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INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE – Elliot Goldenthal

September 12, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

MOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s interesting how my musical tastes have altered and refined over the years. When I first started listening to film music properly, in the mid 1990s, I typically only listened to sweeping theme-led romance scores, or the best action music. I didn’t really know a lot about dissonance, avant-gardeism, or more progressive styles of writing, and tended to dismiss anything that didn’t have a huge theme or enormous action writing as noisy, or boring, or both. Such was the case with Elliot Goldenthal’s score for Interview With the Vampire, which had caught my ear in the cinema when I saw it back in 1995, but which I completely disrespected on CD, calling it “a bit of a mess”. Oh, how times have changed.

The film is a masterpiece of modern cinematic horror which, with the benefit of hindsight, was the catalyst for the current trend of portraying vampires as cultured, sophisticated, tortured souls rather than the long-fingered pointy-fanged monsters of legend. Neil Jordan’s film, based on the immensely popular novel by Anne Rice, was hugely controversial when it first opened in 1995, allegedly causing people to faint and vomit in the auditoriums, or flee in terror at the horrors on screen. In truth it’s nowhere near that scary, but it is a very good film, featuring career high performances by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, the former as the suave, callous vampire Lestat, and the latter as the naïve, self-loathing Louis, whose life story is recanted to journalist Christian Slater in the interviews of the title. After Louis allows Lestat to turn him, the pair eventually make their way from 18th century Louisiana to Paris, where they enjoy a lavish and decadent lifestyle, killing and loving indiscriminately, until Louis begins to question his new life, and his need for sanguine sustenance. The film also stars Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea and a then 12-year old Kirsten Dunst, whose astonishing performance as the perennially adolescent vampire Claudia was one of the film’s high points.

Interestingly, Elliot Goldenthal was not Neil Jordan’s first choice composer for the project. Originally, George Fenton, who had worked with Jordan on earlier films such as We’re No Angels, High Spirits and The Company of Wolves, was set to score the film, and was only replaced with Goldenthal a few weeks prior to the film’s opening by producer David Geffen, against Jordan’s wishes. Despite the tight timeframe and the unfortunate circumstances in which he was hired, Goldenthal responded with what I now recognize as one of the best and most ambitious scores of his career to date; an expansive, longing, darkly romantic epic which captures both the tormented nature of the central characters and the lush, opulent, classical society through which they move.

Written for a full orchestra and choir with special emphasis on strings, piano and, occasionally, period-specific instruments such as the harpsichord and the renaissance string instrument viola de gamba, the score is bookended by one of the most conventionally attractive themes Goldenthal has ever written, “Born to Darkness”, which begins with a rolling harp, before quickly becoming a longing string lament, illustrating the sense of tragic loss in Louis’s life. This powerful sense of Gothic romance and heartbreak is a recurring theme throughout the score, especially in later cues such as the desolately beautiful “Madeleine’s Lament”, the second half of “Escape to Paris”, the appropriately stately and morose “Marche Funèbre”.

Similarly, the spectacular “Claudia’s Allegro Agitato” shows a great deal of classical intellectualism on Goldenthal’s part, in which he adopts the form and tone of a specific classical style, allowing it to follow the film’s narrative requirements while completely inhabiting his own compositional tone. The solo violin and piano performances in this cue are simply amazing, as are the unnerving ‘breathing’ and heartbeat effects in the cue’s second half.

Counterbalancing this gorgeous – if a little depressing – tonality, Goldenthal also engages in a great deal of wild and vivid dissonance, pushing the boundaries of mainstream film music with cacophonous collisions of sound that are impressive and disturbing in equal parts. The second half of “Born to Darkness Part I”, which underscores the scene of Lestat’s original attack on Louis, clambers to tremendous heights, and is full of fiendish brass chords and enormous crescendos. The aforementioned “Escape to Paris” cue features the first appearance of the gigantic, whooping trombone chords for which Goldenthal is so famous, alongside a bed of bed of high pitched pianos and ticking metal percussion. The fat, vivid brasses feature prominently in the score’s second half, notably in the anarchic “Plantation Pyre”, while the eerie, creepy “Scent of Death” features deep, sonorous bassoons which growl ominously in the score’s belly.

“Lestat’s Tarantella”, a whirligig baroque dance for harpsichord and orchestra, forms the basis of several of the score’s action cues. The rampaging “Abduction and Absolution” is simply relentless, taking the tarantella motif and ramping up to tremendous size, thundering through the orchestra with a great deal of power; this is a prototypical Goldenthal cue, filled with the orchestral flourishes and outlandish compositional techniques for which he has since become famous. The conclusive action piece, “Louis’ Revenge”, opens with a wonderful sequence for staccato trumpets blasts, high-pitched whining horns, and a relentless, purposeful string ostinato, underscoring the wronged vampire’s determinedly murderous charge through the coffins of his enemies, before exploding into an even more dramatic performance of tarantella action motif.

As if that was not enough, there are several other individual cues of note. The impressive opening “Libera Me” features a cut-glass boy soprano vocal that combines with the haunting, lamenting tones of Louise Schulman’s viola de gamba, and is recapitulated to excellent effect during the second half of “Abduction and Absolution”. “Lestat’s Recitative” features a traditional harpsichord performance by Wendy Young which somehow seems to add to the overall atmosphere of faded, dusty glory. Santiago, the oddly comic vampire from the French vampire troupe, gets a quirky little waltz theme of his own in “Santiago’s Waltz”. “Théàtre des Vampires” is a wonderful piece of grand guignol horror in which a group of vampires pretending humans pretending to be vampires murder terrified civilians in front of a sickened audience who don’t realize what they’re seeing is real. The baleful “Armand’s Secution” features a gloriously low-register cello solo representing Antonio Bandera’s suave, dangerous Parisian vampire lord, while the conclusion of “Armand Rescues Louis” features a completely unexpected percussion solo that rattles your eardrums.

Quite how I could have originally missed all this brilliance mystifies me still. There is so much compositional intelligence, so many intricate orchestral combinations, so much depth and power to this music, that I find myself enthralled from beginning to end. But be warned; this is not easy film music to enjoy. Anyone who – like me during the early stages of my film music listening life – has not yet been able to reconcile their musical tastes to include scores that, at times, are wildly impressionistic, dissonant, and intellectually challenging will undoubtedly find a great deal of Interview With the Vampire difficult to swallow. Personally, I find the score to be an immensely satisfying musical experience, and one which wholly deserved its Oscar nomination in 1994.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Libera Me (2:47)
  • Born to Darkness Part I (3:04)
  • Lestat’s Tarantella (0:46)
  • Madeleine’s Lament (3:06)
  • Claudia’s Allegro Agitato (4:46)
  • Escape to Paris (3:09)
  • Marche Funèbre (1:50)
  • Lestat’s Recitative (3:39)
  • Santiago’s Waltz (0:37)
  • Théàtre des Vampires (1:18)
  • Armand’s Seduction (1:51)
  • Plantation Pyre (1:59)
  • Forgotten Lore (0:31)
  • Scent of Death (1:40)
  • Abduction and Absolution (4:42)
  • Armand Rescues Louis (2:07)
  • Louis’ Revenge (2:36)
  • Born to Darkness Part II (1:11)
  • Sympathy for the Devil (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, performed by Guns ‘N Roses) (7:35)

Running Time: 49 minutes 04 seconds

Geffen GED-24719 (1995)

Music composed by Elliot Goldenthal. Conducted by Jonathan Sheffer. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai and Elliot Goldenthal. Featured musical soloists Glenn Dicterow, Ray Gniewek, Bill Mays, Louise Schulman, Wendy Young and Cecilia Brauner. Special vocal performances by The American Boychoir. Recorded and mixed by Steve McLoughlin and Joel Iwataki. Edited by Michael Connell and Chris Brooks. Album produced by Elliot Goldenthal and Matthias Gohl.

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