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Soundtrack review: Feud – Bette and Joan (Mac Quayle – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Feud – Bette and Joan (Mac Quayle – 2017)

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“Feud” is an American anthology television series for FX created by Ryan Murphy, Jaffe Cohen, and Michael Zam, presented as the dramatization of actual events. It premiered on March 5, 2017. The first season, which consists of eight episodes, is subtitled Bette and Joan and chronicles the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during and after the production of their 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Mac Quayle wrote the score and I am reviewing the extended CD version released by La La Land.

There’s always a tingle of nostalgia when I see Mac’s name on a score even if I know this one will not be the retro electronic bonanza of “Mr. Robot”; in fact as soon as I listen to the titles I get a strong early James Bond vibe with the sneaky and elegant jazzy sound. After all, nostalgia for me comes in different shapes and forms and this particular sound brings it as well. It’s not just Bond related but it brings back the orchestral melodies of the 60s that made the passage from Golden and Silver age to the dark, edgy sound of the 70s. As I listen to this score I get the feeling of a sunset, of one last old school sunset and I am quite pleasantly surprised to hear Mac Quayle write it so well. It’s a clever little gimmick to also introduce “Finale fanfare” in this score as it’s part of the movie depicted in the show.

I get interesting feelings as this score develops; I didn’t know how much I loved and missed this particular sound before hearing “Feud”. It echoes in my childhood when I grew up with old movies as well and the fanfares, the marches, the suave and elegant orchestral melodies, all of them take me to a forgotten and comfortable place. The music is rich and vivacious and every now and then there’s an orchestral burst, like the string section in “The contracts”, that just makes everything sound even better. There’s hope, there’s suspense, there are even frights in this complex score and with every cue I am enjoying it more.

Absent a main theme I still say that “Feud” could very well double as a lost early James Bond score and I am not hesitating when I am writing this; there’s also romance and even if it cannot match John Barry’s levels it’s still that sound, that vibe, and it gives me the same feelings as an early Bond score. I was not expecting this or the subtle shifts in tone that Mac Quayle hides inside his composition. This score is alive, sneaky, seductive and always captivating. It evokes and recreates an age that’s long gone and brings an extra touch of authenticity to the TV show. It brings the angst, romance and flamboyance of that period. It sounds both retro and contemporary and I am sure that fans of film music will think, besides Barry, of Henry Mancini or Jerry Goldsmith as well. Mac Quayle really knocks this one out of the park and unveils a part of his composer craft I am very excited to explore further.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Highlights:
Documentary
I Want to Act
Baby Jane Book
The Contracts
Bob & Bette
A Day at the Beach
This Awful Silence
The Winner Is*
The Brows Are Mine

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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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