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DOGMA – Howard Shore

November 12, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

dogmaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Kevin Smith’s Dogma stirred up a lot of ill feeling in the religious community upon its release. As the director of the irreverent Clerks and Chasing Amy, Smith is never one to shy away from courting controversy, but I doubt even he could have anticipated the severe backlash aimed at him by the Catholic church. Basically, they didn’t like the idea of their beliefs being mocked but the problem (as is often the case in these situations) was that they didn’t actually bother to sit down and watch the movie before condemning it. If anything, Dogma positively encourages the notion of having some sort of faith – in God, or Buddha, or Allah, or whatever – while taking pot shots at the many hypocrites who hold a bible in one hand and a Kalashnikov in the other.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star as Loki and Bartleby, two angels cast out of heaven for past misdemeanors and who have been banished to walk the earth for thousands of years, making side-splitting wisecracks as they go. When the two hear of a priest in New Jersey who, in an attempt to bring people back to the church, offers all comers an unconditional absolution of sins, the angels see it as their chance to exploit a loophole in Catholic dogma and return home – except that, by doing so, they will prove that God is fallible and thereby destroy all of creation. Sensing a potential catastrophe, God decrees that abortion clinic receptionist Linda Fiorentino should be the person who can stop them, and dispatches seraphim Alan Rickman, muse Salma Hayek, apostle Chris Rock and prophets Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith to help her on her way.

Moving further away from the shoestring production values that typified his earlier works, Smith commissioned Canadian composer Howard Shore to write a large-scale orchestral score to accompany his movie. Performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with accompaniment from the excellent Metro Voices, Shore’s score is a wonderfully over-the-top extravaganza, teeming with huge orchestral themes and vast choral passages, blowing every unfounded preconception of Shore’s musical style way, way out of the water. Interestingly, Shore has chosen to loosely adopt a leitmotif format throughout his score, assigning subtle musical phrases to certain characters. Most notable among these is the intriguing buzzing effect he uses to signify the appearance of the ‘Stygian Triplets’, demons from hell disguised as rollerblading teenagers.

Of the eight score tracks included on the album, ‘Behold the Metatron’ is a superb pastiche of Miklós Rózsa’s biblical spectacle music, combining a driving string rhythm, urgent horn pulses, and church organ and choir to herald the fiery initial appearance of the voice of God. Similarly, ‘The Golgothan’ tries to create a sense of overblown grandeur and tension with gothic organ chords and a piano ostinato as the fearless agents of righteousness face off against what can only be described as a shit monster. ‘The Last Scion’ introduces the motif for Linda Fiorentino’s character, distinguished by the use of a haunting ondes martenot, while the two conclusive cues, ‘John Doe Jersey’ and ‘A Very Relieved Deity’, rank among some of the finest large-scale pieces Shore has ever penned, mixing the marvelous action motif and a superb, soaring new theme with some of the most heavenly choral work I have heard in ages.

Stuck in the middle is a hilarious spoof jingle, ‘Mooby the Golden Calf’, which is heard during the deliciously bloodthirsty boardroom scene when Loki and Bartleby chastise a room full of company executives for “worshipping false idols”. If his film music career ever flounders, Shore could easily find part-time work as an ice hockey organist. Rounding off the album is Alanis Morrissette’s new single ‘Still’, a terrific little song typified by the usual sub-continental overtones and her own idiosyncratic vocal delivery, which is heard over the film’s end credits. The lyrics are interesting, and quite confrontational too, especially considering the nature of the film it accompanies

For anyone narrow-minded or incapable of accepting an alternative point of view, I can see where Dogma would be virtually unpalatable. It does challenge firmly held beliefs, confronts traditions and asks difficult questions, albeit in a profanely light-hearted manner. Conversely, Howard Shore’s score is easily one of the most accessible, whimsical and lively works of his career, blessed with several moments of musical magic. Despite his predilection for dark, overpowering scores such as The Silence of the Lambs, Seven and his work for David Cronenberg, Shore is still more than capable of giving his listeners the most unexpected – but very nice – surprises.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Still (written and performed by Alanis Morissette) (6:15)
  • Dogma (1:45)
  • Behold the Metatron (4:29)
  • Mooby the Golden Calf (written by Howard Shore and Kevin Smith, performed by Members of The Centre for Young Musicians) (2:52)
  • The Golgothan (4:49)
  • The Last Scion (3:21)
  • Stygian Triplets (1:40)
  • Bartleby & Loki (2:40)
  • John Doe Jersey (6:53)
  • A Very Relieved Deity (6:25)

Running Time: 41 minutes 23 seconds

Maverick 9-47597-2 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Howard Shore. Performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Voices. Orchestrations by Howard Shore and Ryan Shore. Chorus master Terry Edwards. Featured musical soloist Jeanne Loriod. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Shari Schwartz Johanson and Joe Lisanti. Album produced by Howard Shore and Robert Cotnoir.

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