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by Laura Kyle

And Sonic Death Monkey is back! Well, sorta, for now, at least.

Argentinean Gustavo Santaoalalla’s lovely Brokeback Mountain score is probably the most effective and personable of the year. That’s why it’s deserving of a review devoted to it alone.

There was a lot of great movie music this year, my favorites being the scores to King Kong, Serenity, and Syriana. But I don’t think it’s too bold to say Santaoalalla’s music is the most flattering, of all the Golden Globe nominees (and TBA Oscar contenders), of the film it accompanies. A seemingly meager and plain score with thin instrumentation may prevent Santaoalalla from nabbing the Academy Award, but his soft-spoken, gentle approach couldn’t be more perfect for Brokeback Mountain.

His composition is restrained and comfortable in silence, just like the movie’s two leads (lovers Ennis and Jack). He knows when to make an impression on moviegoers and when to back off – saving grand embellishment on the beautiful six-note melody, the centerpiece of his score, for the end.

And it’s because his score is so sparse that the main theme is as striking as it is. Sometimes actions speak louder than words … as Ennis and Jack learn … and similarly, sometimes a film speaks louder than its soundtrack. Santaoalalla is aware of this humbling fact and his accompaniment to Brokeback Mountain is a prime example of how to create a score that’s not pushy, but still distinguished.

His pieces, for the most part, are as bare as they’re titles: “Brokeback 1,” “Brokeback 2,” and “Brokeback 3.” Other songs are called “Snow,” “Riding Horses,” and “The Wings.” “Snow” is the sunniest of them all, while “The Wings” features the memorable, though understated, melody.

Santaoalalla relies on a mere classical guitar, befitting of Brokeback Mountain's country backdrop. Standard orchestral strings help out along the way, but it’s mostly an acoustic outfit. It almost reminds me of the occasionally original instrumentals in You Can Count On Me. And what do you know, both films are extraordinary character studies.

Brokeback Mountain moves at tumbleweed’s pace, so Santaoalalla also takes on the more practical role of letting the audience know when to expect the end credits. As well, because he’s so tolerant of the quiet moments in the film, whenever his music (however light) does make itself known, it’s peculiarly satisfying.

The Brokeback Mountain score is an enigmatic one – never quite whimsical, but incredibly sensitive. It’s as though the music is exactly aligned with Ennis and Jack’s emotions. And for that, I can’t help but root for it in the Oscar race, though I’m sure a more audacious score will win. For all I know, it may not even get nominated.

Maybe another monkey will smack a review on the overall soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain, because the movie has a lot more to offer than just instrumentals. But Santaoalalla’s delicate score should be motivation enough to purchase the thing.

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originally posted: 01/18/06 12:11:25
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