Posted by Alan Rogers on September 1, 2011
Original Review by Alan Rogers
After having such a positive response to hearing Cody Westheimer’s score to the endurance running documentary The Runner I wanted to take a listen to a score that he wrote a couple of years later for another documentary film that covered a similar topic. Directed by J.B Benna (The Runner), UltraMarathon Man follows the achievements of endurance runner Dean Karnazes who ran 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days. Beginning with the Lewis and Clark Marathon in St. Louis in September 2006 he completed his journey with the New York Marathon on November 5th. I have to admit that upon listening to UltraMarathon Man I am slightly disappointed with the score, not because it is a poor score – for one thing it has a memorable main theme – but because it does not achieve the heights I think The Runner reaches.
Westheimer chooses to use a small ensemble of instruments that sounds more like a conventional band (with electric guitar, keyboards and drum kit) that is embellished with a small strings section (that plays both as an ensemble and as a solo voice) and occasional unusual percussion. The composer appears to move the emphasis of the role of the score. Rather than being an out-and-out driver of the movie, with powerful and energetic rhythms and soaring emotional strings (as heard in the aforementioned The Runner), the music for UltraMarathon Man sounds more like being an accompaniment that emphasises the camaraderie of the runner(s) as opposed to focusing on the running itself. That’s not a bad thing. As I already mentioned, Westheimer has composed a memorable main theme (heard to great effect in “Dean Karnazes’s Schedule” and the final “Escape From New York”) that appears throughout the score. This theme does have an obvious rhythm to start but it’s not an energetic one but rather an indication of solidity and strength. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Alan Rogers on August 31, 2011
Original Review by Alan Rogers
The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail on the west coast of the United States that runs the length of the country from Mexico to Canada. Along its length it passes through six of the seven North America’s “ecozones” including high and low desert, forest and arctic-alpine climes. In June 2005 ultra marathon runner David Horton set out to become the first man to run this trail and 66 days later he completed his goal, averaging over 40 miles per day in the process. J.B. Benna’s documentary The Runner: Extreme UltraRunner David Horton follows Horton on his adventure and composer Cody Westheimer composes a wonderful score to accompany the runner’s mammoth journey.
Westheimer bases the score around a strong theme and he sets it out memorably in “The Runner: Main Title”, acting somewhat as a call to arms, an encouragement for the journey ahead. Heard in the strings, the theme is backed by a strong complement of driving percussion (including Taiko drums) – which is a recurring aspect of the score. The various drum rhythms act as the musical equivalent of the driving determination of Horton’s running. Tracks such as “Meeting David”, “Running Far” and the climactic “The Arrival” all propel the listener with this powerful percussion using a variety of percussion instruments (though the use of the percussion is not overwhelming to the listener). Along with this rhythm, we hear the main theme being played in a variety of orchestrations, but always seemingly soaring overhead above the drums. To me, Westheimer, using a relatively small ensemble of instruments (percussion, strings, oboe, flute, guitar and piano), skilfully encapsulates Horton’s determination in terms of the physical aspects of the run (the percussion) and the mental determination (the soaring theme) needed for such a Herculean task. Of these driving cues, “The High Sierra” is a highlight. It brings together all these various aspects of the score into one inspirational piece of music. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Alan Rogers on August 11, 2011
Original Review by Alan Rogers
Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline lake in Mono County, California became the centre of a conservation project in the mid- to late 1970s after years of decline due to the diversion of water supplying the lake to meet the needs of Los Angeles in the 1940s. With little freshwater flowing into the lake salt levels within the lake rose, water evaporation rates exceeded inflow rates and the surface level began to fall rapidly. As well as being extremely salty the water is very alkaline, no fish survives in such conditions but brine shrimp thrive.
With the formation of the Mono Lake Committee, a dedicated group of people organised themselves to try to save the lake form further decline and today they have been successful in reversing some of the problems faced by the lake’s ecosystem. As part of the efforts to raise awareness of the plight of ecological problems of Mono Lake the Mono Lake Committee have shot a 27-minute high definition documentary film, Mono Lake Story, highlighting the fragile ecosystem of the lake today but also documenting the natural beauty of the region. American composer Cody Westheimer (whose titles include documentaries such as The Runner and UltraMarathon Man: 50 Marathons, 50 States, 50 Days as well as the feature-length documentary on the making of Hellboy, Hellboy: The Seeds of Creation) composes a score that listens as a series of ideas for a small ensemble of instruments: guitar (acoustic and electric), a few strings, piano, winds and some percussion. The music doesn’t really effect any specific emotional response when listened to separate to the film. But I can imagine the music allowing the images to make their own impact on the viewer, with the music acting more as a sensory filler that is pleasant to the ear but doesn’t detract from the natural beauty of the visuals. Read the rest of this entry »
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