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HOURS, THE: SOUNDTRACK

“The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel… and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old.”
(Virginia Woolf, MODERN FICTION)


Review by Brad Green:
‘Stream of consciousness’ was all the rage among early-twentieth century modernists. But while Joyce, Faulkner and Dos Passos presented us with bursts of full frontal thought exposure, Woolf fashioned whole works from flickering, mutating inner-perspectives. Like great literature it ended in irony of course: when she drowned her own consciousness in the muddy streams of the Ouse.

The remarkably self-aware analysis cited above refers specifically to To The Lighthouse; but it is just as succinct an appraisal of Woolf’s achievements in The Waves and Mrs Dalloway, the source material for The Hours. When it comes to the latter’s soundtrack, who better than Philip Glass to provide an underscore of refined stability, with modulations that unfold almost imperceptibly?

Glass, the arch-minimalist, draws liberally on motifs from his own oeuvre; but the score is hardly a pastiche. It is neither so bereft of distinct melody as to be mere sonic wallpaper, nor extravagant enough to command attention. The ear can engage and disengage as it pleases. In fact, one can easily imagine a Bloomsbury-style get-together, witty causerie to the fore and Glass’s highly structured harmonies on the gramophone… or CD. For indeed, his orchestral arrangements, dependent mostly on string quartet and Michael Riesman’s piano, have a timeless quality, which instead of reflecting the three different time periods of the story shift the emphasis from the external world per se, to the interaction of the individual with the social environment. 

We can hear life’s minutes ticking as the score progresses in a measured pulse. The fixedly geometric rhythms could weigh us down like the stones Woolf loaded into her pocket in her final hour, but instead they have a quality of iterative delicacy – like the whispering of one stanza of a poem over and over again, with such subtle alterations on each repeat that we finally hear the whole verse. Along the way there is the odd controlled exuberance, such as the joyous ascending scales of Something She Has To Do, which fold back to pensive arpeggios, gently outlined on the piano. 

Then finally, midway through the concluding cue (the title cue), the set squares and rigid hexagons are permitted to dance together. The pulses overlap, the resulting polyrhythm reflecting Woolf’s perception of a subliminally fluctuating paradigm – as each time the accent falls differently from of old. 

Published April 17, 2003

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