Jul 2, 2014

The fine art of being swept up, up and away

From my column about film scores for Intelligent Life:—
'If there’s any big news from the world of film scores over the last few years, it is the replacement of the old symphonic model represented by Williams — the last of an old guard that includes Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein — with a generation fully cognizant of the musical challenge presented by the minimalism of Michael Nyman, Glass and Steve Reich, as well as the ambient experimentalism of someone like Brian Eno. As cinema screens have grown ever busier, film scores seem to have emptied out. There’s much less ’Peter-and-The-Wolfing’, which is to say big themes, spelled out in strings, pegged to specific characters — Lara’s Theme, from Doctor Zhivago, for example. Instead you’ll find more layering, more washes of sound, less melodies, more rhythms. The work of Thomas Newman is less hummable than it is hypnotic, often marking out empty space with spare, reverb-heavy two-part piano melodies, which step up or down an interval, then hold, as if poised on the edge of something vast. It’s horizontal music —the natural accompaniment of landscapes, making him perfect for the empty earthscapes of WALL-E, and the oceanic ambience of Finding Nemo. Mychael Danna did something similar with his Moneyball score: a work of pure, glittering expectation, like a wet lawn at dawn. That’s his Gorecki-like ascent of chords you can hear building in the trailer for the new Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar. Stylistically, Williams most immediate heir is Michael Giacchino, who has something of Williams ear for high-vaulting melodic intervals, and is thus a perfect fit for any film that puts a low premium on the forces of gravity. That makes him a busy man, right now — he wrote the beautiful cloud-bound waltz for Up and will be working on the next Star Wars —but not as busy as the French composer Alexander Desplat, whose name so superbly evokes the image of a tomato hitting a wall, and who this year scored the unlikely trio of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, and Angelina Jolie’s forthcoming world-war II drama about Olympic track star Louis Zamperini, Unbroken. Desplat likes to combine the lush romanticism of Georges Delarue with a rhythmic, backbone of mallet instruments, harps and timpani that somehow recall the inner workings of a grandfather clock: not for nothing did he score David Fincher’s backward-ticking biopic, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.'

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