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THE NINTH GATE – Wojciech Kilar

ninthgateOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It has been over five years since Roman Polanski’s last movie, the dark and disturbing political thriller Death and the Maiden. Polanski, the creative force behind such classics as Rosemary’s Baby, Tess and Frantic, makes fewer and fewer movies these days but, despite their scarcity, the importance of his films can never be ignored or overlooked. I admit that I know very little about his latest effort, The Ninth Gate (or, to give its proper title, La Neuvième Porte), other than that it stars Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella and Emmanuelle Seigner, is to do with demons and devils and the occult, and has a superb, brooding score by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar.

For the majority of film music fans, Wojciech Kilar is famous for just three scores: Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, Polanski’s Death and the Maiden in 1995 and The Portrait of a Lady in 1997. He is, in fact, a quite prolific writer in Poland and across Europe, and it surprises me that he is not called upon more regularly by American and English-language filmmakers. Kilar’s sound is rich, luxurious and distinctly East European in nature, with heavy-sounding strings, prominent bass and cellos dominating many of his scores. He has a tendency to make his orchestrations so thick as to be almost indefinable – we’re talking romantic in the true, old-fashioned sense of the word. Gothic romance.

The centrepiece of the score are the two performances of the main theme, ‘Vocalise’, both of which feature an utterly stunning vocal performance by the soprano Sumi Jo, and which bookend the score. Jo’s crystal clear tones, the accompaniment by a lush string section and harpsichord, and the precise tone and tempo of the piece put me in mind of Edda Dell’Orso’s performances on many of Ennio Morricone’s scores. The other cues which feature her – ‘The Motorbike’, ‘Blood On His Face’, and the entire finale from ‘Balkan’s Death’ to ‘Corso and the Girl’- fulfil a dual purpose, and are equally able to gently soothe you and to chill you to the bone.

Much of the thematic material is reminiscent of Kilar’s work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the impossibly deep bass of the ‘Opening Titles’, the mesmeric swirl of ‘Missing Book’, the portentous Latin chanting of ‘Balkan’s Death’ and the almost spiritual nature of the conclusive ‘Corso and the Girl’ all recall his wonderful music for Francis Ford Coppola’s opulent vampire chiller. There is also some unexpected lighter fare, mainly by way of the jaunty muted trumpet motif for Depp’s character, which reappears from time to time throughout the score, notably ‘Corso’, ‘Stalking Corso’ and ‘Plane to Spain’, where it is accompanied by a bolero-style string beat.

As one would expect for a film predominantly concerning the supernatural, dissonance plays quite a major role in the score too, with Horner-style high-pitched, nervous pianos and pointed brass stabs being especially prominent. Cues such as ‘Bernie Is Dead’, the incessantly rumbling ‘Liana’s Death’, the forward-thrusting ‘Boo!/The Chase’, and the aforementioned ‘The Motorbike’ and ‘Stalking Corso’ remain in the memory the longest, and provide a wonderfully expressive example of Kilar’s unique style of action music.

Ultimately, anyone who has any kind of affinity for Kilar’s music will find much to admire and enjoy in The Ninth Gate. It is familiar enough to appeal to listeners who fell in love with the resonant sounds of Dracula and The Portrait of a Lady, but different enough to be surprising and interesting for those who crave something with a slightly different slant. I personally feel that this is one of the scores of 1999 to date, and I sincerely hope that Kilar, along with his countryman Zbigniew Preisner, is given the opportunity to score more mainstream films in the future.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Vocalise – Theme from The Ninth Gate (3:55)
  • Opening Titles (3:32)
  • Corso (3:25)
  • Bernie Is Dead (4:31)
  • Liana (3:03)
  • Plane to Spain (Bolero) (4:48)
  • The Motorbike (1:19)
  • Missing Book/Stalking Corso (4:41)
  • Blood On His Face (1:13)
  • Chateau Saint Martin (4:06)
  • Liana’s Death (2:39)
  • Boo!/The Chase (4:29)
  • Balkan’s Death (3:52)
  • The Ninth Gate (1:14)
  • Corso and the Girl (3:21)
  • Vocalise – Theme from The Ninth Gate (Reprise) (3:56)

Running Time: 54 minutes 20 seconds

Silva Screen FILMCD-321 (1999)

Music composed by Wojciech Kilar. Conducted by Stepan Konicek. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic and Chorus. Orchestrations by Wojciech Kilar. Featured vocal soloist Sumi Jo. Recorded and mixed by John L. Timperley. Edited by John L. Timperley and Suzana Peric. Album produced by Wojciech Kilar, John L. Timperley and James Fitzpatrick.

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  1. September 24, 2017 at 9:01 am

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