La Belles des Dames (The Beautiful Ladies) is a score for a film that I know nothing about. A search of Google throws up results that only list this soundtrack on online store websites. Even the English translation of the film title is a (possibly dubious) translation from Google Translate. The various online stores thown up by an online search list the score’s composer as one Jim Birkett. One Jim Birkett does have a website that lists him as “film music composer/producer/artist” but his website lists only a number of Soundcloud tracks and no biographical information.“So why are you reviewing this album?”, I hear you cry. Intrigue. And, intrigue may mean that you will want to read on.
Running to just under 15 minutes in length, the eight-track album of the “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” to La Belles des Dames consists of a series of tracks that can be best described as “ambient soundscapes”. Beginning with “La Belles des Dames” and its pitch-bending strumming of what sounds like an acoustic guitar paired with the metallic raspings of scraped metal strings (whether guitar or piano it is difficult to tell) and ending with an almost melodic harp solo of “Sanctum”, with a detour into the abstract world of the monotonous timepiece rhythms of “Initiation”, La Belles des Dames is a score that’s very difficult to get into as a piece of film music. With no information to the film available whatsoever, a listener can only experience the ideas of the composer in isolation, forming their own opinions based around what is heard. The previously-mentioned “Sanctum” and the track “Prelude” – with its pizzicato string motif – are the nearest I came to enjoying any musical aspect of the album. What these tracks are meant to represent is a mystery.
Having been brought up on many years of film and TV music I felt myself trying to pigeon-hole what I was hearing to music I already knew. So, the prepared piano-like rumblings of “Aversion” echoes a similar motif in Elliot Goldenthal’s “Mad Ole Titus” (Titus), the aforementioned “La Belles des Dames” and “Initiation” features screeching metallic rasps akin to those heard throughout Kenji Kawai’s Ringu series scores and “Vivication” has a white noise-like tone reminiscent of Mario Nascimbene’s One Million Years B.C. or John Carpenter’s The Fog. Interesting to hear but additively, not enough to want to listen to again. I’ll go to the original for those “sounds”.
This whole release is just plain weird. The release of a soundtrack to a film where there is just no publicity that is easily accessible, from a composer whose online presence seems shrouded in secrecy. I would hazard a guess that this review will constitute one of the few pieces of information on this project anywhere on the internet. Is it a score to recommend you buy? Ultimately, no. Would I recommend you have a listen to the available clips (there is a link at the end of this review)? If you have stuck with this review then, yes, I would recommend you at least take a listen. After all of that, for those still interested, the digital album is available to buy (in full or in part) from a number of online stores.
P.S. There is also a nagging thought that this album may not be a score at all but is merely a “concept album” parading as a soundtrack. That would be quite embarrasing…but would not affect the comments.
[Edit – added on 18th July 2013] After publishing this review of La Belles des Dames the composer posted a link to the film itself (be aware that it is quite graphic). Having now watched the film there’s a couple of points I want to add to the original review. The film focuses on the women who take revenge on a guy, kidnapping him off the street and subjecting him to various tortures in a secluded forest. It is a film filled with unease and violence: for example, shooting the film in the coldness of black-and-white, the camera’s point-of-view being with the anonymous attackers and even having the trees of the forest being shot in such a way that they appear malevolent beasts watching over the captured man, all builds the unsettling feel to the film. And Birkett’s score certainly adds to this overall feel. A good example of how well the music contributes to the film can be seen in the scene when the man is initially attacked (“Aversion”). The low rumblings, the whole soundscape adds to the guy’s confusion over what has just happened. The both know each other and have a history, but he has no idea what is unfolding and Birkett’s music reinforces the concern the man feels.
The film is very dependent upon the score, with large parts of the film having no dialogue and with the visuals being driven by the music (and being mixed quite loudly too). For example, during “Prelude” – which plays for almost 2 minutes – the music supports a long sequence where we just see the three women walking through the forest on their way to where the man is bound up. Two minutes in a film that runs for only fifteen is a significant amount of time to spend on this one scene and Birkett’s score drives the whole piece.
With the music being so abstract, seeing the film has been great in trying to better understand the music’s function. The music does serve its purpose well and, although as a listening experience away from the movie it is a very difficult listen, because it adds much to the film I think that it does deserve a whole extra star.
Audio samples can be found HERE.
- La Belles des Dames (1:16)
- Aversion (1:19)
- Vivication (1:42)
- Prelude (1:51)
- Initiation (1:43)
- Dazed (2:03)
- Terminus (1:31)
- Sanctum (1:51)
Running Time: 13:19
State 3 (2013)