The film score business is a fickle one. Like directors and writers, composers are sometimes not in the position of creative freedom but rather in the position of doing what they are told to do. And sometimes they will ignore that Zimmer temp and do what they feel is right for the film, then they get rejected. Rejected is a term that everyone in the industry knows well, it happens to everyone. John Murphy is one of the great auteurs working in the industry. His sound, style and approach are unique, and the man has an incredible handle of emotional arcs. He has also been rejected. This time however, he has done what no other high-profile composer has done. He has taken a rejected score of his and has released it. This isn’t a demo or a concept. What we have here is the emotional core of a narrative without the accompanying picture.
So, experiencing a score before seeing the film is nothing new to me. In fact, It’s impossible for me to see every film before I review a score. However, after actively listening to scores and studying film since I was 9, I can safely say that I’ve developed “the ear”. I can detect things from performance all the way down to editing techniques just from the score. For example, imagine listening to “Circle Of Life” before seeing The Lion King or anything about The Lion King. There is no other way to interpret the end of that piece except as a “cut to black”. Anyways, I tried to apply that sense here. Except I had no frame of reference whatsoever. The only image, the only visual accompaniment we have is the cover. The cover art is a pink-tinted sunset sky with the silhouette of a boy on a field of grass. So, instead of trying to dissect the music, I let the music speak to me.
I tried to ignore the track titles as well, at least for the first listen. The score to me is an eloquent hero’s journey that takes us on a dream-like adventure into another world. The score has a twisted lullaby quality to it especially with the female vocal motif that presents itself in the first track. Some of the whispering of what appears to be a boy is barely audible, but you can make out phrases. Murphy layers in electronics as he does, while his melodies loop and build under them. The music opens up with a punk-esque sound with sweeping strings underneath it all. Each track has a unique feel, but still feels part of the progressing narrative. The score can evoke a gentleness that echoes a bit of isolation, the image that came to my mind in “8mm Dream” was a single twinkling star in a vast night sky. The score seems to take us to different realms as if we are experiencing the after-life or other dimensions. Murphy’s signature emotional builds are very present, but they never lose that sense of ethereal wonderment. That punk motif we hear in the opening track reappears in “Automatic”. But then in “Boy” we are brought back to that gentleness we heard in “8mm Dream”. The music carries an ache, an ache that builds throughout the score. It builds all the way through and culminates past “Sacrifice” and into “In Extremis”. The phrase “In Extremis” means “at the point of death/In grave or extreme circumstances”, and boy does the music climax in full glory here. It’s beautiful, it’s tragic and substantial all at the same time. There seems to be an extreme fulfillment here instead of loss. This is followed by the final track “Fade to…” which acts as a somber reflection of what seems to have been a martyr’s story.
Anonymous Rejected Filmscore is a stunning journey to another world. This dreamlike story of isolation, finding one's path and self-sacrifice is expertly executed with a strong voice. The score feels amazingly personal in the sense that it feels like the composer is speaking directly to you. It’s as if I took my headphone jack and plugged it directly into Murphy’s head, and this score is what I hear. The score is pure and unfiltered Murphy, well clearly because if he was filtered he probably would still have the job and this score would sound eerily like Inception or The Dark Knight. Thankfully he kept to his vision, and this is the result. I think more composers should get in the habit of doing this. It was great experiencing something like this, and Murphy puts on display some of his best thematic and narrative structure here. While there are no visuals to accompany this score, it will in turn give birth to your own visuals within. Beyond the on-point narrative writing, there are plenty of wonderful textures and melodies that will evoke images and colors for you to fill in. This is a score that was taken away from a film, but it doesn’t make it any less of a score.
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