Movies

Cat Temper – Henry (an electronic soundtrack to Eraserhead)

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The word ‘sacrilege’ doesn’t hold a lot of meaning for me, yet it was this very word that popped into my mind when i was contacted a couple of months ago by Boston musician Mike Langlie, a.k.a. Cat Temper, to let me know of his latest project Henry, being a new soundtrack for David Lynch’s 1977 debut movie Eraserhead. Longer-term readers of 5:4 will know that when i’m not composing, critiquing or listening to music, i’m usually to be found watching movies. Cinema is a life-long passion of mine, and David Lynch was one of the very first directors whose work i fell in love with during my early, highly impressionable teenage years. Eraserhead was, and remains, an astonishing achievement – a complex, immersive, disorienting dive into a surreal world that may or may not be part of our own, or indeed happening all or in part within the fevered imagination of its protagonist Henry Spencer. Furthermore, as with all of Lynch’s projects, the music and sound design – becoming one and the same thing, impossible to separate – are an integral component in Eraserhead‘s cinematic language. Put simply: you don’t fuck around with it; to do so would surely be sacrilege.

Yet, sitting down to watch Eraserhead a couple of weeks ago – sound muted, now synchronised with Cat Temper’s new score – i can happily admit to having goosebumps from the outset. This was a double-bill, in fact: i watched the film in its original form first, in order to re-imprint its sound-image relationship and thereby be better placed to appreciate the effect of Temper’s music. The first thing to say is that Henry never overtly seeks to emulate the film’s original soundworld: in place of Lynch’s industrial mise en scène we are presented with an intense, brooding, synth-laden score filled with restless riffs and pulsating rhythms – David Lynch as if reconfigured by Nicolas Winding Refn. Quite apart from its potential effectiveness, opting to take such an entirely different, even opposite musical approach as this has got to be applauded: whatever else it may be, it’s bold, it’s brave and it’s ballsy. Read more

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A daring vision of reality: Lars von Trier’s Melancholia

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SPOILER ALERT: The following article discusses details of the plot of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia; anyone yet to see the film may wish to postpone reading further until afterwards.

Early in 2010, i devoted the first of my very occasional podcasts to the soundtrack of Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist. Von Trier is an artist whose work deeply fascinates me, and his latest film, Melancholia—which i saw for the second time last night—has made an even deeper impression than its predecessor; in fact, i struggle to think of a film that’s left me in such a profoundly moved state. Having read a number of reviews, it’s been interesting and surprising to see such widespread agreement as to the merits and achievement of Melancholia. Antichrist, with its body-clenching, excruciatingly graphic brutality, sharply polarised audiences; by contrast, Melancholia is calm and understated—but nonetheless, i believe it to be an even more challenging and potentially alienating work. The title says it all and says it plain: this movie is an unabashed exploration of depression as experienced, and as such first impressions might suggest that, for anyone unacquainted with that predicament, finding a way into the film could be difficult. Read more

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The BBC Philharmonic – Music from Blue Velvet & Twin Peaks

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This evening’s concert on BBC Radio 3, given by the BBC Philharmonic from their swanky new home at MediaCity in Salford, was dedicated to film music, hosted by the superlative Mark Kermode. Towards the end of the concert, the orchestra performed three pieces from the films of David Lynch. The first was an arrangement of the Julee Cruise song ‘Mysteries of Love’ (heard in Blue Velvet), in which a solo horn took the vocal line, and it was performed to absolute perfection. Then came Blue Velvet‘s Main Title, which was nice, but has always struck me as a bit of an inconsequential piece. The real highlight, though, was Angelo Badalamenti‘s theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me; i’ve already talked about this brilliant piece in my podcast, so i won’t say anything further, except that the BBC Philharmonic’s rendition was outstanding. Read more

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The perfect movie soundtrack: Hans Zimmer – Inception

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It’s been said that the perfect movie soundtrack is one that integrates itself so well into the fabric of the film that you don’t notice it’s there. i suspect that belief arises as much from experiencing the jarring æsthetic bifurcation that ensues from badly-executed soundtracks as from witnessing the seamless assimilation of sound with sight. The very best soundtracks of all, to me at least, are so good, so interesting, that they’re utterly unignorable. But it would be a mistake to say, in calling attention to themselves, that they’re too interesting; in the same way as an outstandingly effective mise en scène, or wardrobe design, or cluster of special effects, we’re conscious of their brilliance while remaining firmly locked in engagement with the film. My first podcast focused on one of the very best examples of that, in Antichrist, and more recently Hans Zimmer has achieved something similar in his soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s outstanding film Inception. It helps that the movie is as good as it is; i’ve not seen a film as engrossing as Inception in a while, which therefore presents Zimmer with something already extremely impressive to work with. and yet, as Zimmer has explained, he didn’t create his soundtrack with reference to any of the visuals, working instead from just the script, using that alone to ignite his imagination. It’s a risky approach, but a suitably unconventional one for a film that falls so far outside the realm of conventional thrillers. Read more

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