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SIDEWAYS – Rolfe Kent

October 22, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

sidewaysOriginal Review by Peter Simons

Having received much critical and popular acclaim Sideways can be considered last year’s surprise hit. Being the winning film at the Toronto film festival, it also received seven Oscar nominations in addition to seven Golden Globe nominations of which it won two: for screenplay and film. Combining elements of a romantic comedy and a road movie, Sideways is about the two middle aged men Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) who set off for a week into California’s wine country in search of a good time, lots of wine and women. The chronically melancholy Miles is still recovering from his marital break up from two years ago; while the overly outgoing Jack is about to get wed. Before committing to one woman Jack insists on getting laid during this road trip, though Miles grudgingly disapproves of his friend’s behavior and would rather get drunk on Pinots. However, they meet the mature Maya (Virginia Madsen), who clearly like Miles a lot, and the frisky Stephanie (Sandra Oh) with whom Jack hits it off immediately. Miles’ compulsive obsession with wines and his shy struggle with women; in contrast to Jack’s generally exuberant and overly confident behavior make for many hilarious scenes. The cast perform terrifically and it’s easy to see why moviegoers were surprised by the Oscar’s passing on nominating Giamatti for his lead role.

Having worked with Alexander Payne on several previous occasions (Election and About Schmidt for example), Scottish composer Rolfe Kent once again steps up to the plate and delivers one of his finest scores to date – and certainly his most successful in terms of critical recognition. In the booklet’s liner notes Payne explains how he himself was inspired by Italian comedies from the 1960s and 70s – especially I Soliti Ignoti – and how he suggested Kent to write a jazzy score in the tradition of Italian composer Piero Umiliani. Payne praises Kent for his ability to provide that what Payne values most in film music: “unusual arrangements, the constant presence of melody, the expression of emotion without sentimentality, and a great deal of wit”.

Sideways is quite a clever little score. Kent seemingly presents a dozen jazz pieces that sound more like source music than traditional film music. Yet, these are not at all just random cues. Kent has actually come up with a handful of themes, motifs and rhythmic signatures that form the basis of all the tracks. While at first glance it may not sound like an actual movie score, it definitely is structured as one.

The album kicks off with “Asphalt Groovin”, a cue that sets the tone for the rest of the album: it’s jazzy, it’s snazzy, it’s energetic and it’s varied in its arrangement as muted trumpet, piano, vibes, flute and saxophone take turns being the lead instrument. “Constantine Snaps His Fingers” is essentially a continuation, but not a repetition, of the opening track. Later on the album, “Bowling Tango” briefly reprises the theme heard in the opening cues and sees it arranged for accordion, viola and piano lending the cue a gypsy-like sound.

Stylistically “Drive” is more or less the same as the two cues it succeeds, but it does feature a new theme that is, perhaps, a little more straightforward and less jazzy than the first one, though it still goes through all the typically jazzy variations. A softer, more somber arrangement for flute, accordion and bass guitar of this secondary theme can be heard in “Walk To Hitching Post”. “Picnic” and “Wine Safari” are both delightfully sunny tracks, with a retro organ sound in the background, perfectly capturing the good, unconcerned times our lead characters are enjoying. “Los Olivos” reprises the theme heard in “Picnic”, but this time around the arrangement, for strings, accordion and dulcimer sounds much more bittersweet. “Lonely Day” lives up to its title and through slow bongo rhythms, piano, accordion and bass guitar creates a somewhat lonely feeling without ever exaggerating. This truly is Kent’s strongest quality: to create memorable themes and spot-on atmospheres without overdoing it. His music is emotional, but never sentimental. It’s joyful, but never over-the-top exuberant; melancholy, but never depressing; funny, but never cartoonish.

“Miles Theme” is another example of a cue that perfectly symbolizes the character it was written for. It’s somewhat funny, somewhat happy, but it’s generally too restrained to go all the way. “Chasing The Golfers” is one of the movie’s most hilarious scenes, though Kent thankfully avoids mickey-mousing the action, providing a cue that is much more coherent and much more enjoyable than it could have been coming from any other composer. The theme from this cue is reprised in “Slipping Away As Mum Sleeps” and in “I’m Not Drinking Any #@%!$ Merlot” and sounds like it would also feel quite comfortable on a Henry Mancini soundtrack. “Abandoning The Wedding” is as emotionally manipulative as this score gets with its slow, dramatic piano theme. And still its melody, a close relative to the one heard in “Lonely Day”, and arrangement are just a tad too light-hearted to really take too seriously.

The album comes to a close with an absolute knock out theme for “Miles and Maya”. After fourteen colorfully arranged tracks with snazzy themes and snappy rhythms, the simple beauty of “Miles And Maya”, arranged mainly for piano with a little bit of flute, bass guitar, vibes and very understated percussion, is all the more powerful. The beauty of this cue lies in its ambiguity. Is it sad or romantic? It’s hard to tell; unless you’ve seen the film.

While Sideways does not sound like your ‘normal’ film score, it is not a random collection of jazz tunes either. Kent does actually establish a good handful of recurring themes and motifs that serve as the backbone for the soundtrack lending the album a welcome coherency. Throughout the album there is a rhythmic undercurrent created by a typical jazz drum kit augmented with retro-sounding bongos. It’s a most enchanting album, that also functioned so beautifully in the film, and it’s easy to see why it got all the praise it did.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Asphalt Groovin’ (4:00)
  • Constantine Snaps His Fingers (3:03)
  • Drive (3:56)
  • Picnic (2:16)
  • Lonely Day (1:40)
  • Wine Safari (2:13)
  • Miles’ Theme (2:59)
  • Los Olivos (2:43)
  • Chasing the Golfers (3:03)
  • Walk to Hitching Post (2:32)
  • Abandoning the Wedding (3:25)
  • Slipping Away As Mum Sleeps (1:00)
  • Bowling Tango (0:49)
  • I’m Not Drinking Any #@%!$ Merlot (1:13)
  • Miles and Maya (2:26)

Running Time: 37 minutes 18 seconds

Silva Screen SILCD 1174 (2004)

Music composed by Rolfe Kent. Conducted by Stephen Coleman. Orchestrated by Tony Blondal. Featured musical soloists Ron Feuer, Roger Burn, Dan Higgins, Dan Savant, Pedro Eustache, Will Kennedy, Paul Horn, Dave Carpenter, Alex Acuna, Ricardo Passilas, Brian Scanlon, Justo Almaro, Tom Ranier, Kenny Wild, Mick Vincent, Luis Conte, Danny Greco, Gary Foster, Bob Summers and Rolfe Kent. Recorded and mixed by Greg Townley. Album produced by Rolfe Kent.

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