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City Of Ghosts by Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas (Review)

posted Jul 21, 2017, 12:42 PM by Kaya Savas

City Of Ghosts is documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s follow to his powerful film, Cartel Land. Cartel Land took us right in the middle of the ongoing drug trade between the US and Mexican border. City Of Ghosts takes us alongside a group of anonymous activists who banded together after their homes were taken over by ISIS. Both Cartel Land and City Of Ghosts were composed by Jackson Greenberg & H. Scott Salinas. The only difference is that Cartel Land had H. Scott Salinas credited first, while City Of Ghosts gives first billing to Jackson Greenberg. So it’s safe to assume that Jackson may have taken more of a lead or composed more for City Of Ghosts. Either way you look at it, the score is another deeply emotional and expertly crafted documentary score that thrusts the listener into a world of stakes and danger.

The one thing that truly separates both this score and the one for Cartel Land, was that Greenberg and Salinas were not afraid of being subjective with the score. Most documentary scores try to be as objective as possible, only scoring enough to create a desired tone. But Greenberg and Salinas make sure the music is not only fleshing out the story, but providing an emotional insight into the people at the center of the documentary. The music is not afraid of making us feel, it’s not afraid of guiding our emotions. And because of that, we are really invested into the story at the heart of the documentary. However, City Of Ghosts overall is perhaps not as strong Cartel Land was, but the score still takes us where we need to go as an audience. If there is a drawback is that the style and sound of this score are a bit generic overall. It just feels too much like a documentary score and it takes a while before we start feeling those acoustic textures that add a bit of humanity into the drama. The sort of electronic chimes and piano pings that make up most of the score feel a bit too standard, and we don’t get the stakes and urgency that made Cartel Land so brilliant. That isn't to say this is a weak score, far from that. City Of Ghosts remains a top-level effort in documentary scoring that does way more than most doc scores do. The whole experience is extremely engaging and does a wonderful job of establishing the right tone throughout.

City Of Ghosts is another excellent score from Jackson Greenberg and H. Scott Salinas. The music draws us into another fascinating real-world story brought to us by Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman. While Cartel Land is a much stronger and more emotionally riveting experience, City Of Ghosts still is able to reach a certain level of doc scoring that makes it shine above the rest. The soundscape and style plays it a bit too safe and reserved in certain areas, but we get a good amount of that organic humanity in the second half that reels us in deeper.