Vibraphones and French guys

Monday, 17 January 2005 — 7:51pm | Film, Music

Of all the Golden Globe victories that were announced yesterday, the one I find to be the most curious is Howard Shore’s music in The Aviator being handed the Original Score prize. Now, let’s get a few things straight: for reasons that I have yet to publish here because they are far too numerous, The Aviator is one of the best films I have seen in this year (and by movie terms, we are still in 2004). It’s increasingly obvious that it’s going to take home the top prize at the Oscars this year, and I wouldn’t be one to complain. Howard Shore, on the other hand, is the man who delivered what is probably the most monumental triumph of a film score in the past decade – indeed, one of the all-time pinnacles of film music composition – The Lord of the Rings. As should be evident, I have nothing less than a tremendous degree of respect for his work.

That said, the score to The Aviator is one of the less remarkable things about the picture. Mostly, it is notable for its swelling orchestral moments in the style of the Baroque concerto, cues that would not be out of place in a documentary snapshot of the Palace of Versailles, and are by no means out of place in the early scenes when Hughes is shooting Hell’s Angels from his own rickety cockpit. It reflects the grandeur and scale of Hughes’ ambitious imagination (not to mention Scorsese’s own), and sticks out as a noticeable abandoning of the early twentieth-century American texture that one would expect of such a big period film, but a justified one.

Like Tarantino’s Kill Bill, though, the laudable musical qualities underscoring the film are less attributable to the original compositions than to the prodigious deployment of popular tracks in all the right places. In The Aviator, this selection comes primarily from the swing era, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more delicate use of classic Benny Goodman arrangements anywhere. The best example of this is when Goodman’s recording of “Moonglow” brings us to the wonderful little scene where Hughes takes Kate Hepburn flying over Hollywood by night, and the Lionel Hampton vibe solos by which that track is instantly identifiable capture every sparkle of ambience there is to capture about the mood of the moment. Shore’s music, for all its qualities, sums to a footnote in comparison.

As I never tire of repeating, 2004 delivered two scores that stand above the rest when it comes to thematic resonance, integration into their respective films and overall timelessness: Michael Giacchino’s work in The Incredibles and John Williams’ exuberant charms in the film that everyone forgot, The Terminal. Neither were nominated for a Globe, and we’ll be lucky to see one of them pop up at the Oscars. I am, however, eager to hear Clint Eastwood’s compositions for his $30 million-dollar baby, Million Dollar Baby. He’s no slouch as a musician; if you think back to Lennie Niehaus’ score to Unforgiven, the part that everyone remembers is “Claudia’s Theme”, the sombre guitar melody that bookends the movie. Well, that was actually written by Eastwood himself, though he went uncredited; a Man With No Name, perhaps?

Now, on a completely different note regarding what’s happening in Movieland nowadays: Jean Reno has been cast in The Da Vinci Code. Indeed, is it possible to put an actor in a more self-parodying role than to have the quintessential tough-guy Frenchman play an angry French police inspector named Fache?

I like the direction that they’re going with this project, from the little I’ve heard (i.e. Tom Hanks, Jean Reno, Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman). The correct approach is to admit that the source material is the World’s Bestselling Ball of Cheese, pick it up, and run with it. Good show, gentlemen, good show.

As far as the ever-consistent Goldsman’s screenwriting duties go, here’s a point of reference for what he is capable of: A Beautiful Mind. Here’s another: Batman & Robin. And we all know what happened to his last literary adaptation, I, Robot. In short, The Da Vinci Code is the movie he was born for.

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