The composer of images
From the soundworlds that shaped almost every one of David Cronenberg’s films to the fantasy thundering of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, ranging through the musical punctuation of thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme) and Seven (David Fincher), the pursuit of sparks of rock music in High Fidelity (Steven Frears) or the accompaniment to the hypnoses and bizarre hiccups of Ed Wood (Tim Burton), without forgetting all those incursions into genres that arose out of the collaboration with Martin Scorsese, from the mechanical tick-tock of black comedy (After Hours) to the epic score of The Aviator to the fantastical sighs of Hugo… These are just some of the greatest examples – among the many available – of how a soundtrack can never be reduced to a secondary filmic element, to a side dish, when it has been scored with the creative touch of a composer like Howard Shore. He has the rare gift of being able to insert the music directly into that process of world-building that lies at the base of a film. And it is because of this gift, put to the service of a long series of great directors, that the Festival del film Locarno is paying tribute to the great Canadian composer and conductor.
This is the latest continuation of a journey that Locarno is dedicating to those figures who have shaped the history of cinema with their insight and skill. After the tributes to the special effects of Douglas Trumbull (2013), Mr Steadicam® Garrett Brown (2014) and sound designer and editor Walter Murch, the upcoming 69th edition will turn the spotlight on Howard Shore. Born in Toronto in 1946, his musical career has not been limited to the movies, though it is at the cinema that it has found its maximum resonance. This is clear not just from the welcome recognition represented by a total of three Oscars (Best Original Score in 2002 for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and in 2004 for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when he also won the award for Best Original Song for Into the West, performed by Annie Lennox). What should be noted most of all is the significance and impact his compositions have had on the invention of the most diverse auteurial universes, with that versatility that can move musical horizons in order to combine them with the image in a way that is always stimulating and never unambiguous. And if there was ever need of more examples, we can go back to where we started from: the substantial filmography of David Cronenberg, with whom Shore began working back in 1979, with the science-fiction horror The Brood. The dystopian future ruled by television violence in Videodrome (1983) would never have found its anguished density without the sinister and metallic reverberations that infect its soundtrack. The same can be said for the horror-like suspense that musically accompanies the bodily transformations of a scientist into an insect in The Fly (1986). Cinematographic voyages that merge with Ornette Coleman’s saxophone as they delve into the hallucinated mental explorations of Naked Lunch (1991), or veer towards the disturbing electric cords of a guitar that creates the sound landscape of the erotic collisions between cars and bodies in Crash (1996). And so on, up to the more noir and dramatic styles of Cronenberg’s most recent productions (Eastern Promises, Cosmopolis, Maps to the Stars), also characterized by Shore’s music, because the ear can also lead us to the edges of other types of mental abyss. As always for Shore, he discards any kind of didactic shortcut, instead setting himself the task of sculpting, note by note, the invisible heart of the world in which everything takes place.