ScoreKeeper Considers The Film Music Of Fantastic Fest!!
Published at: Oct. 4, 2006, 12:11 a.m. CST by merrick
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here from out of the darkness and into the light.
After eight fantastic days at Fantastic Fest I’m finally making my way back to the secularity of earth. My head still swims with the sounds and images of a hearty harvest of sensational horror, fantasy, and sci-fi films.
I attended this festival purely as a die-hard cinemaphile hell-bent on immersing myself within its schedule and feasting on the tasty morsels from within. Although I initially had no intention of writing up a survey of scores from the festival, a scattering of films showcasing great music has forced my hand into submission.
Music can be an expensive line item in a filmmaker’s budget. It is often among the first casualties on lower budgeted independent films. Most of the films at Fantastic Fest I single out with great scores had much larger budgets and wider distribution. However, a few low-key gems continue to prove that stockpiles of money are not intrinsic to getting a great score. Ingenuity, talent on both the part of the filmmaker and the composer, a sense of priority, and even bloodline, can sow great scores even within lower budgeted films.
Leading the festival parade was Lalo Schifrin’s score for ABOMINABLE (2006). I actually saw this film a few months back before I interviewed Lalo for Ain’t It Cool News [READ THE INTERVIEW HERE!] so I elected to opt out this time around in favor of a title I had not yet seen. It was however, an official selection of the festival and deserves mentioning.
Schifrin’s score for his son Ryan’s debut film, is simply one of the best horror scores I’ve heard in an unforgivably long time. Horror scores have recently been relegated to drones, noise and the ubiquitous bang. It is so refreshing to finally hear a horror score utilize endangered ingredients such as melody, harmony, and rhythm. Not only is it a great horror score, but it’s a great Lalo Schifrin score; easily one of his best endeavors in two decades.
The gushing derrick of the festival for me was a retro slasher flick called HATCHET (2006). Not only was it one of the more exciting, enjoyable, and entertaining films of the week but it harbored a violently audacious score penned by Andy Garfield whom I had not previously been acquainted with. I applaud director Adam Green for scalding the film with music so hot in the overall sound mix, it shook my spleen. I wish all of my films could get a sound mix like that.
Another unforeseen discovery was the Korean monster pic THE HOST (2006). I went into this movie with no knowledge of the film whatsoever other than knowing I wanted see it. Accompanying this rollercoaster ride was a bold score that was careful not to upstage the monster while maintaining its razor sharp edge. The secret behind the success of the film was an encompassing blanket of emotion which the music also helped propel. Instead of an unapologetic monster score it was more akin to an emotional dramatic thriller. I was unaware of the composer until I attacked IMDB and discovered that it was Korean composer Byung-woo Lee who crafted this cliché-busting gem.
Keeping within the Asian tradition, SHINOBI: HEART OF BLADE (2006) also had an indelible score which accompanied beautifully austere cinematography. Japanese composer Tarô Iwashiro, who also scored one of my favorite Asian films, AZUMI (2003), created the musical magic behind SHINOBI. Much like THE HOST, Iwashiro keeps the images on screen at the highest priority and is careful not to get too melodramatic. It’s an exacting blend of music and imagery which is quickly becoming a lasting tradition in Asian cinema.
Iwashiro’s impactive work on SHINOBI only intensifies my anticipation for his upcoming score to THE SINKING OF JAPAN (2006).
Not all great scores are married with feature films. I was pleasantly surprised to hear incredible music for several short films including RÓGAIRÍ (2005) and THE LISTENING DEAD (2006). The later film, scored for solo piano by Peter Scriba, even featured a composer as the lead male character (also played by Scriba) while a ghostly apparition served as his muse.
One of the supreme musical highlights for me during Fantastic Fest was PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) directed by Guillermo del Toro. Throughout his career, del Toro has paired with two different composers; Marco Beltrami and Javier Navarette. Beltrami collaborates with del Toro on his Hollywood popcorn flicks like MIMIC (1997), BLADE II (2002) and HELLBOY (2004) while the Spanish born Navarette has been called on for del Toro’s more personally intimate and artistic films like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001) and PAN’S LABYRINTH.
The music for PAN’S LABYRINTH captured the characters and tone superbly while propelling the story through each crooked turn of its maze. This is also a score that is not melodramatic nor saturating the narrative. It’s simple and pure with just enough glitter to make it unique and interesting.
Ofelia’s theme is expressed as an uncomplicated childlike melody on the piano. Although innocent and naïve in tone, its scope is spacious and majestic as is Ofelia’s own daring imagination. Much of the score is in triple meter giving a dance-like character to the music. As Ofelia enters and proceeds deeper into the labyrinth for the first time, falling melodic fragments of her theme echo like specters in the darkness while slithering chromatic phrases weave themselves throughout the accompanying orchestration. A more complete sonic representation of Ofelia entering the labyrinth, I could not imagine.
However, the music is not all fairies and snowflakes. When The Pale Man awakens from his statuesque slumber and inserts his eyes into his hands, the music grunts and wheezes accenting each animated appendage. Navarette scores this grisly moment as effortlessly as he scores the beautiful moments throughout the picture.
The final film I saw at Fantastic Fest was THE FOUNTAIN (2006) directed by Darren Aronofsky. For the third time in as many films, Aronofsky called upon composer Clint Mansell, formerly of the band Pop Will Eat Itself, to author the musical landscape for the picture. Following in the tradition of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000), Mansell called upon the Kronos String Quartet while including performances by the Scottish rock band Mogwai.
THE FOUNTAIN could be the most cerebral score Mansell has ever written. Its minimalist texture allows it to function strictly as an atmospheric vehicle for the emotion while its limited color palette matches the amber and earthen tones of the images exquisitely. The score is focused as is the narrative although it’s not forceful or overbearing. Throughout the film, the primary motive is repeated and rescored; constantly building toward the final metaphysical climax where the texture, tone, and most importantly emotion, reaches its zenith.
Mansell accompanied Darren Aronofsky to the screening and was able to elaborate on his music for a spell during the Q&A at the conclusion of the film. At the closing night party, I was able to chat with Clint Mansell about possibly doing an interview with him for Ain’t It Cool News sometime in the next several weeks. We then engaged in a healthy discussion of music, merit, and the myths surrounding the world we so passionately embrace.
A fascinating individual, I should hope to talk with him again soon.
As a film lover, Fantastic Fest was simply one of the very best festivals I have ever attended. As a lover of film music, it also proved to be ground for a rich crop of some excellent scores some of which probably wouldn’t have been known to me had I not attended. In essence, that’s all any patron of film festivals can ever ask. It’s great to experience widely released films earlier than their domestic or international release dates, however, it’s the opportunity to view films that could not have had the chance to garner much audience attention that really makes a festival a special event.
Congratulations to all the filmmakers who had their films screened this year during Fantastic Fest. I duly thank you for a truly fabulous week of cinema.