Thursday, June 21, 2007

Two modern film scores haunt me, and it's not just because their titles include 'monster'

There's a lot of fast-foody, super-processed filmscoring that froths at the multiplexes these days, but I think the art form has never been better. You have to look past the symphonic stuff (it had its heyday in the '40s, '50s and '60s) toward the smaller, more ambient, acoustic or electronic scoring. Carter Burwell occupies the top spot in this second golden age of film music -- if only for his work on Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and the Coen Bros. movies -- followed swiftly by Clint Mansell, who's found a serious muse in Darren Aronofsky (and blew my mind with the scoring of last year's The Fountain: a little piano goes a long way, and holy crap).

But the fleeting, ambient melodies of two recent films in particular are never quite out of my mind. Monster's Ball and Monster are masterpieces in their own right, but their music pushes the experience of watching (and listening) into the territory of cinematic bliss. Monster's Ball, in particular, has one of the most affecting film cues of all time. It's in the last scene. Leticia (Halle Berry) has just made a discovery that casts her romantic relationship with Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) in a new, frightening light. She has no dialogue. The film speaks for her, and the tension is gorgeous as she appears to decide between confronting Hank or looking forward. When Hank offers her a spoonful of chocolate ice cream on the back steps, the tension resolves musically, and therefore dramatically. It's a beautiful, beautiful moment that would've been impossible without Asche and Spencer's perfect composition. Watch the short making-of below. The moment is examined around 5:50.

BT, a DJ and trance artist, filled in two key moments in Monster. The first is on the ferris wheel. Through his music, you see Aileen (Charlize Theron) fall for Shelby (Christina Ricci). The music here is critical; it grounds Aileen in humanity and wraps her in a kind of wide-eyed innocence. She murders, but she has the capacity for great love and understanding. The second moment comes at the climax in the courtroom, as Aileen nods her head when Shelby incriminates her. The music thumps deeply like a heart and a piano picks up the simple, recurring melody. You can hear Aileen's heart swell with gratitude and loathing: her lover will be saved because she's doing the right thing, even though it means Aileen will face death at the hands of an oppressive society. I couldn't find a way to share the music here, but you can look up the tracks on iTunes (they're called, appropriately enough, Ferris Wheel and Courtroom). It's worth the $2 to download. While you're at it, pick up the Under the Stars track from Monster's Ball.

This post is part of the film music blogathon at Windmills of My Mind.

1 comment:

Kamikaze Camel said...

Glad to see somebody other than me loved the orchestral music from Monster. It really was atmospheric and helped the film more than most film music.