Active in the
concert hall as Associate Conductor for English Chamber Orchestra and Associate
Composer of the Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square, Benjamin Wallfisch is
mostly known to film score collectors via his orchestrations and conducting for
Dario Marianelli’s recent projects – The Brother’s Grimm, Pride and
Prejudice and V for Vendetta. Though the music presented here on Movie
Score Media’s new iTunes release is his debut film score as composer, his
experience with Marianelli has obviously been good preparation, as it’s an
excellent, if brief, score.
The film was
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s follow-up to his much-derided science
fiction romance It’s all about love. That Claire Danes – Joaquin Phoenix
film was the sort of film no-one ends up liking, despite having many virtues,
not the least of which was Zbigniew Preisner amd Nikolaj Egelund’s wonderful
score. Here Vinterberg works from a script by Lar von Trier about violence in a
small American town, featuring Bill Pullman and Jamie Bell. The intriguing
concept is very much what you’d expect from the author of Dogville and a
former Dogme director (Vinterberg directed Festen), centring on a group
of young men who form a group based on gun fetishism, but with the mandate that
they will never use their weapons.
I can’t quite see
how Wallfisch ended up on this film (a required number of UK-based crew for
investments to qualify for tax concessions?), and perhaps the liner notes could
have addressed this question. In any case, it’s a score that alternates between
subdued orchestral lyricism and sparse textural moments. The main theme is for
the Jamie Bell character Dick, and is first presented in the moving orchestral
opener ‘Showdown’. The harp accompaniment recalls Gabriel Yared’s main title
from Cold Mountain, the way the theme itself moves from strings to solo
woodwind and violin recalls Mychael Danna’s subtle melodies. The overall tone
is of melancholy and the fragility of life. ‘Dick’s Theme’ is a sparser
arrangement for solo piano and strings (reminiscent of Preisner and Ledzek
Modzer’s ‘wet’ piano sound), and ‘Dick’s Story’ offers a brief flute variation.
Hint of the theme appear through the score, even when it isn’t stated in full,
as in the more textural ‘We were one, Wendy’.
The more textural
side of the score employs disturbing electronic layers and glass harmonica,
first heard in ‘First Letter’, then in ‘First Shot’. (The use of glass
harmonica also suggests Danna, whose Heart in Atlantis score also found
use for the instrument in a small town story.) A sparse piano melody in
‘Electric Park’ with soft string accompaniment is rendered subtly disturbing
via a hint of glass harmonica. Subtly processed female vocals doubled with
glass harmonica drive ‘Wendy calls to Dick’, a thick low string chord carrying
the cue at the end. Those who don’t favour the more textural approach to film
scoring will probably be less interested in purchasing these cues.
the right balance between non-intrusive scoring and interesting composition
though. ‘The Dandies’, with it’s woodwind arpeggiations, churning tremolo
strings and heroic horn calls, is an unexpected highlight pitched somewhere
between Richard Wagner and Philip Glass. The lower reaches of the orchestra
wretch in the first half of ‘Dick’s Insanity’, as in ‘Ultimate Darkness’. Brass
glissandos and extreme divisi writing in ‘Close Escape’ end a bit too briefly,
but doubtless serve their part well in the film before the melancholic celesta
melody that closes that cue. The harp of the opening cue returns in ‘Final
Tragedy’ with a flute-led reprise of Dick’s Theme that develops into a
tumultuous string and brass adagio that recalls (and not for the first time in
this score) Elliot Goldenthal, a solo oboe carrying the conclusion. The ‘End
Credits’ are a brief piano reprise of the ‘Dick’s Theme’.
As a bonus to
counter for the score’s short running time, the iTunes album also includes
excerpts from concert works by the composer. ‘Prism’ is an involved atonal work
with prominent solo parts for cello and piano, while ‘Discovery’ leans more to
the brass and achieves something a little more melodic. I recommend them both,
though when playing with the rest of the score, it’s probably better to put
‘Prism’ between tracks 12 and 13, and ‘Discovery’ between 13 and 14 when they
seem to fit nicely for me. Even though they were never written to be part of
the score, they seem to make explicit the threat of violence implicit in the
score but never full given voice.
But this is a
strong score. I haven’t heard Unknown Soldier, but of the four releases
I have heard, this is the strongest of Moviescore Media’s Releases to date, and
the strongest evidence of the need for an internet-releasing soundtrack
distributor. Would this short score of twenty five minutes by a new film
composer for a fairly obscure arthouse film have ever been released otherwise?
Not likely, and not because the music wasn’t good enough. Benjamin Wallfisch’s
score here encourages me to see the film, and to hear more of his compositions
– whether for film or not.
tangential point to end on is that this edition has featured two reviews of
original scores for films by former adherents to the Dogme manifesto – Dear
Wendy and Brothers (composed by Johan Soderqvist). It’s nice to know
that having tasted the spurious ‘honesty’ of no music at all, these directors
have embraced its power in subsequent efforts.