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Soundtrack review: Dolores (Mark Kilian – 2017)

Documentary

Soundtrack review: Dolores (Mark Kilian – 2017)

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Dolores is the documentary of Dolores Huerta, among the most important, yet least known, activists in American history. In the 1950’s, this working-class wife and mother of eleven children helps to establish the first farm workers unions alongside Cesar Chavez. From the tireless fight for racial and labor justice, Huerta, one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century, develops a platform for feminism and gender equality. Although her enormous contributions have gone largely unrecognised, Huerta continues the fight to this day, at age 87. With intimate and unprecedented access, Dolores directed by Peter Bratt, delves into the raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change. The film documents Huerta’s fight against economic poverty, harassment, racism, physical and even sexual abuse of the farm workers, while facing the personal attacks of her enemies and the macho temperament of her allies. Mark Kilian wrote the score.

Quite often documentary scores are quiet and stay in the background so that they wouldn’t take the focus of off the story; but in this case since the story is so clear and the documentary was made to shed light and praise a woman’s extraordinary character and efforts there is no danger of the score telling people what to think or influencing them emotionally so the composer goes all in with a rich and vivid composition that feels like a breath of fresh air and right from the start engages me and puts me on a good mood. The first ethnical cue from the score “March to Sacramento” is just as joyful and I am discovering traditional string instruments that are played with a bow and also something that sounds like wooden percussion. It’s not all sunny of course as “Poor by choice” tones down the optimism with a melancholic sound where the acoustic guitar and what is probably a pan flute or maybe a South American quena. I am always interested in discovering and hearing new sounds so this cue for me is captivating both as mood and as sound. Also as a fan of ambient and reflective music and of a melancholic tone I might have already found my favourite piece from “Dolores”. “Dolores’ legacy” challenges that immediately with the wailing vocal background and the melodic piano undertone that just leaves me speechless with how beautiful it is.

I like how Mark Killian alternates two very different sounds in this score: the melodic themes with experimental and ethnical ones that play more like ambient sounds than music; “A day in the life of Dolores” makes me feel as if I am walking the dusty streets of her home village, hearing street music being played and watching local traditions. I am discovering a lot of new sounds in this score and since I listen to world music a lot (Yanni and Lorenna McKennitt especially) this is right into my comfort zone. The melodic, almost romantic pieces charm me with their warmth and joy while the ethnical experimental pieces captivate me with their sound. The vocalisations sound more like African ones but are so well done and inserted, just enough to make the emotion more poignant and to make the sound elegiac and prayerful when it needs to be. Sometimes the best way to raise a score’s emotional impact is to make the emotion simple and honest, sometimes just with a few quiet strums of an electric guitar and slow moves of a bow on some chords.

I love everything about this score, from the duality of the sound to the addictive and inviting melodies that are right on the edge between optimistic and melancholic and to the combination of instruments, usually one with a sharp sound and another with a milder sound. Mark Kilian writes one of his best scores yet and one that does justice to Dolores as it makes me feel her life force, the hardships but also the way she never loses hope in front of them. I can’t even tell what I liked more from it, the cello, the piano, the woodwind instruments or the guitar that reminded me of my favourite Gustavo Santaolalla scores. “Dolores” is a musical tale of warmth and kindness and a beautiful and fascinating score that I just couldn’t pause or stop listening to.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 36 / 56

Album excellence: 63%

Highlights:
Slavery and Serfdom
Poor by Choice
Dolores’ Legacy
A Day in the Life of Dolores
Robert Kennedy
Death of the Future
El Privilegio De Despedirse
Fred Ross
Forced Family Time
Her Most Important Child
I Could Never Be an American
Revolution Starts with Self Love
Cesar Chavez Dead
Lifelong Activist

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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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