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Friday Fives: Original Soundtracks

In terms of making an emotional & psychological impact on an audience Cinema is without question the perfect medium. A strong selection of music on a soundtrack has been an essential component in complementing the moving picture ever since the early days of silent cinema. It’s something about the flow between well cut scenes and montages seamlessly matched with original music that subtly causes the theme of a film to crystallize in the mind of the viewer on a greater level than dialogue ever could. This Friday, we’ve run through five original compositions which we consider to stand-out, enhance and even eclipse their visual companions.

There Will Be Blood – OST by Jonny Greenwood

Disqualified from contention at the Oscars due to a tecnicality, this score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is the perfect compliment to director Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece of a film. Greenwood’s only previous experience scoring films was restricted to his work on 2003’s lowkey dialogue-less ‘Bodysong’, although that was enough to convince Anderson that he was the right man to work on his tale of oil induced greed in early 20th century California.

Seeking to play on the “…underlying menace” inherent in the film, Greenwood enlisted the assistance of the Robert Zeigler-led BBC Concert Orchestra and the award winning Emperor Quartet. The latter’s contribution on the strings provides the defining emotive quality of the score, veering between moments of affectingly profound loneliness and instances of unbearable tension as required. Whilst Greenwood works with typical orchestral components and paid heed to composers such as Krzysztof Penderecki (who’s work was used in ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Shuter Island’ amongst other films) prior to his work on the film, the score for There Will Be Blood contains unmistakable traces of the avant-garde streak which has long distinguished his work with Radiohead. Daniel Day Lewis’ universally acclaimed turn as megalomaniacal prospector Daniel Plainview may be the most people’s defining memory of this excellent fim-but Greenwood’s unsettling and haunting score is very much praiseworthy in its own right.

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Christian Murphy

Ghost Dog – The Way Of The Samurai – OST by RZA

Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 character driven cult classic is an unlikely blend of styles and cultural phenomena that flows surprisingly well. Forest Whitaker emanates cool as an African-American hitman who works for the Italian mob while following the ancient code of the Samurai. RZA’s original score and its oriental inspired beats are paramount in enhancing the overall experience.

Two soundtracks were released for the film, one international edition which focuses on the songs taken from the soundtrack and includes music from Wu Tang Clan affiliates, Kool G Rap & Public Enemy. The other release, (the stronger of the two) is the Japanese exclusive edition which focuses on the film’s original score and instrumentals. The Japanese edition features some of RZA’s strongest work and includes out-taken song mixes that don’t appear on the DVD.

This marks the first occasion that RZA ever scored a film, something he has continued to do in the years since, composing for other martial arts & Hip Hop inspired works such as ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Afro Samurai’ & his own ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’.

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Conor McTernan

Dancer In The Dark – OST by Bjork

Leading lady Bjork plays Selma in this incredibly depressing musical drama by the enigmatic Lars Von Trier. The film was shot on a number of handheld cameras and completes Triers three part ‘Golden Heart Trilogy’. Bjork’s character is Czech immigrant and single mother Selma who works in a pressing plant. She also pursues her hobby as an amateur actress landing a starring role as Maria in The Sound of Music. Despairingly, Selma is one the precipice of complete blindness, a condition also affecting her son unless he is operated on.

The soundtrack, composed by the ever-creative and imaginative Bjork adopts a Musique Concréte approach by utilising real-world sounds including factory machinery and trains. The album, released before the motion picture, entitled Selmasongs adheres to the narrative and recontextualises surrounding sounds to accentuate the plot. Featured artists include co-star Catherine Deneuve and Thom Yorke on the pessimist vs optimist ‘I’ve Seen It All’.

The inventive and resourceful soundtrack entices those opposed to musical feature lengths along with the powerful and emotive storyline. As well as depicting the narrative, orchestral arrangements such as ‘Overture’ create a grandiose landscape. The most memorable moments arrive when the orchestral and the real-world amalgamate, on tracks such as ‘Cvalda’, where a typically extravagant and adventurous Bjork vocal blankets mechanical percussion and a spectacular classical score.

A highlight is the track below. ‘In The Musicals’ utilises footsteps, finger clicks, handclaps, metallic drum-sounds and the screech of trainers on a wooden floor to create dense rhythmic patterns against a scenery of rich luscious string arrangements. When a soundtrack this strong unifies with such an emotive plot acclaim is inevitable.

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Manveer Roda

Under The Skin – OST by Mica Levi

Under The Skin is a film by British director Jonathan Glazer, based on Michael Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. Scarlett Johansson is cast as the film’s heroine, an alien predator at large in Scotland kitted out in fake fur, a black wig and blood red lipstick. Scouring the mean streets of Glasgow in a knackered white van, she lures men into her otherworldly den. Here she turns on the seduction and strips the poor buggers of their humanity and no-one hears from them ever again. Johansson’s character is stunning; a large part of that can be accredited to Mica Levi’s (more widely known as musician Micachu) mesmerising original soundtrack.

In a recent interview Levi highlighted that her aim was to record instruments that had an identifiably human sound to them but slow them down or pitch them up to make the sounds “uncomfortable”. Processed strings are a recurring theme throughout, with a “beehive” like cloud of suspense and tension emerging at many pivotal points in the film. Each time, though, slightly altered or effected from the last, as if to represent the character’s journey throughout the course of the film. A dull knocking drum and a three-note call are other sounds that repeat throughout adding an insistent quality that creeps (rather appropriately) under the skin. Levi’s score accompanies the film’s toxic mix of peril and sexuality perfectly.

Although you could argue that Levi’s approach to the score is so linked to themes of the film that it’s hard to detach and enjoy as an album, I would go as far as saying that I actually prefer to listen to the soundtrack as a piece of music disconnected from the film, it allows the mind to wander into much stranger places.

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Josh Thomas

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind – OST by Jon Brion

A fitting soundtrack for a beautifully constructed film. For those unaware the Michel Gondry film follows the story of two lovers, Joel and Clementine, and the process they undertake to erase each other from their memories. The non-linear narrative is punctuated and melded together by an arresting and graceful score composed by Jon Brion.

Recurring musical themes establish certain periods throughout Joel and Clementine’s relationship. The dissipating memories displayed due to the erasure procedure are accompanied by cleverly warped versions instrumentation that features in different pieces, such as the piano phrasing in ‘Row’ rebranded in ‘Showtime’ amongst drones and timpani hits to create an ominous and disorientating backdrop.

Much of the music is deeply emotive, accentuating the feelings felt by a couple in love as their collective memories degrade. As the character Joel revisits memories in reverse, musical themes recur pitched down and played backwards, mainly lifted from the track ‘Phone Call’. As the character Joel tolerates the methodical erasing process he strives to retain some of the memories of Clementine to no avail. The nostalgia is prevalent in pieces such as ‘Theme’ and the highly sentimental ‘Peer Pressure’ and ‘Row’. Paranoia and suspicion towards the doctors overseeing the procedure as Joel slips in and out of consciousness is portrayed in ‘Howard Makes It All Go Away’ and ‘A Dream Upon Waking’.

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Manveer Roda