Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Composer's Ballot

Two years ago I coined 2010 the year of the music score due to its over abundance of film scores that were brilliant, unique, original, and memorable. Just thinking back on them makes me happy and reminiscing on the music for The Social Network, Monsters, How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist, Black Swan, Inception, and TRON: Legacy is a startling reminder of how music is most definitely one craft of filmmaking that continues to go from strength to bold new strength.

So far 2012 already has its fair share of keepers. From the sublime, almost angry, strings of Rachel Portman and Jonny Greenwood on Bel Ami and The Master respectively, to the rapturously inspiring Arcade Fire-esque jangliness of Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer's work on Beasts of the Southern Wild, to the abrasive romanticism of Max Richter's music to Lore (my personal favourite of the year), and the cutesy marching percussions of Alexandre Desplat's work on Moonrise Kingdom, there's been enough to cherish. And, hey, I haven't even mentioned Brave, The Raid, The Innkeepers, John Carter, Frankenweenie and so on.

"Theme from Bel Ami" (Rachel Portman, Bel Ami) | "The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Suite, Parts 1-7" (Alexandre Desplat, Moonrise Kingdom

Not brought on by nothing, I was thinking about film scores as I read this Variety piece on what composers have deemed the greatest music scores of all time. While the article doesn't seem to mention any voters on the calibre of those on the list (a lot of TV composers, and names like Rolfe Kent and Cliff Eidelman, although Cliff Martinez and Carter Burwell are good for quotes), it's still a worthwhile look. That Ennio Morricone topped the list isn't particularly surprising given the reverence with which he has commanded amongst cinephiles and filmmakers alike, I was a bit disappointed that his work on Days of Heaven wasn't mentioned as a high vote getter. I'd be interested to see the entire list, although perhaps 22 citations for John Williams is excessive so perhaps the voters weren't stretching particularly far into the recesses of their minds for these.

Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about my favourite scores of all time and, to limit it to ten, I think my selections look pretty good. There's an obvious crossover in the form of Bernard Herrmann's iconic music to Psycho, although I prefer Ennio Morricone's work on Days of Heaven, my personal pick for favourite film score of all time (at least of those that I have had the fortune to hear). The rest, however, is all a bit different. As evidenced below I tend to have a fondness for synethsised scores as well as scores that are less old-fashioned in their bombastic instrumentation. As much as I love scores like that, I'm always more likely to respond to something a bit different or, lacking that, something with a twist on the familiar.

"Harvest" (Ennio Morricone, Days of Heaven) | "She's Leaving the Bank" (Ry Cooder, Paris, Texas)

"Prologue" (Alexandre Desplat, Birth) | "Flowers of Firenze" (Wojciech Kilar, The Portrait of a Lady)

"Psycho Suite" (Psycho, Bernard Herrmann) | "Main Titles" (Taxi Driver, Bernard Herrmann)

"Body Double" (Pino Donaggio, Body Double) | "The Voice of Love" (Angelo Badalamenti, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me)

"Less Than Zero Suite" (Thomas Newman, Less Than Zero) | "Love Theme" (Vangelis, Blade Runner)

"Halloween Theme" (John Carpenter, Halloween

In the grand scheme of things, many of the above selections are fairly typical. You've got your Morricone and your Herrman; iconic American and iconic '80s space-scape soundtracks. And while everyone can recognise Desplat's genius on Birth, I never hear the work of Polish composter Wojciech Kilar on The Portrait of a Lady praised, and that's a damn shame. So beautiful. Likewise, Thomas Newman's work for The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty are frequently praised, but I personally prefer his sterling work on Road to Perdition as well (most of all) this 1987 job on the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, Less Than Zero. The film is botched, but the music is fabulous. That it's never been released on compact disc or even in later years (as far as I'm aware) on digital download is a travesty. Bootleg editions are all over the internet and they make for some really perfect writing music if you're into that sort of thing.

Do you dear readers have any listening suggestions?


Lee said...

Props for giving due praise to Rachel Portman, arguably the most underrated composer working in film today. I'd recommend her scores for Chocolat and especially Hart's War. (Never seen the film, but bought the score based on her name. Figured I was alone on this until Joss Whedon said he'd listened to it whilst writing The Avengers!)

I agree about the superiority of Newman's Road To Perdition score, and I like the inclusion of his incredible Less Than Zero work.

James Horner is a bit bombastic for most tastes, but I'm a huge fan of every score he's done. (Apollo 13, Bicentennial Man and Field of Dreams are highlights.) Likewise, anything Clint Mansell goes near.

Great scores worth checking out: Martin Todsharow's Desert Flower, Evanthia Reboutsika's A Touch of Spice, and -- believe it or not -- Danny Elfman's Hulk.

Sam Brooks said...

Carter Burwell does a lot of really lovely, underrated scores that make great writing music. His score for The Kids Are All Right is particularly great.

On the Max Richter track, his score for Perfect Sense is gorgeous. Haven't even seen the movie, but the score is mystical, emotive and gorgeous.

Before I start going on a ramble, there's also David Wingo's for Take Shelter. The tracks 'Storm Shelter' and 'At the Beach' particularly!

Hugh said...

So glad Newman's LTZ score is in there; beautiful stuff (even if the film it's featured in is aboslute rubbish). I can't believe you left out Preisner!