Promoters of the California idyll have largely ignored the irony that the state boasts not only palm trees, blonde beaches and frolicsome youth, but also fog. Dense, clammy, days-long fog.
Ignored until now, that is. This climatic phenomenon has a starring role in House Of Sand and Fog, a drama narrating the dispute between an Iranian immigrant family and a dispossessed woman over a Californian bungalow. The fog even seeps into the music, in the best possible way.
Veteran film composer James Horner has created a score which is dense, ominous and rolling as a West Coast pea-souper, with a blurry-edged, saturated sound. In "Break-In", for example, Horner conjures a thick, textured musical swirl, muffling the instruments carrying the melody behind heavy timpani and electronic fuzziness. Such nebulousness is perfect for a film about cultural confusion, the inability or refusal to see from others' viewpoints.
The piano plays a key role. Its intimate, domestic sound is put to good use in a drama about personal politics. "Two People" is a tense, tentative pas de deux played out on a solo piano. Elsewhere Horner supplements its sound electronically, Old "Photos, New Memories" overlays the gentle sound of a parlour piano with a synthesized keyboard to ominous effect.
Although sober and reflective, there are changes of pace. "This Is No Longer Your House" is a thumping musical stand-off, jumpy with suspense. And Horner's romantic heritage (Titanic, A Beautiful Mind) is evident in the closing track, "A Return to the Caspian", where the strings come out for an old-fashioned wallow.
One of the great things about this recording is its girth. Over an hour long, it allows thematic development of sequences such as "The Shooting". But the roominess means it also tends to lose momentum. It would do no harm to lose a couple of the filler tracks.
For the most part, though, this is a subtle, complex and lovely score. Sometimes fog can be a beautiful thing. --Jack Smith
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