Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Illusionist

I finally saw The Illusionist (2006), with its score by Phillip Glass. Two features in the score are worth mention -- the first is the slow burn of its build-up over the course of the film, from piano to not much more than mezzo-forte, with the most dense activity saved for the musical coda which accompanies the dramatic denouement*; and the second is that while the tonal and rhythmic materials (arpeggios, tuplets, top-of-the-minor-scale chromatism etc.) never stray from from familiar Glass territory, the orchestration is disciplined down to a scale appropriate to the turn-of-the-century Vienna shown in the film, with the musical continuity carried, in classical fashion, by the string ensemble, colored by winds, and just the lightest amount of orchestral percussion (I found that the use of tambourine, at one point, was touching; an oddly registered celesta, over the closing credits kept things nicely out of balance, and made clear that the credits were something apart from the film proper). Glass never writes fake Viennese music here, as many others would have been tempted, and his style never allows for even a touch of Wiener espressivo, but instead, and wisely so Ithinks, he uses the orchestration to allow the music to maintain Viennese classicism as a topic in the music.
* There is a nice musical-visual counterpoint throughout, but particularly in the coda, in which the tendency to tonal stasis in Glass's music gets mirrored by the director's focus on actor Paul Giamatti's face.

No comments: