Behind the music in the movies |

Behind the music in the movies

Stina SiegPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy photo

ASPEN, Colorado Dario Marianielli can have one of the strongest voices in a film without saying anything. Hes a composer. In recent years, hes been behind the scores for V for Vendetta, Pride & Prejudice and The Brave One. This year, he took home an Oscar for Atonement. His newest film, The Soloist, stars Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener.Below are a few of his thoughts on the joys and frustrations of his position via e-mail. To watch a more in-depth conversation, check him out in person this weekend in Aspen.

I quite like the sharps. Flats are OK too! I am not sure love is the word Id use. I have a very complicated relationship with almost everything, so music is no exception. Music was in my life from the beginning, courtesy of my wonderful parents: they passed on their passions, for music and other things, and I got stuck with those, whether I wanted or not… For some inexplicable reason I ended up writing music, sometimes I am still bewildered myself.

To be absolutely honest, becoming a composer feels like something that happened, more than something I was inspired to make happen. Perhaps the one thing that more than anything else pushed me toward it was an eye-opening lecture I heard many (many) years ago, as a teenager. It was a lecture on the variation-form, and during the lecture there was a brief digression about counterpoint. I was quite struck very good lecturer, obviously and at the end of the lecture I had to go and find out more about counterpoint, and how I could learn it. Thats how I started.

Coming to the end of a score, recording it with musicians in the studio, hearing it coming alive after months of work. (and going on holiday after that, if I can…)

The months of work before it comes alive in the studio. Over the years I have learnt I am learning that there is point where music connects to the story and to some inner part of the psyche that is capable of empathising with the characters. It seems very obvious that there should be, but it is not totally obvious how one goes about fishing it out of the pond. Thats the hardest part, I think, and it is very enjoyable when occasionally one succeeds.

Both my collaborations with Joe Wright have been very successful, and I am proud of having been one of the many people that have collaborated with him on those films, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. My work on The Brothers Grimm also represented a turning point for me as a composer, and I am very proud of that score, especially because at the beginning it looked like an almost impossible task.

Its never the same, although there are some constants. Sometimes I read the script and come out with ideas straight away, especially with directors like Joe, who are keen to have music very early to inform the writing and the shooting of the film. Other times I get the film during the editing process, and I have to contend with a temporary score, which can be painful. The constant, I guess, is that there is an initial period during which I produce musical ideas, I play them to the director, and a conversation starts based on those ideas. How the conversation evolves is very variable, and it depends from the kind of film and the kind of people I am dealing with. It can be a very smooth process, when everyone involved has the same movie in mind, and we all strive toward the same result. Occasionally there are discrepancies in the vision, between the various collaborators, producers, financiers, distributors, all of whom try to steer the film toward what they think is the best result. It can be very tricky for the composer to be in that spot.

I dont think too much of it while I work. Each film comes with its own set of requirements and problems to be solved. I try to focus on the characters, on the story, and try to see if there is a way that the music can contribute to the storytelling not simply in an atmospheric or illustrative manner, but by bringing an extra layer of narrative that can help making connections between different elements of the story, or even more ambitiously, give a voice to some of those elements that are a little more obscure, less obvious.

Wow. And do you love more your mum or your dad? Do I really have to chose? Right… Chaplins Modern Times. There. (but ask me again tomorrow…)


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