Philip Glass: The Illusionist

March 11, 2010

I loved Glass’ work in Koyaanisqatsi. Music is foreground; hand in glove with the imagery. Some of his other film scores seemed, to me, heavy handed: imposing themselves on the scenes rather than providing underscore.

Philip Glass’ score for THE ILLUSIONIST is his best yet. The harmonies are fresh; the melodies are new; the textures are new; he tailors his cues beautifully to the scenes, rather then the torn-off abrupt ending the minimalists have tended to favor; there are a wide range of dynamics (he used to favor terraced dynamics, mostly loud).

The cinematography is continually breathtaking; stellar performances by Edward Norton, Rufus Sewell and Paul Giamatti, and Glass’ score rounds it out. The music doesn’t really sound “minimalist”– if anything, it sounds “classical”––”serious”––continually effective.

Glass’ reward for providing such tasty underscore, is that he gets to let loose in the end credits, a cue called “Life in the mountains.” Here is that cue: lovely, don’t you think? A long way from Music in 5ths.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leonid March 12, 2010 at 1:06 am

Interesting. Haven’t seen the film yet, but the use of Prokofiev’s music is impressive.

I don’t think they should run into copyright problems though, because, even though it’s technically a derivative work, all of Prokofiev’s copyrights have probably expired by now.

Plus the legal regime of Soviet works is often unclear (there is some protection, but no one knows the scope for sure, because the whole system was different). Otherwise the estate could’ve created a hassle for the studio.

As for Glass – hardly my favorite composer. But there is more movement in the music than usual, no small achievement in itself.

Roger, to update you on major developments here in the Russia: Anton Batagov is returning to public performances. Amazing, isn’t it. Who would’ve thought !!


PK March 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Well, on your review, I watched… and I couldn’t agree with you more, on all counts. It is the first film of Glass’s that I have seen, where the music seems to be actually be written for it: as if he maybe even watched the film for a change (and it was a lovely film on the other accounts). Though considering the stories one hears about films such as The Hours (2002)(all the shenanigans and goings on with composers coming and going), it may well not always be Glass’s fault.

I find that Glass’s famous “minimal” style is of a kinetic nature that makes it intrinsically useful against moving image. The large amount of attacks means that there is an almost constant synchronization with salient visual accents, and sometimes the felt weight of the ostinati matches well with the movement on the screen as in cartoons, giving a corporeality to the two-dimensional shadow play. This made The Illusionist’s score not only work, but its stylistic individuality made it refreshing compared to the sea of pseudo-pseudo romantic, post romantic blah that has become the Hollywood cinematic musical language of choice.

Thanks for the tip.

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