Home > Reviews > SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK – Jon Brion

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK – Jon Brion

October 24, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A typically twisted and mind-bending drama from writer/director Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche New York is a film about a self-absorbed theater director played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who, as his real personal life crashes down around him, sets to creating a theatrical masterpiece about life mimicking art mimicking life, with a life-sized replica of New York City inside a huge warehouse. It’s all very existential and difficult, but it has an astonishing supporting cast – Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams – and has been the recipient of a great deal of praise from various critics groups.

Composer Jon Brion’s score is eclectic to say the least; he’s one of the most unconventional composers working on mainstream films today, and Synecdoche New York continues the trend with a collage of musical ideas that range from quirky, twee little marches in the opening “Tacky Entrance Music” to offbeat string harmonies in “All Plays Out” and a trio of piano-driven pieces (“Piano One”, “Piano Two” and “Piano Three”) which often have a wavering electronic noise behind them, much like the sound of an old dialup computer connecting to the Internet.

There’s a lot of guitar work in the score, giving the whole thing a contemporary feel, but these are regularly offset by odd rhythmic elements, peculiar sound effects built into the fabric of the score, and an overarching sense of the whole thing being deconstructed and detached from reality. Cues like “DMI Thing from When She Was in the Kitchen”, “DMI Thing in Which New Information Is Introduced”, “Something You Can’t Return To” and “DMI We Meet Again?” are gloomy, introverted pieces for strings and guitar which, despite being based around a recurring four note motif, actually somewhat frustrate me because I can’t quite get my head round the dramatic intent of the pieces – some of them are quite pleasant in and of themselves, but they just sort of sit there, being all offbeat and inscrutable, and never make a real connection.

I felt like this throughout the entire score. In fact, two of the musical highlights of the score are actually the songs, “Little Person” and “Song for Caden”, written by Brion and Kaufman and performed with a dreamy, wistful indie vibe by jazz vocalist Deanna Storey. It’s one of those soundtracks which actually appeals to fans of other genres of music than it does to actual soundtrack fans, and as such has been getting a lot of positive mainstream acclaim; as one might expect, I found it all a bit glum and disconnected.

And for those curious enough to want to know, the film’s title is play on words, combining the film’s setting (the city of Schenectady, New York), and the Greek word ‘synecdoche’ (pronounced sin-neck-duck-kee), meaning a singular descriptive word which, when used colloquially, actually means the entire thing being described (e.g. “wheels” for an entire car). You learn something every day!

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Tacky Entrance Music (0:42)
  • DMI Thing from When She Was in the Kitchen (2:32)
  • All Plays Out (Fire Sale Version) (1:29)
  • DMI Thing in Which New Information Is Introduced (1:11)
  • Forward Motion (0:52)
  • Something You Can’t Return To (3:04)
  • Sex Based Decision Making (1:24)
  • Piano One (1:20)
  • Someone Else’s Forward Motion (Posing as Your Own) (1:56)
  • DMI We Meet Again? (1:24)
  • Still Can’t Return (Still Trying) (1:51)
  • Piano Two (1:40)
  • OK (2:37)
  • Can’t Return (For the Last Time) (1:26)
  • Piano Three (4:02)
  • Transposition (2:01)
  • Little Person (performed by Deanna Storey) (3:53)
  • Song for Caden (performed by Deanna Storey) (3:21)

Running Time: 36 minutes 45 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-34047 (2008)

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