Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Requiem for lost innocence

Watched Brick (2005) again; ordinarily I see it as part of the syllabus of my film course, but we didn't get to it this year, more's the pity. But I had family members who really needed to catch up on their film knowledge and see this brilliant comment-pastiche of film noir, set in a Southern California high school and starring the always fine Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

There's a lot to be said about how it uses and plays with the conventions of the genre. But watching it this time, I was really struck by the music score. Because the film was made with a very low budget, and the composer is the director's cousin, I had not given the score sufficient attention or respect.

Listen to the first theme in the music video posted above, "Emily's Theme." The instrumentation is strange--the melody instrument, whatever it is, cannot sustain, so it substitutes rapidly repeated notes for sustained sound, like a mandolin, balalaika or xylophone. It is like Emily herself, who does not have lasting power. But she haunts, she reverberates, like the echoing notes of the melody. If you listen to the entire video, every piece of music is original, not imitated from anything, except perhaps the faintest traces of Morricone. Some of it is just pure texture, as is often true of film scores, but there is a high proportion of melody, higher than is usual in film, especially in contemporary and low-budget film.

I became a fan of Rian Johnson with Brick, and although his career has been slightly disappointing since, I still anticipate each new project and hope to be astonished again. Re-examining Brick, it is still a film of numerous pleasures, whether its compositions, its strange patois and wonderful dialogue rhythms, the nuanced and balanced performance of Gordon-Levitt and the cast; but now I am a fan of Rian Johnson, and I will definitely be following his career going forward.

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