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KINSEY – Carter Burwell

November 12, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

kinseyOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Regular readers of Movie Music UK will know that I have often found Carter Burwell to be a ‘hit and miss’ composer. For as much as I enjoyed his work on things like Fargo, Conspiracy Theory, The Hi-Lo Country and Rob Roy, I was left unimpressed with Gods & Monsters, Hamlet, The General’s Daughter, and many of his more popular and successful scores for the Coen Brothers. I don’t really know what my problem is – he is obviously intelligent, talented, and well-liked by directors such as James Foley, Michael Caton-Jones and Spike Jonze, who return to him time after time to score their films. The only think I can chalk it up to is personal musical taste – his scores just don’t “do” it for me on a regular basis. However, having said all that, I safely say that Kinsey is most definitely one which will join the list of Burwell works I admire – for me, it’s easily his most satisfying score of the last five years.

Kinsey, the latest film written and directed by Bill Condon (“Gods & Monsters”) tells the life story of Alfred Kinsey, a professor at Indiana University, who in 1948 became the first American scientist to seriously study adult sexual behavior. With the publication of his books ‘Sexual Behavior in the Human Male’ and ‘Sexual Behavior in the Human Female’, Kinsey (Liam Neeson) became an overnight celebrity in America, revered by some as a liberating breath of fresh air, reviled by others as little more than a “sex doctor” who advocated potentially harmful sexual activities that stood at odds with the religious beliefs of the closed-minded moral majority. However, in conducting his research, Kinsey began to personally embrace the concepts of the societal and sexual liberation he endorsed, some of which had negative knock-on effects for his wife Clara (Laura Linney) and colleagues (Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton).

Carter Burwell’s score for Kinsey is not flashy, is not demonstrative, and does not offer any insight into the time period or geographical location in which the film is set. What it does is paint a beautiful musical portrait of a man trying to free society from the puritanical attitudes towards sex he himself was forced to endure; a man who strongly believed in his work; a man who, in carrying out the research which threatened to break apart his family and end his career, ultimately changed things for the better, and gave people the opportunity to express the deepest parts of themselves in ways they could never have previously imagined. And it does it very, very well.

With a small musical ensemble comprising just eleven string and woodwind instruments, a bit of percussion, but no brass, Burwell has crafted a delicate, charming, surprisingly moving score that captures the free-thinking free spirit of Kinsey. Burwell captures the essence of his character, and the peaks and troughs of his life, with a series of instrumental solos: expressive oboes in “Calls of the Wild”, romantic pianos in “The Proposal”, folk-like violins and a greater sense of urgency in “Get a Million”, slightly darker pianos in “The Problem of Marital Fidelity”, moody clarinets in “Test Your Theories”, more strings, this time with a slightly more haunted and hollow sound in “The State of Indiana”. The whole thing is anchored with an ascending six-note motif that acts as the film’s main theme, but for the most part the entire score has a quiet, calming effect that soothes the listener; there are no big, demonstrative cues, or moments of overplayed saccharine emotion. Despite the turmoil and upheaval that dominated a great deal of Kinsey’s adult life, there is a definite sense of inner peace to the music of his life story.

If the score has a drawback, it is that it very rarely deviates from the soft, pleasant tones it adopts from the word go: each cue is a variation on the last, with just the timbre of the lead instrument to differentiate between tracks, although the mood of the score does get a little ‘darker’ towards the latter half of the album. However, on this occasion, the ‘sameness’ of the score is less of a negative factor than it would be on other scores, simply due to the fact that Burwell’s melodies are so lovely and the feeling of pleasant calm the score creates is a wholly welcome one.

I honestly can’t think of another Burwell score Kinsey resembles – although this may be more to do with my unfamiliarity with the more obscure titles in Burwell’s back catalogue than anything else. There are occasional faint echoes of Fargo in some of the violin writing, and the familiar prominent ground bass that is a calling card of the majority of his scores, but for the most part Kinsey represents a side of Carter Burwell I have not heard before: one of compositional grace, understated elegance, and refined beauty.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Calls of the Wild (6:59)
  • The Proposal (2:51)
  • Make This Work (1:17)
  • The Confession (3:08)
  • Get a Million (5:32)
  • A Father’s History (1:36)
  • The Problem of Marital Fidelity (2:18)
  • Test Your Theories (1:39)
  • The Sermon (2:29)
  • The State of Indiana (3:01)
  • Sempervirens (6:41)

Running Time: 37 minutes 34 seconds

The Body TB000-1 (2004)

Music composed and conducted by Carter Burwell. Orchestrations by Carter Burwell. Recorded and mixed by Michael Farrow. Edited by Todd Kasow. Album produced by Carter Burwell.

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