19 December 2006

NMT: 19 DEC 06 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - The Painted Veil

The pop/rock releases this week were just too terrible to even speak of, so I searched through other genres to find something that I might connect with.

Luckily I delved into the Soundtracks/Musicals section of Urge cause I've found a real gem.

The film, The Painted Veil, is getting some buzz especially for the performances by the lead actors, Ed Norton and Naomi Watts, but then they are "serious" actors in a "serious" film, so buzz is obligatory.

It looks way too Merchant/Ivory (but it's not) to see in theaters. These kind of period piece dramas set against exotic backgrounds with fantastic actors acting fantastically are best seen at home, in my opinion. The big screen adds nothing to the experience, and often takes something away (bad sound, projection, noisy bodily functions of other theatergoers, et cetera).

But enough about a film I haven't seen, I'm posting this to talk about a soundtrack that I have listened to.

It's bloody brilliant. I hadn't heard of Alexandre Michel Desplat before, but he's the real deal. He's yet to win an Oscar, but this soundtrack received a well deserved Golden Globes nod this year.

Looking over his credits, I have yet to see a film he's scored, he's exclusively done French films up until a few years ago, recently he seems to have been doing both "art house" and mainstream pictures (in 2005 and 2006 he scored "The Painted Veil", "The Queen", "Firewall", "Syriana", "Casanova", "Hostage", and "The Upside of Anger" among other projects, he's a busy, busy man).

Actually describing what's good or bad about a "classical" film score is a difficult task, to say the least. Also, having not seen the film, it's impossible to know if the music is too good for the film's own good.

But with that said, let me assure you, there are no bad tracks on this album, all the songs are evocative and compelling. Especially noteworthy are "The Water Wheel" which obviously comes from an "action" scene (or at least as much action as a Maugham based period drama would have) and contains many "oriental" touches befitting the Chinese setting of the picture. "The Lovers" is spare, but beautiful, sad, and a bit distant to begin with, then swirls into something a little more dense, but equally pretty without getting too schmaltzy. An impressive journey in only 1:26.

Pretty much every track is a standout, it's a really solid piece of neoclassical composition that probably fits closest to the later romantics if I were to pick one style to suggest a fit, but that would sound a bit dismissive and be largely inaccurate.

This was performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra along with featured work by Lang Lang on piano. Lang Lang (seen here on an annoyingly German talk show) had previously collaborated with Desplat on the soundtrack to "Girl with the Pearl Earring".

I can easily recommend this album if you're the kind of person who enjoys listening to Soundtrack albums. It's one of the better ones I've heard of recent vintage in quite some time.

It won't be released on good old fashion CDs for two more weeks (Jan 9th), but through the miracle of subscription music services I was able to listen to this before the film was released in the US or the CD hit stores. Love this modern age.

Of course, if you are a Soundtrack listening person, then really you should be listening to Herrmann's stuff, but sometimes it's nice throw in something a little different now and then.

And if I never heard another Zimmer or Williams score in my life, I'd probably be a little happier, but I know in my heart that I'm likely to be subjected to their works for some time to come (not that they both haven't done some great scores in the past, it's just that they have been recycling the same tropes ad infinitum for a couple decades now)

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