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Clever but low-key drama score from Bernstein
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1998 Paramount Pictures; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
The fact that a film directed by Robert Benton, written by Richard Russo and starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, James Garner and Stockard Channing passed by virtually unnoticed is strange enough; for a film music fan, the fact that Elmer Bernstein scored a film in 1998 which called for him to draw on techniques he first employed over 40 years earlier is even stranger. OK, so the film is no Far From Heaven, and for that matter neither is the score, but the contrast between the attention given to Bernstein's work on that film (even before he had started writing his music) and this one is rather strange. An old-fashioned mystery, it was Benton's desire to recreate the atmosphere of old noir films but in a modern setting, and he succeeded well enough in doing so.
I suppose one possible explanation is that Bernstein didn't really score this type of film very often early in his career, but I'm sure if he had done then (ondes martenot excepted) this is exactly the sort of score he would have delivered. It's probably his most Herrmannesque effort, but few film composers in history were as distinctive as Bernstein so you would never doubt the music is his. The music is Herrmannesque not because it recalls that composer's famously-explosive thriller scores (it largely doesn't), but because it recalls the much more subtle, psychological music he often favoured. The way Bernstein uses the strings in particular recalls his old friend and hero.
The main theme takes a while to be revealed, but when it is, it's actually very similar to Far From Heaven and is classic Bernstein. The low-key nature of the bulk of the score means it is one which demands close attention and probably repeated listens to really get to know, but it's worth the effort - this is grown-up music for a grown-up film, full of nuance and depth. It is rarely striking (the action music of "Betrayal" a rare exception; the brilliant jazz source cue "Jubilation" another, a real highlight of the album) but a certain kind of listener will always be more excited by a piece of psychological scoring like "Anger" than they ever will be a full-blown action track, and this is very much a score for them. It's not one of Bernstein's more remarkable efforts, but Twilight doesn't deserve to be as ignored as it is - most fans of the composer will find much to enjoy here.