- Composed by Frederik Wiedmann
- La-La Land Records / 2014 / 73m
Set during the American Civil War in 1864, Field of Lost Shoes tells the story of a group of young cadets suddenly thrust into the heat of battle at the Battle of New Market, during which a very small Confederate force (including the cadets) saw off the far more numerous forces of the Union army in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s directed by Sean McNamara, who previously made Soul Surfer (with its excellent Marco Beltrami score) along with an awful lot of kids’ television.
Composer Frederik Wiedmann has made a lot of people (including me) sit up and take notice with some of his terrific music for television in the last few years but this film gave him a chance to work on his grandest canvas yet, affording him the opportunity to work with an orchestra and write a score along the lines of his heroes he cites John Barry’s Dances With Wolves as an influence on his whole career and this score in particular – and there are echoes of various other great scores from this genre which run throughout his fine score, surely his best yet.
The score begins with a rousing main title, sounding initially very similar to Michael Kamen’s glorious Band of Brothers with its heavenly choir and the respectful tone of the melody taken up by the orchestra, though it does go on to steer its own path. It’s a good theme, not particularly distinctive from many others for similar films, but of course it’s not always appropriate to try to reinvent the wheel. The second cue, “The Issue of Slavery”, goes on quite a dramatic ride through some very dark territory before arriving at its grand conclusion; then there’s another new sound in “Young John Wise”, folksy fiddles giving a charming edge to it. In “The Initian of a Rat” (which is either a word I’ve never come across before, or a typo) the fiddle finds itself navigating far choppier waters, leading into some urgent suspense music with more than a slight air of desperation about it – but that, in turn, goes into some fine action music, the first of the score.
In “The Flower of his Youth” Wiedmann offers a noble, heroic melody placed in a rather dark, slightly uncomfortable setting – it’s impressive, clever stuff. “Sunstruck Rat” with its folk components being morphed into stirring action music is another example. The score’s second primary theme is heard first in “Love At First Sight” and it’s an absolute beauty, classically romantic and gorgeously lilting. And emotion is rarely far from the surface – the bravery conjured up by “I Will Fight For My Family” is quite glorious (there’s more than a hint of James Horner about it, a kind of emotional overtness that is somewhat rare in film music today).
Indeed, in an era in which bland is considered grand, it’s nice to hear a score like this wearing its heart firmly on its sleeve and not being afraid to be unsubtle. There is from time to time a bit of directly martial-sounding, period-specific music and at other times more modern elements do shine through but largely this is a good, old-fashioned romantic symphonic work – the lengthy “Thoughts on War” has such a pomp to it, such sweep (again with a hint of Horner). Later on in the score it does develop a bit more of an action style (“New Market Heights” and the initially very Barry-like “Send the Boys In”, which explodes into a particularly intense action cue, are particularly impressive in that regard) – we know how well Wiedmann can do that from some of his earlier music, so it’s no surprise that he pulls that side of things off so well. The score’s real zenith comes in the 13-minute sequence covered by just two tracks towards the end – the barnstorming “Storming the Hill”, pulse-pounding orchestral and choral action, followed by the harrowing “Aftermath”, which sees the love theme completely turned on its head as the composer surveys some charred earth, before glimmers of home begin shining through once again. (Admittedly the piece does owe a debt to Hans Zimmer’s seminal “Journey to the Line” from The Thin Red Line.) Two rousing arrangements of the two main themes make up the final two cues on the album, whose last half hour or so is truly outstanding (and what went before that was more than half decent too).
Field of Lost Shoes doesn’t tread any particularly new ground, but it certainly treads over very solid ground and Wiedmann has painted on a particularly grand canvas, writing emotionally rich music that is very easy to like and will surely prove very popular amongst those people who like the no-holds-barred-when-it-comes-to-emotions approach of 1990s John Barry or James Horner (and who are willing to give this score a chance). It really does make a fabulous listen and is highly recommended.