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THE STRAIGHT STORY
Fantastic, charming portrait of middle America
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1999 The Straight Story, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The Straight Story is one of those films that sorts the men from the boys when it comes to "serious" film appreciation - on the one hand are those who absolutely adore it, could watch it time and again and not fail to be enormously moved; and on the other are their intellectual superiors who sneer and find it endlessly amusing that anyone would think it their favourite David Lynch film. Needless to say, as an intellectual inferior, I'm in the former camp - this completely charming tale of an old man travelling hundreds of miles on a lawn mower for a reconciliation with his dying brother is a perfect film, touching, beautifully-acted, funny and affecting. Richard Farnsworth (who plays Alvin Straight) was for many years a stuntman and then bit-part actor before landing this, his first leading role, at the age of 79 - he picked up an Oscar nomination (and deserved to win) - and tragically as well as being his first leading role, it was his last, since he killed himself a year after making the film.
Needless to say, since it's a Lynch film the music is provided by Angelo Badalamenti, and his music is pitch-perfect for the tale. There are several themes here, mostly cut from the same cloth - the album opens with "Laurens, Iowa", a mostly synth-based piece suggesting rural monotony, but this is slightly misleading since the score soon opens up and gradually reveals that monotony couldn't be further from the truth. The beautiful "Rose's Theme" for guitar is a lilting lament for Alvin's slightly retarded daughter and could barely be more affecting; and then "Laurens Walking" is a gentle piece of bluegrass as the various characters of the town are introduced.
"Alvin's Theme" is perhaps the strongest of all - fiddles, guitar and bass combine in beautiful fashion for a most delicious musical feast, full of the gentle kindness of the main character, but cleverly suggesting his slow progress on his journey through the way it's built. Rose's Theme is given a variation so full of tragedy it's heartbreaking in "Final Miles", arguably the score's finest piece, utterly convincing in its depiction of a man full of regret and hurt, but also nervously - excitedly - awaiting the reconciliation with his brother.
Much like the film, some may dismiss this as being simple and basic, but with both I find it impossible not to fall under their spell. Badalamenti is a fine composer who has written many impressive film scores, but this is perhaps his most affecting and appealing - direct and to the point, but so charming and lovely it's very hard not to just fall in love with it.