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Monday, October 10, 2005

Top 5 Carter Burwell Film Scores

Oh, I can hear you: "A whole weekend without posting and all you can do is throw us a TOP 5 LIST."

Yes. That's about the shape of it. But this isn't just any TOP 5 LIST. This is...


What fool would dare suggest that Carter Burwell is not the greatest living film composer? Who would say such a thing? Show me that man and I will show you a man with a sore groin (the groin, we may assume in our example, has been made sore by my kicking it) (I want to clarify that) (I don't want you thinking the man might have developed soreness from disease or an act of God - no, my righteous anger would be the source of this soreness, I can assure you) (I think we understand each other).

So, yes. As I was saying, here are...


"Barton Fink" (1991) - partnered beautifully with the film's superb sound design, the score reeks of grief and solitude.

"Fargo" (1996) - sweeping, epic themes juxtaposed against tiny, tiny, tiny people make for near-poetry.

"Fear" (1996) - on the list only because I fell in love with the opening title track the moment I heard it. It's almost a generic thriller/action intro, with little - outside of evoking "ADRENALINE" - tying it to the film. Much of the soundtrack is contemporary songs, but the "Fear" score rudely elbows its way onto the list because of my fondness for that title cue. It's not available on CD, but it is available HERE at Carter's site, which makes me so happy I could vomit silly string.

"The Hudsucker Proxy" (1994) - manages to make Khachaturian sound like just one more set of themes thrown into the mix (a companion piece to "Raising Arizona" (1987) in this, which chews, swallows, and wonderfully regurges Beethoven - lot of throw-up metaphors today, aren't there)

"Rob Roy" (1995) - a movie that outstrips its worthy competitor "Braveheart" (1995) in almost every aspect, including its beautiful score, which does not recycle Ralph Vaughan-Williams in an "I really, really like the temp-track" kind of way.

Carter Burwell has composed all the scores for the Coen Brothers and for Spike Jonze, as well as composing the music for "Theater Of The New Ear", the stage production which ran at UCLA last month, written by Jonze collaborator Charlie Kaufman and by another mysterious writer under a pseudonym (a pseudonym which could be hiding the name "Coen"?). In the New York version of the production, there was no attempt at a pseudonym and "Joel and Ethan Coen" were left to stand. I feel fortunate to have attended "Theater Of The New Ear" in L.A. and to have seen Carter Burwell in person, conducting his own music that some actors or somebody were reading words to.

Success happens in clusters, they say. Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Schrader came up together out of the same mean streets. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs all scored from the same drug dealers. Hitler, Gรถring and Himmler used to go see Charlie Chaplin movies together. I wonder if the Coens and Carter Burwell watched "Triumph of the Will" (1935) together. That movie has a great soundtrack. I like the part where the helicopters blow the hell out of the Viet Cong. It's hard not to get the giggles watching it.

I had notions of this post becoming something of a Carter Burwell hagiography. But I thought it best to avoid that because I'm not sure what a hagiography is. I think I might have seen one on tv this week, but I can't be certain. In any case, what we can learn by studying Carter Burwell's career, and examining this truism of success happening in clusters (I call them "succlusters"), is that success flourishes when the right people meet other right people at the right time, each bringing out the best work in the other. Perhaps that's why selfish idiots don't usually last long. Selfish idiots generally do not bring out the best work in others, and they often resent and sabotage good work out of their own dreadful insecurities. Me, I'm content to ride on the coattails of my betters. Not that I'm less insecure than the average selfish idiot, but I do know - and treasure - a good thing when I see it. Or hear it.


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