Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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It's freezing!!!

It is 40,000 degrees below zero Kelvin out there. Molecules are so frozen they're moving backwards. A the moment, I envy those in warmer climates.

Snow Falling On Cedars

In November of last year, just before my leave of absence from Verizon began, I finally caught up with Snow Falling On Cedars, which I had wanted to see when it first came out. I had rarely rented before my leave of absense, and I never bouoght movies sight unseen, so this was one of the first times that I used my home theater to see a movie that I hadn't seen before. Since then, obviously, I have done quite a lot of renting, but at the time it was a novelty.

It didn't hurt that Scott Hicks' film itself is profoundly moving, or that the score was outstanding, the best I've heard to date from James Newton Howard (which is saying plenty, considering that I loved his music from Flatliners, Grand Canyon and the M. Night Shyamalan films). I ran out and bought the DVD, soundtrack album and novel. It turns out that David Guterson, the book's author, is a very close friend of some of my relatives in Seattle... just for a little six degrees of separation trivia.

Robert Richardson's acclaimed Panavision cinematography was georgeous and represented wonderfully by the crystal-clear, razor-sharp anamorphic picture transfer on Universal's DVD.

The music is very apparent in this film. Howard's hypnotic thematic material is flavored with Japanese instrumentation. Several moments in the film really concentrate on the score, allowing it to take center stage and communicate the emotion. I was surprised that Hicks did not use Howard for his next film, Hearts In Atlantis (which a lot of people didn't like, but I enjoyed very much).

Cues like "Ishmael and Hatsue Kiss," "The Evacuation," "Susan Marie Remembers" and "Humanity Goes On Trial" reach an intensity that most films would collapse under. That Snow Falling On Cedars doesn't is not only because of the sensitivity and focus Hicks brings to the characters and their relationships, but also to Howard's keen dramatic sensibilities.

Cinematically, "Susan Marie Remembers" is a fantastic moment. Susan Marie (Arija Bareikis) is called to testify at the trial for the murder of her husband. The prosecutor (James Rebhorn) asks her if she can recall the morning before his death. She is swept away by the memory of that day - the last time they made love. The music and their passion drown out the more immediate sounds of the courtroom as she is lost in her reverie.

There are many other highlights to the score, however, from the oscillation 'celli and liturgical sounding choir on "Snow Drive" to the airy "Driftwood Hideaway," or the enchanting "Strawberry Field," the music invites one to look into the deepest parts of one soul to find hidden reservoirs of emotion.

Howard is also a master at conveying the sound of stillness, which allows the cue "The German Soldier," which scores a flashback that Kazuo (Rick Yune) has to his European theater experience during World War II to be a moment as haunting to the audience as it is to the character.

The powerful "Tarawa" cue is a great example of why this film and score work so well together. As Ishmael (Ethan Hawke) remembers getting a devastating letter from Hatsue (Youki Kudoh) - a memory inextricably linked to his experience in the war. This cue was used in the trailer for The Matrix Revolutions because of its power, but it is not bombastic. When watching the film it is Ishmael's spiritual pain that comes to the forefront, not his physical ordeal, although that is present as well (both in the film and the score).

After such a bold moment, it is surprising to find that this is not, in fact, the climax of the score. That happens in "Humanity Goes On Trial," which scores the end of the summation by defense attourney Nels (Max Von Sydow) and Ishmael's subsequent wrestling with the past. Howard starts the cue with the 'cello theme that is related to the setting, but then builds the passionate theme from "Susan Marie Remembers" with strings and chorus... but again the crescendo is misleading... the cue continues as the violins quietly and wrenchingly play out their counterpoint while the choir obsessively sings the theme, fading gently away.

A cue of this kind requires a certain type of moment in a film, one that bridges the emotional requirements of a scene with a technical proficiency in photography and montage in a way that will support the narrative instead of bringing it crashing to a stop. When music is so important to a scene, there is a danger that either the filmmaking itself will not support the music, or that the music will not be visceral enough to carry the sequence (both occur in the oafishly made Flight of the Innocent).

James Newton Howard

Snow Falling On Cedars is a beautiful film, and a great score. Howard is clearly proud of it from the interview footage on the DVD. It is a shame the film had such a limited release, as it is outstanding.

Bad Santa

Patsy's sister Maryanne had quite an incisive observation about Billy Bob Thorton's character in Bad Santa... no matter how much you hate him, you are always aware of the fact that it is just a drop in the ocean compared to how much he hates himself.

Incidentally, Bad Santa possibly holds a record for a Christmas film, as the word "fuck" and its variations are used 147 times.

Tom Cruise

On the way to see The Last Samurai, I was regaled by how much Raz is annoyed by Tom Cruise. No, while Raz often latches onto specific people that he hates for not good reason (see rule 18), I have noticed that many people I know have bitched about him.

Okay, the guy is a flake because he's a Scientologist, but what does he have to do to prove himself as an actor for everybody? I ask because to my sensibilities, while has had some duds in his career (Top Gun, Days Of Thunder, Mission: Impossible 2, etc.), there are also plenty of films that he has been in that he has delivered intelligent, spot-on performances, regardless of your opinion of the films themselves (I, too, have mixed feelings about some of them).

Here are some examples:
Born On the Fourth of July
Rain Man
Eyes Wide Shut
Minority Report
The Last Samurai
There is a tendency to equate Tom Cruise with someone like Keanu Reeves, which isn't fair. Reeves is a prettyboy with one role in him (Ted Theodore Logan, of course), who lucked into success simply by being in the right movies. Cruise has managed the career that he has because of the fact that filmmakers have seen what he is capable of.

If you've seen Eyes Wide Shut and not liked it, I suggest you give it another shot with a different viewpoint on the film.

Because of the threat of the NC-17 rating and Warner Brothers' subsequent digital meddling of the Masked Ball scene, most critics and audiences went into the film expecting something about sex and secrets. The film is not about this, however. Instead, it is about money and power. Many were looking so hard for the former that they missed the latter.

As rich as William Hartford is, with his tailored suits and trophy wife (Nicole Kidman), he is a mere plaything for those inhabiting the world represented by Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). His character is so afflent that he can summon Hartford like a servant, and truth is what he decides it is. Hartford may have started out his adventure floored by his wife's sexual fantasies, but he quickly becomes immersed in events beyond his control.

This is a very complicated role, and Cruise brings to it a sublety and urbanity that makes the character human. When he is shaken it feels as though it is to the core.

In Magnolia, he plays Frank T.J. Mackey, and it is a fascinating performance. Mackey is so shallow and despicable that he has turned these dubious qualities into a million-dollar business, but he nevertheless is capable of evoking sympathy at the very end. Cruise brings a swarmy, uncomfortable charm to the role, as well as a dark intensity that bring his interview scene during the "Momentum" sequence to a level of tragic shame that fits Mackey's virulent self-loathing perfectly.

So quit your bitching. He's doing just fine.


I recently have had the opportunity to see Dragonslayer again, courtesy of Paramount's beautifully transferred DVD. Although the film is decent, it has dated. The Vermithrax Pejorative is still the best-designed cinematic dragon, but the technology employed to bring it to the screen is pale by today's standards.

The music score by Alex North preserves the film's unique tone.

North is, along with Leonard Rosenman and Elliot Goldenthal, among the few composers to score films almost entirely with a very modern sound, as opposed to the Romantic-with-Modern-Touches sound that tends to characterize orchestral film music.

North's music is unique and uncompromisingly modern, in harmonics, texture and melodic structure. Dragonslayer is particularly interesting because of how totally different it is from other scores of this genre (the truth is that North's idiom is as valid for a film taking place in the 4th century as any other orchestral style). Busy and complex, often featuring music without a tonic center, Dragonslayer features prominently in the film, often bodly stating itself with a dark fanfare representing Vermithrax herself. There is a love theme, a motif associated with Ralph Richardson's wizard and mcuh more material. It is not all heavy and intense, however, and there are quite a few sprightly passages.

North actually recycled a lot of this music from his rejected score from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Having cued up tracks from the Varese Sarabande recording of that score to my old laserdisc of that film, I must say that North's music fits Dragonslayer better than it does 2001.

It is a shame that Southern Cross' CD of Dragonslayer is so rare (it is out of print at the moment). There is a tracking problem - 22 tracks are listed on the sleeve, while only 21 appear on the disc; this is a typo, not a matter of missing music - and the sound burns horribly on a few tracks. On the other hand, except for when it overloads, the sound is rich and full. Hopefully it'll be remastered someday.

That said, the score for 2001 is brilliant in its own right, and the CD is a great-sounding album. The National Philharmonic Orchestra of London gives a spirited performance under the baton of North's longtime friend and protogé, Jerry Goldsmith (who is, of course, a formidable film composer in his own right).

Alex North

Speaking of recordings of Alex North scores for Stanley Kubrick films that were conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, the time of year has come once again for me to send a letter to Varese Sarabande asking them what is up with their promised recording of Spartacus.

It has been ten years since they announced this project. It began before North's death, with his participation. He put together the program for the album. Goldsmith has conducted several albums of North's music (another highlight being his recording of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) as well as a few of his own scores for Varese, but Spartacus was never gotten around to.

This is a shame, as Spartacus is widely considered one of the best film scores ever, and the MCA CD of the original soundtrack, while consisting of great music, unfortunately is way too brief.

Each time I write them, they insist that this project is important to label producer Robert Townson and Goldsmith, that it is going to happen. I don't believe them anymore, but I still write. It certainly couldn't hurt.

Well, to keep this post from becoming too academic, here is a picture of Wednesday Addams:

Christina Ricci in Prozac Nation
Tags: alex north, cinema, film music, james newton howard, reviews, stanley kubrick
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