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The Glorias
  • Composed by Elliot Goldenthal
  • Zarathustra Music / 36m

A biopic of feminist activist Gloria Steinem, The Glorias has a plural title because four different actors portray her at different stages of her life. It’s directed by Julie Taymor, whose productions (cinema, theatre, opera) are generally so colourful and interesting, and after some festival appearances has – in keeping with the theme of 2020 – seen its wide release being on the small rather than big screen.

Taymor’s partner is the great composer Elliot Goldenthal who has, of course, written music for the majority of her projects – including arguably his finest film score, Titus, and also the one that won him his Oscar, Frida. As has been well-documented, Goldenthal suffered a serious injury in 2005, since when his film work has been very rare – he has written various concert pieces (many based on his film music) in the years since, but it’s always a bit of an event when we get new music from him to enjoy.

Elliot Goldenthal

It goes without saying that The Glorias sounds nothing like all those masterpieces Goldenthal produced in the 1990s – the ones, I suspect, most of his fans would so dearly love to see him emulate some time – but it equally goes without saying that the pre-2005 Goldenthal wouldn’t have scored a film like this the way he did Alien 3 or Sphere anyway. It does at times have the feel of his early score Golden Gate and at times there are elements of In Dreams (the less edgy ones).

It is, for the most part, a low-key and even subdued work, which is highly unusual even for the modern-day Goldenthal. There are two main themes introduced in the opening two cues – both guitar-led, but in very different ways. The first, “The Greyhound”, is a gentle piece with synth pads and a bed of strings under the solo; fans of the composer haven’t heard him write in major keys too often, but here he does, representing Steinem’s lofty ambitions for a better world.

The second theme appears in the sprightly “Steinemite Jukebox”, with the composer taking inspiration from Django Reinhart. I absolutely love the variant that appears in “Leo’s Days”, with its choppy strings and bright piano solo.

Two standalone cues are worthy of mention: “Jaipur Station” is a lovely Indian-flavoured piece, reminding me a bit of Thomas Newman’s trips to that part of the world – there are lovely textures and colours. Even more colourful is the outstanding “The Witches Brew”, a deliciously dark tarantella that recalls the Goldenthal of old – most specifically his stage work “The Green Bird” (also for Taymor) but a style he used in numerous film scores too. It’s great.

It’s not all fun and games, of course – the subject of the film has hardly had an easy passage through life – and there is some superb atmospheric music, in particular the moody “Passing an Elegy”, quite tense and heavily electronic. In “Selectric” we hear a saxophone, the composer here using Ornette Coleman as a reference.

In its later sections there is a real sense of reflection in the music, starting in “A Torch Passed” which becomes wonderfully warm as it progresses, culminating in a wonderful little set of trumpet triplets; and then the strings and horns swell in the moving “E.R.A. Now”, triumphant but not triumphalist. “Other Side of the Mountain” is another outstanding piece: the strings gently tug, emotions laid bare and eventually released, leading into the wonderful finale “We The People” which turns the main theme into an expansive piece of Americana, quite delightfully so.

Nobody would love to hear another Titus or Final Fantasy from Goldenthal more than me, but we’re clearly never going to. The Glorias is nothing like that but, much like his partner, he is someone whose work is endlessly interesting, and there are all sorts of little things in this score that reward repeated listening. That’s not a surprise but perhaps what is a surprise is just how many wonderful, warm moments there are too – especially the album’s last few minutes, which culminate in that magnificent finale. For my money this is the most satisfying new Goldenthal score since that Oscar win for Frida 18 years ago.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Sunday 18 October, 2020 at 18:02

    Thanks to this review, I’ve recently gone back and listened too my collection of Elliot Goldenthal. Any chance of a review of either the Alien 3 or Batman Forever expansions from La La Land?