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Soundtrack review: Rebel in the rye (Bear McCreary 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Rebel in the rye (Bear McCreary 2017)


“Rebel in the Rye” is a 2017 American biographical drama film directed and written by Danny Strong. It is based on the book J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski, about the life of young writer J. D. Salinger from his youth to the World War II era, including his romantic life and the publication of his debut novel The Catcher in the Rye.. The film stars Nicholas Hoult, Zoey Deutch, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Brian d’Arcy James, Victor Garber, Hope Davis, and Lucy Boynton. Bear McCreary wrote the score.

How can a main theme called “Innocence” not charm me instantly…Bear takes his most gentle of musical brushes and dips it in pastoral tones of piano and horns to paint a delightful and inviting picture. The cue then develops into a fully fledged theme as the string section joins in before the flute without which any innocence theme wouldn’t be complete seals the deal and makes me wish I could have been in the room when they recorded it.

Bear McCreary is one of the most talented chameleons of film music and he can literally write anything; just give him a studio and an idea and he will turn it into a fantasy, a feast of musical imagination. “Rebel in the rye” is no exception and the piano takes centre stage here. I can related to the rolling and almost furious piano in “Early writing” as the temperament of the soloist playing the instrument matches the stride of writing. This theme comes back even more beautifully in “A true writer” and the more I listen to this score the more mesmerised I am. The composer writes pure emotion; he puts the wonderful effervescence of creation with which I am sure he is very familiar into music.

The mood changes completely with “Giving the time” which is a big band Charleston theme to fix the story in its time setting; yes, Bear can write anything and it fascinates me how he can go from rock to jazz to orchestral in a heartbeat. The jazz gets even smoother in “Sowing your wild oats” and I can literally see a movie scene where the main character is in the middle of a crowded bar where that music is playing and for a few seconds the music dies down as the camera cuts to his face as he thinks about something deep when Bear places a reflective orchestral motif towards the end of that joyful jazz track.

“Typerwriter drums” is the kind of brilliant innovation that not a lot of composers can get away with; it’s literally the sound of somebody typing on a typewriter with a soft jazz percussion accompanying it and trying to keep up. It just showcases in the simplest and most enjoyable of ways the synergy between writing and music; it’s the music trying to keep up with the writer instead of the other way around as it happens in my case but for me this cue is a simple and sublime expression of what I do. “Typerwriter drums” is also a personal confession of the composer since Bear is the son of a novelist and he grew up hearing that sound.

Even the terrible war is almost romanticised in this score as the military percussion is almost drowned and seems less menacing when combined with the rolling piano of writing. Bear McCreary blends in the most rewarding of ways the angst and pleasure of writing with the background of war and jazz that were representative for those years. Everything comes alive in his music and I feel as if I am experiencing this story from Salinger’s perspective; the composer puts writing in the foreground and everything else in the background, unable to stop writing because when Salinger wrote he was in his own special place and zone where nothing could touch him.

With “Rebel in the rye”, Bear McCreary wrote one of his most beautiful and romantic scores. There were moments when I could have been listening to John Barry and nothing would have been different. This score is like the old yellow photo of a different age that you keep taking out of the drawer to make everything come to life. He combined big band jazz music with emotional piano themes to bring all the elements of the story in his score which works exceptionally as a standalone listen as well. I Imagine this was was as personal to him as the “Outlander” albums. As a rebel of film music himself I am sure Bear could relate with Salinger which is why he was able to write such a stunning score.  Nothing, and I mean nothing can express emotions as well as the piano. Contender for score of the year from my part.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 35 / 51

Album excellence: 68


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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