Monday, 30 October 2017

Oh, the horror: part 12

Title: Wolf
Year: 1994
Composer: Ennio Morricone

Wolf is a modern retelling of the classic werewolf story and stars Jack Nicholson as the protagonist. The score was made by Ennio Morricone at the time when he was attached to many American projects as well as European ones. The score juxtaposes two different musical styles: the  tragic love story with nostalgic, lyrical romance writing, and the animalistic side with urban noir elements and primal percussion.

The opening presents the film’s dramatic main theme that has some tragic romanticism to it. It’s played by the horns over beautifully lush string harmonies and tinkling electronic effects. However in a Morriconean fashion there is also a frantic electric harpsichord ostinato appearing every now and then in a completely different tempo and key that I remember many film music fans hating at the time of the soundtrack’s release. They’re distracting for sure but for me they do depict the animalistic nature of the beast within, waiting to get unleashed. The barn is a more traditionally romantic, beautiful love theme for saxophone and warm strings. The same melody is heard along with crashing percussion and the harpsichord in Laura and Wolf united in a unique track that could only come from the pen of Maestro Morricone.

The first sings of distraught come through in The dream and the deer which begins with the main theme and then starts its developmental section for suspenseful wandering high strings followed by several mournful reprises of the main theme. The harpsichord ostinato also rushes through the nostalgia warning the listener of what is to come. Around 5-minute mark a descending suspense motif appears along with some noirish trumpet playing that comes to play a bit later. From 6-minute mark we’re introduced to fast percussion grooves, woodwinds resembling the forest birds and the mad ostinato running on top of everything. It all builds towards a victorious set of chords but comes crashing down with the suspense motif and final howling brass. An absolutely sublime, descriptive cue! The moon continues where we left off with quieter suspense motif variation along with some main theme that unfortunately then moves to low-key suspense that isn’t as interesting as its predecessor. Luckily at the end some bubbly madness is heard once again. Laura goes to join Wolf includes sparse individual chords which don’t form a coherent narrative.

From track 7 onwards the suspense rises to the main element. The three Transition cues and Laura transformed are all pretty slow-moving, at times tedious experiments in atonal suspense, familiar to the usual style of Maestro Morricone but done better in other projects.  The howl and the city begins with weird trumpet manipulation heard first in track 3 that sounds like some sort of animal howl. It harks back to the 60s with Maestro’s past in avant-garde group Nuova consonanza. Low-speed action follows then with the pounding percussion combined to staccato chords and sleazy saxophone bringing that urban atmosphere. A reprise of the love theme arrives in Animals and encounters that then turns sour with some excellent action writing covering many sections of the orchestra, even some rhythmic harp ostinatos, not a usual instrument for momentum. Wolf on the other hand returns to the main theme riddled with sadness after a horrific orchestral shocker.

Chase is sure to make you wake up in case you found the preceding slow horror boring. It has all kinds of screeching brass and woodwinds and combines them to low piano and percussion that really keep the pace going. Occasionally even the jazzy saxophone comes through the overall chaos. It’s one of the most exciting and brutal Morricone action cues I can think of and really makes your heart race. The abstract main theme variation at the end is just the icing on the cake for me. Unfortunately more slow music follows in Confirmed doubts that tries to bring out the horror but I find it rather tensionless to be honest. The talisman has some fascinating swirling textures that have almost ethnic qualities with effects resembling the Indian sitar and then closing with a twisted major key variation of the main theme. The last two cues return to the darkly romantic material first with the most romantic version of the main theme in Laura and Will which can’t stay away from the suspense and just has to have some of it at the end ruining a perfectly fine moment. Luckily Laura fixes that problem and ends the score with a powerful main theme statement that offers no hope for our main characters and closes the album on a somber note.

Wolf is best at its romantic material and especially in the brutal action cues that aren’t heard that often in Maestro’s overall repertoire nowadays. However where it falls is the middle section and the slow-moving suspense that can’t make the listener feel the desperately needed chills. Hence I recommend approaching this one with caution. However Maestro has cleverly assembled the album to an order that best presents the music and offers a fine listening experience.

Rating: ****

1. Wolf and love (03:32) *****
2. The barn (01:59) *****
3. The dream and the deer (09:15) *****
4. The moon (05:28) ****
5. Laura goes to join Wolf (02:20) **
6. Laura and Wolf united (01:24) *****
7. First transition (01:28) **
8. The howl and the city (03:21) ****
9. Animals and encounters (04:37) *****
10. Laura transformed (03:36) **
11. Wolf (02:48) ****
12. Second transition (01:17) ***
13. Will's final goodbye (01:31) ****
14. Chase (05:43) *****
15. Confirmed doubts (03:41) ***
16. The talisman (03:27) ****
17. Third transition (00:57) ***
18. A shock for Laura (02:43) ***
19. Laura and Will (02:26) ****
20. Laura (02:36) *****

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