Because few people pay close attention to film composers, they can pretty much say whatever the hell they think on the rare occasions someone thinks to interview them. As a result, “Where The Wild Things Are” composer Carter Burwell provides as much concrete information on the film’s studio-meeting turmoil as anyone on record yet in an interview in Moving Image Source.
In 4,000+ dense, fascinating words, the plainspoken Burwell opens up. A man I always thought of as a provider of ready-made, generically plaintive music (is there anything more basic than the “Being John Malkovich” theme?), but the man himself is perfectly aware of his role as studio hand-holder. When Warner Bros. wasn’t comfortable having Karen O score everything, Burwell got brought in: “It was just a comfort thing for Warner Bros. to know that there was going to be some composer who would handle that job on that scene,” he grouses. “I’m not comfortable with everything I just said to you, because I don’t like to be the dependable traditional composer.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the WB lot, Steven Soderbergh and Marvin Hamlisch got away with murder. The much-remarked-upon score for “The Informant!” (you can hear an excerpt at the link) is notable for a reason, as the LA Times explains. In dragging Hamlish out of semi-retirement for his first score since 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” Soderbergh knew exactly what he was doing: using ironically upbeat, anachronistic music as a jarring counterpoint to Matt Damon’s self-deluding perspective.
Soderbergh actually managed to realized Sergei Eisenstein’s dream of “vertical montage” — using sound and music not to reinforce what’s on-screen, but to contradict and complicate it. If this sounds terribly academic, well, it is: the beauty of “The Informant!” is that it makes that goal viscerally comprehensible. You don’t have to be a steeped-in-academe theoretician to instantly realize the oddity of what’s happening or why.
Like all of Soderbergh’s work, “The Informant!” isn’t so much a movie as the solution to a complicated problem. And Hamlisch’s score is the key to that: Soderbergh’s foregrounded his music like no one since P.T. Anderson in “There Will Be Blood.” Here’s hoping awards season should be generous.
[Photos: “Where the Wild Things Are,” Warner Bros., 2009; “The Informant!,” Warner Bros, 2009]