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PROOF – Stephen Warbeck

September 16, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

proofOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the best reviewed films of late summer 2005 has been Proof, the latest effort from John Madden, the Oscar-winning director of Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Based on the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by David Auburn, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine, the daughter of the brilliant, recently-deceased, mathematician and scientist Robert (Anthony Hopkins), who in the latter years of his life was plagued by the onset of dementia. As Robert’s sole care-giver, Catherine – an equally brilliant scholar – spent day and night with her father tending to his needs, and is aggrieved when her sister Claire (Hope Davis) jets in from New York full of bluster and empty words of consolation, and a former dissertation student named Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts poring through her father’s work looking for some spark of genius within the madness. Worst of all, Catherine begins to think that, as well as inheriting her father’s intellect, she may also have inherited his tendency for insanity…

People are already talking about potential Oscar nominations for Gwyneth Paltrow’s searing performance, a reprisal of the role she played to great acclaim on the London stage. Similarly, there is talk of recognition for members of the creative and technical crew of the film, one of whom could potentially be composer Stephen Warbeck. This is Warbeck’s sixth collaboration with John Madden, and easily stands as one of the best works resulting from their creative union. The film itself has already brought comparisons with Ron Howard’s 2000 Oscar-winner A Beautiful Mind, and the same can be said of Warbeck’s music: in a nutshell, it’s Horner’s score, put through a Philip Glass filter, with added electric guitars. And if this sounds weird, let me assure you that it works wonderfully.

The main title, “Proof”, is a hypnotic collage of sounds and rhythms led by a pulsating electric guitar motif, which eventually gives way to a strident string theme overlaid with marimbas and xylophones in a manner not too dissimilar to Thomas Newman’s more recent urban work. The monotonous nature of the underlying tempo – probably through its association with Horner’s similar work – seems to cleverly depict the tortured thought processes encountered both by Hopkins’s ailing genius, and by Paltrow’s equally disturbed but equally brilliant mind. Its clever stuff which works wonderfully well on multiple levels, and its recapitulations, in “Writing the Proof”, “Lost Days”, “Testing the Proof” and the conclusive “Line By Line” are no less effective, and allow the main theme to re-occur with pleasing regularity.

But this is not to say that the score is a one-theme work. The rest of the time, Warbeck is dealing with a multitude of heightened emotions and conflicting interactions between people, and as such scores them with understated, yet quietly powerful writing for specific musical colours: delicate pianos in “Hope” and “You Imagined You Wrote It”, strings restating the main theme in “Catherine” and “The Airport”, hesitant oboes in “The Kiss”, eerily echoing electric guitars in “The Chapel”, each reflecting a different aspect of the lead character’s kaleidoscopic relationships. Once again, throughout it all, the precise tempos and constant rhythms underpinning the melodies allow the score to flow naturally, as though it was all conceived as a single piece of music made up of different movements. Few film scores are as well-balanced as Proof is, and it makes a refreshing to change to hear a composer thinking about the ‘bigger picture’ as much as he is the specifics of his individual cues.

I’m really not sure what it is about Proof that makes it so appealing to me, as I’m neither a fan of minimalism, or scores which are primarily about rhythms rather than themes and variations. Nevertheless, there’s just something about Warbeck’s work in this score which is immediate, profoundly emotional, attention-grabbing and compelling, and once it has you in its grasp it doesn’t let go. For me, its one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable scores of the year, and comes highly recommended for those whose film score tastes run a little further than the norm.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Proof (4:08)
  • Hope (2:32)
  • Catherine (3:55)
  • The Kiss (1:12)
  • Writing the Proof (4:56)
  • The Chapel (2:41)
  • Lost Days (2:30)
  • Testing the Proof (3:48)
  • You Imagined You Wrote It (2:32)
  • The Airport (5:47)
  • Line By Line (7:51)

Running Time: 45 minutes 59 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6678 (2005)

Music composed by Stephen Warbeck. Conducted by Nick Ingman. Orchestrations by Stephen Warbeck, Nick Ingman, Paul Inglishby and Nick Cooper. Featured musical soloists Stephen Warbeck, Eleanor Alberga, Steve Lodder, John Parricelli, Tim Harries, Andy Pask, Frank Ricotti, Gary Kettel and Steve Henderson Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble. Mastered by Dave Collins. Album produced by Stephen Warbeck.

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