Released in 1999, THE NINTH GATE was a thriller directed by film maker Roman Polanski. It, starred Johnny Depp and was based upon the 1993 novel by Arturo Perez Revetrte entitled THE CLUB DUMAS. The films scenario revolves around a search for a rare book which supposedly contains the secret of how to summon the DEVIL. The film I thought was an interesting and absorbing tale which was directed wonderfully by Polanski with a stand-out performance from Depp and contained an atmospheric and haunting soundtrack composed by Maestro, Wojciech Kilar. The film was met with mixed reactions from both critics and audiences, with many giving it unfavourable comments saying it was not as interesting as Polanski’s other supernatural thriller ROSEMARYS BABY. However, the film and the score have in recent years become regarded as quality items with the film attaining a cult status. Kilar’s wonderfully operatic and beautifully macabre sounding score is in my opinion one of the composers most accomplished, and that is saying something with a composer such as he.
Of course Kilar was already a respected Maestro within Eastern Europe before coming to work on American movies, and it is fair to say that it is probably his equally gripping and powerful score for DRACULA that acquainted soundtrack fans in America, The UK and Europe with the composers ample talents. Polanski was said to have approached the production full of doubt as he did not believe in the Occult although admitted to being fascinated by it and stories that surrounded it.
The film also starred Frank Langella and Emmanuelle Seigner. The score by Kilar was fully symphonic and although the movie itself was set in modern time the composer opted to write a soundtrack that was classically orientated. Which was a masterful move on the part of the composer as his symphonic and grandiose instrumental flourishes support and underline the films storyline perfectly, adding a greater intensity and creating and more powerful and deeper dimension to the proceedings. Although the music is dramatic and filled with a menace and darkness, the composer still infuses his work with a richness and lavish melodic line, creating and fashioning commanding and theme laden pieces that glide and weave in and out of the at times fast paced and fearsome compositions.
I think I was loathed to review this score at the time of its release simply because I thought it was a work of immense quality, and everyone else seemed to be ignoring it, maybe because of the negative reaction the film was receiving, however, here is my review of sorts, well not a review but maybe just a hint of a review, but in reality it’s a recommendation that if you have not heard the score to check it out, it is available on I tunes and Spotify and I thin one can still purchase copies of the CD release online. Let us say you will not be disappointed in any way or form. This is in my opinion a classic from a Master Maestro, who is sorely missed in the world of film music today.
George Fenton has had a varied and illustrious career, scoring many big movies including GHANDI and CRY FREEDOM, plus he has also worked on numerous popular TV series and programmes. Fenton was the favoured choice of film maker Sir Richard Attenborough and worked with director Neil Jordan on movies such as COMPANY OF WOLVES. One of his early themes was for the quiz show Blockbusters, and it was small themes such as this that began to get the composer noticed. He also worked with Sir David Attenborough on various wildlife series mostly for the BBC as well as scoring Hollywood box office hits such as GROUNDHOG DAY and YOU GOT MAIL. For me personally it is his vibrant and energetic score for HIGH SPIRITS that always comes to mind when his name is mentioned, I think it is his music rather than the actual movie that evokes my memories of this. Over the past few years Fenton has shall we say not been as busy as he used to be, and only occasionally would we see his name on the credits of a movie. So I am pleased that in recent months we have seen two of his scores released, the most recent being RED JOAN, the music for this thriller which stars Judy Dench in the title role, is I think quite typical of Fenton’s style there are some beautifully crafted themes present within the work, and also a handful of darker and more apprehensive sounding pieces, but it is the lilting and subtle thematic material that holds the attraction and seems to entice and beckon to the listener. The PRELUDE opens the recording in which the composer serves up a brief but effective piano theme which is supported by underlying and very slight strings, as I say it is a fleeting opener for the score but one that sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow.
The theme which we hear in the opening cue is one that is expanded upon and returned to throughout the soundtrack and Fenton presents it in varying ways, arranging and orchestrating it differently on each occasion, giving it a freshness and added vibrancy. Although RED JOAN is a somewhat downbeat or even at times sombre affair musically, the music remains thematic and melodious the composer utilising sentimental sounding woods which at certain points within the score do seem to transform into a more sinister and shady sounding performance but retaining the melody that they originally purveyed. The same can be said of piano and strings which transform from light and unassuming instruments into dark and foreboding ones. I must admit I do love scores such as this, it’s not grandiose and certainly not high octane in any way, but instead is subdued and intricate, even fragile and slight in its composition and overall performance, there is a certain air of intimacy and reflective quality to the work. Fenton elaborating upon the central theme a few times by way of a lusher but still slight string performance which adds substance and emotion to the proceedings, the composer creating a luxurious sound that although not overly over the top is still powerful and affecting. He also utilises a heartrending solo violin at times and again although fleeting this creates a sense of passion, melancholy and isolation all at the same time. Fenton gives depth, atmosphere and colour to the movie with his beguiling and haunting music and it is a soundtrack that will be welcomed by any film music connoisseur. Released by Movie Score Media and available now as digital recording and soon on CD from Quartet records.
FILM AND TELEVISION MUSIC FROM AROUND THE WORLD. WITH MOVIE REVIEWS AND NEWS FROM ALL OVER THE GLOBE.