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  • Composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Null Corporation / 93m

I was a big fan of David Fincher, who made such vibrant and imaginative films right the way up to Zodiac, but I have to say the ones he has made since then I’ve watched more out of a sense of duty, not really sure what he was trying to say with them. I thought Mank might be the return to form – and it looks absolutely gorgeous, but I found it a bit of a chore to sit through otherwise, sadly.

Before 2010, Fincher had used three film composers of the highest calibre – Elliot Goldenthal, Howard Shore and David Shire – to score his films, before for The Social Network he went left-field and used Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to provide him with their first film score. It – and the two that followed – met the low modern-day hurdle for film music that it “worked” in the film, insofar as it didn’t actively damage it – but it was hard to get much of a grip of what precisely the music was achieving in the films other than providing a layer of sonic wallpaper.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Fincher has remained loyal to his composers-of-preference even though Mank would obviously demand music – well, I was going to continue that sentence but perhaps it works if I cut it off there. 2020 has been a year of surprises – I didn’t expect to be standing in an hour-long queue to buy toilet paper, I didn’t expect to be home-schooling my daughter and I certainly didn’t expect to hear Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross write a period-appropriate 1930s film score with echoes of Bernard Herrmann.

In truth, in context of the film I’m not sure it does a lot more than any of their previous scores – it’s there, always there, all over the movie like a cheap suit, but if it’s adding anything to the whole thing then I didn’t quite sense it. What is different – very different – is how it sounds away from the movie. The score is a blend of four styles – the least-used is that Herrmannesque string music, masterfully orchestrated by Conrad Pope; there’s a load of jazz, arranged by Dan Higgins; and a surprising amount of foxtrot music arranged by Tim Gill. You might notice that that’s only three different styles – the fourth is essentially an orchestrated version of their usual film music.

You think you’re going to be in for a real treat when you hear the opening cue, “Welcome to Victorville”, which is beautifully authentic in its evocation of Bernard Herrmann – a triumph. What follows over the very long (way overlong) album remains largely as authentic, though a surprising amount of it is more like source music than score, with those dance pieces dominated.

There are moments of creativity – I love the typewriters in “A Fool’s Paradise” – and it is genuinely classy throughout, with many of the pieces sounding like there’s no way they weren’t actually written in the 1930s (helped by a very deliberate recording style to also evoke the period). Perhaps my favourite track is the romantic piano piece “San Simeon Waltz”, with gorgeous accompaniment from the strings and winds – a low-key but conventional old-school love theme, it’s very attractive.

An awful lot of effort has clearly gone into crafting this music. It’s so authentic-sounding (so much more than you might have expected), there are some moments of dramatic weight in the relatively brief passages of genuine underscore (most of which last a minute or less) – but whether I’ll ever listen to it again I’m not so sure. At 52 tracks over 93 minutes (on the regular release – there’s, unbelievably, an even-longer one if you want it) it is quite the slog unless you really, really like 1930s swing and dance music.

Rating: *** | |

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  1. Ismail (Reply) on Wednesday 16 December, 2020 at 13:40

    interesting to hear what they created for “Soul”

  2. Jack Martin (Reply) on Tuesday 12 January, 2021 at 03:18

    I don’t know why technically, I love music so much. I feel it could have been playing in the Overlook Hotel in the Shining. Some songs heart my heart like the Summer of 42 movie. Really think it’s special. Thanks