Without a doubt Stanley Kubrick was one of the finest cinematographers of the 20th Century. His work spans all genres, from comedy to drama, straightforward to experimental, realistic to the fantastic, and from epic to subtle. El Records’ newest compilation, Kubrick’s Music: Selections From The Films of Stanley Kubrick, is a four disc set that examines the music used within the famed director’s work, as well as music that directly inspired his productions.
For an artist like Kubrick, music was an important tool. As he was a master of detail, he could wonderfully manipulate sounds to heighten the mood, build up tension, and set the tone. Classical was naturally his style of choice, although he could use contemporary music to wonderful effect. (Sadly, the most obvious example of this was in his 1987 classic, Full Metal Jacket, which is not represented here.) Nor was he afraid to take an experimental approach, as witnessed by the innovative synthesizer work of Wendy Carlos for his 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange. (Once again, this work is not directly represented here.) An in the instance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, not only does music take front and center stage, it would not be incorrect to suggest that the soundtrack and score itself is the film’s lead character.
Yet for all that is missing from Kubrick’s Music, the box set doesserve a wonderful purpose, in that it shows the depth and diversity Kubrick used when scoring his films. For his earliest work, he preferred a straightforward approach; Lolita and Spartacus––the only films represented here by their actual full soundtrack albums––were written by two of the leading masters of cinematic composition, Nelson Riddle and Alex North. Riddle’s cues for Lolita are light and airy, adding a wistful touch to a comedy that was actuality quite dark and quite taboo, while North’s work is fitting for an epic adventure movie, if not somewhat generic-sounding. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Stanley Kubrick would ultimately reject North’s score for 2001 in favor of using classical compositions, and stated that he felt film composers pale in comparison to the masters.)
2001: A Space Odyssey offers an amazing new reconsideration of the use of music. It is rightly considered Kubrick’s masterpiece, and rightly so; it is a cinematic feast for the senses, and half a century after its release, it still looks positively futuristic. What makes it so innovative is its blend of powerful classical music with iconic imagery, often in lieu of dialogue. “Sunrise,” the fanfare from Richard Strauss’ masterpiece Also Sprach Zarathustra, has become a definitive example of how the right piece of music can forever cause a viewer to instantly associate that song with a film. Consider: if you’ve seen the film, the mere mention of the name of the work probably invoked an image of primitive apes in the wild, the arrival of star child, or as the sun rises over the mysterious monolith that appears throughout the film.
After such a high point, Kubrick would continue to use music in innovative ways. 1971’s A Clockwork Orange blended classical music with the futuristic sounds of synthesizers thanks to Wendy Carlos, while his next film, Barry Lyndon, would utilize the music of the 18th-century in a period piece that was as much a feast for the senses as 2001. The Shining would use the modern classical works of Bela Bartok, Krzysztof Penderecki, and György Ligeti, using the bleak tones and ominous melodies to paint a gripping backdrop that only intensified the darkness and isolation of a remote Colorado lodge in winter. (It is also the closest you’re going to get to unofficial soundtrack, as the original has been kept out of print for nearly 40 years due to legal issues, and is quite rare.) His final film, Eyes Wide Shut, is a flawed work, but it found him blending his love of both classical and big band pop and jazz.
Although Kubrick’s Music: Selections From The Films of Stanley Kubrick isn’t quite the definitive sound track and score collection his films deserve, it is an excellent place to start if you so happen to love his movies. This collection will fit nicely beside the in-print scores and DVD collections, and is quite enjoyable on its own.