Big band swing on the soundtrack to Shakespeare's bloody Roman tragedy? What in the name of anachronism is going on? To explain, we need a little context.
It is Shakespeare’s Macbeth who describes life as "… a tale/Told by an
idiot, full of sound and fury". But it was the young Shakespeare’s very first
play, Titus Andronicus, that presented this "idiotic tale" in all its gory
glory. And Julie Taymor’s current cinematic adaptation is uncompromising in its
evocation of life’s sound and fury: fusing ancient and hyper-modern icons of chaos
and brutality as symbols of violence across the ages. Composer Elliot Goldenthal,
Taymor’s husband, exploits a riotous blend of disparate styles to create a score that
marries perfectly with this vision. The result ranks amongst the most adventurous film
music I’ve heard.
Certainly there are many of the epic elements we expect: bombastic choral chanting in
the realm of Orff’s Carmine Burana, dissonant and rhythmically effervescent strings
for tension and action, grandiose orchestrations for that obligatory triumphal feel. All
well crafted without being startling.
The jolts come with the sudden segues into the aforementioned brassy swing cues,
inventive saxophone duets, edgy electric guitars and industrial electronic
experimentation; not to mention occasional forays into freestyle jazz and bebop, and even
a polka with a twist of polyrhythmic mayhem (at the tail end of the macabrely titled
Pickled Heads). The striking contrasts and bizarre juxtapositions resonate – as do
Taymor’s screenplay and imagery – with the dark, ironic humour embedded in the
Just about the only thing missing is restraint. Just as well. If you’re going for
unshackled eclecticism you may as well go the whole kinetic kaleidoscope. Of course, it
could have ended up a messy tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, but Goldenthal overlays
his inventive brilliance with an instinct for perfectly timing his mercurial tangents.
You can hardly relax to this soundtrack but you sure can revel in its diversity.
It’s the ultimate roller-coaster ride for the ears.
Published: October 5, 2000
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