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Soundtrack review: The Putin interviews (Jeff Beal – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: The Putin interviews (Jeff Beal – 2017)

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“The Putin Interviews” is a four-part, four-hour television series by Oliver Stone. It was first broadcast in 2017. The series was created from several interviews of Vladimir Putin by Oliver Stone between 2015 and 2017. Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone was granted unprecedented access to Russian president Vladimir Putin during more than a dozen interviews over two years, with no topic off-limits. This remarkable four-part documentary series provides intimate insight into Putin’s personal and professional lives, from his childhood under communism, to his rise to power, his relations with four U.S. presidents, and his surprising takes on U.S.-Russian relations today. Witness the most detailed portrait of Putin ever granted to a Western interviewer.

It’s strange to me for an interview to have a proper score because this is not a movie like “Frost /Nixon”. Still I have yet to see the series so I can’t comment. Since it’s about such a powerful and controversial leader as Vladimir Putin the producers asked Jeff Beal, who writes the magnificent scores for “House of cards” to compose the music, even using “House of cards” temp tracks when presenting footage from the series to him. I still have the season 5 music fresh in my head as I am listening to “The Putin interviews”.

The main theme is infused with Russian elements so we’d know what the story is about: the choirs and the brass place the music geographically; it’s about the only think the composer does to induce feelings to the audience. Afterwards the music is broad enough to let me as a listener and the audience of the movie draw their own conclusions.

The interviews and the score take us through all the Russian and world history of the past 10 years or so, not forgetting the darker episodes. Jeff Beal’s “House of cards” experience helps him write a score that’s mature, compelling and addictive without being heavy. The difference between writing for a TV show with fictive characters and a series of interview with a very real leader is in the emotions the music evokes; very much like writing music for a documentary, writing for “The Putin interviews” must have been a difficult task because emotions must be kept restrained in the music so they would not influence the audience into caring one way or the other because the music told them to.

What the music does is help create the portrait of a man; the war cues show determination with a relentless string section and the brass motifs that evoke power to me. Also Jeff Beal knows how to write musically murky and ambiguous morality with piano and strings in the background and there are enough cues on this score that remind me that Putin is a complex individual.

The musical journey doesn’t miss subtle Middle Eastern influences when there’s talk of Al-Quaeda or electronic motifs when Snowden or the election tampering come into the discussion. There are electronic inserts in “Crimean referendum” as well, leaving everything up for debate. These are supporting cues so the focus of the audience doesn’t stray away from what’s going on on screen; Jeff Beal is a composer who can instantly open up an emotional pit in which I voluntarily fall but for “The Putin interviews” he kept his music mostly at ground level.

The most human and touching piece from this score is also the longest: “Always hope” is a haunting cue that’s played by nothing but a string quartet supported by the piano; to me this piece of music is the moment when all arms are laid to the ground and enemies, moral or otherwise, come together and join hands for a common cause. There’s hope in this purely humane cue and it is my favourite moment from “The Putin interviews”. This cue is followed very intelligently by “Hungry for war” on the score and it’s all right there in the stark contrast between these two pieces, the difference between individual and common purposes.

“Lucky man” is another emotional string based cue and I imagine this is where we get a glimpse into the Putin real person, not the image from the press. Haunting moments like this one are like meaningful silences and looks in the middle of a serious conversation. These cues and the ambient “Living in the old world” are my favourites from the entire album.

“The Putin interviews” is a solid documentary score that does its best to not influence the audience and not take the focus away from the interviews itself, safe for a few moments when we, the audience and him, one of the most powerful men on Earth, feel the same.

Cue rating: 81 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 25 / 79

Album excellence: 32%

Highlights:
The Putin Interviews, Main Title Theme
Supporting Russians in Chechnya
Always Hope
Lucky Man
Living in the Old World
Sending a Message
Greater Wealth
It’s Time, Finale

 

 

 

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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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