A George and a Noir

I’m afraid I must start this post with another preamble. I need to confess that I love  George Clooney.

I want to share an experience I recently had with George’s most recent foray into directing, Midnight Sky. And I want to ask George, should he ever read this post, not to take this personally. It’s just a matter of artistic preference.

I saw two films this week whose musical scores struck me in completely opposite ways. The score to Midnight Sky ruined my experience of the movie. But then I saw a movie that restored my faith in movie scores–a film noir called Pitfall, from 1948.

Midnight Sky

Where to stream: Netflix

Plot: It’s Armageddon, 2049. Earth is falling apart and everyone is leaving the space station in the Arctic except for scientist Augustine Lofthouse  (George Clooney). He insists on staying so that he can warn a current space mission not to return to earth because it is uninhabitable. After everyone leaves he finds a mute little girl who was left behind by mistake. The movie switches among settings, mostly between earth with Lofthouse and the girl and the spaceship that’s heading to earth without knowledge of the catastrophe that has struck. Members of the crew are played by, among others: David Oyelowo, Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler.

It’s based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

The New York Times

Review by Glenn Kenny

Bottom Line: Cinematically, it’s impressive. Plot-wise, not so much. It’s a “real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink science-fiction saga. The only thing missing is an evil alien or malevolent extraterrestrial organism, but that would not be germane.” Although there are “glaring implausibilities” in the second half, the actors still manage to produce an emotional ending.

Spoilers Skimmable? No. When it comes to spoilers, reviews of The NY Times rivals those of The New Yorker: Rampant raging unending spoilers.

RogerEbert.com

Review by Brian Tallerico

Bottom Line: 2/5 stars. Tallerico says that it’s great to see George back on screen, but this movie misses the mark. It’s a completely derivative movie with nothing original to contribute.

Best Line:

“He’s a welcome presence in his first on-screen performance since 2016, but Clooney’s direction is as cold as the landscape his character travels, never once finding anything that feels organic or character-driven. It looks good. It sounds great. It’s as hollow as can be.”

In a parenthetical, Tellerico says something that resonates with me: “Although the film doesn’t have nearly enough quiet moments, thanks in part to an aggressive score by Alexandre Desplat.” 

About That Score:

The Hollywood Reporter

Article by Scott Roxborough

The Hollywood Reporter describes Midnight Sky’s score “as central a character in the science fiction drama as Clooney’s protagonist Augustine.”

In fact, Clooney wanted the music to be like another character, because the girl doesn’t talk and there’s no communication between Lofthouse and the space mission.

“Remember,” Clooney tells The Hollywood Reporter, “these are also about people who can’t communicate, they can’t talk to one another and can’t hear from one another. And so music has to be our language.”

Best Line: George says–

“I thought this was an opportunity for us to do something where the music is a character, a central character in the film, not just highlighting moments of sadness or terror, but also carrying the emotion all the way through from the very beginning.”

My take: the score has a heavy presence-it’s grating. It’s like Donald Trump. Insisting on being the focus, competing with the other noise on screen.

My experience: Whenever the music started, the actors seemed to fade away, as I tried to figure out what emotion the music was trying to evoke. Matching the music with the action was so distracting that it took my attention away from what was happening on screen.

Here’s a sample of the score, in this trailer. The music is relentless. I advise you to just listen to solely the first 33 seconds, so that you are not bombarded by the spoilers. Unless you don’t mind spoilers…then go ahead, listen to the whole thing. Or unless you don’t plan to see the movie…

And now I turn to a film with a perfect musical score. I review a contemporary movie review and a movie review from the time of the film’s release, 1948.

Pitfall

Plot: Poor John Forbes (Dick Powell). He’s got a lovely wife (Jane Wyatt) and a delightful young son (Jimmy Hunt), but his life is all ho hum. Will Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) give his life the pizzazz that he needs? Intrigue and murder follow. (It’s a noir!)

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

Slant Magazine 2015 Review by Chuck Bowen

Modern Interpretation:

Bowen deems Pitfall “an underappreciated quasi-feminist gem” because the character of Mona would normally be a femme fatale whose charms cause the demise of the man she ensnares, but this isn’t the case. Mona is layered and a victim herself.

Good acting:

“Powell’s unsentimental performance is the film’s boldest stroke. Most noir heroes encourage the audience to identify with their hungers, vicariously enjoying sex with rarefied women, but Powell establishes John as a bitter mediocrity who spits his lines out in short, direct, nearly staccato bursts.”

New York Times 1948 Review

1948 Interpretation: John Forbes falls prey to the toxic attractiveness of Mona–in other words, she indeed is a femme fatale.

Ennui or bad acting?

“The acting is generally sound, even though Mr Powell’s performance is not always as incisive and varied as one might desire.”

Marital Morality Play: the review notes that it is a comment on marital problems and better solutions.

And now see how a good score fits perfectly into a movie. The score is not CONSTANT throughout the action (as opposed to that of Midnight Sky.) It is silent at times. Watch the first few seconds of this scene. Don’t watch the scene through. Instead, watch the whole movie through!