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DEAD RINGERS – Howard Shore

November 29, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

As a follow-up to the massively successful and popular The Fly, Canadian director David Cronenberg chose Dead Ringers, adapted from the novel ‘Twins’ by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, to be his next film. The film stars Jeremy Irons playing a duel role as Elliot and Beverly Mantle, identical twin brothers, both gynecologists, who run a successful medical practice in Toronto. The more charming and confident Elliot seduces women who come to him for fertility treatment, and ‘shares’ them with the more shy and introverted Beverly, without the women realizing that they are sleeping with two different men. Things change when a new patient, actress Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), comes to their clinic. Claire is extremely sexually liberated, but is also addicted to prescription drugs; despite this, Beverly falls in love with her, and is shattered when she finds out about their duplicity and breaks off the relationship. Before long, Beverly’s world is crumbling in a mass of drug abuse, paranoid delusions, and horrific visions of mutated female genitalia – which causes Elliot to take drastic action to save him.

The score for Dead Ringers is by Howard Shore, and was the fifth collaboration between him and Cronenberg, following on from 1979’s The Brood, 1981’s Scanners, 1983’s Videodrome, and the aforementioned The Fly. When talking about Shore’s music pre-Lord of the Rings, people often used the word ‘dark,’ and that descriptor was never more appropriate than for Dead Ringers. It’s not dissonant in any way – in fact it is completely tonal throughout – but the word definitely describes the feeling and mood of the entire piece. Upon hearing the score for the first time, Cronenberg described the score as ‘suicide music,’ and that really is quite apt. It’s the musical depiction of desperation and loneliness, as felt by the twins at the center of the story. It seems odd to speak of two people being lonely when they have each other, but that is the world the Mantles live in – Elliot’s amorality and Beverly’s submissiveness keep them distant from anyone but each other, and when Claire comes in it drives a wedge between them that threatens to tear them apart.

The score is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with special emphasis on strings, harp, and low-end woodwinds, and is bookended by a tremendous theme that appears most prominently in the “Main Title” and the “Finale”. It may seem odd to say that music for a film about deception, sadomasochism, paranoia, insanity, and death is ‘romantic’ but somehow that’s what Shore brings to this piece. It’s slow, graceful, elegant, with a beautifully bittersweet central melody that speaks to the overall tone of the work; for comparison, it reminds me a little of the music Shore would go on to write for things like The Silence of the Lambs, A Kiss Before Dying, M. Butterfly, Philadelphia, and eXistenz.

Unfortunately, that marvelous theme barely appears anywhere in the rest of the score, which instead concentrates more on moods and textures than recurring melodic ideas. Many of the mid-album cues tend to blend into one another, a mass of softly enunciating music that slowly creates a despondent atmosphere of regret. I can certainly see how some people would find this somewhat abstract style of scoring to be a bit of a drag, but I personally love it; Shore finds ways to write little clusters of notes which complement each other perfectly, uses his instruments in clever little combinations, and creates a somber mood that I personally find very rewarding.

Several cues do stand out as being of special note. “Bondage,” which underscores one of the film’s racier sex scenes, is scored with dreamy elongated passages for strings and flutes which adds an unexpectedly romantic twist to the encounter, while also underpinning it with a touch of tragedy which foreshadows the progression of the character’s state of mind. Later, both “Dependence” and “Helpless” offer writing of a more agitated nature, with layers of strings playing off each other to illustrate the beginnings of Beverly’s mental breakdown. Meanwhile, “The Operating Room” features some subtle electronic synth textures under the orchestra to add a level of slight surrealism to the famous scene where Beverly – while in the midst of one of his hallucinatory episodes – attacks a patient with a set of diabolical bespoke gynecological tools. There is also a very brief statement of the main theme at 1:17 which is welcome.

The cues “Birthday Party” and “Suicide” underscore the pivotal moments where Beverly and Elliot – both completely hopeless and riddled with drugs – celebrate a mock birthday party, before one disembowels the other with a claw–like medical implement in order to ‘separate the Siamese twins’ and end the circle of depression and depravity. Interestingly, the music in the first of these cues begins with a string lament that shares some unexpected chord similarities to the score for the Tom Hanks comedy Big, which Shore had written earlier in 1988, specifically the sad theme that represents Hanks’s character missing his family. The searching string lines and complementary woodwind passages actually fulfill the same narrative purpose here as they did in Big, and it’s interesting to see how Shore could essentially take the same compositional approach and apply it to such vastly different films. However, by the end of the second cue, Shore’s music is akin to a dirge – slow, dark, brooding, dramatic – until it eventually rises into an anguished piece of cathartic melodrama, with high strings and low-key but poignant crescendos.

The score for Dead Ringers was not released at the time the film came out, and fans of the music were instead forced to wait until 1992 when Silva Screen Records and producer Ford A. Thaxton released an album entitled ‘Symphonic Suites from the Films of David Cronenberg,’ which featured just under half an hour of music from Dead Ringers along with 20 or so minutes of music from Scanners, and a 12-minute suite adapted from the score for The Brood. In 2014 Shore finally released the complete score for Dead Ringers on his own label, Howe Records, with an additional six cues and 14 minutes of previously unreleased bonus material. It is available to purchase here: http://howerecords.com/dead-ringers/

Dead Ringers is not a happy score, and as such anyone who finds themselves shutting down in the face of musical anguish will likely have a negative reaction to all the desperate emotions running through the work. Personally, though, I enjoy wallowing in darkness once in a while, and Howard Shore’s writing is such that it is very easy to get lost in his hypnotic orchestral textures and turgid chord progressions. Combine this with the truly excellent theme that features prominently in the first and last cues, and you have a score which lovers of melancholy romance will return to with satisfying frequency.

Buy the Dead Ringers soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:16)
  • Bondage (2:43)
  • Twins (1:02)
  • Growing Awareness (1:00)
  • Dependence (2:12)
  • Helpless (0:49)
  • The Operating Room (1:50)
  • In Delirium (2:40)
  • Birthday Party (4:22)
  • Suicide (5:29)
  • Finale (3:16)
  • Main Title (2:16)
  • Bondage (2:43)
  • Twins (1:02)
  • Trifurcate (1:26)
  • Separate Us (2:42)
  • Infertility Operation (1:33)
  • Dependence (2:12)
  • Growing Awareness (2:44)
  • The Operating Room (1:50)
  • Helpless (2:41)
  • Paraphernalia (1:11)
  • Synchronized (2:13)
  • In Delirium (2:42)
  • Welcome Home (1:51)
  • Birthday Party (4:22)
  • Suicide (5:30)
  • Finale (3:23)

Running Time: 27 minutes 35 seconds (Original)
Running Time: 42 minutes 21 seconds (Expanded)

Silva Screen FILMCD-115 (1988/1992)
Howe Records HW-1016 (1988/2014)

Music composed and conducted by Howard Shore. Performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Homer Denison. Recorded and mixed by Dick Lewzey. Edited by Suzana Peric. Score produced by Howard Shore. 1992 Silva album produced by Ford A. Thaxton. 2014 Howe album produced by Howard Shore.

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