Going a little bit cult this week with the fantastically mind-boggling dark comedy, Being John Malkovich, in which an office-worker cum amateur puppeteer stumbles across a small portal that leads into the brain of Hollywood actor John Malkovich, allowing the user to “be” him for fifteen minutes, before being splurted out onto the New Jersey Turnpike in another flash of weird. The plot, while strange, is very stirring, and isn’t quite as simple as my little description gives away; one of the reasons why I like the film so much. The other reason is of course, the soundtrack.
Carter Burwell, known aficionado of the Coen Brothers, delivers a fine score in Malkovich that perfectly captures the movie’s odd charm without being a pastiche. Mysterious, eerie, and at times very dark, the music is so tied in with the plot that the film just wouldn’t seem right without it (not that it seems “right” anyway, but it “doesn’t seem right” in exactly the right way with Burwell’s score (if that makes sense)). What seems to be the unofficial main theme of the film is a recurring piece called Puppet Love, listenable here. Like other aspects of the film, it is grounded enough to feel familiar to the audience, but also subtly suggests that something weirder is going on beneath the surface.
There are plenty of other little pieces of genius going on throughout, making the soundtrack album worth getting in itself. Some of these are based around the puppet theme and most of them, while short, interact with their respective scenes beautifully, almost like extra characters. Overall, the score is characterised by a lot of soft electronica, although there is plenty of orchestral stuff going on as well. The celesta is used inordinately, giving it that sugarplum fairy sheen!
I also feel compelled to mention the snippet of Bartók that plays an important role in two of the film’s scenes, both featuring the main character’s puppet routine, The Dance of Despair and Disillusionment. The dance is accompanied by the allegro movement of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and is played in the very opening scene (with a wooden puppet ‘performing’ it) and the famous scene where Swartz manipulates Malkovich’s body to perform the dance in front of Maxine. The latter sequence is particularly exciting, if not for the epic music than for John Malkovich’s almost comedy dancing.
I didn’t know this, but apparently there is also some Bjork used in the film. Immediately I can see how the experimental singer’s very person-orientated music would fit in with this movie, although I must admit I don’t know enough of her music to be able to point out where it is used. In any case, there is enough of a brilliant soundtrack here for this to be one of my favourites. Whether the music was good on it’s own or not, there is a certain skill involved, I’m sure, with accompanying such an offbeat, philosophical film. If I was commissioned to write an appropriate score for a movie that dealt with Cartesian Theatre, the ethics of free will, gender-transcending love, extreme possessive greed and the existence of portals…. I would not know where to start.
This soundtrack is amazing.