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THE GLORIAS – Elliot Goldenthal

October 13, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

As I was prepping and doing research prior to writing this review, I learned that this is the first review of a new Elliot Goldenthal score I have written since I wrote about Public Enemies in July 2009, more than 11 years ago. It’s also only the fourth new Goldenthal score I have covered since the turn of the millennium – the other two being Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001 and S.W.A.T. in 2003. Of course, Goldenthal has only written two scores since 2009 – one of which, The Tempest, I didn’t care for, while the other, Our Souls at Night, was not released on CD at all. He has been working on classical pieces and theatre works in the interim but, other than that, the most significant thing that happened to him was the potentially life-threatening head injury he suffered in 2005, when he fell off a chair in his kitchen and smacked his head on the marble floor; it caused a subdural hematoma, briefly put him in a coma, and rendered him literally speechless for several months afterwards. Whether this traumatic event was the catalyst for Goldenthal’s subsequent drift away from Hollywood is open to debate, but one thing’s for certain: I’m very glad that his wife Julie Taymor keeps hiring him to score her movies.

The Glorias is the fifth big-screen collaboration between Taymor and Goldenthal, after Titus, the Oscar-winning Frida, Across the Universe, and The Tempest. It tells the life story of the acclaimed and beloved civil rights activist Gloria Steinem, from her childhood growing up in Toledo, Ohio, in the 1940s and 50s, to her career-defining work as a writer for New York magazine, where in 1969 she published the groundbreaking article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” a key moment for the feminist movement in America. The term ‘Glorias’ refers to the four actresses who play Steinem in different time periods, specifically Ryan Keira Armstrong as a child, Lulu Wilson as a teen, Alicia Vikander as a young woman, and Julianne Moore in her heyday. The film was written by Taymor and Sarah Ruhl, adapting Steinem’s own autobiography, and was released in September 2020 to general critical acclaim.

Anyone expecting The Glorias to be a resounding return to form for Goldenthal might be a little disappointed at the end result because, by and large, the music is somewhat subdued, at least in comparison of what sort of music we have heard from him in the past. Goldenthal uses a small orchestra augmented with electric guitars and subtle synths to convey his ideas. The main theme, which first appears in the opening cue “The Greyhound,” is intended to be an evocation of the scope of Steinem’s ambitions, and how she wants to change things for the better for the women of America. That opening scene is set on an eponymous greyhound bus and, as Steinem looks out of the window at the big sky and the stretched-out highway, Goldenthal uses simple, major-chord guitar strums underpinned with synths and string sustains which felt, to him, like a modern-day version of Aaron Copland’s symphonic Americana of the mid-20th century.

As the score progresses this idea coalesces into a recurring accompaniment to Steinem’s political fight for women’s liberation. In “Her Solitudes,” for example, the melody shifts gracefully between guitars and a lonely and introspective piano arrangement, before finally settling on a melancholy string wash. Later, in “Passing an Elegy,” Goldenthal uses layered pianos playing both a fast rhythmic ostinato and a slow reflection of the main theme, all underpinned with electronic and metallic sound design, while in “A Torch Passed” Goldenthal gradually emerges from a series of tight, serious piano and guitar chords into a more open-sounding orchestral finale for warm strings and brass triplets, foreshadowing the score’s conclusion.

A second theme represents Gloria’s relationship with her father Leo, a roaming antiques dealer whose attitude towards women in general, and her mother in particular, informed her feminist views. The Father-Daughter theme first appears in the second cue, “Steinemite Jukebox,” which Goldenthal explains was inspired by a moment in Gloria’s childhood where her father bought her an antique jukebox. Goldenthal says he wanted to write some music redolent of the 1930s or 40s, and settled on a jazz piece inspired by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, specifically their guitarist, Django Reinhardt. This theme becomes the recurring identity for Gloria’s father; in the subsequent “Leo’s Days” Goldenthal arranges it in a more jaunty and upbeat style, featuring a hot piano and zingy strings in the conclusion. Meanwhile, in both “Selectric” and “Slow Dance With Two,” Goldenthal plants the theme at the center of a pair of Ornette Coleman-style free-jazz saxophone riffs.

One or two other cues stand out for the innovation. “Jaipur Station” uses Indian textures including a ghatam Indian clay-pot drum, a bansuri flute, and raga drones, to accompany a scene where young Gloria visits India’s poor in the 1950s. “The Witch’s Brew,” which underscores a Wizard of Oz-like fantasy scene involving witches and tornados, sees Goldenthal going all-out with a crazy, raucous, tarantella-like rhythm that runs the stylistic gamut from gypsy music to orchestral and circus music, all at once. The piece contains a head-spinning amount of super-fast tempo changes, with the saxophones working overtime throughout, and the whole thing is reminiscent of the most anarchic parts of The Butcher Boy, Titus, and his stage work The Green Bird. Meanwhile Bella Abzug – the lawyer who co-founded of the National Women’s Political Caucus with Steinem and others in 1971, and who is played in this film by Bette Midler – receives her own little leitmotif in the cue “Bella’s Hat,” a wonderful piece of ’70s funk replete with Hammond organs, electric guitar licks, and attitude a-plenty.

As the score moves towards it’s conclusion, cues like “E.R.A. Now” and “Other Side of the Mountain” underscore the seriousness of the fight for quality with elegiac strings and warm, moving orchestral chords, while the “Treadmill Agitato” offers some different ideas in which pianos, quivering strings, and guitar chords play against each other with shimmering intensity. The final cue, “We the People,” is where Goldenthal returns to the main theme in all its glory, arranging it for the largest group of orchestral textures in the entire score. The majestic theme is often juxtaposed against the sustained, amplified guitar heard in the opening cue – reminding the listener of where Steinem came from – and, for most people, this will be the cue that remains in the memory the longest. It has been much too long since we have heard these rich, brooding chord progressions and dark brass harmonies on our cinema screens, although it is in no way the equal of anything he wrote in his 1990s heyday, it’s still wonderful to be shown again who Goldenthal is and what he is still capable of.

Truthfully, I doubt that The Glorias will usher in a film music renaissance for Elliot Goldenthal. Selfishly, I want to hear 2-3 great scores from him per year, like we used to a decade or more ago, and he is still only 66 so it’s not like he’s too old to cut it anymore. But, honestly, I don’t think that’s what Goldenthal wants anymore; the Hollywood studio system never really seemed to be where his true heart was – he’s much more New York, way off-Broadway, working with creatively offbeat people like himself. So, we have to be satisfied with the snippets we do get, thrown to hungry fans like crumbs who still yearn for the days of Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, Alien 3, Cobb, and Titus. Looking at things unsentimentally, The Glorias is clearly not in the same league as any of those namechecked masterpieces but, considering it’s essentially the first thing we’ve heard from him in over a decade, it still feels like the fresh work of an exciting new voice, and that’s OK with me.

Buy the Glorias soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Greyhound (2:12)
  • Steinemite Jukebox (1:10)
  • Her Solitudes (3:25)
  • Jaipur Station (1:24)
  • Leo’s Days (1:22)
  • Choice Now! (1:59)
  • The Witch’s Brew (2:00)
  • Passing an Elegy (3:51)
  • Selectric (1:38)
  • Bella’s Hat (1:38)
  • Slow Dance With Two (3:25)
  • A Torch Passed (2:09)
  • E.R.A. Now (1:20)
  • Treadmill Agitato (2:48)
  • Other Side of the Mountain (2:08)
  • We the People (3:57)

Running Time: 36 minutes 25 seconds

Zarathustra Music (2020)

Music composed by Elliot Goldenthal. Conducted by Jonathan Sheffer. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai and Elliot Goldenthal. Featured musical soloist Mark Stewart. Recorded and mixed by Steve McLaughlin. Edited by Christopher Brooks. Album produced by Elliot Goldenthal.

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