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Don’t tell me what to think

from Saturday, December8th of the year2007.

So last night I went with Liz, Nadia, Chris and Leander to the movie adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. It was not as bad as I had feared, but, I have to say, the music was really dreadful. It was written by Alexandre Desplat, who wrote the score for that weird movie Birth; people who like film music (who are a sort of terrifying sub-genre of crazyeyes.jpgpeople, akin to Wagner People, or Joyce People ““ you can tell them from their crazy eyes and constant squabbling) got their panties all up in a twist about how fabulous the score to Birth is. (It’s an okay score, I guess, but the best moment comes at the beginning when Nicole Kidman is sitting listening to the prelude to Die Walküre).

Now, the issue with the Golden Compass score is that it is exactly the kind of manipulative, cartoony orthodoxy that the books seek so hard to undermine. There was one vile little turn of phrase that reminded me so much of that song “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail, which works so well in that movie because it’s a cartoon about mice. Here, in this complicated, multi-layered story, having this kind of music just forces the whole film into a tedious urban sprawl of forced emotions. If you want to describe a parallel universe musically, why not set up some parallel rules of harmony, or instrumentation? Inasmuch as Pullman has subtle twists in nomenclature, why not perform a similar Clever Act in the music? I did, however, like the throat singing and the natural harmonic series, so, at least there was that.

In other news, Mike Huckabee is so gross. You all read that he, “advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and suggested homosexuality could ‘pose a dangerous public health risk.'” Right, fine. But then just last Saturday, he argued reaganaids.gifthat “there was still too much confusion about HIV transmission in those early years.” The article then goes on to point out that even by 1992, when he answered the question, “it was common knowledge that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact.” Awesome, right? I love it when these guys just straight up say what they think; it’s so much easier than trying to piece together all the back-stepping and do-one-þing-&-say-another. The image above is from Tibor Kalman’s notorious Colors magazine editorial in which an image of Reagan was doctored to make it look like he had lesions. Here’s Maira talking about it.


  • It was totally as bad as I had feared. I saw the 12:20 show last night and it was just baaa-aaa-aad.

    Pretty in places, though.

  • And also the gypsy-pirates were associated with Indian tabla or something like that? That was sort of a good idea?

    But yeah, mostly nul.

  • Just a note to say I’m enjoying your music very much. Lots of interesting layers and colors – and judging by your blog, your cooking sounds quite good as well – but then again, I’ve always thought music and food were really the same thing, flavors distilled in different forms.

  • yah, fuckabee’s a piece of work. have you seen AIDS demo/graphics? beautiful book chronicling some of the best protest art to come out of act up!, gran fury, et al.

  • So you won’t be doing any more film music anymore then?

    Nico responds: No, I think on the contrary, I want to do more!

  • didn’t you meet a whole band of crazies:
    they seemed to like you.

    Nico responds: We all love those crazies. Joyce Crazies tend to be really good at cooking! It’s more my (I think correct) observation that there are film music enthusiasts who have their own private set of criteria that puts stuff like the score to Burf at the way top of the pile. Which, again, isn’t terrible, but, you know, is no North by Northwest, either.

  • I get what you are saying Nico. I too have a big beef with those bizarre Wagnerites claiming, armed with their own weird set of criteria, about what is good music and its various appropriate uses. Holding up Tristan like it’s on top of the pile? please.

    You are right though, Tristan is no “Jupiter” Symphony. For that matter North by Northwest is no Vertigo, and The Golden Compass I would agree is no Birth.

    Seriously though, in the history of film music gestures such as parallel rules of harmony or instrumentation are tantamount to Mickey-Mousing and usually produce disastrously out of date results. That type of film scoring was done to death in the Golden Age, became an art under Herrmann (contrary motion harp glissandi to portray vertigo, or an all string orchestra for a black and white sound in psycho, etc). But to do that now, in a major commercial film would be as anachronistic writing a new 12-tone piece for the concert hall. It’s been done.

  • I’m glad to hear you felt this way.

    I went to see a preview screening a couple of weeks ago and really couldn’t separate my opinion of the movie from my opinion of the score. Even as a student of film music that never happens to me. It was just so bad it was distracting. All of the sound was, really, (I hated the dust/death sound effect especially) but the music in particular.

    Anyway, keep up the good work!