Clint Mansell, Kronos Quartet & Mogwai
The Fountain


4.5
superb

Review

by Nick Greer EMERITUS
December 23rd, 2006 | 42 replies


Release Date: 2006 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Beautiful soundtrack to a beautiful movie. A mix of post-rock, minimalism, and modern classical.

The Fountain is a very emotionally fraught movie. It is written and directed by Daron Aronofsky, who previously did Requiem for a Dream and Pi, so if anything is to be inferred from his past, this film would likely focus on issues of sanity and compulsive behavior. And while these themes are present, they come out not in the form of drug addicts or in mad mathematicians but in a couple. The Fountain is a love story, and also considering one of the main characters' terminal brain tumor, it's also a death story. The movie spends a lot of time on the love/death duality and by the end of the movie it is not the tree of life that Hugh Jackman's character has been looking for the whole movie that allows him to live eternally with his wife, but it is death that allows that freedom. Really, the whole movie has a certain balance to its dualities that sets it apart from other movies. In addition, the film has an unusual structure in that the Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz love story exists in the present as Jackman plays a scientist trying to find a cure to his wife's tumor via a tree-of-life chemical, in the fictional past as Weisz is a writer, and writes a novel features a conquistador, Jackman, attempting to find the tree of life in South America to aide an ailing Spain under the oppressive inquisition, and in the theoretical future, as Jackman floats through space in a bubble containing the tree of life, moving towards the nebula Xibalba. These three stories are deployed almost simultaneously. Considering the three parallel strands and the core ambiguities at the center of this movie, it's easy to see why audiences and critics were baffled and put off by the scope and narrative structure of the film. Most critics labeled the movie as passionate but pretentious, with more effort in creating the imagistic arc than the narrative arc. Overall, I felt like the critics were correct in that the underlying story is somewhat static, but I felt like the overall construction and sentiment of the piece rendered that underlying stasis as rather beautiful and moving.

Which brings me to the soundtrack, which also embraces ambiguity and multiple compositional threads. It is composed by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai. Mansell and the Kronos Quartet previously teamed up for the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack, which really drew out the downward spiral of drug addiction through Mansell's careful use of minimalist repetition. The soundtrack was pounding and relentless and seemed to grow more insane as the film went on, finally culminating in the tragic denouement of the film. The soundtrack really suited the film, and within itself was pretty cool music. Now, on The Fountain, Mansell is composing for a more ambiguous and ambitious work, and though he's still using similar techniques like pounding repetition and heavy strings, he has expanded his composition style to include soft and gentle piano, and more interesting harmonic progressions. His soundtrack's overall sound is bivalent, in two places at once, which renders the sound of the film both harrowing and tragic, and beautiful and touching. And to execute this, he employs the Kronos Quartet, who have been genre bending from the start, taking up projects both classical and non-classical, and Mogwai, a post-rock band. Post-rock, as a genre, sort of embodies the problem most critics had with the movie; it is generally unmoving (at least harmonically) yet there is a great detail to the overall tone and subtle shifts throughout. So, Mansell has composed a soundtrack that features similar ambiguities to that of the film, and uses two bands, one of which too has some ambiguity to their label, and another that uses a similar composition technique as Aronofsky does. In many ways, just in premise this soundtrack completely syncs up with the film, resonating all the way through.

Beyond the general value of the music suiting the movie, this music is awesome within itself. I don't feel like it can be classified as post-rock or modern classical, or really anything. There are moments that are film-like ("The Last Man") and there are songs that are firmly rooted in post-rock and Mogwai's influence is very heavy ("Death Is the Road to Awe"). I count three linchpins for this album. Mansell composes the whole thing, but most of it is performed a string quartet and a rock band, so there are soft piano moments that are completely Mansellian, nice string moments that are Kronos', and rock elements that sound like if they didn't also have strings and piano, could be on a Mogwai or Grails album. In terms of the piano, I think everything is handled very well. The piano is played with a very light touch, and everything sounds beautiful and soft. I sense that if all of the solo piano were compressed into one collection, they could be mistaken for some of Albeniz's piano suites. Overall, the piano suits the love story well as it is touching and soft music, but it also suits the death aspects as well because harmonically, it is dramatic and somber as well. In terms of the strings, they seem to be a way of elevating the drama of the harmonies. Usually strings automatically give weight and an epic sense to certain modern music, and here is no exception. The sound is much grander with the strings, but also like their presence in Requiem for a Dream, the strings also contribute to the claustrophobic sound of the piece. The strings, when playing repetitious content have a certain pulse and drone to them that is hypnotic, and Mansell uses that effectively on certain songs like "Holy Dread." However, the strings aren't just hamhanded tools for elevation. They also figure prominently in the overall soundscape. There are a lot of songs that have the strings just enter with little background harmonizations that help fill out the sound of build it up at certain points. The strings also add weight with their softness instead of just their loudness. In terms of the post-rock elements, the fare is just off of center. Most of the songs on this album build from little ideas and have crescendos, which is a staple of post-rock, so in a narrow way, most of the songs here could be labeled as such. I feel like instead of using Mogwai's presence to make the album more rock-like or palatable, he actually uses it to just punch in at certain moments. The soundtrack is dominated by Mansell's piano and Kronos' strings, and Mogwai doesn't take center stage ever really, and often lays out for whole songs at a time. It seems as if Mansell wasn't interested in using them to make his soundtrack sound more like post-rock but wanted to make their post-rock sound more like his composition. He really just used them as tools, which is really effective, because instead of sounding like another Godspeed clone, with symphonic sounding 20-minute songs, Mansell composes rather concise yet moving songs that don't depend on a massive build or collapse of dynamics and instrumentation. The synthesis of these primary factors lead to a work that is in all of these places at once. The sound is singular and really wonderful.

Overall, the soundtrack works well with the film, and works well on its own. It uses modern classical, minimalism, and post-rock but is never dependent or too strongly in any one category. Similarly, it is technically a soundtrack, but this album could easily have been released to fans of post-rock or minimalism and it'd be eaten up as a member of whatever genre it's labeled as. The film allegedly suffered from its post-rock-like structure and genre-bending philosophies, so if you're a harsh critics of these aspects of the movie, maybe you'll also find fault in the diversity and aesthetics of this soundtrack, but if you enjoyed the film for the same reasons I did, you'll probably be able to enjoy the album in a similar way. As a final note, I want to relate a story about Aronofsky. Apparently, he didn't want to use CGI for the special effects for this film. He wanted to create a very natural feel, and didn't want the movie to age poorly. He wanted it to be timeless, fitting in with the 1000 year scope of the film. So, for his swirling futuristic backgrounds, he used a microlens to record chemical reactions happening on a petri dish. It's that crazy attention to detail and passion for the subject that makes The Fountain a compelling movie. I don't know what weird techniques Mansell may have used, but the album too has an oddly natural, very distinct personality and a supreme attention to texture that makes this album truly special, and maybe timeless.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Intransit
December 23rd 2006


2797 Comments


This looks excellent. great review.

Africa
December 24th 2006


1 Comments


Lolz this soundtrack is pretty friggin amazing, though it does get a bit samey at parts.

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
December 24th 2006


2806 Comments


I love Requiem, so I'll be sure to check this out.

Spectrum
December 28th 2006


347 Comments


I. NEED. THIS.
I think both Mogwai and Kronos Quartet are both great, and the thought of them working together on something like this is, to me, mind blowing. I really must find this the next time I'm poking around a music shop.

Liberi Fatali
Emeritus
December 29th 2006


1588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Horrible paragraphs. :mad:

But aside from that, this review captures some of the most mesmerising, beautiful and at times claustrophobic moments of the soundtrack. And for that you deserve a thumbs up.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
December 29th 2006


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Ya sorry about the meat and fat on the bones.

I hope this soundtrack catches on like the Requiem for a Dream OST one did because it's a whole lot better if less catchy and repetitive.

The Jungler
December 29th 2006


4827 Comments


Yes, very, very good review.
I've been wanting to look into Requiem for a while (the soundtrack as well). I was also going to see this movie, but I don't think it's around anymore. The soundtrack seems like an awesome substitute at least.

Two-Headed Boy
December 29th 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sigh....need it :upset:.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
December 29th 2006


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

It's on amazon for a fairly reasonable price and on the p2p for a super-reasonable price.

trustxdialect
February 13th 2007


1502 Comments


I strongly disliked the movie.

But this sounds interesting.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
June 3rd 2007


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Man I really liked the movie. It's out on video finally if you all want to rent it.

P.S. What happened to trusxdialect?

DFelon204409
Emeritus
June 3rd 2007


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

To answer my own question...

[quote=profile]AIM:
plane wreq[/quote]

There we go. He's trying to pull an Eliminator/somethingvague

DFelon204409
Emeritus
July 15th 2007


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

So I'm watching the ESPY's right now and the Arthur Ashe courage award thing for northern island video is using the music from this soundtrack. Not as elite as the Requiem for a Dream OST being used for Lost previews.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
July 15th 2007


2125 Comments


The movie was so good. Soundtrack as well.

plane
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2007


6094 Comments


P.S. What happened to trusxdialect?

There we go. He's trying to pull an Eliminator/somethingvague

lol

Film has grown on me a little, but it's still not that good. I liked what I heard off this.

samthebassman
October 13th 2007


2164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I thought Clint Mansell did everything on this soundtrack, I love it...This Message Edited On 10.13.07

jrowa001
November 17th 2007


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

decided to listen to this as i re-input all my music back onto my itunes. if ti wasnt for this albums beauty i mightve ripped all my hair out by now

Porklips
July 29th 2008


86 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Extremely underrated movie. Music is absolutely amazing, The Last Man is so haunting it gives me chills.

jrowa001
July 29th 2008


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i just watched the end of this movie today cuz it was on. the ending gets me every time. just gorgeous

SpinLightTwo
July 29th 2008


1041 Comments


this sounds pretty cool, I'll look into it.



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