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A LIFE IN SUITCASES
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2005 Borut Krzisnik; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
The films of Peter Greenaway are probably not an ideal place to go if you want something light and fluffy which will warm your heart. One of the most daring and original - and unusual - film directors of our time, his movies are usually far too intelligent for idiots like me to understand (that, or they're just plain indecipherable). Even by his standards, A Life in Suitcases left people confused - according to this album's liner notes, "the director deliberately dissolves any notion of narrative closure: film is about the longing for a system that covers the world and at the same time the futility of such a desire. Tulse Luper leaves 92 suitcases in his life, filled with children, candles, coins, honey, water, gold; body parts, Ingres drawings and 55 men on horseback." The notes go on like this for a while, but don't really leave me much the wiser. Greenaway himself helpfully tries to shed some light on things in his own album notes, with nuggets like "Tulse Luper tries to make all the prisons of The Tulse Luper Suitcases, prisons with a view." Cheers, Pete. Surely, at least the composer can do something to help? According to Borut Krzisnik, "Our earthly lives have enough indeterminacy aldready..." I give up!
I'm still not entirely sure whether it's all a big joke or not, but I shall proceed on the basis that it isn't, that I'm just too ignorant to understand. Greenaway's fruitful collaboration with Michael Nyman spanned 19 films, but they haven't worked together in over a decade and a half, so it fell to composer Krzisnik to score this latest film. The music is virtually as strange as the movie sounds - apparently it is performed by a "virtual orchestra", whatever one of those is - I'm guessing it's a real orchestra manipulated slightly by computer.
This is not music to play to your hot date to get her in the mood for some loving. Unless both of you are complete freaks who get turned on by things which make other people repulsed, of course. Indeed, if your beer goggles go overtime and you end up coming home with some slapper who wouldn't be out of place in Battersea Dogs' Home then this might be the perfect way to get rid. It is music which impresses on almost every level, but which takes some real work to actually like. I had the CD for a long time before writing this review, simply because no matter how many times I listened to it I couldn't quite make up my mind whether I was hearing the work of a genius or a lunatic.
I think I've settled on genius at the moment, but who knows where I'll be in a week's time. It's amazing music - as contemporary as any film score I've heard, magnificently chopping through avant garde textures, blisteringly good harmonies and almost incomprehensible construction. For some bizarre reason, listening to it reminds me a bit of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry is at a party, sitting with a table of kids playing Chinese Whispers. The kid whispers "I love pigs" into Larry's ear. He gets momentarily distracted by an attractive waitress and by the time the message has gone round the table of six-year-olds, it comes out as "I love tits." Exceptionally funny, but at the same time I want to cringe under the sofa at hearing a six-year-old say it. That's how I feel with A Life in Suitcases - the music completely hypnotises me, but somehow no matter how impressed I might be while listening to it, by the time it's over I'm convinced I want to kill myself.
I can't think of another film score like it. Sorry for my inadequate ramblings (hey, it's like stepping into a Peter Greenaway movie - nothing seems to make sense, just some random things spouting up out of nowhere) - go and listen to some clips at Amazon or something. It's extraordinary, and I honestly don't know whether it's extraordinary in a good way or a bad one. It's the kind of score that I can virtually guarantee every website will give either one or five stars to - nothing in between. I'm reviewing it on a Tuesday, and it gets five - if I'd waited till Wednesday, might only have been one.