Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Soundtrack Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -- Music From the Motion Picture (2 CD Set)

View the Trailer


Adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald's intriguing short story about a child who is born elderly and then ages backwards for director David Fincher (Zodiac, Fight Club, Seven) by Forrest Gump and Munich screenwriter Eric Roth, the critically acclaimed big screen version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will arrive in theatres on Christmas Day.

A sweeping epic with a running time nearing the three hour mark, Button stars Brad Pitt in the titular role alongside the multiple award-winning cast including Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond and Elias Koteas. While the circular nature of time and aging calls up images of clocks and mirrors to such an extent that mirror images abound throughout the 2-Disc beautifully packaged CD soundtrack set as Pitt and Blanchett are on opposite sides of the cover and the CDs themselves look like exact opposites with Disc 1 appearing with normal left to right font and Disc 2 presented with a backwards label, it's perhaps most intriguing that a composer also decided to also use this motif musically throughout.

The talented Oscar nominated and Award-winning Parisian born Alexandre Desplat (who has also crafted superb soundtracks for The Painted Veil, Lust Caution, Casanova and The Queen) is already generating as much Oscar buzz to equal the other talented involved in Fincher's film including the actors, screenwriter, and director. Highly sophisticated and classy, Desplat's score echoes the best loved cinematic soundtracks of the twentieth century by instantly transporting the listener to the various times and places that exist in the course of Button's life which spans from his birth at the end of World War I and death just before Hurricaine Katrina strikes New Orleans.

Reminiscent of the scores utilized in some of Hitchock's most romantic yet intriguing work like Rear Window and Vertigo along with the scores that caused the tears to flow heavily in the '50s films of director Douglas Sirk, Desplat's unique creation was composed with his strict goal to remain "powerful, yet very silent... delicate and prudent-- never showing off-- while always conveying the character's underlying emotions... [such as Benjamin Button's] great empathy with his situation as it illuminates his moments of sadness and questioning."

While the first disc is comprised entirely of Desplat's original score which was also conducted and produced by the composer along with Executive Album Producer and Sound Designer Ren Klycee who helped him "enlist... 87 exceptional musicians of the Hollywood Studio Symphony." Released by Concord Music Group, the remarkable transfer quality of the score is first rate and manages to avoid the trappings typical for soundtracks of forcing listeners to crank the volume up to ear piercing levels to catch the faintest sound of a bow on a violin string before the orchestra joins in.

As Pitt's character meets Blanchett's Daisy in "Meeting Daisy," Desplat begins the unabashedly romantic and old fashioned score that segues perfectly into the Sirk-like "A New Life," before humor and mystery arrive in the Hitchcockian "Love in Murmansk." Fitting for the enigmatic main character, "Mr. Button," sounds perfectly mysterious and Desplat grows livelier in various compositions that compliment the action listed in the track titles such as "Children's Games," and "Growing Younger" (which you can stream here in .qtl or .asx).

However, the standout of the album is the amazingly elegant and piano heavy closing track, "Benjamin and Daisy" (stream here via .qtl or .asx) that again makes you sense the mirror motif used throughout as each hand playing the keys acts as the perfect mate of the other.

In fact as the Concord release notes, "to mirror Benjamin's retrograde existence, Desplat created a main theme that can be played backwards as well as forwards," as likewise "other themes come and go, and chords switch from major to minor, as the clock ticks and characters disappear from the story."

Describing the experience as giving him "everything that a film can offer to a composer: A humanistic script by Eric Roth of a man's epic journey living his life biologically in reverse through a century, a heartbreaking love story played with intensity by two of the most glamorous and gifted actors of our times, the pulse of jazz in the city where he was born, a twist of witty humor, the metaphysical question of death, and the pure visual magic created by a genius director."

And it's precisely those ingredients including the pulse of magical jazz of New Orleans that make up the far more spirited and eclectic second disc of songs. Weaving in the dialogue of Pitt (in character) as well as other actors and actual historical sources (including FDR's "a date which will live in infamy") to establish the timeline, Button's second CD is filled with blues, jazz, Dixie, Big Band, standards, and '50s classics that kick off right away with the New Orleans sounding "We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City," and followed up by some terrific cuts including the fun "Ostrich Walk," the sounds of tap shoes accentuating the beat of The Boswell Sisters' "That's How Rhythm Was Born," before it moves into cool and moodier blues territory with the Dixie-esque "Freight Train Blues" (which is not included in the film) and "Basin Street Blues."

Also providing some sultry and playful works by Louis Armstrong including "If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)" and the wonderful "Dear Old Southland," a few of my other favorites included the remarkable and bittersweet "Out of Nowhere" by Sidney Bechet that follows up Pitt's dialogue marvelously in giving us a better insight to the character's loneliness and struggle to return home along with the lively Latin optimistic rhythms of "Skokiaan."

Additionally featuring the beautiful piano piece "Arabeske," as well as the heartbreaking and yearning "My Prayer" by The Platters before closing with "Bethena (A Concert Waltz)," it serves as a far reaching and wonderfully fulfilling musical experience for the listener by serving up such a mesmerizing musical variety that helps us-- even before we see the film-- try to gather all of the facts to solve David Fincher's Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Disc 1: Score
(Original Score Composed, Conducted and Produced by Alexandre Desplat)
1. Postcards (2:51)
2. Mr. Gateau (3:02)
3. Meeting Daisy (1:22)
4. A New Life (3:39)
5. Love in Murmansk (3:53)
6. Meeting Again (2:41)
7. Mr. Button (2:05)
8. "Little Man" Oti (2:02)
9. Alone at Night (2:33)
10. It Was Nice to Have Met You (1:43)
11. Children’s Games (4:10)
12. Submarine Attack (2:40)
13. The Hummingbird (2:35)
14. Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain (3:33)
15. Daisy’s Ballet Career (2:03)
16. The Accident (2:38)
17. Stay Out of My Life (1:44)
18. Nothing Lasts (2:54)
19. Some Things You Never Forget (1:36)
20. Growing Younger (2:14)
21. Dying Away (2:58)
22. Love Returns (1:44)
23. Benjamin and Daisy (2:32)

Disc 2: Songs
1. “My name is Benjamin” – Benjamin Button (:27)
2. We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City – Doc Paulin’s Marching Band (3:17)
Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Records
3. “Some days I feel different” – Queenie & Benjamin Button (:21)
4. Ostrich Walk – Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke (3:12)
(Edwin Edwards/James La Rocca/H.N. Ragas/Anthony Sbarbaro/Larry Shields)
5. “How old are you?” – Benjamin Button & The Preacher (:11)
6. That's How Rhythm Was Born – The Boswell Sisters (2:57)
(Nat Burton/J.C. Johnson/George Whiting)
7. “When was the last time you had a woman?” – Benjamin Button & Captain Mike (:18)
8. Freight Train Blues – Billie & DeDe Pierce (5:34)
(Traditional) Arranged by Billie Pierce
9. Basin Street Blues – Preservation Hall Jazz Band (7:36)
(Spencer Williams)
Edwin H. Morris & Co., Inc. (ASCAP)
10. “Thanksgiving, 1930” – Benjamin Button (:07)
11. If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight) – Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra (3:36) (Henry Creamer/James Johnson)
12. “What's YOUR secret?” – Captain Mike & Benjamin Button (:28)
13. Chanson Sur Staline – Choeur de la Cathedral de la Rue Daru, Paris XVII (3:09)
(Matvey Blanter/Alexej Surkov)
14. “A date which will live in infamy...” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941 (:19)
15. Arabeske for Piano in C Major Op. 18 (3:23)
(Robert Schumann)
16. “Coming home” – Benjamin Button (:12)
17. Out of Nowhere – Sidney Bechet (3:04)
(Johnny Green/Edward Heyman)
18. Dear Old Southland – Louis Armstrong (3:19)
(Henry Creamer/Turner Layton)
19. “Defined by opportunities” – Benjamin Button (:05)
20. “Skokiaan- Perez Prado & His Orchestra (2:38)
21. “Things Are Becoming Different For Me…”- Benjamin Button (:17)
22. “My Prayer”- The Platters (2:46)
23: “Bethena (A Concert Waltz)- Randy Kerber (5:43)