AMERICAN FLYER – Mark Kilian


Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at maintitles.net)

South African-born composer Mark Kilian has had an eclectic scoring career since moving to Los Angeles, scoring TV shows and movies which very often have an ethnic feel to them. He has scored movies such as Tsotsi, Traitor and Rendition where they all have an appropriate sense of place heightened in the music. American Flyer is my second Kilian score – my first being his recent score to John Carpenter’s The Ward (though, at the time or writing this review I have not yet reviewed The Ward) – and it definitely falls into the category of “ethnic-influenced” with the choice of instruments he uses. American Flyer is a film that tells the story of a young poor Mexican who travels to the city of Tijuana to earn enough money in order to cross the border into the United States and make his fortune. After one failed attempt, he constructs a flying machine out of a wheel barrow and plans a trip from Tijuana to Santa Monica.

Kilian’s score is strong on atmospherics rather than providing a series of themes, constructing a series of appealing textures from his use of wordless female vocals, guitars, trumpets, strings and electronics. The score begins in a rather low-key fashion with “Oh, I’ll Set You Free” with its washes of electronics but the music becomes more interesting in the second cue, “Bienvenidos a Tijuana”, where that sense of place is established with the use of guitar, whistling and a nice motif on solo trumpet that recurs throughout the score. It’s the use of the trumpet (with its hints of mariachi bands) that’s the highlight of the score for me and it’s used particularly well in tracks associated with the construction of the flying machine to be used for the attempted trans-border journey. “Let The Building Begin” is another early highlight, generating momentum through some effective synth rhythms and ending with a statement of the theme on trumpet. “You Built It” again features a great trumpet solo with an infectiously vibrant rhythm that’s full of enthusiasm (“American Flyer Plans” uses a similar approach to great effect too). All these score elements are brought together in the 7-minute climax to the score (and film), “De Tijuana a Santa Monica”. Kilian plants all the ideas used in this track throughout the score, delivering an emotional endpoint that’s a joy to listen to. 

As with the main character Bondo’s journey to Santa Monica, this score does have its setbacks. “Human Piñata” is practically unlistenable to my ears, sounding like it is from a really bad video game from the mid-1980s. I am assuming that this track is related to something specific in the movie, but as part of the score it’s just so out of place. The same (though to a lesser extent) can be said for the series of three tracks “Illegal Immigrant Guide” (Parts 1-3). Featuring a rhythm and instrumentation more like an “oompha band” than a mariachi band, they offer a bit of light relief in the score but it again seems so out of place – and does tend to affect the enjoyment of the score as a whole. The score ends with a repeat of the “oompha band music” with added embellishments of synths and vocals, reminding me of the electronic sounds and Mexican influences of the Nortec Collective (a group Kilian was listening to whilst researching for this movie).

Kilian’s score for American Flyer is a blend of atmospherics as well as the thematic. Those who do not enjoy atmospheric scores should nonetheless consider listening to this as Kilian constructs the soundscapes with care, using Hispanic influences to make them interesting. The highlight of the score is the way in which the composer takes the various building blocks of the score and fashions them into an emotional payoff with the track “De Tijuana a Santa Monica”. I would definitely recommend this score and would suggest you invest the time to absorb the score as a whole in order to get the most out of it.

Rating: ***

  1. Oh, I’ll Set You Free (1:29)
  2. Bienvenidos a Tijuana (1:49)
  3. Illegal Immigrant Guide Pt. 1 (0:51)
  4. Jesus de Rosarito (1:56)
  5. Fate In A Pamphlet (0:52)
  6. Tijuana Tire Run (2:00)
  7. Flying Machine (1:02)
  8. Let The Building Begin (1:58)
  9. Maria’s Story (1:09)
  10. Illegal Immigrant Guide Pt. 2 (1:19)
  11. Corre Felipe! (2:33)
  12. Uncle John (0:51)
  13. Goodbye Maria (1:50)
  14. You Built It! (2:52)
  15. All Along The Border (1:59)
  16. Human Piñata (0:38)
  17. Vaya Con Dios (2:34)
  18. American Flyer Plans (1:37)
  19. Fiddlesticks! (1:51)
  20. The Box (1:22)
  21. Zona Sur En La Zona Norte (0:42)
  22. I Am Your Future (1:27)
  23. Illegal Immigrant Guide Pt. 3 (0:55)
  24. Los Federales (1:13)
  25. De Tijuana a Santa Monica (7:33)
  26. From TJ With Love! (3:26)

Running Time: 48:01

Lakeshore Records (2011)

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