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HANGING UP – David Hirschfelder

February 18, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

hangingupOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Following the world-wide praise (and Oscar nominations) he received for his original scores for Shine and Elizabeth, it was surely only a matter of time before Australian composer David Hirschfelder got the call from Hollywood. In the end, the call came from Diane Keaton, wanting him to write the score for her new movie Hanging Up, a modern comedy about three sisters (Keaton, Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow) who have to deal with an incorrigible, obnoxious father (Walter Matthau), and who seemingly spend 99% of their lives on the phone with each other. As I write this, Hanging Up has been receiving atrocious reviews from the American press, and causing me to wonder whether attaching himself to this film will ultimately prove to be a good move or a bad move for Hirschfelder.

Early on in its production, I seem to recall that Alan Silvestri was due to write the music for this film. Whether Silvestri left the film early on in its life, or whether his score was eventually rejected, I’m not sure – but the latter scenario, if it is the correct one, would certainly go some way to explaining why Hirschfelder’s score sounds so underdeveloped. Really, Hanging Up sounds like something Lee Holdridge, or Bill Conti, or Marvin Hamlisch might have written in that sub-orchestral, post-Moroder period around 1984 or ’85. Several cues, notably ‘Memory Lane’, ‘Lou Missing’, ‘Disconnect/Georgia’s Arrival’ and the Rimsky-Korsakoff inspired ‘Conference Call’ have an unwanted retro feel about them, as though Hirschfelder’s music has become stuck in a film music timewarp that seems unable to shake off the overtly sugarpop sounds of the decade.

The other problem with Hanging Up as a score is that Hirschfelder, for all his talents, is not really a theme writer. His music is more about textures and feelings, and for films like Shine and Elizabeth where lots of classical selections were used to bolster the score, this was never a problem. A film like Hanging Up, however, needs a strong hook, an identifiable recurring melody that captures the attention of the audience. This is why great theme writers, like Silvestri, David Newman and George Fenton, are so often employed in the light comedy genre, and consequently why I feel that Hirschfelder’s slightly more cerebral, mood-driven compositions generally miss the mark.

It’s also perhaps worth noting that six cues, including ‘Flashback – Eve Crashes’, ‘Flashback – Eve and Dad Dance’ and ‘Mums in Big Bear’, are listed as being “different versions than appear in the film”. Assuming there was one, does this mean that Keaton reverted back to Silvestri’s original? Are these Hirschfelder’s demo cues? If so, how come they are on the album? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but if I did they would probably reveal the back story behind some of the score’s shortcomings.

Having said all that, it has to be said that Hanging Up is not completely without musical merit. The opening track, ‘It’s Too Late’ introduces an attractive, if a little unusual scherzo which gets passed backwards and forwards between strings, woodwinds and piano in a manner not too dissimilar to the main theme from Shine. There are also some soft, unassuming piano and string passages in the flashback cues, most of which are augmented by gentle glissando effects that add to the “magic” of them all, while the lovely ‘Mums in Big Bear’, ‘Eve and Ogmed’, ‘Thanksgiving’ and the tragic ‘Lou Dies’ contain what are perhaps the most touching performances of the main theme.

In addition to the score, songs from the likes of Dean Martin, Judy Garland and Steve Tyrell are also included on Varèse’s album. ‘Let It Snow’ is one of my all-time favourite seasonal songs, although it still always reminds me of the end of Die Hard, and although the version on here draws rather amusing comparisons with Robert Goulet’s loungey vocal on the Toy Story 2 album. Ultimately, and although Hanging Up is by no means a “bad” listen, it’s a totally underwhelming experience. It’s pretty, but pretty bland.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • It’s Too Late (3:00)
  • Flashback – Eve Crashes (1:25)
  • Conference Call (1:34)
  • Paralysed Cowboy (0:26)
  • Memory Lane (1:51)
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, performed by Dean Martin) (1:56)
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, performed by Judy Garland) (2:42)
  • Lou Missing (2:25)
  • Eve and Maddy are Hondas (1:01)
  • Flashback – Eve and Dad Dance (2:30)
  • Mums in Big Bear (2:31)
  • Eve and Ogmed (4:07)
  • Disconnect/Georgia’s Arrival (3:13)
  • Georgia On My Mind (written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, performed by Steve Tyrell with All-4-One) (3:52)
  • Drive to Hospital (1:28)
  • Lou Dies (2:42)
  • Thanksgiving (2:20)
  • Once Upon A Time (written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, performed by Jay McShann) (5:35)

Running Time: 44 minutes 46 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6120 (2000)

Music composed by David Hirschfelder. Conducted by Thomas Pasatieri. Orchestrations by David Hirschfelder and Thomas Pasatieri. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands and Christian Scallan. Album produced by David Hirschfelder.

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