious and grand affair however. That performs a number of tricks of course. It stops any gags from taking themselves too far, and provides a dramatic counterpoint to them when needed too. The infectious and memorable "The Bunker" will immediately convince you of that.

There is plenty of impressively melodic material throughout this disc, but it's all regrettably a little muddled by the 'concept' approach to presenting it. Briefly recalling one cue in the middle of Wojciech Kilar's Bram Stoker's Dracula, the album opens with a period of dialogue and spooky sound effect at the start of "A Street In Wismar". Dialogue will pop up on a few more occasions, and so long as it's not drowning out the music is fine. The other aspect of the 'concept' that's irksome, is clearly re-sequencing the music's order within the film yet not seeming the better for it. There are source cues from Jones for "Music At The Inn", "Herr Doktor", and "A Concert In Wismar" but they would have been much better left for last. Instead they interrupt any flow the otherwise atmospheric score is trying to achieve.

A possible unforgivable result of that is that for the middle third of the album, cue lengths do not match those listed, leaving you floundering for where you are. With a little judicious re-ordering on your CD player, this can be a most enjoyable listen.

Paul Tonks

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