2 / 5 Stars
Directed by Philip Kaufman, Quills is a well-crafted work that never achieves as a whole what it does with its parts. The film is a fictionalized account of the last years in the life of the Marquis de Sade, who was known for his bold, lascivious writings; the story starts when the Marquis living in an asylum, put there in hopes that he will be "cured" of his evil thoughts. Despite its strong directing, acting, and costume design, the film is thematically weak and muddled, and counts way too much on the audience's curiosity about the dirty Marquis. This could have been a great film about the freedom of expression and authority's attempt to suppress it, but the story as a whole does not build to anything substantial. We do not come out of it with any new or revived views on the subject.
Like the film itself, the soundtrack tries to be several different things at once, from broad classical works to gritty experimental pieces. This diversity is not inherently bad; the problem comes with the fact that there is no unifying theme or style that brings the soundtrack, and in turn, the film together. Stephen Warbeck has created an array of nice, individually successful pieces that work for the individual scenes, but that do not steer audiences emotional path through the story.
The soundtrack's strongest area is in its ability to enhance the tension and intrigue in certain scenes. The Marquis suffers from, and ironically seeks out, the wrath of a new, unsympathetic doctor sent by Napoleon to stop the Marquis covert publication of manuscripts. The score successfully conveys the constant tension caused by the fear of the main character being tormented by the doctor, despite the fact he is not particularly likeable. It is a dark, dangerous world, and Warbeck's score evokes this feeling well.
The Quills soundtrack's greatest weakness is its lack of unified themes and motifs. Each piece serves the scene it is in effectively, but as a collective work, it feels confused. And in some cases, i.e. "The End: A New Manuscript," the piece is a confused hodgepodge of different sensibilities, from big, gothic-sounding classical pieces to eclectic sounds from a didgeridoo. Though this may be effective for each moment, it makes the film seem incoherent.
Basically, Quills is not a complete failure as a score, as it does create an appropriate mood within each scene. Both the film and the score fail, though, to present a clear, coherent theme. If you are a big fan of the film, it may be worth getting. But otherwise, I'd steer clear of it.
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