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Sunday 2 August 2020

A Soul To The Universe

The title of this blog is from a quote from Plato:
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
Stirring stuff.

What's your favourite piece of music from a movie?

Sometimes the right musical accompaniment can absolutely make a scene; and sometimes they can become absolutely iconic in their own right, even removed from the cinematic context they were originally presented in. I don't know a lot of people who wouldn't know Chariots of Fire, even if they haven't seen the film - and they will probably associate it with running in slow motion, at least.

Because I can, I'm gonna throw a bunch of different bits of movie score at you (with one honorable mention that isn't TECHNICALLY score but is CLOSE), and talk about why I like them. Where possible I will link you to the scene as it happens in the movie - otherwise, we'll have a nice little chat about it.

Fair warning: there will be spoilers for the movies below. If you haven't seen them, me talking about them may well clue you in on plot elements best left secret.

The Medbay (Alien Covenant, Jed Kurzel)

Well jesus this whole bit is literally horrible

So this anxiety-inducing collection of noises plays over an entire sequence of an infected member of the crew of the Covenant being brought about a shuttle, taken to the med bay, and then something awful happening to him. This awful thing explodes out of his back, kills the crewmate in the room with him, and leads the surviving crewmate to such terror that she accidentally blows up the fucking shuttle trying to kill the little bastard.

The way it all happens, the way it all pans out, is so tense - so frantic - I forgot to breathe for the entire scene. It's what horror is all about. The panic, the alarm, the wrongness. The entire thing having been okay if only the hundred things that went wrong didn't go wrong. If only the floor wasn't slippery. If only the door was tougher. If only, if only, if only.

Probably my favourite bit of the movie.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Laputa / Castle In The Sky, Joe Hisaishi)

Just before this opening sequence, all we know is that the world of Castle In The Sky - my favourite Ghibli movie - has airships, air pirates, military spies, and a girl with a necklace who would rather fall from aforementioned airship than let the necklace fall into the hands of aforementioned air pirates.

Then you are treated to this gorgeous, glorious piece of music by the master Joe Hisaishi himself, and presented with the animation above - which not only sums up the history of the world you're about to inhabit for the next hour and a half, but also tells you the plot, if you're careful enough to pay attention.

The piece is masterful. Emotive, soaring and gentle by turns, touching, epic in scope. A constantly-descending chord structure that gently reminds you that this title sequence is playing out while a girl is, literally, falling from the sky.

Just breathtaking.

Anakin's Betrayal (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith, John Williams)

If any one good thing came out of the prequels, it was the music.

For two and a half movies, the watcher waits for the moment; the point wherein the Emperor seizes control of the Republic, takes over the Senate, and begins the destruction of the Jedi. We know it is coming. We all know it is coming, and god help us, we're ready for it by the time it rolls around.

And aside from a ropey moment involving Yoda (god I hate every prequel scene involving Yoda), what you witness is a total betrayal. The armed forces that the Jedi have been fighting alongside, become friends with, even been on first name terms with in several places, turning on them and cutting them down with absolute impunity.

It's more than the brutal murder of all a whole bunch of the Jedi. It's the moment that the tables turn. And front and centre is Anakin Skywalker who cements his place in this entire thing - just after helping Palpatine murder Mace Windu - by massacring all the kids in the temple. (He has past form in terms of kid-murder, it bears mention.)

That's how the piece feels. It's a fall from grace of the highest order, an act of awful brutality; this is the moment that the clouds roll in and everything goes dark. Sure, there's other bits of music from Star Wars that are more iconic and stand-out, but this is just... breathtaking.

New Dawn Fades (Heat, Moby / Joy Division)

This is technically a song in its own right (even the instrumental version of a cover of a song) but - hey, I did say there would be an honourable mention.

Cutting through the Los Angeles night, two men, one of them chasing the other, hounding him down toward an inevitable destructive conclusion. The tenacity with which these men pursue their goals, the total embrace of their lifestyle to the point of breakdown.

I love Michael Mann's film work, the way he paints the parts of a city that most people don't even think about. I love how the blasting guitars and the rhythm section is like a constant onslaught of noise; like a barrage on the senses, all things travelling towards the witness at high speed, a crash imminent.

And the scene that follows? The two of them drinking coffee together? Absolutely stellar.

Burn It All (Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson)

The king is dead. All hail the king. Killmonger has overthrown T'Challa and become both Black Panther and king of Wakanda - and he does the next thing in the playbook of the coup... he pulls up the ladder behind him, destroying the route to power. He will be the last king, or nobody will be. He burns the herb that grants the Black Panther his power, torching it in a symbolic demolition of the traditions that make Wakanda, Wakanda.

And then he walks to the throne, in a beautiful shot that starts upside down, the world gone horribly awry, twisting slowly into focus as the new reality settles in: Killmonger is king.

The mournful singing and traditional music undercut by the sharp trap beats, the instantiation of the new over the old, interweaving but not synchronising; a harsh visitor from a different tradition. A spear point in the heart of that which once was normal.

I really like this movie - oh, and the guy that composed the score? Also did The Mandalorian.

Sea Wall (Blade Runner 2049, Hans Zimmer / Benjamin Wallfisch)

This is what it comes down to; a last all-or-nothing scramble, not to save the world, not to save the revolution, not to protect the people you care about, but to do the thing that you believe you should be doing. To do the one right thing, that you know you can do, in that moment in time. To do the good thing, even if humanity sees you as being nothing but a tool that will do whatever it is told.

While the Vangelis-helmed score of Blade Runner was a sumptuously designed electronic ensemble, it still held together with a structure, much like the city of Los Angeles it was based in; it was broken, scattered, wired up and buzzing, but it still had edges and corners. The score of 2049 shows the world as falling apart, a degradation of those aforementioned structures, a distortion of everything that existed before; snarling angry synths and the constant, overpowering crush of oppression and mother nature alike.

Here the electronic noise of the city echoes in as if from far away; we start with the pounding pulse beats of a chase, and end up with this flowing, swelling reverberation, unstoppable as the tide as it sweeps in to wash away everything it touches. The savage subtonal growl of distortion sits below it, the violence that K and Luv inflict upon each other over the fate of Rick Deckard, beating each other half to death even as the ocean threatens to claim them both.

Moody, dark, insidious, angry. No wonder I like it so much, it reminds me of me when I first wake up in the morning.

The Alien (Annihilation, Ben Salisbury / Geoff Barrow)

There were so many good choices for this movie, but I had to go with this one.

Throughout the entire movie, the group move through The Shimmer, finding how it and everything within it has been changed. They, too, change. Move away from who and what they were, alter until they are not themselves, or are far enough removed that looking back on who they were is a gulf that can't be crossed again. It is about change, it is all about change.

Until an object is discovered - a being - an alien - that begins as nothing but noise and light, a concept more than anything. And it takes shape, and form, and copies that which it sees, until it has become a simulacra. While Lena (played superbly by Natalie Portman) has become a totally different entity to the person that agreed to enter The Shimmer, she finds that this being - in mere moments - becomes the person that she was all along. This bafflingly inhuman object, taking form as she watches.

There are no answers, here. There is no explanation. There is only this object, the changes wrought inside and out, and the promise that there will always be part of the universe that you will not understand.

There's a lot of others that don't make this list but really should - The Prowler from Spider-Verse, First Encounter from Arrival, Nightstalker from Ghost In The Shell (the original one not that rubbish one), Bishop's Countdown from Aliens, I Could Have Done More from Schindler's List, to name but a few.

It all comes down to this: sometimes the score makes the scene. Sometimes the score IS the scene.

Flight to the imagination, and life to everything.

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