by Dan Goldwasser
Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore has a long-standing relationship with director David Cronenberg. Ever since their first collaboration on 1979's The Brood, the resulting works have been some of the more unique cinematic delights to hit the screen. While Cronenberg's films have generally not found a happy home with mainstream audiences, he always tries to push the envelope and make viewers question aspects of the world around them. With Videodrome (1983), Cronenberg forced questions brought upon us by television, and how it might affect our perception of reality. He took it to the next level - quite literally - in 1998's eXistenZ. His last film, Spider (2002) pulled us into the world of a schizophrenic who wasn't sure of his own reality. For all of the films, Shore has been along for the ride, providing music that has been anything but standard.
Now, their latest collaboration will be hitting theaters at the end of September: A History of Violence. Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, the film is about Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), an every-man who owns a diner in a small town in Illinois. One day, two men (who happen to be on a murder/robbery spree) come in as he's closing, and demand service. When he informs them that he's closing up shop, they pull guns on him and the few remaining customers. Tom ends up saving the day, killing both of them in a fast, violent way. While he's being called a hero, his quick reaction draws the attention of the media, and one Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a Philadelphia mobster who believes that Tom is not who he claims to be.
How this one act of heroism will ultimately put Tom's family in jeopardy, and strain his marriage with his loving wife Edie (Maria Bello) and his relationships with his kids, is the focus of the film. Is Tom hiding a dark secret past? Why is Fogarty so convinced that Tom is someone named "Joey"? These are all questions that become answered as the film progresses.
Shore scored the emotional core of the film - the love story - as well as the darker dramatic moments. I cannot recall music being used during any of the scenes of violence. They might have been there, but because the action all happens in real-time (no slow motion), the violence is so jarring and effective, much like the car wrecks in Crash (1996).
The soundtrack will be released on October 11, 2005, by New Line Records. The following tracks and times are subject to change. I will try to make the track descriptions as spoiler-free and objective as possible, saving any criticism and subjectivity for the soundtrack review to come later this month. Additionally, portions of this analysis might be inaccurate once further details of the score come to light (i.e. liner notes, full credits, etc.). But now, SoundtrackNet is pleased to provide our readers with this exclusive "First Listen" of the soundtrack to A History of Violence.
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1. Motel (3:11)
The opening scene of the movie is for the most part, one shot and unscored. However, the last section of the scene contains music from this track. Sustained strings slowly build with minor subtle dissonant elements over 40 seconds, until it suddenly cuts down, leaving us with a soft string chord. Layers of strings slowly build back up, with minor pulsing, and then a flute enters, bringing with it dark chords on the woodwinds. It leaves you with a slightly unnerved feeling, and ends with low chords on the strings.
2. Tom (1:31)
A French horn plays an Americana fanfare, which is mirrored on what sounds like an oboe, before bouncing back to the French horn, and then to a flute. This is Tom's theme, and we will definitely be hearing more of it through the score. The track ends on a slight ominous tone.
3. Cheerleader (1:58)
For the first love scene in the film, a flute plays out a soft and tender melody, played with backing strings. It's clear from this cue (and the accompanying scene) just how much in love Tom and Edie are, still after all these years of marriage. There's even a bit of Tom's theme at the end.
4. Diner (1:50)
In this scene Tom confronts two men holding his diner hostage, and things get messy. The sustained strings from "Motel" are back, but now the brass layers in on top. Pounding percussion, tremolo strings, and brass build to a crescendo before calming back down, with the brass playing the Violence Theme.
5. Hero (2:42)
We hear Tom's Theme again here, before it shifts into a minor variation. The French horn plays out as strings provide backing, as chord changes shift upwards. Fans of his Lord of the Rings scores might find some similarity, but discover that it's really just Shore's compositional style. The track closes out with a flute and then the French horn.
6. Run (2:25)
Tom realizes that Fogelman might be on his way to his house, and runs from the diner to warn his wife. This tense cue starts with major/minor chords on strings, before building up in a dissonant chord before springing into motion. A driving cello ostinato keeps the energy high as strings hit chords to add to the tension. It then breaks through into a new level, with punctuated hits, and some furious string work before coming to an abrupt end.
7. Violence (3:12)
For a track entitled "Violence", it starts out very soft, on the flute, playing a variation of the Love Theme. It then turns sour, with a swell of dissonance, before the brass belts out and a tense moment occurs. Then the horns slowly build back up, and we get a variation on Tom's theme on oboe, before the horns build again, before leaving us with a sustained high note on the strings.
8. Porch (4:17)
The sustained note from "Violence" comes back, and then we get into some seriously dark and brooding territory. Low ostinatos and strings build and then clear out, leaving us with a low string line. After a very quiet moment, the lull is shattered by strong brass and strings. There's an almost imperceptible fluttering in the high registers, and then the French horn comes back in before ending on a low string note.
9. Alone (1:36)
A time for reflection, a new variation on Tom's Theme, which we'll call Joey's Theme, emerges. After the French horn plays this, high woodwinds and strings break through the darkness, as if providing a bit of illumination on the scene, and then the French horn comes back for one last gasp before the track ends.
10. The Staircase (2:44)
A more urgent love theme is heard here, first played softly on the flute, and then with lush strings as it builds in scope. It's almost tragic and sad, but filled with a sense of finality as well. Considering the not-so-tender love scene occuring on screen, the music provides a beautiful counterbalance to the imagery. Towards the end of the cue, the lushness calms back down until we return to the solo flute.
11. The Road (3:06)
Primarily a travel scene, there's some underlying tension here as horns and strings share a new melody between them, while percussion softly provides a rhythm. Midway through, low chords on strings countered with a high pitch shifts into a low bass line, before the track closes with a soft chord played high on the strings.
12. Nice Gate (3:15)
Tension starts off the track as a minor chord plays, and a low bass ostinato emerges, followed by lots of string chords, and swells. It continues in this vein for much of the track, providing a very warm, rich texture that appropriately matches the warmth and wood-heavy set that the scene takes place in - a major contrast to the content of the scene.
13. The Return (4:39)
The love theme from "The Staircase" is reprised here, once again with full orchestra, breaking every so often for flute solos. The French horn kicks in towards the end, and then the strings finish off the cue.
14. Ending (3:48)
The love theme first heard in "Cheerleader" is reprised here, before blending into an oboe-based rendition of Tom's Theme. A clarinet then takes over, with a more upbeat version of a string line from "Hero", and the track eventually ends with the French horn and flute trading off a melodic line
Most of Shore's work with Cronenberg has been "dark" and "brooding". A History of Violence is no exception, and much of the score works as a way of coloring the scenes with a certain tone. The film is not for kids, or those who are squeamish. It is graphic, and does not hold back its punches. The score works in the same way that Carter Burwell's score to Fargo worked for that film - it firmly places the viewer in the world of the film, and as an added bonus, lets you revisit it by listening to the soundtrack. It will please long-time fans of Shore's work, and hopefully expose his newer fans - who are only familiar with his Lord of the Rings material - to the range of his music.
Special thanks to Jason Cienkus at New Line Cinema and Beth Krakower at Cinemedia Promotions for their assistance with this article.