ROUGE IN LOVE – George Shaw

Original Review by Alan Rogers

Rouge In Love is a 10-minute YouTube video directed by Evan Jackson Leong and Michelle Phan, starring Michelle Phan who plays a girl visiting Paris where she comes to the aid of an unknown guy who falls at her feet after having been seen fleeing from an unknown peril. What then transpires is the usual boy meets girl, boy loses girl and then boy trying to find the girl again. At its heart, the film is a love story and it calls for an effective, romantic score particularly as – save for one single word – the film has no dialogue. The directors turned to talented composer George Shaw, who succeeds in giving the film an emotional heart with a lushly romantic score for string ensemble and piano that is based around a strong main theme.

Shaw’s theme is first heard right at the outset as a sparse statement in the opening track, “Single Status Update”. It’s a short track (lasting only 20 seconds) but the theme is so strong that it immediately grabs the attention. It is heard again in the next cue, “Win A Trip To Paris”, but this time it is accompanied by a piano countermelody that sits alongside the theme, adding an emotional depth. These two tracks – as it turns out – are not taken from Rouge In Love but are, in fact, from a “prequel” companion film, The Sweetest Thing. This latter film documents how Phan’s character ends up winning a trip to Paris. A quote of the theme on accordion then a full statement on strings and piano signal her winning the competition. Then a statement of the theme on celeste as we see Phan standing by a particularly ornate Parisian building adds a fairy-tale quality to the scene. “Win A Trip To Paris” highlights how Shaw moulds his versatile theme into several different forms by varying both orchestration and tempo to achieve the desired effect. A versatility in the music is particularly important in a film such as this: one that is so heavily reliant on the music (remember, there is no dialogue). However, some may find that, upon viewing the video, the music is a bit over-the-top in terms of signposting what’s happening on-screen (e.g., the appearance of accordion music when we see the Paris competition poster, fairy-tale music for the dream trip to Paris, etc. is an obvious example). 

“Searching Paris For Love” is the 4-minute highlight of the score that follows the guy’s search for the girl. All he has is a print of the girl’s lips she left on a napkin and a full-blown statement of the theme (again, strings and piano) accompanies his trawling through dozens of potential girls who have come with their own lip print-covered tissues. Shaw’s bold statement of the theme mirrors his optimism at finding the girl and intercuts the guy’s efforts to find her with shots of her walking through Paris oblivious to his search for her. Obviously the path to true love is never easy but he comes across another napkin with her lip print on it (helpfully, she seems to be littering Paris bars and coffee shops with them) and Shaw then strips the strings away from the main theme, leaving solo piano to restate the theme in such a way that the scene is imbued with a feeling of apprehension. Here, the music is signalling the moment that will be important at deciding whether they will meet up. Later in the same track, the theme is again played on solo piano, this time the air of apprehension is for when the eventually meet and another important point in their relationship is reached: he has found her but are they going to “hit it off”? The theme then swells to end on a romantic flourish as they walk of into the sunset. Love has been found.

The remainder of the score features two tracks not featured in the film. “Rouge In Love” showcases Shaw’s theme on solo piano and may have originally been composed as an end titles piece (but to be replaced by a song). Track 3, “Encounter In The Street” scores the initial meeting between the two main characters and their growing relationship. Unusually, this cue does not contain any reference to the main theme. But when viewed alongside the scene that it was originally scored for, it adds a tension to the fleeing guy’s apparent peril when we first see him (via pizzicato strings) and there is an increasing intensity in the strings as their relationship begins to establish and build. Directorial choices substituted Shaw’s original cue for an excerpt from Jason Swinscoe & Phil France’s score for the 2008 Disney documentary The Crimson Wing: Mystery of The Flamingos. Although this latter track does start with with tense pizzicato strings there’s a descending piano motif present that seems at odds with the requirements of the scene and dynamic of the film as a whole.

George Shaw seems to be able to conjure up some memorable themes full of emotion for the projects he is asked to composer for: films such as Just A Love Story, Strangers, Again and now, Rouge In Love, all contain music and themes that have an immediacy that seems to tap into these films’ emotional heart. And to make things even more difficult, Shaw had less than a week to come up with the musical ideas for the film and to compose and record the music. Anything less than a stellar theme would have been easy to hear because of the prominent role the music has to play in this short film, but Shaw’s music carries the film and maintains interest in the characters and their route to finding one another. Rouge In Love is a score that only strengthens George Shaw’s reputation as a bright up-and-coming composer who can get to the emotional heart of a film with his uncomplicated but memorable themes. Rouge In Love is available from a variety of online digital stores or via the composer’s own website.

Audio samples can be found HERE.

Rating: ***½

  1. Single Status Update (0:19)
  2. Win A Trip To Paris (1:31)
  3. Encounter In The Street (2:00)
  4. Searching Paris For Love (4:22)
  5. Rouge In Love (3:04)

Running Time: 13:56

George Shaw (2012)

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