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Soundtrack review: The silence of the lambs (expanded) (Howard Shore – 1991, 2018)

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Soundtrack review: The silence of the lambs (expanded) (Howard Shore – 1991, 2018)

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“The Silence of the Lambs” is a 1991 American horror-thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn. Adapted by Ted Tally from the 1988 novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, his second to feature the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter; a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer, the film was the second adaptation of a Harris novel featuring Lecter, preceded by the Michael Mann-directed Manhunter in 1986. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer, known only as “Buffalo Bill”.

Who doesn’t remember one of the most memorable movie of the 90s and the first appearance by one of the most fascinating characters in book and film, Hannibal Lecter. I love this movie and watch it again every time I run into it. Before becoming legendary with his scores for the Middle Earth trilogies, Howard Shore wrote the music for some of the best and most memorable thrillers of the 90s, including “Seven” and this one. I remember the serious melodic musings from the movie and I know the director asked Shore to make his score blend with all the other elements of his picture. It’s a good chance to listen to it outside the context of the movie now that Quartet is releasing this expanded edition.

One of the pieces I do remember is the sad and lyrical main title cue. I can hear in the subtle flute motif at the beginning the seed of what was going to become one of the main themes in “Lord of the rings”; in fact the whole “Main titles” cue is like a prelude to that masterpiece with the orchestral playing sombre and serious an ominous piece. The tone actually reminds me more of the music of “The hobbit” which for me was much darker than LOTR. I think this is where the composer sharpened his composer tools and I am slowly sucked into the atmosphere of those cloudy forests that mark the opening of the movie. The mix of danger and tenderness in the first three cues of this release describe perfectly how Clarice Sterling was as she met Dr. Lecter, innocent yet determined. Having not heard this score for over 20 years I am associating it more and more with the Tolkien scores, as if it was a draft, a more toned down version of the orchestral hurricane it was going to become.

I have always said that as beautiful and positive some of his scores are, Howard Shore has proved over the years (I am thinking mainly to scores like “Seven” or “Copland”) that he can be one of the darkest composers out there and visit places few would want to explore. Only Clarice’s light keeps this score from going full dark and unbearably painful and an early cue like “Visit to Lecter / You Look Like a Rube” feels like that moment on the verge of a depression, of breaking down. Shore weaves a strong web that quietly wraps itself around me and injects me with something that makes me addicted and almost paralysed as I can do nothing but listen to this organic composition and enjoy it to the fullest.

The orchestra vibrates differently, livelier when Shore wants to turn un the emotions like in “First Flashback* / FBI Montage”, one of the pieces which weren’t on the earlier release. The emotional resorts inside me are in tune with such a beautiful cue and it’s just a prelude to the beautiful flute driven theme for “Clarice”; her positive presence dominates the first half of the score and gives it a feeling that something could stop the impending doom. Motifs from this theme blend into other cues and give “The silence of the lambs” a clear identity.

As the movie goes on and Lecter’s presence becomes more important the music turns darker, without losing it’s lyrical appeal. I am thinking about film music today and how it has changed; you will rarely find in a drama thriller a full orchestral, melodic composition like this one. Now it’s mostly dark electronic undertones, as if a lot of directors have lost sight of just how important music is for their films, how much of an integral part it should be. Jonathan Demme recognised this and made space in his movie for the all important score and even if Howard Shore’s composition is taken out of context it’s still a beautiful and moving music album.

“The silence of the lambs” is as beautiful a composition as Howard Shore has ever wrote. The almost permanent presence of the tender, innocent, touching flute in such a gruesome and torturing story is one of those ideas from a genius composer who manages to take the two opposite poles of the movie, the good and evil, and encapsulate them in notes and motifs so that even if I just listen to the score without watching the movie I absorb this wealth of emotions, both positive and negative, and the score leaves an inimitable echo inside me. In music, the light wins.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 69 / 69

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
Main Title
Bulletin Board*
Visit to Lecter / You Look Like a Rube
Miggs
First Flashback* / FBI Montage*
Clarice (Film Version)*
I’ll Help You
The Abduction
West Virginia Car Ride*
Rock of Ages Flashback
The Bug Cocoon* / Washington*
Death Head Moth*
Quid Pro Quo, Yes or No
Lecter in Memphis
Lambs Screaming
Lecter Escapes†
Laundromat*
Belvedere, Ohio
To Calumet City*
The Moth
The Cellar
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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