Home > Reviews > DEATH DEFYING ACTS – Cezary Skubiszewski

DEATH DEFYING ACTS – Cezary Skubiszewski

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Death Defying Acts is a romantic thriller directed by Gillian Armstrong and starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta Jones, which charts the life of the legendary escapologist and illusionist Harry Houdini in the height of his career in 1920s England, and specifically his relationship with Scottish con artist Mary McGarvie.

The music for Death Defying Acts is by Polish/Australian composer Cezary Skubiszewski; despite having worked in the Australian film industry since the mid 1990s, this film represents one of his first internationally recognized works. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of Philip Glass in Skubiszewski’s work, from the precise rhythmic element that runs through the score, to the little thematic blocks from which the melodic element of the score is derived.

The “Death Defying Suite” even has the little choral ‘ah’ effects from Glass scores like Candyman or Kundun before heading off into a rich, lyrical piece for viola and full orchestra, and finally a vaguely Celtic romantic oboe theme which is quite superb. A sense of Victorian opulence and rich classicism runs through much of Skubiszewski’s music, as well as a hint of exotic magic and mystery to underscore the more fantastical elements of Houdini’s life.

“Immoral Souls” is an impressionistic piece for tonal woodwinds and odd, scraping metallic percussion. “The Great Houdini” reprises the lovely viola element from the suite with a touch of dissonance. “Princess Kali” brings a touch of the sub-continent into the fray with a tinkling oud, a Nepalese dholak hand drum and a zurna Turkish oboe. “Houdini’s Angel” features a sonorous soprano saxophone, adding a vague hint of jazz to the proceedings. “You’re the One” is an unconventional love theme which is more confused and hesitant than full-on romantic. “Benji’s Nightmare” has some quite harsh electronically enhanced dissonance while, at completely the other end of the scale, “Foxtrot Foxtrot” is a swinging bandleader piece with a solo trumpet and jazz combo playing in dance time, while “Maid Does the Dishes” resembles a Spanish tango!

It’s a rather eclectic work, and one which is quite far removed from the traditional Hollywood sound, but there are more than enough interesting textures and thematic highlights in Skubiszewski’s score to make it worth investigating.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Death Defying Suite (7:43)
  • Immoral Souls (2:04)
  • The Great Houdini (2:57)
  • Princes Kali (2:58)
  • The Star Picture House (1:37)
  • Hello Edinburgh (1:10)
  • Houdini’s Angel (3:10)
  • My Immortal Soul (2:11)
  • The Audition (2:37)
  • You’re the One (2:54)
  • Scott’s Monument (2:10)
  • Benji’s Nightmare (1:53)
  • Foxtrot Foxtrot (2:12)
  • Love or Money (3:41)
  • Maid Does the Dishes (2:13)
  • Just Like Falling (2:44)
  • You Saved Me (2:33)
  • The Final Curtain (5:15)

Running Time: 52 minutes 02 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-34025 (2008)

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