24 March 2007

Zodiac: The Score

One of the pleasures of the recent David Fincher movie Zodiac, which re-imagines the tired serial-killer genre into a period study and a fascinating police procedural, is that it features a return to film scoring of David Shire, one of the great movie composers of the 1970s. Shire was a key figure in the shift toward the more sparse and modernist approach to film music that was the standard from the mid ‘60s until Star Wars brought back the large orchestral approach in 1977. Among Shire’s most important achievements are the scores to The Conversation, All the President's Men, The Taking Pelham One Two Three, and The Hindenburg. My personal favorite of Shire’s scores, however, is one of his more lush and jazzy, Farewell My Lovely from 1975, which makes a great companion piece to Jerry Goldsmith's score to Chinatown from the previous year.

According to Shire’s liner notes in the recent CD album release of the Zodiac score, David Fincher didn’t originally intend to use original music, but wanted to rely entirely on “source” music from the period. There is plenty of source music in the final film, and most of it effectively in setting the mood and period. But an original score can bring you something unique and cohesive that a collection of songs simply can’t (I wish Quentin Tarantino would take this lesson to heart), and Fincher realized the need for an original score—and being the film genius that he is, he picked Shire.

Shire’s music is just as sparse and against-the-grain of contemporary film scores as you would expect. He relies on an eerie piano figure and a string section, with few other instruments. “Themes” only appear in snatches and hints, never in swelling full renditions. The effect is dry, lonely, almost documentary music, which fits the film like a murderer’s rubber glove.

The soundtrack album is available from Varese Sarabande Records. It contains a full thirty-nine minutes of music, which is extensive for a score this sparse (and Varese often doesn't have the funds to pay union re-use fees to make albums longer than thirty minutes). There is a separate album that contains only the source songs. The dual album approach is fine if you just want an album with as much as the original score as possible, but in this case a much better combined album could have been manufactured that would give a finer sense of the film's sound and ambience (and you wouldn’t be forced into buying two albums; this also happened with L. A. Confidential). The way the album should have been produced is to keep the complete thirty-nine minutes of Shire’s music, and then intermix it with three of the most important source songs.

Fortunately, in this age of iTunes and downloads, I was able to purchase the three most memorable source songs online and create a “fuller” Zodiac score on my iPod and then burn it onto CD-R as well. So, if I were the album producer and had access to use all the music (always legal issues involved), here would be my Music from the Motion Picture “Zodiac” album.

Music Composed and Conducted by David Shire unless otherwise noted:
  1. Aftermaths (4:08)
  2. Soul Sacrifice performed by Santana (6:35)
  3. Graysmith (1:29)
  4. Law & Disorder (4:16)
  5. Trailer Park (2:51)
  6. Dare to Dream (1:21)
  7. Avery & Graysmith, Toschi & Armstrong (3:29)
  8. Easy to Be Hard performed by Three Dog Night (3:14)
  9. Graysmith Obsessed (4:08)
  10. Are You Done? (2:21)
  11. Close & Closer (3:14)
  12. Confrontation (3:34)
  13. Graysmith's Theme (2:35)
  14. Hurdy Gurdy Man performed by Donovan (3:18)
  15. Toschi’s Theme [Unused] (2:10)
  16. Graysmith’s Theme [Piano Version] (1:48)*
Total Album Running Time: 53 minutes

Now, there’s a great album!

I've created this “hypothetical album” into a real album on iTunes: get it here as an iMix.