06.10.2008

The Spitfire Grill Soundtrack, James Horner

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:08 am

I apologize for not posting in a few days–I had a busy weekend, and I’m still settling into my apartment and adjusting to the life of a full-time employee. But here’s another movie score post for you, faithful reader.

I just rewatched one of my favorite movies, The Spitfire Grill, a few weeks ago. It’s a 1996 movie about a woman just released from prison, looking for a new start in a small town in Maine, and it’s brilliantly written, directed and acted. If you’ve never seen it you need to check it out. James Horner wrote the music, and listening to the score more closely this time than in times past I understand more fully how it blends with the other elements of the film and elevates the story.

Like the movie, the score sparkles and is full of hope, featuring broad strings in often simple harmonic progressions, high twinkling percussion, and poignant piano writing. A clear, high major third in perhaps a piccolo or other high woodwind seems to represent the curiosity and wonder laced throughout the film, and at other times Horner (who also did the movie’s orchestrations) writes strings in open fifths that invoke a Coplandesque, Americana sound (complemented in other places by bluegrass-type music). The piano sounds almost improvisatory, with simple fantasia-type flourishes that are very evocative and also conjure up an almost childlike wonder.

I noticed that the hopeful effect was created, in addition to the orchestration choices, by mostly major chords that are denied tonic resolution. The score hangs out on the IV chord quite a bit, with lots of embellishments: added notes in the sustained strings, swirling piano lines, etc. It simultaneously creates the effect of stasis, by staying on the one chord, and tension, by virtue of the IV needing to resolve. And I suppose that’s what hope is: looking ahead from where you are. A brilliant musical counterpart to a superlative film.

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