Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robbery in Public

Since the kind folks at Univeral Music bunged me a copy, I'm listening to the soundtrack to Michael Mann's Public Enemies, and enjoying it quite a bit more than I did the film. It kicks off with a fantastic Otis Taylor blues track called "Ten Million Slaves", which makes the biggest impression of any of the music cues in the movie, with its restlessly strumming banjos and electrifying air of anything-goes fatalism. You can't really go wrong with the three Billie Holiday standards, either -- "Love Me Or Leave Me", "Am I Blue?", and "The Man I Love" -- though I admit that I'm going through a serious Billie phase at the moment, and that her vignettes of rapture and abandonment speak far more eloquently in their own right than the film's underpowered love story (with its own gal called Billie).

If there's a dismaying aspect to the disc, and to Mann's music choices generally, it's the progressive neutering of Elliot Goldenthal, one of the friskiest, most challenging composers in Hollywood in the mid-to-late 1990s, here coerced into a level of musical "borrowing" you'd more often find in a Ridley Scott or Alan Parker picture. The biggest influence is Hans Zimmer's Thin Red Line score -- Mann even gives him a thank you in the end credits, and we now know for damn sure which temp track he used while editing the stand-out woodland chase sequence, because Goldenthal trots out a compressed but unmistakable variation on Zimmer's justly famous "Journey to the Line", with its peeping, metronomic backdrop and thick strings layered on down in the lower registers.

It serves the sequence, and for anyone else this would be a solid score, but I consider it a great shame that the man who laid on the scary liturgical awe of Alien³, the sweeping operatics of Interview with the Vampire, and the peekaboo baroque riffs of Titus -- who even produced compelling stuff for In Dreams and Sphere (Sphere!), of all films -- has been hired to perform this musical equivalent of a cuttings job, culled from a far more limited artist's best work, to boot. I get on my high horse about directors falling overly in love with their temp tracks/Rolling Stones intros (you know who you are) but there's really no point hiring someone as gifted as Goldenthal if you're going to tie his hands this way -- the music just ends up as another frustrating, half-cooked element of a film that barely seems bothered about realising its best potential. Perhaps this matters less in the grand scheme of things, but it also makes for the only Goldenthal disc I own where he provides less than half of the cues and that's plenty.
Grade for the whole CD:


Guy Lodge said...

You weren't seriously bothered by the use of Diana Krall? I actually quite like Krall in a dinner-party sort of way, but her voice for me channels that whole icy 1950's lounge territory that seemed wholly anachronistic in the film, and not cleverly so.

I felt the Holiday selections were a touch obvious (though I'm glad the potential for a Billie Holiday-Frechette link was never specifically articulated), but I'll never be out of my own Billie phase, so I let it slide. Besides, I really like the film.

tim r said...

I didn't want to get started on Diana Krall. So I didn't. Let's just say that the anachronism was typical of the movie, for me, and her cameo even smugger than Rufus Wainwright's in The Aviator...