Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The First Composer to Get it Right

Sometimes good things come in threes.

I got to watch the presentation of ABC’s two-part movie, The Path to 9/11, which aired on September 10 and 11 (and is now available online for those who missed it). The docudrama begins with the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and ends with the September 11 attacks. I’ll admit, there are elements of what I would consider uncalled-for artistic license. It also took me a while to get used to the camerawork, which is dominated by almost continual handheld close ups. Nevertheless, the overall aesthetic value of the film is commendable, drawing the viewer into the complex and compelling events that led to the 9/11 attacks.

What I consider most outstanding, next to the superb acting, is the original score by John Cameron (To End All Wars)—even though it is sparingly used. The composer’s website explains the filmmakers’ approach: “due to the enormous emotive message of the narrative, the music should never pre-empt emotion, but reflect it, and that the score should always emerge naturally from the action.” Much of what is used is source music, “some [of it] ‘found’, some newly composed, from Islamabad to Nairobi, New York to the Philippines.”

What makes the score noteworthy, though, is Cameron’s main theme. Heard first during the opening credits, it seems deceptively unimpressive. The raw emotional power of the theme isn’t fully affecting until it is wed with the haunting images of the film’s final act. The unsettling piano progression, accompanied by a mournful violin (somewhat reminiscent of Schindler’s List), accents the film’s climax in an appropriately heartrending way. With all due respect (and there is much of it) to composers John Powell (United 93) and Craig Armstrong (World Trade Center), I think this score is the most effective yet in portraying the tragic developments of September 11.


  1. Filmmaker bias aside, I was also impressed with certain elements of this miniseries. The credit sequence was beautifully done, and John Cameron's opening theme was haunting and subtle. "To End All Wars", another Cameron/Cunningham collab, is also worth checking out...a very heavy, yet effective film.

    An aside (forgive the self plug): here's my musical memorial to those lost on that tragic day: 9/11/01

  2. I totally agree with the aspects pointed out on this score for "Path to 9/11". I wrote the music down on Sibelius software if anyone's interested in me sharing it.


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