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CD Review

Requiem for a Dream

Original Movie Soundtrack by Clint Mansell

Kronos Quartet
Other musicians
Nonesuch 79611-2 DDD 50:59
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I haven't seen this new film by Darren Aronofsky (whose last film was π) because our local theaters, in spite of their multiple screens, prefer more uplifting entertainment. (The more car chases and fiery explosions the better.) Aronofsky's film is based on the bleak novel by Hubert Selby, Jr., who co-wrote the screenplay with the director. Requiem for a Dream takes us into the harrowing world of addiction and obsession. In the case of the young people, the substance of choice is heroin, always a reason for cinematic levity. In the case of an older character played by Ellen Burstyn, the substance is diet pills, and her hope that her existence will be transformed by a television game show.

This is a film score that is very modern because it has one foot in contemporary classical music and another in the most au courant art-student rock. Clint Mansell (who also worked on π) is the founder of the group Pop Will Eat Itself. For this film, Mansell has written for both electric and acoustic instruments, including the four strings of the Kronos Quartet, whose members (including their new cellist Jennifer Culp) are no strangers to genre-crossing projects. The arrangements are by composer David Lang, who was one of the co-founders of Bang on a Can, a NYC-based ensemble devoted almost exclusively to the most forward-looking classical music.

There are 33 tracks on this 51-minute CD, and you can do the math! This score is nervous, edgy, but fixated. It sounds like Michael Nyman (The Piano) cross-pollinated with hip-hop or trip-hop. The Kronos material is the most classical, but particularly as the CD progresses, it gets invaded by electronics and becomes dislocated and distorted. There is agitated electronic rock too, such as in the track "Supermarket Sweep." Mansell uses post-recording processing to change the character of the music. At times it gets buried behind electronic scrims and sounds like a message received on a faultily tuned AM radio. At other times it harshly flickers like a film whose sprockets have become misaligned in the projector. Mansell's music for Requiem for a Dream reaches its peak in the last nine tracks, which are grouped together as "Winter" on this CD. Here, the music becomes anguished yet mechanical, frighteningly repetitious and full of noises that seem only half-human in origin. Again, I have not seen the film, but Mansell's music strikes me as a perfect metaphor for human lives, both in body and psyche, taken over by a raw chemical need.

Nonesuch's packaging has little to say about the film and the composer; I am thankful to the label's press kit for the information shared above. This release seems intended primarily for film-goers who are looking for a musical souvenir. The secondary audience might be fans of the Kronos Quartet. Mansell's music is too interesting to be limited to these two groups – it lingers and it disturbs.

Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle