Phoebe in Wonderland (2008-9)
Director: Daniel Barnz
Score soundtrack released 2008.3 on Varèse Sarabande VSD 6952
"It makes you break rules. But sometimes breaking rules is good. So I like to think about it that way."
Clip1: End credits
Clip2: 32'30" run with the Red Queen
(Warning, may be classed as containing a spoiler). Phoebe in Wonderland is the slight story of a little girl (played by Elle Fanning) whose active imagination and interest in the Alice stories are gradually revealed to be masking the onset of Tourette's Syndrome. Along the way we meet the drama teacher who intrigues her and releases her from the world of rules and restrictions she inhabits; also there are the worries and personal problems of her parents, played with typical dedication by Felicity Huffman and Bill Bullman; plus her aggravated sister and weak-minded headmaster (Campbell Scott a subtle study in mediocrity). An occasionally sweet film, it does just occasionally claw (and Huffman needs a more convincing wig if she's going to go for the 'troubled mother' weepy), but there is enough in the younger Fanning's performance to keep watchers entertained and sympathetic.
Anatomy of the Opening credits music (Phobe's theme):
A racing figuration featuring piano tinkles away in G major,
hinting at the main theme...
N.B. Simplified to illustrate theme spelled out.
This continues, accompanying the main theme on marimba...
This gives way to a little variation of couple notes in parallel
6ths, which gives the illusion of pushing the music into triple metre as follows...
Finally, the Beck combines all three, building a nice layered
texture, leading to a pleasant scalic violin bridge heralding the second thematic
group led by a more expressive solo cello theme in D minor.
On its repeat the violin returns and together they extend the theme back to the major key and a return to the first group of interlocking themes, complete with continuing violin scales. A coda echoes both major key themes as the music slows to a calm rest. A beautifully crafted little nugget of a main titles cue, presenting two contrasting themes amongst accompanying filligree that is often related. Note also how Beck combines different rhythmic patterns and metres to keep the music lively and full of interest.
Chris Beck's approach to the score is to stay well into the light with only a touch of fairytale magic. His tinkly title music is dreamy and feminine, but with a spiky edge lent by simple scalic violin elaborations, finally broadening into a beautiful cello line. This dash of roughness to the otherwise smooth texture gradually comes to disrupt the calmness of the score's spirit, albeit not necessarily in any threatening way but pushing from gently coaxing humour into something mischievious and just slightly worrying. Strings, both as ensemble and as solos, are brought to the fore in a small number of key cues such as at 32'30" racing with the Red Queen, but calm is restored and brought full circle in Phoebe's final meeting with the drama teacher. Quieter moments tend to earn a piano or harp-led underscore so delicate and low in the mix to be almost inaudibe. It is therefore a delight to discover that it is possible to miss much on film where the CD release allows a freer and arguably more rewarding listen. Few cues feel superfluous in a compilation that is warm and inviting, and some tracks, such as 'How to put on a play' run through a small suite of emotions, shifting from wistful cor anglais to cheerful flute. The total running time of 32 minutes feels just about right and comes well recommended as an antidote to Beck's recent comedy and dramatic scoring. Rob Gokee suggests this comes from the same stable as Year of the dog, which makes perfect sense, although Phoebe favours the dreamy over some of Dog's more angular jauntiness.
Music credits on CD
other credits to follow
End credits (on film):
Songs and source cues