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The Chumscrubber
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Lakeshore Records / 2005 / 55m (score 35m)

Films about suburban malcontent were ten a penny after the success of American Beauty.  In 2005, Arie Posin’s oddly-titled The Chumscrubber came along, debuted at Sundance, played a few festivals elsewhere and then disappeared again, despite a decent-sized budget ($10m) and an excellent cast led by Jamie Bell, with Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes and Alison Janney amongst the well-known actors in supporting roles.  (Slightly amusingly, the film grossed a grand total of £36 in the United Kingdom, meaning only six people bought tickets.)

Its complete lack of success means it is one of the most obscure entries in the filmography of James Horner.  It came and went almost entirely without notice despite having an album featuring a solid amount of score (presumably the whole thing) along with some songs (including Snow Patrol’s wonderful “Run”) which is a pity really because it would have provided good fodder to put up against those who thought the composer had lost his creative spark at the time; it stands alone as a unique entry in his vast body of work, almost entirely unlike anything else he ever wrote.  (Having said that – those who bought the album on the strength of the “From the composer of Titanic!” sticker plastered on the front would probably have been in for a bit of a surprise.)

James Horner

James Horner

The few comments the score did receive when it was released tended to say it was rather Danny Elfman-like and, while that is true, it is in fact because Horner borrows rather liberally from something Elfman himself has borrowed from over the years, Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra (the waltz from which was used famously in Eyes Wide Shut and the clear inspiration for Horner’s main theme here).  I don’t suppose Shostakovich envisaged it having very modern synths placed at either end of the melody played by clarinet as in the opening cue, “Spreading Happiness All Around”; but he would probably have enjoyed it.  Another part of the melody forms the basis of the next cue, “Kidnapping the Wrong Charlie”, with comedic touches (quite unlike the composer, really) coming courtesy of the pizzicato strings.

The other side to the score is introduced in “Dolphins”, a gorgeous, hypnotic piece of new age synth writing not unlike Michael Andrews’s music for Donnie Darko.  Horner himself provides the piano solos that dance around it, which are just brilliant.  James Horner probably isn’t the first composer that would ever have sprung to mind to provide a musical depiction of a drug-induced high, but he does it so well (not that I speak from much experience, I guess).  The main theme is back in “Pot Casserole”, which oozes ironic warmth, before the score’s finest piece, the seven-minute “Digging Montage”, incredibly soothing and chilled-out and really very beautiful.

By far the weirdest track is “Parental Rift / The Chumscrubber”, the composer leaping from a delicate piano performance of the waltz into some pretty hardcore industrial synths and electric guitar – trippy, abrasive, really very weird.  “Not Fun Any More…” lives up to its name, a dark opening leading into some rather tense music, little piano phrases accompanied by synths.  The lengthy “A Confluence of Families” (even in a score like this Horner somehow managed to provide an eight-minute cue) changes things back though, going back to the style of the main theme with perhaps a hint of Nino Rota thrown in too; into the mix Horner adds some more weighty dramatic sampled string music, with real tension and pressure building and then relieved when the theme comes back.  Things conclude in “The End” (naturally enough) with the pizzicato strings providing a slightly playful finale.

Horner always seemed to manage to sound like Horner no matter where (if anywhere) he may have been borrowing from; The Chumscrubber is pretty much as close as he ever came to doing something completely detached from his own sound.  The piano solos (and late on the strings, sampled though they may be) prevent that from actually happening (you’d never be able to mistake them for anyone other than James Horner) but it’s fascinating to hear something so different from him, and a bit of a shame that it’s so far off the beaten track that many have never heard it at all.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. Kevin (Reply) on Sunday 19 July, 2015 at 05:21

    Horner channeling Thomas Newman. Go figure.