The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
of Doctor Parnassus Composed by
Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna
Lionsgate Records (2010)
“Mychael and Jeff
Danna have achieved something precious here: a unique voice, an
evocative musical score, and a thoroughly engaging listening
A Troubled Family
Review by Marius Masalar
Everyone remember that tame, sane film of Terry Gilliam’s? Neither do I.
Gilliam seems to be a visionary man of sorts, though precisely what
visions those are we may never want to know beyond the scope of his
consistently strange and controversial films. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR
PARNASSUS, of course, also stands as a parting gesture from the late Heath
Ledger, who passed away while the film was still in production in 2008.
Critics have been ambivalent about how the major revisions to the script
and cast that followed have affected the final product. What remains for
certain is that the stellar cast has provided truly heartfelt performances
in memory of their friend, and the film is just as lush and dark as the
best of Gilliam’s oeuvre. There’s almost always a touch of magic in his
work, and in this 2009 offering, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, we
find a culmination of many familiar thematic ideas. So too with the score,
courtesy of the Canadian film scoring brothers, MYCHAEL and JEFF DANNA.
There is a potent element of tragedy in the underbelly of this film, and
the brothers Danna address it very well from the very start. “Once Upon a
Time” (1) not only introduces the film’s main theme, but does so through a
plaintive solo cello that gracefully escalates its musical message into a
fully orchestral statement of the main theme that’s truly gorgeous. “The
Imaginarium” (2) and “The Tack” (3) are creepy and energetic tracks that
encapsulate the style that MYCHAEL DANNA used throughout TIDELAND and
other similar scores. Evidently, he and his brother share the stylistic
tendency and together are able to polish and refine it.
“The Monastery” (5) is a strike from left field, with a saxophone — of all
things — pulled into the instrumental ensemble. Not only does it fit, but
its stringent line helps lift the orchestra into a marvelously dark
crescendo before toning down into a low-key, lounge jazz rendition of the
film’s main theme. Solos are a major part of this score’s sound, and a
solo violin takes up the mantle in “Sympathy For The Hanged Man” (7), a
slow and nostalgic cue that builds with patience before leading into
another jazzy number, “The First To Five Souls” (8). Channeling their
inner Danny Elfman, the Danna brothers remind us of the main theme in
“Escape From The Pub” (9), a lively cue in the vein of BEETLEJUICE for a
while before settling back into the dark romance of heartfelt strings.
Contrary to the way things usually go, the middle of this score actually
holds some of its finest moments. “Suicide Attempt” (11) and “Tango
Amongst The Lilies” (12) are both stellar cues, with the first bringing
back the saxophone and unleashing the orchestra in a powerful emotional
climax. The tango is catchy and quirky, and the drama of the score’s
middle is well resolved by “Victory In The Lilies” (13), which not only
restates the tango theme and the main theme, but also provides a gentle
moment of respite.
Short-lived, obviously, with “Four Through The Mirror” (14) jolting us
back to attention with a hilarious circus-like fanfare before dropping
dead into a sentimental string reflection. The entire cue alternates
wildly between the carnival atmosphere and softer, more menacing
interludes. “The Ladder World” (15) serves as a propulsive and rousing cue
leading into the films final leg, and the place where we find the most,
uh, interesting offerings on the album.
“We Love Violence” (16) is one of two songs in the film for which Terry
Gilliam himself wrote the lyrics, and it really doesn’t come as a surprise
when you hear them. The music itself is a throwback to the glory days of
Monty Python, and it’s challenging to avoid smiling when you hear it.
There’s a brief interlude in the form of the gentle “Top Of The Wagon”
(17) before the next very short song begins. “We Are The Children Of The
World” (18) is the second song that owes its lyrics to Gilliam, and it’s
actually something of a spoof of a certain Michael Jackson song with a
The album’s ending is absolutely wrenching, beginning with the crumbling
beginning of “Tony’s World Collapses” (19) and continuing on to the
bizarre and angular “Devil’s Dance” (20) before resolving itself over the
course of the final two tracks. Themes are revisited, characters are
redeemed, and the album closes in a manner that feels more circular,
satisfying, and beautiful than most recent albums have been.
There are saxophones, cimbaloms, accordions, and all manner of strange
things added to the standard orchestral mix in this score. Though there
are several tracks that fall a bit flat in between the major set pieces,
the score fits the film like an odd glove, and manages to be alternately
gorgeous, evil, and hilarious too. MYCHAEL and JEFF DANNA have achieved
something precious here: a unique voice, an evocative musical score, and a
thoroughly engaging listening experience. The film may have been as weird
and difficult as any of Terry Gilliam’s work, but it’s hard to deny the
rich, dark magic that pervades it.