Reviews - Dolores Claiborne

Review 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 is extreme.
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 away—leaving 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 fans—if 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: * * * *

Review by Paper-Girl

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: * * * *

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