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FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS
Contemplative, rich score - with a brain
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Picturehouse; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Steven Shainberg's Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus was a box office disaster of the highest order (it made back barely 1% of its $17m budget) despite attracting generally positive reviews, and rave notices for Nicole Kidman in her role as the renowned photographer Arbus (though - and the film's title is a bit of a giveaway - this is not the biopic that some viewers seemed to be expecting, but instead is a largely fictional tale featuring events which could plausibly have happened to Arbus). It's the kind of high-concept movie which is meat and drink to composer Carter Burwell, though he has not been working much of late - it's his only score of the last two years, and even his reliable collaborators the Coens have been using less and less of his original music in their films.
His music for Fur suggests this is a pity indeed - an intelligent, breezy score, it is seductive, conveying a sense of intrigue, and remaining steadfastly lovely throughout. Impressively, Burwell does this without the standard 90-piece orchestra, opting instead for a 20-piece ensemble, presumably in the belief that he could write more personal, intimate music that way (a belief which is certainly proved by the resulting score). The piano dominates, leading virtually every track, and Burwell is able to create a variety of different moods through his use of accompaniment to his lead instrument - the homely atmosphere from strings, jazzy seduction from drums and brass, lilting beauty from harp and guitar, darkly humorous mystery from plucked bass.
The main theme is an attractive one, appearing first in "The Fur", and cropping up in numerous (sometimes heavily-disguised) forms throughout. The score is mostly melodic, but sometimes Burwell creates a compellingly tense atmosphere through judicious use of more abstract material, such as the inventive "Ad Ultima Thule" - followed immediately by the gloriously beautiful return of the piano in the vaguely Philip Glass-like "Call of the Wild".
There is a wonderful sense of urgency about the whole thing, a real pace, which makes the 47-minute album positively fly by. This is an excellent score by a confident, highly individual film composer, and I wish we heard more from him these days. I've no idea whether his "exile" has been self-imposed or not, but such a distinctive composer deserves to have his voice heard more often than it has been of late. Fur is a terrific score - perhaps a little too "cerebral" (I use the word advisedly - and despite the presence of such crowd-pleasing belters as the insanely groovy "Stepping Out") for some listeners, but highly rewarding if you have some patience.