#1 by Groovy Yak
1995 was a slow year for Elfman scores.
(It was an important year for Elfman though. Oingo Boingo performed their
last concert on Halloween of 1995.) Besides the percussive Dead Presidents,
Elfman's only other score that year was for Gus Van Sant's "To Die
For." It's a slightly bizarre film, but is still quite interesting.
It's the story of a media-obsessed airhead who tricks some local trailor-trash
teens into murdering her husband so she can get her career off the ground
as a famous news anchor. Nicole Kidman really establishes herself as a
good actress. (She got nominated for a Golden Globe for the role.) It's
a dark comedy, but it's hard to tell without the music. Elfman's score
really adds a third dimension to film.
This score is definitely different from
Elfman's music up to that date. This is the score where Elfman's music
reached a turning point. His style changed to favor more percussion and
synthesized music. To Die For, was in essence, an introduction to what
was to come- his fantastic score to Mission: Impossible, which gave us
the "new Elfman sound." To Die For is quite schizophrenic. The
main titles are a lot of fun to listen to. Elfman bounces back and forth
between a sweet, pitzicatto tone and a harsh, heavy metal tone. It's fun
and serves the film well, although it may feel a tad unmusical. A highlight
of the score is Suzie's Theme, which is performed by small male and female
choirs and strings. It's lively cue that sounds like an old radio advertisement
from the 1940's. It's a perfect depiction of Susanne Stone-Maretto, who
is over-ambitious and extremely dim-witted.
While most of the tracks on the album are
somewhat dramatic, it's Elfman's music that really establishes the comedic
tone of the movie. The over-dramatic nature of the music adds to the comedy.
A perfect example of this is the cue Weepy Donuts. (The name must be some
sort of in-joke.) The cue features a wonderful female vocalist performance.
Another highlight of the score is in the track called Murder. At the point
in the film where the murder takes place, Elfman adds in choir. However,
the twist is that they're singing in a major key. That's not something
you'd expect to hear in a homicide scene.
Overall, To Die For is decent, but is not
Elfman at his most exciting or beautiful. If you own Music for a Darkened
Theater Volume 2, you already own most of the score and all of the good
parts, with the exception of Murder. Half of the soundtrack contains pop
music that's not as entertaining as the score.
Rating: * * *
#2 by Ian Davis
There is a big problem with this CD. That
problem is the film: for Gus van Sant Elfman wrote a score of extreme
absurdity and cynicism which works so closely with plot and character
that on disc there is nothing to hope for but disappointment. Yes, the
CD recording allows us to revel in outlandish contrast (both to comic
and eerie effect), but it's true meaning is lost when separated from the
The song tracks used to fill in the gaps
that the 20 minute score leaves are of somewhat ragbag nature, but they
avoid for the most part the mush of recent film songs for romantic comedies
[why are there so few straight romances now without having to mix in comedy
or action or thriller?] and the big noise of blockbuster film songs. At
the same time they all actually play a part in the film--and the guitar
accompaniment to "All by myself" (performed by Eric Carmen,
track 11) is perhaps referred to (in minor key) by Elfman in track 8.
Back to the score: The music of To Die
For is pure psychology. An Elfman dream, coming a close second (in my
view) to Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne. From the start the pathetic kitchness
which backs Suzie/Kidman's dialogue shouts unhinged temperament. It represents
the mystical make-believe of media and stardom absorbed into her persona.
The electric guitar, ultimate opposing
style, is the totally mad side that opens up the world of confidence and
manipulative deviousness. It also represents animal attraction and youthful
rebelliousness. The roles of this second sonic device are often blurred--and
here is where characters and plotline suddenly become a logical and believable
as a weather forecast. Certainly the film would have had trouble coping
with disbelief without the music.
The stylistic mix is that frission, that
dangerous chemical reaction. All other parts of the film, where we are
separated from the inside of Suzie's head and the aura of her personality,
are shot without music (with the exception of background radio sound,
songs etc). "Television footage" especially is given that extra
nudge of reality through implication of that absence.
There is no stretch of the imagination
by which you could describe To Die For as "real life". Whatever
the realities of media, of ambition, of psychosis, this is fantasy, and
Danny Elfman's music has the privilege of communicating this to us, leaving
the characters serenely unconscious of the betrayal.
To go into detail with this score would
be to trivialize much of what Elfman tries to do here. Music for some
films is that ephemeral substance that we can notice without being absolutely
conscious of it--and its true power in this medium lies in that transient
place. My suggestion in this "review" is that anyone who knows
nothing about To Die For should go out and watch the film. [To give a
taste I might pick two points near the end of the film: when Phoenix/James
is describing his love for Suzanne Stone, Elfman evokes an eerie reminiscence
of her characteristic sound. The result is a reflection of her personality
minus many of the freakish quirks and certainly without the brutishness
of the guitar (which is as much associated with his own character). This
is his Suzie, the clean Suzie who brought sex and fairytale fantasy to
an otherwise unstimulated/ing character.] Forget the soundtrack until
you've experienced the music in it's most communicative state.
This is not to criticize the CD, as it
makes for fascinating listening. The juxtaposition of styles is handled
very well, and the themes are never lost when the composer experiments
with new textures and sounds.
DOZING? On disc we have eccentricity. On
film we have delicious, subversive, angel-faced devilry. I recommend both
for Elfman fans.
Rating: * * *