April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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EDITOR'S RECOMMENDATION April 2006

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Where the Truth Lies  
Music composed by Mychael Danna
Conducted by Nicholas Dodd
Orchestrated by Mychael Danna and Nicholas Dodd
Performed by Unnamed Ensemble with Ian Thomas (drums), Steve Pearce (bass guitar), Derek Watkin (solo trumpet / flugel horn), Phil Todd (alto saxophone solo) and Mychael Danna (guitars, electric piano, organ).
“There’ll be no next time” performed by Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth with the lanny and vince telethon orchestra.
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD 302-066-696-2)
Running Time: 46:28
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • The Machinist
  • Regeneration
  • Name the enduring director-composer relationships of recent cinema. There are all sorts of names that would come up pretty quickly if you were to ask the average film score collector or film critic. Spielberg and Williams. Burton and Elfman. Cronenberg and Shore. Even Lynch and Badalamenti, for those so inclined. We tend not to hear so much about Atom Egoyan and Mychael Danna, despite the fact that the ten feature collaborations of the two Canadian artists include Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), two of the best films from the American cinema of the 1990s.

    Their films tend to be distinguished by strong collaboration between composer and director. Egoyan’s films tend to view the potentially-melodramatic situations of his characters from a strangely-detached position, his instincts generally to avoid the sensational in his films. (The ‘bus scene’ from The Sweet Hereafter is the best example – what other director would have had the guts to treat that so dispassionately?) Danna’s style of composition for film tends to speak very much to this style. His ensembles are always novel – there’s rarely an obvious instrumental choice in any of his scores, but they never distract from the film. If anything, they generally enhance it. (The use of the Persian and medieval ensembles in the score of Sweet Hereafter is a masterstroke of lateral dramatic thinking.) Danna’s themes for the Egoyan films are also curiously objective in their initial relationship to the imagery – they always seem to be in their own worlds at first, and then they come home in the final stages of the film in their final statements, shaking the viewer who has finally made sense of the many threads that make up an Atom Egoyan film.

    I haven’t seen the Egoyan-Danna film that preceded Where the Truth Lies, a study of the Armenian holocaust called Ararat, and although the score is beautiful, the reviews of the film suggest Egoyan gave up some of that objectivity that made his earlier films so objective. (And it’s a tricky subject to remain objective about, so there’s no criticism implied here.) That was four years ago, and Where the Truth Lies is a strange place to find the Canadian auteur, adapting a 1950s set sex-and-violence thriller about a Lewis-Martin-like comedian team (Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth) that split up over an incident involving a dead girl (named ‘Maureen’) in their hotel room. In the 1970s, a young writer (Alison Lohman in the Sarah Polley / Mia Kirshner role) tries to find out where the truth lies (a delicious pun of a title) in that incident. Though reviews are mixed, I’m confident Egoyan will find a fresh path into the material, especially if his composer’s score concept is an indication of the choices involved.

    Danna is widely regarded as a chameleon of film scoring – not only does he make dramatic use of unconventional ensemble choices, he also shows great capacity to immerse his voice in an idiom historically or ethnically relevant to the film’s subject. In films for Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair, this involved immersion into the aesthetics of the music of the subcontinent. In Egoyan’s Ararat, the score heavily draws on folk instrumentation and aesthetics for the Armenian people, colouring it with orchestral writing. In Where the Truth Lies, the ‘period’ sound is more a metaphor than a literal connection to history, and since the film is a mystery concerned with celebrity lifestyles of the 1950s, it’s appropriate that Danna employed Bernard Herrmann’s style for Hitchcock’s more psychological films as a link to the era. What better way to suggest the era but through referencing the film music from the greatest mysteries of the era?

    I fear that to call this Herrmanesque and to leave it at that will make this score seem redundant and passé. For what could a Herrmanesque score possibly do that wasn’t done in Roque Banos’ remarkable homage score for The Machinist? But Danna’s work on this film is analogous to Alberto Iglesias’ score for Bad Education – there is homage to film-scoring’s prince of darkness, but the composer’s hand is very much in evidence. First to the Herrmann. The mystery element of the score draws most clearly on Herrmann’s writing for Vertigo, the arching melody for strings over the harp in ‘Maureen’ with brass chords at the climax very much suggesting the score of Hitchcock’s greatest film. (Citizen Kane also comes to mind throughout the score – interesting in that Herrmann’s score for the Welles’ film very much scored the reconstruction of the truth of a man’s life.) Herrmann’s bass clarinet and harp writing are suggested in ‘Hollywood and Vine’, a haunting reprise of the theme. ‘I’ll See You Inside’ gives the fore to another Herrmann staple – the alto flute. Bassoon and piano meanderings lead into sharp low string phrases over a timpani rhythm in ‘Who’s Gonna Pay Me?’ Violent violin strokes enter over the woodwind lines in this cue, bringing Psycho to mind.

    Yet Mychael Danna’s distinctive style is all over this score. The idiom may be Herrmannesque, but the intervals, the phrasing, brings to mind other Danna melodic writing. Even ‘Maureen’ is more a Danna theme than a Herrmann one. Take the piano of ‘End of Story’ or ‘Babes on Hand’ – it’s Danna. The prominence given to Danna’s writing for small rock band sound also links the score to the period in a more literal way (the setting being the hey-day of early rock). The electric guitar plays arpeggiations in ‘Small Scratches’ in almost expurgatory fashion. (If this is a scene of two people giving in to their sexual urges, then it’s truly a fresh sound for that.) The arpeggiations return in ‘Only to Destroy Us’, the mix prepared for album by Simon Rhodes beautifully negotiating the timbres here. The final cue ‘Forgive Me’, is not a bad summation of the blend of Herrmann and Danna in the score – electric guitar arpeggiations leading into a full string section reprise of ‘Maureen’.

    There’s also Danna’s ever-impressive writing for violin. ‘The Truth Had Come Out’ puts Maureen’s theme exquisitely for that solo instrument with piano accompaniment before the full ensemble enters – it might be the second best cue Danna has written for the instrument. (‘Garden of Death’ from Regeneration is not a solo violin cue, but the prominent solo makes the cue overwhelming for me.) Then there’s ‘The Tape’, the penultimate track and the longest cue on album. It should join the finale cue from The Ice Storm as Danna’s most developed sustained cue. All the ideas are in this track, including an extended violin solo, and when combined with the following cue, it makes for a great ten-minute summation of the range of this score.

    Also worth noting are those tracks – ‘Palace de Sol’ and ‘Chinese Restaurant’ – that shift between a source cue function and underscore. Danna’s idiomatic flexibility is evident in the brassy band sound of the former (a collaboration with Rob Simonsen) and the orchestral blues sound of the latter. The latter also points to another stylistic reference that can be heard throughout the score – the solo trumpet opening of ‘Which Floor?’ takes us to the era of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Waterfront and Jerry Goldsmith’s LA Confidential, though the orchestration is otherwise recognizable as Danna. (Despite being the work of Nicholas Dodd, who is known to have a strong hand in the scores he orchestrates.)

    A highly recommended score. With one nice surprise source cue early on featuring Firth and Bacon playing Martin and Lewis. It’s not written by Danna, but it’s cheeky and it’s a cute allusion to the period via diegetic music. But buy this for Danna’s score – he really is a remarkable voice in film music, one for whom Oscar recognition is well overdue.

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 4.5

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