Home > Reviews > PRELUDE TO A KISS – Howard Shore

PRELUDE TO A KISS – Howard Shore


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A long-forgotten project for then A-list stars Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan, Prelude to a Kiss is a romantic comedy drama directed by the late Norman René, adapted from the acclaimed stage play by Craig Lucas. It’s essentially a more serious and thoughtful variation on the ‘body swap comedy’ genre, and sees Baldwin and Ryan playing about-to-be-married couple Peter and Rita. On their wedding day, Rita is approached by an elderly man named Julius, who requests a kiss with the bride; she obliges, but then she and the Julius magically switch places – his consciousness in her body, and vice versa. Before anyone else realizes what has happened Peter and ‘Rita’ jet off for their honeymoon, leaving the real Rita confused and disoriented in the Julius’s frail body. Eventually, Peter realizes what has happened, and brings Rita and Julius together in an effort to restore their souls to their correct places. What transpires thereafter touches on issues ranging from the nature of love, to living with regrets, and the inevitability of mortality, while also offering some thinly-veiled and (at the time) prescient commentary on the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Prelude to a Kiss was scored by Howard Shore, which is an interesting twist in his career considering that four years previously he scored perhaps the most successful body swap film of all time: Big. Despite having had that smash hit under his belt, at that point in his career Shore was still much more famous for his dark, brooding thriller and horror music, having composed scores such as The Fly, Dead Ringers, and The Silence of the Lambs in the years previously. As such it’s still something of a shock to hear him writing music that is lighter, prettier, and more tuneful, but, basically, that’s what Prelude to a Kiss is – a jazzier, but more adult, slightly more introverted variation on the score for Big, which can also be taken as a precursor to later scores such as Mrs Doubtfire and Nobody’s Fool.

The score is written for a small orchestra, with focused solos for Dominic Cortese’s accordion, William Galison’s harmonica, and Ronnie Cuber’s baritone saxophone. These instruments are sort of used to represent the two ‘halves’ of the personalities that switch bodies – Rita and the Old Man – and the weary Pete who is trying to sort it all out, but sometimes Shore just ignores that character specificity and uses the sound where he feels like it works best. There are several recurring themes that weave through the work, with the most prominent emerging in the “Main Title”. It’s a sweet, pretty, whimsical melody, with old-fashioned jazz arrangements spotlighting one or more of the solo instruments, and a lush sweep in the strings. Further statements in cues like the tender “Making Love” and “The Kiss” are really lovely, and to this day remain some of Shore’s most appealing straight romantic work.

Cues like “Rita,” the gentle and charming “Rooftops,” and the more downbeat “Open Your Eyes” offer some more serious, reflective mood music, and when the score concentrates on the harmonica the score often reminds me of classic 1960s John Barry – I’m thinking scores like Midnight Cowboy, or perhaps Monte Walsh – crossed with John Williams’s homespun Americana from scores like Cinderella Liberty. It’s a sound you don’t usually associate with Howard Shore, but it’s fascinating to listen to, especially for anyone who is familiar with the composer’s wider work pre-and-post Lord of the Rings. Even in a score like this, which is as different from those fantasy epics as it’s possible to be, you can hear so many of Shore’s compositional idiosyncrasies – certain chord progressions, certain instrumental phrasings – that have clearly carried throughout his entire career. I find that sort of thing fascinating.

Magical, twinkling textures are used alongside the orchestra to underscore the fantastical elements of the story, and feature prominently in cues like the aforementioned “The Kiss,” the dramatic “Transformation,” and “Breaking the Spell,” adding a touch of fanciful quirkiness and glittery sheen to the score’s overall sound. The outlier cues include “The Honeymoon,” which is a piece of unexpectedly authentic-sounding instrumental reggae for the scenes where Pete and Rita arrive in Jamaica to start their married life in the most unusual way; the wailing electric guitars and steel drums are a wonderful touch, and give the score a burst of island life. Later, “The Honeymoon is Over” is a short burst of saxophone free jazz which feels like a leftover piece from the score for Naked Lunch that Shore wrote with jazz legend Ornette Coleman earlier in 1992.

The conclusive cue, “Om Je Beter Mee Op Te Eten,” is a rich and fulsome recapitulation of the main theme for the full orchestra and the soloists, which provides a satisfying finale to the score as a whole. The title of the cue, by the way, is a line from the final scene of the film, spoken in Dutch, which follows another line, “je hebt erg witte tanden,” and roughly translates as “You have very white teeth; yes, all the better to eat you with”. It doesn’t make sense if you haven’t seen the film, but trust me, the music is just delightful.

In addition to Shore’s score the soundtrack album for Prelude to a Kiss contains several fun pop-rock songs, including The Divinyls’ unashamedly suggestive “I Touch Myself,” The Cowboy Junkies’ cover of Lou Reed’s sultry “Sweet Jane,” and an Annie Lennox version of Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” The title track, written in 1938 by Duke Ellington, is performed with smoky-voiced insistency by Debbie Harry, and there is also an original soft rock ballad, “Waiting For Someone,” written and performed by Frank Carillo and Annie Golden. The physical album itself has been out of print for many years, but it’s available to download and stream via most of the major sites.

Anyone who came to Howard Shore via his exploits in Middle Earth, or via his dark experiments for David Cronenberg, might find the gentle jazz of Prelude to a Kiss hard to reconcile with, because it really is so different from those scores in terms of tone and texture. Personally, however, I love hearing this side of the affable Canadian’s musical personality; remember, before he got involved in Cronenberg’s body horror and Peter Jackson’s epic adventures, Shore was a jazz man, playing the trumpet in bands back home in Toronto, before becoming the original music director for Saturday Night Live. This music is in Shore’s blood as much as the other stuff is, and the fact that he still got to show it once in a while on scores like this, Big, Mrs Doubtfire, Nobody’s Fool, and others, is a testament to his enduring versatility.

Buy the Prelude to a Kiss soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:18)
  • Rita (1:04)
  • Every Time We Say Goodbye (written by Cole Porter, performed by Annie Lennox) (3:57)
  • Rooftops (2:07)
  • Sweet Jane (written by Lou Reed, performed by Cowboy Junkies) (3:36)
  • Open Your Eyes! (2:46)
  • Making Love (2:40)
  • The Honeymoon (1:48)
  • Peter (0:24)
  • The Kiss (2:02)
  • Prelude to a Kiss (written by Duke Ellington, Irving Gordon, and Irving Mills, performed by Deborah Harry) (4:21)
  • The Honeymoon Is Over (0:43)
  • What A Trip (2:09)
  • Transformation (1:00)
  • Waiting for Someone (written and performed by Frank Carillo and Annie Golden) (4:18)
  • Breaking the Spell (1:54)
  • Om Je Beter Mee Op Te Eten (2:59)
  • I Touch Myself (written by Christina Amphlett, Tom Kelly, and Mark McEntee, performed by The Divinyls) (3:46)

Running Time: 44 minutes 42 seconds

Milan 66076-3 (1992)

Music composed and conducted by Howard Shore. Orchestrations by Homer Denison. Featured musical soloists Dominic Cortese, William Galison and Ronnie Cuber. Recorded and mixed by Joel Moss. Edited by Suzana Peric. Album produced by Howard Shore, Toby Pieniek and Emmanuel Chamboredon.

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