As regular readers of these pages already know, the musical content of any production under review is of special interest to JWR. That’s only to be expected in opera, music theatre, chamber music and orchestra, but in film what is heard (beyond dialogue and special effects) is of vital importance and has been known to make or break the final result (cross-reference below).
Being afforded the opportunity of hearing composer Kurt Oldman’s tracks on their own for the recently reviewed, All Along, was as interesting as it was instructive in drilling down into this talented musician’s art and craft. Coming just days following a journey back in time when studios had staff composers who often had symphony orchestras at their disposal (cross-references below) only added to the admiration of Oldman’s ability to achieve so much with a largely different source of sound.
Necessarily, it is the music’s function to support the action and shade the mood of pre-determined images. With today’s vast array of electronic wizardry, sound samples and the occasional acoustic instrument, there are almost too many choices to consider (notwithstanding the taste of the director and producers …).
For this project, Oldman relies heavily on guitars (acoustic, electric and their more exotic cousin, the mandolin). Using “Old Friends” as just one example, the ear immediately understands that while two distinct personalities are involved they most certainly speak the same language, albeit with different tones. At the “Shrink’s Office” the strummed instruments are supported by bass and keyboards, punctuated with delectable dashes of percussion before a nicely integrated bed of strings has everyone ready for the couch. “With the Psychologist” soon follows, featuring an easy-going guitar that confidently navigates a few relatively sudden harmonic shifts: music to share deep secrets by.
To balance the introspection, “The Perfect Day” (blaring brass, reedy saxes underscored with much organ and “wood”), “Bumper Cars” (the steady backbeat drives the pulse) and “Gambling” (the big band returns, moving up one notch at a time until everyone slides into black) are as welcome to the ear as the madcap scenes to the eye. (During the film, everything meshes into a unified whole, providing many of the finest moments.)
The Old West appropriately winds its way into “Handcuffed,” Pink Panther fans might expect a cameo appearance from Inspector Clouseau during “Performance Review” (replete with nervous strings), and Oldman’s classical training brings together a tender line and triplet infused accompaniment to produce “What Does She Play”—a clear highlight of the set.
High-energy cymbals give “Wrestling Match” (a showstopper) a lift then shift down a gear as the action builds. Subtle changes such as these are the sign of a mind that truly understands the goal of the musical tracks.
What fun it might be to hear the CD first, come up with a sound-scenario, then sit down for the movie and compare. In our image-conscious world, the art of film scoring is too often taken for granted or ignored altogether; thanks to practitioners like Oldman, even as the realm of digital possibilities continues to expand, films will be made that are as engaging to the ear as the eye. Now, if only a wily producer could find the cash for a full symphonic treatment … JWR