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RAISING CAIN – Pino Donaggio

September 15, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Raising Cain is a psychological thriller written and directed by Brian De Palma, starring John Lithgow, Lolita Davidovich, and Steven Bauer. Lithgow plays a highly regarded child psychologist, Carter Nix, who suffers a complete mental breakdown when he discovers that his wife, Jenny, is having an affair, and has also accused him of having an unhealthy scientific obsession with their daughter Amy. Nix’s mental issues manifest themselves via the emergence of various ‘split personalities,’ one of which – a violent criminal named Cain – starts to take over and forces Nix to kidnap his daughter, and commit murders to cover his tracks. It’s a typical twisty-turny and suspenseful De Palma thriller that, as always, owes a fair debt to Alfred Hitchcock, and it features a bravura lead performance by Lithgow, chewing the scenery for all he’s worth.

The professional relationship between director De Palma and Italian composer Pino Donaggio dates all the way back to 1976 and the classic teen horror movie Carrie; their subsequent work together included such iconic titles as Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double. Raising Cain was their sixth collaboration and, as much as De Palma’s style is steeped in the classic works of Alfred Hitchcock, Donaggio’s work for De Palma is steeped in the equally classic works of Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann himself scored two of De Palma’s earliest films, Sisters in 1972 and Obsession in 1976, and it’s clear from everything that followed where De Palma’s musical taste lies. Donaggio, to his credit, responded to the film with a typically sleek, stylish, voluptuously lush orchestral score that oscillates between dark romance and intensely dramatic horror and thriller textures.

In an interview with Soundtrack Magazine at the time the film was released, Donaggio described his score as “less ‘cantabile’ than his usual scores, without the violins ‘singing’ a melody, except during the end credits theme and a few other moments. This music is much more complicated, much more difficult. I have to say that the music is not prominent because there is a lot of dialogue; it is often in the background.” He said that his main theme was based on a melody “enclosed in a carillon-watch that the main female character owns,” and that that theme “became the main element of the whole composition, the musical key.”

This music box carillon-style theme is introduced in the opening cue, “Raising Cain,” beginning on soft chimes, before melting into a bed of lush and lyrical strings and woodwinds that are intriguingly romantic, brooding, but enticing, in that typical Donaggio way. The main theme comes back in several guises; with tender lyricism in the gorgeous “Love Memories” and “Shadows of the Past,” and then with more emphasis on the chimes and glockenspiel in the lovely “The Clock” and the subsequent “The Gift Giver,” the latter of which is unexpectedly charming and playful.

Quite a lot of the rest of the score is quite anxiety ridden, capturing the insanity in Carter’s brain, and the increasingly awful acts that the madness leads him to commit. Cues like “Tricking Karen,” “Cain Takes Over,” “A Blow On The Head,” “The Sinking,” the frenetic “Following Margo,” and the wonderfully-titled and rather intense “Flying Babies” are built around elegant but shrill string runs that occasionally emerge into explosions of alarming volume, surrounded by mournful woodwinds, and containing colorful little motifs that dart around between violins and brass in a way that makes the nerves stand on edge.

Several cues also feature some quite prominent electronic textures courtesy of synth specialist Paolo Steffan, whose contribution to the score is to add a layer of disconcerting, iridescent sheen to Donaggio’s more classical tones, which usually come whenever Carter suffers one of his psychotic episodes and Cain starts to emerge.

One thing that this music never is, though, is dissonant; Donaggio’s music remains tonal throughout, clearly enunciated, through-composed, and broadly – almost defiantly – orchestral. This has been a hallmark of Donaggio’s music for years, and looking back on this now from thirty years hence, it’s so refreshing to hear a composer scoring this type of film in this way. There’s no drones or elements of sound design here, no settling for basic ominous chords that have nothing interesting to say. This used to be the rule, but now it’s absolutely the exception.

Some other moments I like include the sultry saxophone jazz in the second half of “Cain Takes Over” (especially when he makes use of breathy, near-orgasmic vocal), the frantic piano runs at the end of “A Blow On The Head,” and the sinister harps that play in combination against robust brass clusters in “Jenny’s Return”. Later, the whole of “Dr. Walheim Hypnotizes Carter” is actually something of a dramatic tour-de-force, as Donaggio expertly follows the changes in Carter’s personality by subtly altering the tone and texture of the instruments as the onion-like layers of Carter’s mental state are revealed; nervous string tremolos, harp glissandi, low hooting woodwinds, piano clusters, brass crescendos, electronic tones, constantly shifting and moving. It’s very clever.

Interestingly, one of the things that Donaggio doesn’t do with his score is try to individually depict Carter’s paranoid schizophrenia, or try to write different themes for the different versions of himself. As I mentioned earlier, the electronic tonalities layered over the action and suspense music usually relates directly to ‘Cain,’ but his other personalities – the frightened child ‘Josh,’ the protective nanny ‘Margo’ – are left without a musical representation. This was probably a good idea, as trying to weave all this together might have resulted in the score being an over-complicated headache, but it might have been fun to see Donaggio attempting this, trying to concoct a series of inter-linking ideas that illustrate the chaos in Carter’s head.

The conclusive “Love Wins” is a superb final statement of the main theme, chimes and solo piano eventually giving way to the full symphonic ensemble, the orchestra soaring and sweeping for all its worth – but is marred by a god-awful orchestral flub in the brass right at the 2:47 mark that somehow made it past quality control. Despite this error, everything else is excellent, and it ends the score on an emotionally wrought, brilliantly theatrical high.

Films like Raising Cain are Pino Donaggio’s bread and butter, and this score is firmly in the same wheelhouse as his previous efforts for Brian De Palma’s sordidly enticing thrillers. It may not have the classical panache of something like Dressed to Kill, or the erotic intensity of something like Body Double, but there is plenty to admire here. The combination of romantic, lyrical melodrama and bold, inventive orchestral suspense is sure to appeal to Hitchcock fans, Herrmann fans, and anyone who appreciates this type of stylish film music.

Buy the Raising Cain soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Raising Cain (2:01)
  • Tricking Karen (1:50)
  • Cain Takes Over (4:47)
  • Love Memories (3:12)
  • A Blow On The Head (4:16)
  • Jenny and Carter Talk (1:21)
  • Jenny’s Return (2:39)
  • The Clock (2:25)
  • Father Against Cain (2:25)
  • The Sinking (1:35)
  • Dr. Walheim Hypnotizes Carter (5:09)
  • The Gift Giver (2:23)
  • Following Margo (2:00)
  • Shadows of the Past (2:42)
  • Jenny Tries to Save Amy (1:44)
  • Flying Babies (3:38)
  • Carter’s Return (1:21)
  • The Plan (3:15)
  • Love Wins (3:21)

Running Time: 52 minutes 04 seconds

Milan Records 74321-10130-2 (1992)

Music composed by Pino Donaggio. Conducted by Natale Massara. Orchestrations by Pino Donaggio and Natale Massara. Recorded and mixed by Sergio Marcotulli. Album produced by Pino Donaggio, Toby Pieniek and Emmanuel Chamboredon.

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