Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Serious Man (Soundtrack) by Carter Burwell - Review

A Serious Man (Soundtrack) by Carter Burwell - Review

A Seriously Reticent Score
Review by Helen San

A Harvard graduate who majored in computer animation, CARTER BURWELL stumbled into film composition by chance.  The sound editor of BLOOD SIMPLE liked his piano playing in a club and asked him to write a few sketches for the Coen brothers’ first movie.   Since then, BURWELL has loyally scored all Coen brothers features to date (except for O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? ), as well as countless other movies.  The history of film music sometimes finds a few powerhouse director / composer partnerships that stand out:  Alfred Hitchcock and BERNARD HERMANN, Steven Spielberg and JOHN WILLIAMS, and James Cameron and JAMES HORNER, for example.   But it is rare for directors to find a lifelong partnership, a shared creative vision so seamless they always turn to the same composer.

A SERIOUS MAN is BURWELL’s latest Coen project, right on the heels of last year’s BURN AFTER READING.  The serious man in question is Larry Gopnick, a Midwestern Jewish professor in the 60’s whose life unravels  around him.  To depict Gopnick’s helplessness and loss of control, BURWELL composed a darker and more dissonant score than usual:  a gently cacophonous ambience with cowbells, harps, and strings, at times juxtaposed against electric bass and guitar.  Now this is not the first time BURWELL has used unusual combinations of instruments. But unlike his other efforts, there is almost no melody in this one, so most of what you get is somber unease.  This quiet sadness actually complements the folk-guitar 60’s style of the rock band Jefferson Airplane, which played a prominent role in the movie.  Since I am not fond of Jefferson Airplane, the style is not particularly interesting to me.

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