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Elmer Bernstein Far From Heaven: Original Soundtrack Review

Soundtrack. Released 5 November 2002.  

BBC Review

Todd Haynes acclaimed movie about inter-race adultery in 1950s small-town America gets...

Morag Reavley 2003

You probably couldn't have chosen a less likely composer to write the score of a grand-scale weepy. Elmer Bernstein has more than 200 credits in a career spanning over 50 years, including such classics as The Magnificent Seven, A Rage in Harlem and The Great Escape.

So it's a tribute to his agility that he's created a purely instrumental score so convincingly lush and delicate for Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes garlanded weepy about inter-race adultery in 1950s small-town America. This is romantic scene-painting of a high order, from shimmering autumn leaves to the lonely tracks of a deserted railroad station.

The score is largely piano-driven, an instrument chosen for its domestic qualities in this intimate family drama, as well as for its links with the piano scores used for romances from Brief Encounter onwards. But where those earlier pieces are full-blown, grandiose affairs in the European classical tradition, this is in a subtler, all-American vein.

A muted, tinkling presence throughout, the piano is accompanied by the voices of melancholy oboe and sax. The dominant theme is established in 'Autumn in Connecticut'. A delicate piano introduction opens out into a haunting melody accompanied by swinging strings, optimistic and achingly sad at the same time. This simple theme forms the melodic foundation of the whole score.

There are a few changes of pace and style. 'Prowl' is a beautifully-executed period exercise in film-noir suspense. The jaunty 'Turning Point' opens uncannily like Abba's "Super Trouper" and blossoms into a graceful fantasy. And there is sleepy jazz in 'Cathy' and 'Raymond Dance' and sexy Latin rhythms in 'Miami'.

And yet. There is something finally unsatisfying about the music's polish,the deliberateness of its mutedness. To misappropriate Keats' dictum about instructive poetry, this is music with palpable designs on the listener.

Without the film's plot and visuals to distract from this process, one is only too aware of the music as a mechanism for emotional manipulation, not as an independent, passionate entity.

Masterfully written this soundtrack certainly is. But your final impression is of the slightness of a Connecticut leaf on the wind.

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