Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



David MANSFIELD Heaven's Gate OST  RYKO RCD 10749 [54:45]




There are people who may say the unwavering spirit of a community is in its folk music. One can find glimpses in the popular fads of a nation, and in the serious composition of its social elite, but only in the old-fashioned music for the people, from the people, does one begin to gain insight into another world. For some, it offers insight into their own world. It is fundamental. It takes a culture and reduces it to clear, basic musical biography, cutting the chaff from the wheat.

Of course, sometimes there is only so much community spirit one can take, and the music should know what community it belongs to. Mansfield's adaptation score to the infamous box-office dud known as "Heaven's Gate" is a gorgeous retrospective of American folk music, including nods to the transformation of Old World music into the New via arrangements of Johann Strauss' 'By the Beautiful Blue Danube' and several of Eastern Europe's own folk songs. In so doing the American stylings skirt precariously near to being lost and confused, as Mansfield switches the cultural roles like a sidewalk magician (at one point owing more to Nino Rota than anything period, possibly prompting an observant listener to ask, "Is he going to make me an offer I can't refuse?") I suggest that Mansfield could have made this already above-average score a classic had he focused on diversifying the folk techniques themselves before experimenting with cultural styles, allowing his arrangements to suffer an identity crisis, or two, less.

That is a moderately forgivable mis-step.

The majority of his score is full of minor innovations, powered by an obvious emotional investment. His original compositions are not too shabby either; from the 'Slow Water' theme to the end credits version of 'Ella's Waltz,' there is an appropriate and satisfying traditionalism to the creative approach.

The production values are good, with crisp and informative liner notes by Bruce Lawton and David Mansfield, fine sound, and a series of remarkable production stills (possible spoilers for some). Well worth a look & listen.


Jeffrey Wheeler

Ian Lace raises some other points


Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980) must be one of the most reviled films of all time. The critics were merciless in their condemnation. It was so badly received that it was withdrawn and re-edited so that its running length was reduced from 219 minutes to 140 minutes. Since 1980 there has been something of a re-evaluation and the film's strengths are becoming increasingly recognised. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the film. I appreciated the wonderful photography and some of the set pieces like the long dance sequence, but I was not impressed with its plot incoherence (why bother, for instance, to include the relatively meaningless and inflated Harvard [shot in England] Prologue and the Yacht Epilogue) and the shameful waste of acting talent (John Hurt particularly). I will remind readers of some of the critics' comment:

"Totally incoherent …A vital turning point in Hollywood policy, hopefully marking the last time a whiz kid with one success behind him is given a blank cheque to indulge in self-abuse." - Halliwell's Film Guide.

"Photographed in majestic locations with incredible period detail…all to little effect since the narrative, character, motivations and sound track are so hopelessly muddled" - Matlin

"One of the ugliest films I have ever seen…a study in wretched excess…formless at 4 hours - insipid at 140 minutes...the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen." - Ebert.

But, to the music. From Bruce Lawton's erudite booklet notes we learn that John Williams was first approached and had originally agreed to score the film. However, when he was offered the Boston Pops that year he had to cut down on his scoring commitments. I will therefore begin by playing devil's advocate. I suggest that although Williams was saved the ignominy of being associated with this perceived turkey, his music might have just saved the film because it could well have illuminated plot and character and added just that bit more coherence. The folksy, intimate music of David Mansfield, pleasant as it is, certainly did not.

Lawton tells how Mansfield's score developed on the hoof so to speak much like, one suspects, the rest of the production. Mansfield remembered that he did some instrumental arrangements of some of the Eastern European folk songs that were sung, and played by the Heaven's Gate band in various scenes in the film. Cimino was impressed and asked for more and felt that this small intimate score was working more effectively than the orchestral temp music they were working with. Mansfield, therefore, continued to assemble music, primarily simple folk tunes; arranging this material, sometimes changing time signatures and modes from major to minor etc. The result is a delectable collection of lovely, intimate, atmospheric and romantic melodies. The titles say it all - 'Slow Water'; 'Snowfall', 'Sweet Breeze'; 'Moonlight'; 'Morning Star' etc. The 'Heaven's Gate Waltz' is the best remembered; the sort of tune that runs around in the head for days. All are scored for a small ensemble including a classical guitar, violins, mandolins and mandocello (a guitar turned to a cello range). Listening to the music, on this album, one would never guess that the film contains scenes of the most harrowing violence. The only cue that has any hint of real darkness is one of the twelve so-called bonus tracks, 'Champion's Death.'

The biggest drawback about this album is our age-old complaint - lack of variety. If it were not for the delicious Heaven's Gate Waltz (which is reprised and slightly modified a number of times) I would have awarded this CD just three stars; so -


Ian Lace


Jeffrey Wheeler

Ian Lace

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