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December 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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A History of Violence  
Music composed by Howard Shore
  Available on Silva Screen (SILCD1194)
(NB This CD may be marketed in some territories as New Line Records NLR39051)
Running Time: 40:12
Amazon UK   Amazon US

With the rejection of Howard Shore’s score for Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, this new collaboration with a director the composer has a far longer relationship with, David Cronenberg, takes on perhaps greater significance. While many have speculated as to why Shore’s music for Kong was discarded, the most obvious reason may well be that it sounded just too reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. And the score to A History of Violence, at least initially, gives some credence to this argument. ‘Tom’, for instance, begins with a pastoral piece whose first few notes strongly mirror the ‘Hobbiton’ sections of Shore’s Lord of the Rings work, whereas ‘Diner’ could very easily have been lifted directly from any one of the Tolkien trilogy. Which is not to say that these tracks are not fine film music in their own right, but they certainly find Shore still with his composing mind very much in Middle Earth. Furthermore, the track, ‘Hero’, features a section that if played independently, many would be hard pressed to recognise as non-Rings material.

But this preliminary analysis is superficial at best and repeat plays reveal a far more complex structure. The frenetic ‘Run’, while recognisably within this composer’s usual range, adds a little more individual colour and as the score develops, subtly at first and then more distinctly, a singular identity emerges that finally distances it from any lingering similarities to his illustrious previous work. As the film itself also concerns issues of identity, this is an interesting aspect in terms of appreciating the work as a whole. Pieces such as ‘The Staircase’ build on and establish Shore’s motifs of brooding menace and anticipation, always tinged with a sense of tragic inevitability. But the best of the score appears towards the end of the CD, as the tension mounts and Shore is able to use his wonderful talent for pathos and poignancy (beautifully demonstrated by the first half of ‘The Road’).

What this soundtrack certainly proves, if there was any doubt, is that this composer is an artist who takes his work very seriously. And within this there is another potential reason for his dismissal from King Kong. A true artist always has a personal vision. Considering the fact that Peter Jackson too is an artist in his own right, it seems reasonable that on occasions two artistic approaches may clash. Jackson has been recently quoted as saying that Shore’s work just didn’t ‘click’. Fortunately there is no such division between David Cronenberg and Howard Shore. For over twenty-five years now they have produced exciting, innovative work together. A History of Violence continues that trend.

Mark Hockley


Jeffrey Wheeler adds:-

In director David Cronenberg's adaptation of John Wagner & Vince Locke's graphic novel, A History of Violence, the proprietor of a diner in small-town Indiana creates--or uncovers--his own violent history when he thwarts a pair of armed robbers, sharply affecting himself, his family, and his community in the process.

Writing for the soundtrack's liner notes, composer Howard Shore describes this, his 11th collaboration with Cronenberg, as an exploration of "the visceral battle between good and evil," along the lines of classic Westerns. This is clear in the music, which is simultaneously discordant and expansive, a bit like Aaron Copland’s darker Americana, although a number of the orchestrations owe more to Charles Ives.

While less melodic than Shore's music for The Lord of the Rings, the soundtrack is nevertheless subtly tuneful. The overly familiar high droning of the opening track gives way to an intriguing listen, with the track 'Tom' introducing the main character's theme in a horn-led pastoral setting and 'Diner' presenting a malevolent motif for... malevolence. Tom's melody goes through tortured permutations along with the lead character, accentuated by passages, such as the love scene ('The Staircase'), that attempt to step back to the idyllic environs of 'Tom' but never regain a solid foothold.

Clocking in at almost two and a half minutes, 'Run' contains the longest stretch of pure action scoring, giving propulsive strings and brass hits a brief but intense presence. This is a character-driven score, so there is not much call for powerhouse tracks. Instead, we hear symphonic brutality that is epic in scope, very much like what one hears in The Lord of the Rings, but rather than giving us a lot of busyness (the usual Hollywood shortcut for action music) it is merely declarative. The effect is chilling.

If there is anything seriously wrong with this superb balancing act, it is that it veers close to monotony toward the end. The composer pushes his approach almost beyond its dramatic value.

The director's own notes glowingly refer to Howard Shore as an unseen actor infusing films with a character. Listening to the A History of Violence album, that cliché actually feels appropriate. I can believe it.

Jeffrey Wheeler


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