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by Laura Kyle

When you think 'movie soundtrack,' the documentary genre doesn't really come to mind. But after watching master doco-maker Errol Morris' "The Fog of War," I am so struck by Philip Glass' remarkably pensive score I can't help but take note of it.

While at times Glass' music is a bit overeager and repetitive, he still asserts his Hollywood seniority here, with a superb composition that winds through The Fog of War with absolute skill and confidence.

The Fog of War is essentially a non-fictional study of former US Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara who, after fighting in World War II and heading the Ford Motor Company, ultimately became one of the key orchestrators of the Vietnam War under President Johnson.

Don't expect any overtly evil or heroic themes to clean up this ambiguous, real-life account. Glass' score is menacing when it's not coolly engaged in the drama of McNamara's powerful narration, but it never sounds too worried or even sinister, despite the tragic subject matter at hand... which just makes it all the more haunting.

With Morris heavily emphasizing military bombings in Japan and then the action in Vietnam, Glass is expectedly influenced by oriental music -- especially noticeable is the short, stern notes of a flute that often creep up. But the long-time composer makes use of a variety of instruments and thus, creates something so unusually rich and complicated for a documentary.

Glass is obviously quite good at manipulating his audience -- his music is what keeps reminding it of how Serious all this is. However, his score is more discontented and solemn than judgmental. I suppose this is because he never lets his melodies, which are abundant, get too lyrical or separate from more mechanical percussion and rhythms.

As a result, The Fog of War maintains an eerie reluctance to propose any answers to the problems of humankind and war. Which is sort of the point of the doco -- that a seemingly ethical and morally affected person like McNamara still can't quite make sense of Right and Wrong in the context of war.

Glass composed a really compelling score that stuck with me as much as McNamara's story and I'd certainly recommend you give it a listen.

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originally posted: 02/02/06 10:59:59
last updated: 02/02/06 11:05:06
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