Blue Borsalino is a 2015 noir-styled short film written and directed by Mark Lobatto and starring David Warner, Margot Leicester, Bart Edwards and Laura Dale. Warner plays one-time private investigator, Ernie Child, whose life has been overshadowed by one fateful day in his past. When his first and only client, Jean Delaware (Leicester), wakes from a coma, he suddenly has to face up to this life-changing event from almost 50 years ago. Warner dominates when he’s on-screen, with a subtle and nuanced playing of a character whose life has been dominated by regret. The portrayal of the emotional state of Ernie Child and Jean Delaware is ably supported by a measured score composed by relative newcomer David M. Saunders.
Saunders opens the score with “Blue Borsalino”, which heard over an opening montage of images that sets out teasingly the main players of the story. It’s a cue full of low tones and ominous string washes that supports what should be relatively mundane scenes: an elderly man reading in his cosy-seeming home, a woman lying seemingly asleep in a hospital bed. But the music tells the viewer that there’s a dark undercurrent with these characters. A piano tries to cut through these darker qualities, hinting at a more human and caring side to the narrative. Overall, Saunders relies heavily on the piano to establish broad ideas for the story’s unfolding events. Whether it’s the hesitant series of chords (reminiscent of Thomas Newman) heard when Child hears of the news of the sudden awakening of Delaware (“First and Only Case”), or the appearance of a lovely and surprisingly powerful melody for when the two protagonists see each other again after almost half a decade (“Old Friends”), Saunders’ score supports the strong emotional feelings set in motion by their re-acquaintance. These two aspects of the score appear again in “Still Yesterday”, when past events and future consequences come together. The melodic idea first heard in “Old Friends” is given extra feeling in “Still Yesterday” when swelling strings join the piano as Warner’s character’s fate is decided. It’s a surprisingly moving scene and its emotional clout is due to a combination of both the actors’ performances and Saunders’ spare score.
As well as emotion, Saunders’ score has interesting moments of darkness (hinted at in the opening track, “Blue Borsalino”). These darker passages are mainly associated with flashbacks detailing the past event clouding the main characters’ present. A series of low tremolo strings “washes” generate an overall feeling of uneasiness which is accentuated when solo strings become almost insectivorous in feel via a scurrying-like quality (“The Funfair”). Off-kilter, metallic-sounding tones and brass additions provide a sense of movement to the music that keeps things interesting despite the limited development of the tremolo strings idea. These dark passages offers a good counterpoint to the emotional aspects of the score.
The score concludes with “The Shell I Am Sure To Become”. Here, swelling strings feature in isolation as Warner’s character is finally released of his past; a great weight being lifted from his shoulders. Opening with the darker string washes that were laid out in “The Funfair”, the story of what happened 48 years ago is finally revealed in its entirety. The piano then re-appears, signposting the link between these past events and the present-day emotional state of Ernie Child. The dark tones retreat, the piano becomes more melodic rather than being somewhat stilted and the aforementioned swelling strings sweep aside the past. It’s a fine, uplifting end to score.
By their very nature, short films need to be very economical with their storytelling and the skill comes with being able to tell the story efficiently but without losing the core of the actual narrative. I think director, Mark Lobatto, succeeds in this, as does composer David M. Saunders. Blue Borsalino is an engaging little film where less is definitely more. With the increasing opportunity for up-and-coming composers to have their music heard (e.g., via the release of EP and CD-length albums from digital stores), I hope that Saunders’ music is released in some form or another. The strength with which the music supports the film means that people will get the most from the score by seeing the film. At the time of writing (September 2015), Blue Borsalino is currently setting out the film festival circuit and I would certainly recommend you watch it if you get the chance. As previously mentioned, Saunders’ music is strong enough to also work as a standalone listen and, although I am unfamiliar with the composer’s previous work (which includes the Kevin Spacey-produced documentary NOW: In The Wings On A World Stage and the animated TV mini-series, Judge Dredd: Superfiend), I will be listening out for his future works.
Rating: *** ½
- Blue Borsalino (1:24)
- First and Only Case (1:21)
- Old Friends (1:00)
- Great Expectations (1:31)
- The Funfair (1:42)
- Still Yesterday (2:54)
- The Shell I Am Sure To Become (5:00)
Running Time: 14:56
Composer Promo (2015)