by Ian Davis
To begin this rather too brief review I must admit something:
I bought this soundtrack before watching the film. I saw it recommended
in the Gramophone Film Soundtrack publication and thought it might be
fun to listen to the music to a story which I had as yet only read. Now
that I've watched the film I am able to give my own personal view of what
I consider Danny Elfman's best work to date. Forget Batman, forget
Mars Attacks!this is a Masterpiece with a claustrophobic
atmosphere which almost puts Bernard Herrmann's Psycho to shame.
There is an eerie intensity
which purveys both music and film, punctuated by some suspenseful jittery
sections (eg. "Vera's World" track 2) and a few very brief but
immensely violent outbursts (eg. "Getting Even" track 4 and
towards 3'35" in "Eclipse" track 7).
Elfman uses his orchestral forces with
brutal economy. String (and often piano) texture dominates, with woodwind,
brass, and percussion used only to highlight important moments of tenderness
or vehemence (eg. track 7 after 4'00").
The opening of the soundtrack (though not
the film) is one of his most striking: the strings seem to fan out from
a single germ (a medieval drone interval of a perfect 4th), generating
the thematic material of the film as it goes. There's something organic
and living about it, growing from frigid beginnings towards a kind of
fluid polyphony, which describes the bleak setting of the film in a way
which underpins all that occurs later.
The most striking textural effects the
composer exploits are in the string writing (again track 2 is a perfect
example, but by no means the only one). Throughout, vibrato is restrained
or even-nonexistent, scratchy effects and high, whining motifs, together
with double stopping and harmonics add to the dream/nightmare-like quality
of the music. And when the tension breaks into violence the dramatic effect
Elfman's characteristic wordless choir makes an appearance
after the apocalyptic climax in track 7 ("Eclipse") at around
5'0. Once again this smoother sound has been brutally held at bay, used
only in this section, where the nightmare gradually fades awayleaving
us once again with the painful emptiness and rawness of the strings and
the disjunct melancholy of piano in the finale.
Finally, at 4'45 in track 8, a dim light
is shed with a blossoming of major harmonies, before the End Credits plunge
us back through the various memories and torments of the film in miniature.
The way I've described this work will leave you in no surprise
that I totally recommend it to all Danny Elfman's fansif only to
show how he can create a serious psychological masterpiece away from the
influence of Tim Burton. Much as he owes his blossoming career to the
director, I think the composer is beginning to outgrow him. There is a
flexibility in Dolores which hints at Elfman's potential as a great talent.
He can rise to the challenge if only his choice of films will let him.
Rating: * * * *
Slowly, quietly and deftly, Danny Elfman weaves the intrigue
of Dolores Claiborne. Filled with enigma and an underlying morose
tone, this score is entrancing. Elfman takes the sombre tone of the movie
and captures it nicely into a soundtrack which stands on its own.
This score manages to stimulate all of the
senses; from the sorrowful melody in the Main Titles (track 1) to the
oppressively intense sounds in Getting Even (track 4) the passage through
this score is a dark, impassioned journey. Vera's World (track 2) plays
subtle tricks with the listener's mind. It begins with a delicate piano
and, seemingly without notice, it becomes very anxious and agitated through
the strings playing hushed in the background, almost unheard over the
melody of the piano. It is not so much that these strings aren't at a
normal volume, but the listener is so drawn to the piano melody, that
the strings are more felt than heard through their distressed tone.
Dolores Claiborne has a definite Elfman feel to it. It
is both sweetly forlorn and heavily chaotic. Also, he brings in his wordless
choir near the end, a Danny Elfman trademark. Their eerie sound fits the
score flawlessly—sending shivers along your skin. Another Elfman trait
is the sounds he establishes in the Finale (track 8), sounding both hopeful
and despairing at the same time.
This score has a tangible feel to it; you can almost touch
the music. I find this especially true in the End Credits. This takes
you through the score again: quiet, dulcet then racing and distressed
and the back to a spectral tranquility—a somewhat unnatural feeling. This
track appeals to me because of the wide array of emotions in such a short
time. It is also appealing because of his striking use of strings which
help make these sensations possible.
Of course the downfall, as with most soundtracks,
is the length. Barely over half an hour, it leaves you wanting more. But
this is easily forgotten when you let yourself be swept away with the
music. If the length is an issue, just hit the repeat button, you hear
something new every time it's played. Without a doubt I would recommend
this soundtrack to Danny Elfman fans or to anybody looking for something
different to listen to. The score plays beautifully as a soundtrack, or
a work of its own.
Rating: * * * *