Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Cronenberg Blogathon: Hearing Cronenberg - Eastern Promises

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cronenberg Blogathon: Hearing Cronenberg - Eastern Promises

Howard Shore
by Jeffrey Goodman

[Jeffrey Goodman is an independent filmmaker who directed Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander in the wonderful neo-noir, The Last Lullaby. You can read about his exeriences making films at his blog, The Last Lullaby (and) Peril.]

Have you heard the most recent David Cronenberg film? I bet not. You’ve probably only seen it. But it’s worth hearing, too, as I would place Cronenberg in a very small of group of directors that think about the sound in their work as much as they do the visuals.

Working with Howard Shore for the twelfth time in Eastern Promises, Cronenberg once again proves that he and Shore have one of the most important director/composer collaborations in all of cinema. Their only contemporaries that even challenge them, in my mind, are the Coens/Carter Burwell, David Lynch/Angelo Badalementi, and perhaps Tim Burton/Danny Elfman.

This time, Shore immediately sets the stage. His music is symphonic, fairly big, with a deep sense of melancholy. It announces itself forcefully in the beginning but then takes a backseat for most of the film, really only showing up to accompany the voiceover of the young girl’s diary.

Shore’s music may not be noticeable in the same way as say a score from Bernard Herrmann, but it’s certainly a key component of the texture. Its rhythms pulsate and churn and help create the feeling of Cronenberg’s cinema enveloping you. Shore also likes to take short breaks between his themes, pause, and then restart them. This tendency aids tremendously to the sense of uneasiness Cronenberg is so adept at creating.

And then there’s Cronenberg’s use of sound. It’s not as complex or expressive as Lynch’s work. But it subtly conveys his themes and helps to create and sustain the tense atmosphere in his work. One of the things that I was most struck by here were all the offscreen sounds of cars. Whether we’re in Semyon’s restaurant, inside Anna’s home, or even at the spa, there’s always the faint sound offscreen of cars going by. This adds immeasurably to the tension in the film and does it in a way that is highly intelligent and nuanced.

Of course, we all already know about Cronenberg’s obsession with the human body, and machinery (Crash). And here those are the sounds that are the most pronounced, whether it’s a razor cutting a throat, blood spilling out of a hemorrhaging girl, or the entire famous scene in the sauna. As for machinery, just listen as Anna goes by on her motorcycle or the expressive mileage Cronenberg generates from a hair dryer or tattoo gun. In his hands, all of them are transformed into sounding like some sort of murderous weaponry.

Next time you get a chance, stop and listen to one of the Canadian’s films. Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, you guys can be very proud.


Adam Zanzie said...

Interesting, Jeffrey. When I think of "hearing" Eastern Promises I think of a couple of the stuff you mention here like the blood of the hemoragging girl, but I don't know if I was as observational of Shore's score (which I've always cherished in Cronenberg's other work, but strangely I don't recall immediately the scores he composed for this one). You've made me want to watch this great movie again.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Great stuff Jeffrey,
I love Shore's work and it's so terrific to see a post pointing out its importance in Cronenberg's films. Excellent read...thank you.

Kevin J. Olson said...


I loved this piece. I was thinking a lot about the sound when I recently re-watched VIDEODROME (my favorite of Shore's scores). I love how you invite people to listen to his movies (something that people don't enough with any movies), and this is especially relevant in with his "body horror" films, where the sound really adds to the horror of the picture.

Great stuff, Jeffrey!

Jeffrey Goodman said...


Thanks so much. Yeah, Score's work here is definitely a little more understated, but I think it does wonders, all the same. Always great to hear from you.


Jeffrey Goodman said...


Thanks so much. Always awesome to hear from you, and I completely agree, Shore's work is always pretty fantastic. Thanks, Jeremy.


Jeffrey Goodman said...


That's all so nice of you to say. Always awesome to hear from you. I definitely need to check out VIDEODROME. Believe it or not, for some reason, it's one I've yet to see. And I know people who absolutely love it.


Jeffrey Goodman said...


In my pre-coffee stupor, I wrote Score instead of Shore. Wow, those can be confusing. Thanks again!