Howl Composed by Carter Burwell
Lakeshore Records (2010)
Soundclips below from AmazonMP3
“HOWL represents an indicator of the great things
CARTER BURWELL is clearly capable of, but perhaps due to the nature
of the film itself, was unable to maintain throughout.”
Review by Richard Buxton
The story of a poet and his work is
perhaps one that is not often told; rather it is the poet who tells the
stories. Therefore an insight into their personal world is not one that is
often sought after. However, those with any knowledge of “Howl’s”
protagonist and his political struggles throughout his life’s work will
seek the production out.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman employed a number of techniques
in their imagining of the life of American poet Allen Ginsberg. Centred on
the simultaneously lauded and loathed poem "Howl", Epstein and Friedman
employed a variety of styles to portray the key moments in the life of the
controversial poet. Ranging from black and white to full blown animation,
the story of this highly political artist is particularly vivid. The
experience of listening to CARTER BURWELL’s efforts in HOWL however is
often a testing one, one that rarely rewards the listener. The music
though does undeniably mirror the film it accompanies in its style and
The score opens with what is undeniably the highlight of the soundtrack:
“Supernatural Darkness”. The softness of the guitar and the gentle synths
behind it create a saturated sound that simultaneously produces a hollow
yet lonesome feel. The emergence of chords only strengthens this feeling
as the sound reverberates in what feels like infinite space. Such an
opening to a score promises a subdued yet mightily effective plethora of
music to come. However, this promise never materializes. HOWL takes an
immediate detour after the opening track. “I Saw The Best Minds” signals a
venture almost into film noir, which admittedly maintains the lonely feel,
but sets the precedent for the entire score, a precedent that takes the
music into places that border on the nonsensical.
It is in the third track that HOWL loses its way. “From Park to Pad to
Bar to Bellevue” consists of three distinct sections all based around the
same rising bass motif. The opening creates ample tension and anticipation
with its dissonance and is followed by the release of that tension in a
frantic climax that is a constant discomfort to listen to. It comes as a
relief that the closing moments of the piece return to a more relaxed and
comprehensible complexion. This frantic tone though unfortunately
continues until one of the rare bright moments of the score: "My Mother".
“My Mother” is a long overdue resurrection of the emotions briefly heard
in the score’s opening moments. The strings and the strong sound design
combine to create a wistfulness and longing. “Now Denver Is Lonesome for
Her Heroes” preserves the re-emergence of the emotional side of HOWL
before a swift return to the jazz stylings.
The entirety of the score can be summed up in the track “Prophecy”.
Burwell manages once again to develop a touching and melancholic motif and
ably develops it before taking all the rising emotion of the piece and
scattering it. It is not the emergence of the screeching guitar that
disappoints, but it is the now all-too expected return to the dissonant
and fractured jazz/noir face of HOWL. This sound continues in “I’m With
You In Rockland” and “Angelic Bombs”, albeit in a less grating manner.
Even the piano only just manages to avoid being drowned out by the
incessant bass and piercing use of percussion.
The conclusion of HOWL comes in the form of a reminder of what could
have been. In “Holy” the aching plucks of the guitar return, once again
forming a forlorn yet somehow optimistic tone. The beauty of the opening
and closing pieces could be mistaken for tracks from another score
entirely, such is their vast superiority.
HOWL represents an indicator of the great things CARTER BURWELL is
clearly capable of, but perhaps due to the nature of the film itself, was
unable to maintain throughout. Howl is an admirable piece of filmmaking
that defies the conventions set out by the mainstream and attempts,
through its diversity, to provide a unique basis upon which the story of
the great poet can be told. It is because of this myriad of visions and
techniques, however, that Burwell’s efforts become the inevitable victim.
Without a consistent style with which to work, Burwell has done nothing
less than accompany the onscreen events, but has been hindered in the
process by the complex and fragmented visions of the filmmakers.