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THE SHIPPING NEWS – Christopher Young

December 28, 2001 Leave a comment Go to comments

shippingnewsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Films set in Newfoundland are few and far between, and scores based upon the musical heritage of that uniquely isolated part of Canada are rarer still. The Shipping News, Miramax’s big Oscar movie of 2001, is not a film about the indigenous people of Newfoundland, but the white European settlers who moved there centuries ago, and as such embraces their culture wholeheartedly, allowing composer Christopher Young to explore a musical style he had never before attempted: Celtic music. Adapted from the novel by E. Annie Proulx and directed by Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), The Shipping News stars Kevin Spacey stars as Guy Quoyle, a lonely New Yorker who returns to his childhood home in Newfoundland with his daughter after emerging from a tragic, loveless marriage to Petal (Cate Blanchett). Moving in with his long lost aunt (Judi Dench) and taking a job writing the shipping news column in the local newspaper, “The Gammy Bird”, Quoyle finds his world-vision slowly changing his life… that is, until he meets widow Wavey (Julianne Moore), an emotionally damaged woman with whom Quoyle begins to come to terms with his own life, heal the rift with his daughter, and put his past behind him.

Yes, me hearties, Christopher Young has gone all Irish. In researching his score for The Shipping News, Young discovered that much of the folk music of the area was deeply rooted in the sounds and traditions of the emerald isle, and as such took up the challenge to compose music which was both dramatically appropriate and indicative of the settlers’ history. As the man who gave the world the blood-soaked Gothic horror scores of the Hellraiser series, as well as the soul-searching melodramatics of Murder in the First, sprightly jigs are the last thing you would expect Young to compose – but, with The Shipping News, this is exactly what he does, and does well.

The list of instruments Young employs in his score reads like a list from “bizarre music 101”. Penny whistle, Uilleánn pipes, Irish bones, Celtic harp, hi-lo skin drums, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery, strummed dulcet… the list goes on but, despite appearances, Young’s expertise in combining these unique instruments with a modern symphony orchestra makes The Shipping News a wonderful listening experience. Young rarely has the chance to show off the lively, warm side to his musical nature, more often than not being stuck in the heavy drama, horror or jazz idiom.

‘Shipping News’, the opening track, is a startlingly good piece, capturing immediately the sense of history and the deep connection with the land the people of Newfoundland undoubtedly have. The rhythmic thump of the drums, the skirl of the pipes, the wash of the strings are captivating from the first bar, and set in motion a score which is by turns emotionally resonant and musically uplifting. The score is split three-ways, between downcast interludes which underscore Quoyle’s soul-searching; slightly more intimate, but infinitely more hopeful cues for Quoyle’s blossoming romance with Wavey; and the Celtic music, the life and soul of the party.

Tracks such as ‘Weather Rhymes’, ‘One Kite Better’ and ‘Alwyn Spires’ are, in style, similar to the music Young wrote for Hush and, latterly, The Gift, especially in the way in which strings and harps form the core of the music. ‘Strictly Fishwrap’ and ‘Mooncussers’ both feature the evocative strains of Uilleánn pipes, so beloved by James Horner fans who remember Braveheart with fondness, ‘Botterjacht’s core is a delicate harp solo, and the oddly disturbing ‘Dog on Fire’ gives central prominence to a skewed duet for pennywhistles and fiddles, but ‘Deep Water Down’ is possibly the score’s most unusual cue. This is film music at its most languid – it draws heavily on Young’s jazz background, and almost slurs its way through the cue. If I didn’t know the geographical location of the film, I would almost describe this as Louisiana music – to me, it sounds like a hot and sticky night on the bayou with a bottle of bourbon.

‘Killick-Claw Harbor’, ‘Death Storm’ and the 6-minute conclusive ‘Sail On’ all recapitulate the central Shipping News theme, while the amusingly upbeat ‘The Gammy Bird’ and ‘Dutsi Jig’ are those pieces of folk-like local color one can imagine being performed in front of roaring fires by men in dark coats and woolly hats, smoking pipes and tapping their feet as they unwind from a hard day’s work. These pieces are quite unlike anything Christopher Young has written in his career, and more than ever highlight his versatility and intelligence, and show that he is a composer to be taken seriously.

Already in 2002, Young has been nominated for his first major award (a Golden Globe, which he lost out to Craig Armstrong and Moulin Rouge), and is being heavily tipped to snag his first ever Oscar nomination for his work here. I dearly hope he achieves it. With The Shipping News, Young seems to have finally made his way onto the A-list of Hollywood composers – attracting films with class, intelligence, critical acclaim, and giving him a chance to be musically excellent on something which does not feature anyone being skinned alive or decapitated.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Shipping News (4:06)
  • The Gammy Bird (2:20)
  • Weather Rhymes (2:02)
  • Killick-Claw Harbor (3:32)
  • Deep Water Down (1:56)
  • Dutsi Jig (2:05)
  • One Kite Better (2:52)
  • Seal Flipper Pie (2:46)
  • Strictly Fishwrap (1:33)
  • Mooncussers (2:46)
  • Alwyn Spires (2:01)
  • Asleep With The Angels (3:20)
  • Death Storm (3:05)
  • Botterjacht (2:15)
  • Dog On Fire (3:10)
  • Sail On (6:14)

Running Time: 46 minutes 03 seconds

Miramax Records (2002)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by Allan Wilson. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Jon Kull and Christopher Young. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Edited by Thomas Drescher. Album produced by Christopher Young.

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