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THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE – Theodore Shapiro

October 29, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Christopher Garner

The Eyes of Tammy Faye tells the true story of the rise and fall of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (played by Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain). It follows the pair from their humble beginnings running a local tv station’s Christian-themed puppet show, to becoming superstars within the world of Christian televangelism (even opening a big Christian theme park), to Jim Bakker’s fall from grace due to rape allegations and accounting fraud (he was convicted for the latter and spent nearly five years in prison). The film is directed by Michael Showalter (of The Big Sick fame). Critics have been mostly positive about the film, with particular praise being lavished upon Jessica Chastain, whose transformation to play Tammy Faye across multiple decades has generated some Oscar buzz.

For the music, Showalter turned to his old friend Theodore Shapiro. They met in college, though to my knowledge this is the first time they’ve worked together since Wet Hot American Summer in 2001, which Showalter wrote and co-produced, but did not direct. Shapiro is now a very well-established film composer, and particularly well-known for his many comedy scores, while Showalter was an actor first whose directorial career has really only taken off in the last ten years. Shapiro’s score for The Eyes of Tammy Faye is usually smaller in scale but has moments of grandeur befitting the very colorful main character. Shapiro wrote a trio of themes for the film and uses them regularly throughout. The music matches the story arc of Tammy Faye very well, beginning more optimistic and growing less and less happy as it goes along, ending on a bittersweet note.

The score opens with the excellent “Eyes in the Mirror,” which is the highlight of the score for me. It begins with an insistent rhythm on piano, then adds strings, choir, and harp. A carefree rising five-note motif repeats several times throughout the first half of the cue, accompanied by orchestra and a driving synth pulse. We’re introduced to the main theme starting at 2:04. It’s a long-lined theme made to sound like a classic Christian hymn. Indeed, the first time I heard it, I was sure it was a hymn—a gorgeous hymn that I had somehow never heard despite 39 years of church attendance. That is of course the sound that Shapiro was going for and he absolutely nailed it. It’s performed here on a distant piano with choir providing some lovely harmony. A couple more appearances of the five-note motif make a nice book end for the cue.

“Bedtime Prayer” introduces the third thematic idea, performed by solo female vocal over a dissonant choral harmony. It is presented three notes at a time and is a little unsettling. “Speaking in Tongues” takes the idea of choral dissonance to an extreme, depicting the speaking of tongues musically. About halfway through the short cue, individual singers in the choir begin to repeat specific sounds and this vocal and aural mess grows to a truly unnerving conclusion.

We hear the main theme on piano again at the beginning of “Flirting,” this time accompanied by some twinkling harp. The next three minutes of the cue are quiet, made up of harp, soft strings, and vibraphone slowly making subtle melodic and harmonic changes. “The Big Man” presents the score’s most triumphant variation on the main theme, the vocalists this time sounding like a proper gospel choir. We then hear the theme again on vibraphone, with strings providing a warm harmony.

“What Doors Will You Open,” repeats the dissonant theme from “Bedtime Prayer” nearly without variation. “Golden Bidet” (a track title that gives you an idea of the kind of life the Bakkers were living at this point) starts with driving strings, adds drums, and then choir (again in gospel mode). It’s a short cue, but significant in that it marks the high point of the Bakker’s success. “Goop” is the turning point in the score. It’s much more downbeat. We hear the five-note motif from the first cue, but it has transformed from carefree to wistful. There’s a short and plaintive cameo of the main theme at the end of the cue on harp.

Much of what comes next is in that same vein: quiet, sad, a little hopeless, and usually over a bed of synth chords. “Devil’s Black Eye” begins with soft synths, adds strings, and ends on some processed vocals that sound almost cat-like. “Keep the Tip,” opens with an oohing choir over strings, then adds a sad piano and more meowing vocals. “Something Depraved” again sees the five-note motif in melancholy mode, this time performed slowly on vibraphone and ending on an unresolved note. “Convincing Roe” has more soft synths, with the five-note motif making another cameo at the end.

“Where’d You Go,” brings back the theme from “Bedtime Prayer,” its dissonance seeming more pronounced than before. First the theme is performed by female voices, then by something that sounds like a cross between an organ and a glass harmonica. Then we get the slowest variation on the main theme yet. It brings a little light to the proceedings, but it fades, giving way to gloom. “The Shrieker” introduces some processed vocals that repeat four notes at a time, slowly building in intensity to a sudden end. “A Boat Out of Water” is a spooky variation of the “Bedtime Prayer” theme. “Rachel and Tammy” contains a rising three-note motif slowly played on a dulcimer. “Blowout” has more sad variations on the five-note motif, first on vibraphone and then on harp.

In “Dogpile” a synth pulse accompanies some classical strings that move into the five-note motif. Organ and strings provide some nice sound which gives way to a repetitive clacking element and the organist playing a series of descending notes that come in groups of three. The cue ends with harp softly playing the five-note motif a few more times. “Where Have You Gone” contains a variation of the “Bedtime Prayer” theme on organ.

“Not a Good Fit” gives us an interesting variation on the main theme. It sounds like it’s being playing on a dampened piano. The pianist is playing each note with some force, so you can hear the thunking of each piano key nearly as loudly as the soft note it produces. “Visitation” is more synth chords and vibraphone. “The Final Show” starts with piano and occasional synth pulses. Warm strings and cooing choir add some lovely harmonies, giving the track the first ray of hope in a long time. It ends on one last bittersweet performance of part of the main theme.

The nature of the film dictates that the score would start high, build to an early climax, and then slowly descend to the depths its main characters experienced. As a result, much of the music in the second half of the score is less fun to listen to than the music in the beginning, but Shapiro does a wonderful job varying the themes and tone of the score to take viewers on this journey. Like the film undoubtedly does, and like a study of the life of Tammy Faye might do, the score leaves the listener with a sense of remorse. It’s not my favorite score from Theodore Shapiro, but it definitely deepens my respect for his talents, and I’m sure it fits the film perfectly.

Buy the Eyes of Tammy Faye soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Eyes in the Mirror (3:08)
  • Bedtime Prayer (0:53)
  • Speaking in Tongues (1:18)
  • Flirting (3:39)
  • The Big Man (1:58)
  • What Doors Will You Open (0:40)
  • Golden Bidet (1:14)
  • Goop (2:07)
  • Devil’s Black Eye (1:04)
  • Keep the Tip (1:13)
  • Something Depraved (1:55)
  • Convincing Roe (1:18)
  • Where’d You Go (2:37)
  • The Shrieker (1:47)
  • A Boat Out of Water (0:49)
  • Rachel and Tammy (0:45)
  • Blowout (2:29)
  • Dogpile (2:39)
  • Where Have You Gone (1:10)
  • Not a Good Fit (1:03)
  • Visitation (1:01)
  • The Final Show (1:33)

Running Time: 36 minutes 19 seconds

Hollywood Records (2021)

Music composed by Theodore Shapiro. Conducted by John Ashton Thomas. Orchestrations by John Ashton Thomas and Mark Graham. Recorded and mixed by Chris Fogel. Edited by Thomas Drescher. Album produced by Theodore Shapiro.

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