When it comes to Howard Shore this holiday season, it’s going to be all about THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. But if you’re on a quest to hear the composer’s more esoteric, but equally rewarding work, than you’ll find his Howe Records label offering a treasure trove of Shore’s past, and present scores, including COSMOPOLIS‘ trance limo ride to hell, the charming, Oscar-nominated imagination in HUGO‘s Parisian train station and the ticking clock of the worst AFTER HOURS in an NYC shlep’s life. Now Shore’s versatility sounds off with two new Howe releases, one dealing with a psychologically wounded Native American veteran, and the other a knowingly turgid cult soundtrack that soars with the dreams of Hollywood’s most gloriously bad director.
Tim Burton affectionately turned awfulness into art with 1994s ED WOOD, lampooning bad filmmaking while at the same time saluting the humanity, and optimism that can come with no discernable talent. Howard Shore would pull off the same affectionate trick of indulging in Grade Z 1950s excess, real emotion and period lounge swing. With a theremin and stormy orchestrations, Shore’s alternately mysterioso and rampaging music captures the thunderous tone (and in some cases replays) the stock music that accompanied any number of bottom-billed horror and sci-fi cheapos that Wood made, while simultaneously sounding more melodically accomplished than their music ever could. But Shore’s most brilliant conceit is letting the dark and stormy themes play the drama of Ed Wood’s incredulously real life, from Hungarian Rhapsody capturing the tragedy of Bela Lugosi to triumphant music for Wood’s cross-dressing revelation. There’s a true, never-say-die musical determination to rival the scaling of Mount Doom amidst the satiric inanity of it all that still makes ED WOOD one of Shore’s very best scores. It’s a loving, cheesy late show nostalgia that sounds even better in this newly remastered edition, especially with four bonus tracks that contain even more playful skullduggery, Bela cimbaloms and Brown Derby mambo jazz for a score that captures that pathetic passion of Hollywood’s eternal underbelly.
Shore’s psychologically incisive music has held counseling sessions both terrifying (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) and sadomasochistically straight-laced (A DANGEROUS METHOD), musical methodology that takes on a serious, understanding tone with JIMMY P. (its title continuing on with PSYCHOTHERAPY OF A PLAINS INDIAN). Shore plays doctor to a WW2 veteran, whose shell shock has the further barrier of his Blackfoot heritage, which a French psychoanalyst does his best to understand. While Shore subtly uses Native American rhythms to convey JIMMY P.‘s culture, it’s his ever-modulating orchestra that provides a levelheaded meeting of the minds. Shore’s rarely been a composer to provide easily separable themes, and his many distinctive melodies here are heard through a wash of affecting thoughts, music that can be calming and reflective, or surge with the trauma of wartime. For the most part, Shore avoids easy dramatic fireworks, creating a lyrical contemplation for piano, harp and strings that at times reach a Debussy-like tranquility for Jimmy’s addled mind. It’s unforced, intelligent scoring that shows film music’s power to both express inner emotion, as well as bringing it out of a character who can barely talk about his own feelings.
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