Readers of this blog know that I tend to focus on the film-music moments created by non-score (album released) music, but every now and then I hear a score so beautiful or memorable that I can't help myself. This time it's from Tom Ford's lyrical feature film debut, "A Single Man," which I caught last night at MoMA. Resonant strings by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski added untold layers of depth and feeling to this intensely graceful character study—an adaptation of a Christopher Isherwood novel about a British college professor (played by Colin Firth) struggling to find meaning in his life after the death of his long-time partner (played by Matthew Goode). Newly minted Director Tom Ford is fearless about including long pauses in this film, but isn't afraid to turn up the volume on the score and really let it take over at times too. The willingness and/or ability to go so deeply in these two different directions is rare. The other nice thing about this score is that it doesn't try to follow track the action of the film precisely, but is a presence in its own right: rich, sad, and lucid.
For me, there were two stand out film-music moments:
The first introduces Julianne Moore's character, Charley, a beautiful but isolated divorcee living next door to the professor, for whom she carries a longtime torch. By the time you really meet Charley in the film, you already know she's been drinking for hours, so the scene is quite literally loaded with both comic and tragic possibilities from the very beginning. Who is she and just what does she mean to George? The first shot is an extreme close-up of one of her eyes (eyes are a recurring theme throughout), magnified a thousand times in a make-up mirror as she applies heavy arcs of liquid liner. Some wan French pop plays over top the scene and as the angle of the shot widens, we see that Charley is sitting at her vanity, immersed in an a series of elaborate beauty rituals in anticipation of her best friend's arrival. The single exaggerated eye is a perfect way to introduce this lonely and lovely character, and the music (wish I'd caught the exact name of the artist and track) adds a stroke of atmospheric genius. Charley is a doll in a box...a pretty sarcophagus, sparkling from deep within her tomb. She even looks a little dessicated.
A big tip of the hat to Ford, Moore, and Music Supervisor Julia Michels for that moment. (Plus the wig designer - wow!)
The other stand-out film-music moment is the scene in which George, goes for an unexpected swim at night with an intensely handsome student who has become infatuated with him. It's the culmination of George's recent brushes with life as something other than a dull and colorless exercise in numbed-out grief. All day he's been having little flashes of a fuller, more vibrant existence, and when he finds himself swimming in the Pacific on a dare, his senses are overtaken and he feels the sharp beauty of life for the first time in ages. The Korzeniowski score in this moment reaches a peak and takes the viewer directly into the heart of the feeling, which is exhilarating--full of beauty and danger, past and future, everything and nothing. It indirectly calls to mind another of the season's most poignant films-- "Where The Wild Things Are"--when Max sets out to locate something fresh and wild in life, only to have nature herself remind him: Remember, I am bigger than you. I can revive but also destroy you.
Formal and beautiful, "A Single Man" is studded with jewel-like performances, most notably that of Colin Firth, whose reserve is betrayed by immensely expressive eyes. Julianne Moore is perfect as Charley and brings a rare blend of worldliness and vulnerability to the role. Intelligence too.
During post Q&A the question of whether or not Tom Ford is a "visualist" was raised and she commented, "If there is no meaning in the composition, I don't want to be there." Ford's own answer to that was to pronounce that "style without substance is useless," after which he emphasized the importance of Isherwood's story and said it was the first purely artistic endeavor of his career to interpret it.
Additional score in "A Single Man" was written by Shgeru Umebayashi.