In praise of Reznor/Ross

Posted by · 8:44 am · January 19th, 2011

This year’s Best Original Score race really has me at a loss.  I freely admit that I have no idea what will happen there.  Some days I think we’ll get a small surprise like Alexandre Desplat sliding in for his best work this year in “The Ghost Writer,” others I think we could just get a massive, happy surprise like Daft Punk slipping in for their brilliant work on “TRON Legacy.”

Other times, I kind of just bank on it being a boring assemblage of what we’ve been expecting.  Probably option “C” is the wisest expectation.

One thing has begun to materialize lately for me, though.  And that is the fact that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who I once upon a time thought might not even get a nomination for their wonderfully woven ambient work in “The Social Network,” could be the frontrunners to win in a category that might be filled with less-singular achievements.

Of course, they have to get nominated first.  And the traditional (and insular) leanings of the music branch cannot and should not be understated.

Nevertheless, someone passed this love letter to Reznor and Ross’s work from New Yorker music critic Alex Ross.  I think he really gets under the skin of what makes this score so organic to the world David Fincher and company created, and so thematically resonant, as well.  And in just a handful of words.  Here’s a key graph:

No less effective are the brutal, catatonic dance tracks that play at intervals and the disconcerting electronic manipulation of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” that accompanies the Winkelvoss twins at the Henley Rowing Regatta. I wonder if David Fincher, the director, was thinking back to the creepy whistling in Fritz Lang’s M when he asked Reznor to make use of that piece. In this context, the Grieg carries a grim message: the “old way of doing things” is itself degraded, a copy of a copy, and there is no going back.

Ross also praises Hans Zimmer’s work on “Inception,” which is likely Reznor and Ross’s competition, in the piece.  Meanwhile, I’ll be holding out hope that Daft Punk will get to walk the red carpet.  Or Sylvain Chomet.  (As if.)

(In case you missed it, here is my interview with Reznor and Ross from earlier this month.)

[Photo: Blogomatic 3000]




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44 responses so far

  • 1 1-19-2011 at 9:23 am

    bill said...

    Easily my favorite score of the year, fingers are indeed crossed

  • 2 1-19-2011 at 9:24 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Back in October I thought they would win and I think that even more so now that TSN is dominating the circuit.

  • 3 1-19-2011 at 9:24 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Considering how dry this category has been, I do wonder why Daft Punk is such a long shot for a nomination?

  • 4 1-19-2011 at 9:26 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Back in October I thought they would win…”

    Honest question: Based on what?

  • 5 1-19-2011 at 9:46 am

    myopicbasterd said...

    Trent Reznor wants to f$@k the Academy like an animal.

  • 6 1-19-2011 at 9:53 am

    Sawyer said...

    I loved the score to TSN, but the Inception score might be my favorite score ever. It’s definitely a top 3er, along with The Fountain and LOTR: FOTR.

  • 7 1-19-2011 at 9:58 am

    Vn said...

    “traditional (and insular) leanings of the music branch ”

    Santaolalla’s wins (Brokeback Mountain, babel) for a man that doesn’t know how to write music on paper, just playing music, is an indicative of the opposite. Rahman’s win for Slumdog, the same case, a man who has nothing to do with traditional music issues. Last year’s sound effects for The Hurt Locker nominated.

    Sorry, I don’t buy the traditional and insular branch. At leat, not in these last years.

    The social network will be nominated. No need to push this sampler music album (not really a score). I’m sure it already has the vote of most of the musicians in the branch.

  • 8 1-19-2011 at 10:04 am

    Jeff said...

    I can’t help but think Daft Punk’s score made me enjoy Tron more than I think I did. Granted, the film wasn’t great, but I walked away thinking it was slightly better than average and I have to wonder if it’s simply because of their contribution. Theirs was the only score I purchased this year (and I had only heard of Daft Punk in passing before, so I’m no fanboy).

    In this year of boredom when it comes to the Oscar race, I’d be giddy with a nom for Daft Punk (and Best Picture nominations for Blue Valentine and 127 Hours would seal the deal, but I’m well aware the former won’t happen and getting more wary about even the latter as the days go on).

  • 9 1-19-2011 at 10:31 am

    Puchika said...

    I’ve always been a fan of Reznor and NIN so I’m really glad he’s getting recognized for this eerie score, which has his trademark style infused with Ross’ ambience. With that said, “Tron” and “Inception” are still my fav scores of the year. I think ‘Time” from Inception is one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever heard. A true revelation.

  • 10 1-19-2011 at 10:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Vn: You fail to understand that it’s the Academy at large, not the music branch, that votes on wins. The music branch only nominates.

  • 11 1-19-2011 at 10:41 am

    JP said...

    I don’t think Vin misunderstood: he was talking about nominated scores as well (Hurt Locker). And obviously those lackluster simplistic winning scores by non-trained composers were nominated by the music branch in the first place.

  • 12 1-19-2011 at 10:52 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    He talked about one nominated score. The rest regarded scores that won as proof that this branch isn’t insular, when it clearly is.

    Sure, they let this or that in from time to time, but regardless, Brokeback Mountain and Slumdog Millionaire aren’t nearly as non-traditional as what Reznor and Ross are doing in TSN, so it’s pointless to bring them up.

    The branch has a clear history. If you don’t want to buy that, fine, but it’s in black and white. Been doing this 10 years and it hasn’t really changed. Lucky for a great many John Williams seems to be on vacation.

  • 13 1-19-2011 at 10:56 am

    Anita said...

    I was so happy to see it finally show up on your predictions list last week. I don’t suppose you’ve had any encounters with Reznor and Ross asking why they hadn’t shown up until then a la Aronofsky? :P

  • 14 1-19-2011 at 11:00 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t think they’re reading Oscar blogs.

  • 15 1-19-2011 at 11:07 am

    JP said...

    Slumdog Millionaire had a mostly song score that wove seamlessly out of a fairly electronic score (a very small amount of score I might add). Not traditional at all really. Also, not really a score. I’m not sure how that one got by the Academy while others have been kicked out.

    And TSN is not that non-traditional – minimal and ambient scores have been en vogue for some time now.

    As for John Williams: he doesn’t get nominated because he’s traditional, he gets nominations because he is one of the most talented people in the business.

  • 16 1-19-2011 at 11:10 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Slumdog was a steamroller. Even the music branch is susceptible to that.

    “And TSN is not that non-traditional – minimal and ambient scores have been en vogue for some time now.”

    “En vogue” and “Oscar-nominated” are rarely hand in hand. Or else everything Levay and Zimmer wrought with “Navy Seals” and “The Rock” would have been nominated for the last 15 years.

  • 17 1-19-2011 at 11:11 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And Williams, brilliant as he is, is just a gimme at this stage. It’s not about traditional there. It’s about respect. Many of his nods are deserved, but you don’t get to 40 nods by deserving it every…single…time.

  • 18 1-19-2011 at 11:44 am

    red_wine said...

    Williams deserved it every… single… time. Infact I daresay even for the times he was not nominated. A minor trifling score written by Williams is infinitely more interesting that Social Network’s ‘score’.

    It completely astounds me it has actually won awards for Best score. It seems there is a collectively movement to kill off the art of great film scoring by heaping praise and awards onto these midi samplers mixed with visuals. It begs the question, suppose the same exact score was in Please Give, would it ever even enter any voters head in the whole wide world to vote for it as Best Score? Not a one in a million chance. What are the scores that have received most nominations and awards this year – Social Network, Inception, Black Swan – oh yeah the Top 3 for Oscar.

    Best Picture Front-runners routinely hijack other categories but Best Music too seems just painful. The garbage that gets nominated here and even wins (Babel) just indicates the random nature of this branch.

  • 19 1-19-2011 at 12:10 pm

    Maxim said...

    Gotta agree with red-wine here, John Williams is a national treasure and an unmathced giant in the field and it makes perfect sense that the best film composer will lead in nominations. For whatever minor nitpicks you may have I can point out as many situation where he was ignored, and you are likely to find his work was among the best anyway.

    And if anything, ignoring all the whole nomination deal, the man is hardly spoiled in terms of wins.

    “It begs the question, suppose the same exact score was in Please Give, would it ever even enter any voters head in the whole wide world to vote for it as Best Score?”

    I am a huge fan of Philip Glass, and honestly Red and I think Kris had a point. If he could get in for (admitedly quite showy) score for “Notes on A Scandal” maybe that kind of work may be noticed too. There’s no denying the difference in reputation, though.

  • 20 1-19-2011 at 12:17 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***It begs the question, suppose the same exact score was in Please Give, would it ever even enter any voters head in the whole wide world to vote for it as Best Score?***

    This is terribly a stupid. First ask yourself, would THAT score even fit in a movie like “Please Give?” No. There’s your answer. It does fit, however, with “The Social Network.”

    I really hope they nominated “The Illusionist” for its score as well. That’s my second favorite this year.

  • 21 1-19-2011 at 12:24 pm

    red_wine said...

    @Maxim
    Notes On A Scandal was also a fairly high profile film during the awards season and that score is brilliant. It is infinitely more “composed” than Social Network.

    Not to compare but Williams could have composed the entire Social Network score in a day. I don’t want to associate the ease of composing a score with its worth, but jeez, it seems to me as if no expression went into it at all. Film scoring is more than filling the silences behind the dialogue of a movie with sound.

    I find this culture of singling out a film you love in every category as totally absurd. The Baftas had 22 films in 19 categories apparently. Its like everybody picks a favorite film and votes for it in every category.

    @English
    That was such a literal interpretation of what I wrote. A score LIKE Social Network, which would even shock Philip Glass with its “minimalism” would never be singled out if it belonged to a much lesser profile movie (Please Give was just a RANDOM EXAMPLE if you had not figured that out).

  • 22 1-19-2011 at 12:32 pm

    deeks said...

    I’m delighted that The Social Network score is receiving the recognition it is. I was instantly taken with the music when I watched the film and bought the CD the following day. I’ve listened to it a number of times since and it grows every time I hear it. Aside from being brilliant musically it fits the film like a glove.

  • 23 1-19-2011 at 12:34 pm

    Maxim said...

    red_wine, I can see where you are coming from but cannot meet you more than half-way. Taken entirely on its own merits, I’d say that the score for “The Social Network” worked quite well for the film it was made. What is more, I think that in all of your criticisms of the films socre you have missed the point – you don’t need John Williams for this type of score. The ambience and the spare, simplified electonincess is exactly the mood they needed.

  • 24 1-19-2011 at 12:42 pm

    red_wine said...

    Just like not every movie needs a Williams type score, not every aspect of social Network (and other front-runners) needs be singled out for awards recognition.

    Its a decent score, it gets the job done, inoffensive and functional, but (almost) every damn movie has a score! It is in the race by virtue of being associated with the massively acclaimed front-runner. Its a disservice to other great scores and unfair that they did not belong to better films or films with more heat.

    There already is a Best Film category. It need not bleed into the other crafts. I could never say that social network’s score is an impressive feat of film-composing.

  • 25 1-19-2011 at 12:46 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***That was such a literal interpretation of what I wrote. A score LIKE Social Network, which would even shock Philip Glass with its “minimalism” would never be singled out if it belonged to a much lesser profile movie (Please Give was just a RANDOM EXAMPLE if you had not figured that out).***

    AHEM…

    “It begs the question, suppose the same *exact* score was in Please Give, would it ever even enter any voters head in the whole wide world to vote for it as Best Score?”

    Your words, not mine.

  • 26 1-19-2011 at 12:59 pm

    Maxim said...

    Red_wine, just out of curiosity, what would be your top five scores of the year, regardless of origin?

  • 27 1-19-2011 at 1:30 pm

    Fitz said...

    If Daft Punk cannot make it to a nomination – and what a disappointment that would be – Reznor and Ross are the best choice.

  • 28 1-19-2011 at 1:48 pm

    JP said...

    I am baffled by the enthusiastic love for TSN and Tron Legacy’s scores. They are functional and, sure, sometimes transcend that functionality.

    Hans Zimmer and his flunkies have been doing the Tron Legacy thing for years and the ambient minimalism of TSN has been done much better by Thomas Newman, Mychael Danna, Jon Brion, Clint Mansel etc.

  • 29 1-19-2011 at 2:14 pm

    myopicbasterd said...

    John Williams is a hack.

  • 30 1-19-2011 at 2:30 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    In response to Kris (#4) once I realized Social Network was the front runner around the time it premiered at New York Film Festival and after having seen the film and heard the score my gut told me Reznor and Ross would follow the film to victory much like AR Rahman two years ago.

    Also consider that Beltrami got nominated last year and let’s be honest Hurt Locker hardly had a distinctive score. I think now more than ever if a film becomes a steamroller in the vain of Slumdog and Hurt Locker it carries all the below the line people with it for the most part.

  • 31 1-19-2011 at 3:03 pm

    Vn said...

    Kris: My point is that the music branch HAS CHANGED in the last few years. Of course they WERE insular and traditional, but not in the last five years or so with so many newcomers getting into the branch.

    Even if Slumdog and Brokeback won, they were nominated by the music branch. They wouldn’t have won if the (what I considered) the new music branch wouldn’t have nominated them.

    Maybe is black on white on the past but not anymore. Anyway, we’ll see who is wrong and right, but I don’t see this branch nominating ‘The Last Airbender’ in the same way they did six years ago with ‘The Village’.

    I hope I made it clear. Thank you for the discussion, it’s pretty interesting!

  • 32 1-19-2011 at 3:08 pm

    Vn said...

    And this comes from a guy that actually likes ¡The social network’, playing in my iPod sometimes. It’s cool stuff, but I’m still convinced it’s not the best score of the year. Because the score has to match with the images of the film, follow them, and this “score” are just cool samples that “represent” the film and really doesn’t even say too much about the movie’s story. In terms of music, it’s cool, in terms of music on the screen it’s weak. That’s my opinion. I think Daft Punk did a better approach with electronics. But I guess it’s not a Best Picture contender…

  • 33 1-19-2011 at 3:13 pm

    Vn said...

    Last but not least, if you think electronics are cool in movies, get back to the 80’s when electronics were handled by true maestros like Jerry Goldsmith. Electronics are just as good as orchestrated scores. The problem is the approach and how you combine them. Jerry Goldsmith did some pretty good stuff in the past. Take a listen.

  • 34 1-19-2011 at 3:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I actually think The Hurt Locker had a very distinctive score. I understand why many seem to find it “forgettable,” I guess. It’s minimal. But has an impact.

    Unfortunately, it seems some commenters here are being Nazis in their thinking of what a score “should” be. I’m glad Reznor/Ross and Daft Punk pushed farther this year (and if youw ant to argue that they were being derivative, that’s fine, but I disagree and think it’s boxed-in thinking that assumes all minimal/ambient scores are in the same wheelhouse).

    Vn: Perhaps you’re right. We’ll know soon enough. I’m not hopeful, though.

  • 35 1-19-2011 at 4:47 pm

    Dignan said...

    There seems to be a new guard vs. old guard argument going on regarding what constitutes film scoring (I’ll be slightly diplomatic and leave the Nazis out of this) and one isn’t inherently better than the other any more than classical Hollywood style editing is better than French New Wave inspired editing (I could imagine these same arguments taking place when Bonnie & Clyde was nominated… and won for editing back in the late 60’s) or contemporary “MTV style” editing. No one has kittens anymore over a film like The Bourne Ultimatum winning an editing Oscar even though (SHOCKER!) there are jump cunts and it doesn’t follow what was once considered traditional spatial rules of editing. Or more recently, the battle for film vs. digital. We’ve already had a digitally shot best picture and multiple digitally shot cinematography winners. I’ve gone off topic but my point is, everything seems scary at first until it becomes the standard.

    The Social Network wasn’t scored in what we consider the normal way where a composer is given the film at picture lock and then composes musical wallpaper to underscore and heighten what we’re seeing. By most accounts Reznor and Ross only had about a half an hour of the film and the screenplay to go by to compose motifs and movements and Fincher and co. found appropriate places to use the score (which was later refined by the composers). They essentially went off and made a concept album based on what they believed the themes of the story were and how they interpreted the characters and dramatic situations. There’s no denying this is not the “norm” for composing a film.

    But that in no way lessens the accomplishment of the composers and one could argue their jobs were harder than a traditional composer as they needed to rely on intuition based on a concept as opposed to watching “such and such scene where Mark is angry”, and then writing a cue that will reinforce this and clue the people in the cheap seats how to feel about it.

    The reason the score has received attention (and btw read a handful of reviews of TSN and see how many highlight the score vs. say reviews of The Ghost Writer or King’s Speech) is because it was composed by people who don’t know what “the rules are” so they were under no obligation to turn in the exact same Wagnerian muzak which has sadly become the norm for this field. It may not have been composed in the usual way but so what? Would a score composed by James Newton Howard and performed by 90-person orchestra really have benefited a film about a bunch of petty computer programmers set in college dorms and flop houses in the mid 00’s?

    What Reznor and Ross’s “minimal and functional” score does is make scenes of kids typing away at a computer feel propulsive and transgressive and staid deposition scenes feel insidious and subterranean. You can actually hear contempt in the score. The music is ingrained in the film’s identity at this point and anyone who heard the melody from “Hand Covers Bruise” (the opening titles track) a handful of times during the Golden Globes on Sunday can attest how instantly recognizable and inseparable from the film it’s become. To cling to this myopic “it’s just electronic sampling, they didn’t really compose a score” stance is like hugging your flatbed while AVID and Final Cut are busting down the door.

    That said, I totally expect the Academy to snub the score next week. I fear there are too many red_wines in the branch.

  • 36 1-19-2011 at 4:48 pm

    Dignan said...

    WHOOPS I of course meant jump “cuts” and not the word I used instead.

    Had a Curb Your Enthusiasm moment there. Apologies to anyone offended. NOT my intention.

  • 37 1-19-2011 at 6:02 pm

    Edmond Dantes said...

    Forgive my ignorance, were Mansell’s scores for Requiem and The Fountain DQ’d or just not nominated?

  • 38 1-19-2011 at 6:09 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Just not nominated.

  • 39 1-19-2011 at 6:35 pm

    JP said...

    Dignam – actually, NOT having the picture to score to and letting someone else cut and paste at will is a much easier way to compose. You don’t have to deal with timing issues or hitting your marks or even trying to get the proper tone for a scene. That job goes to the music editor.

  • 40 1-19-2011 at 6:49 pm

    Dignan said...

    That’s only one part of a composer’s job and, to be honest, it’s the least creative part of scoring a film (ie: tightening and trimming). I just worked on a big budget show last year where the music editor slugged in temp score tracks from similar types of films over all the sequences that needed music and the composer (whom I consider very talented and by no means want to demean their creativity or contribution to the film) would compose new tracks that captured the same feel and tempo of the slug tracks. Which approach is more difficult? Reznor and Ross had less to work with and less of a guide to crib from. One isn’t better than the other, just different approaches.

  • 41 1-19-2011 at 9:39 pm

    JP said...

    As a composer myself who has worked on various projects over the years, I am fully aware of what a composer’s job entails. Having a temp track “slugged in’ by the editor and trying to create something original and beautiful from that is often the worst part of composing. And at times, the temp track tempo and feel is not even what the music editor is in fact looking for – it’s something more subtle than that. I’ve worked on films that have only pop songs temped in and the filmmakers aren’t looking for that at all and I have to extrapolate what it is about that track that spoke to them. Many of the top composers refuse to work with tempo tracks altogether (finding it insulting).

    I’ve also worked on films that I had to pre-write themes for and they were fit in. I read the script, laid down tracks that captured the mood, handed it in and the music editor fit it in how he saw fit. Much less strenuous. In this method, the composer writes a song or theme and then the filmmaker uses it how he/she sees fit.

    If what you say is true, Trent Reznor – a talented musician – probably sat down and plunked out a plethora of stellar memorable themes on a piano and Ross threw them over a bed of unique ambient drones and loops and then they submitted them. Fincher and co. picked the one(s) they liked and put it where they saw fit. The music essentially sounds like a Trent Reznor instrumental concept album. Does not seem the more difficult approach.

    In my opinion.

  • 42 1-20-2011 at 2:32 am

    matthew said...

    I am composer by profession, i would rate 127 hours ahead of any score this year.

  • 43 1-20-2011 at 6:40 am

    Leocdc said...

    The OST of Tron Legacy (which I’m listening right now indeed) is one of the best of the year, with Inception, TSN and How to train your Dragon.
    With the Academy you never know what you’re gonna get, but anyway this year I’ve been very impressed by the quality and originality of musical pieces on cinema.
    One thing I ask: Please, nominate DAFT PUNK! It’s such an awesome piece of work!

  • 44 1-20-2011 at 8:24 am

    overseer said...

    Its all about how we see a score. If we are interested in the movie as a whole, the quality of the movie will drive the score along with it – just like how its doing to Social Network. Its a great score on screen, but if you dwell into the soundtrack musically you are sure to be disappointed unless you are hell bent on loving any thing the social network is associated with.

    And considering the amount of fans that a soundtrack like Slumdog has generated and how listenable it is even now, i dont think categorizing it as a Steamroller award is valid.

    Finally it is about how you classify a soundtrack – based on the movie or taking a listen with scrutiny. I personally love a score if it holds ground outside a movie. There are a huge number of people who love the Slumdog soundtrack inspite of not liking the movie but i highly suspect whether that would happen with the Social Network!