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Soundtrack review: BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard – 2018)

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“BlacKkKlansman” is a 2018 American biographical crime film co-written and directed by Spike Lee, based on the autobiographical book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. The film stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace. The film is produced by Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Shaun Redick, Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, and Jordan Peele. Set in 1979 Colorado Springs, the plot follows an African-American detective who sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.Terence Blanchard wrote the score.

The score starts very patriotic like with an inspirational piece like “Gone with the wind”; the marching band motif goes way earlier in time than 1979. It’s a kind of prelude scene I imagine as the tone changes with the next cue which is an elegant, romantic piece that also comes from a different age. I am surprised by the sound of this score because I haven’t heard a score like this in a while; the sound is quiet and a hybrid of orchestral with a subtle touch of electric guitar and jazzy percussion to evoke the sound of the end of the 70s. Sometimes the flute comes in not to bring tenderness and emotion as it usually does but to bring questions, doubt and even a sense of irony in the music. This is a Spike Lee joint so I expect multiple layers from it; Terence Blanchard wrote a deceitful score that mirrors that complexity, here romantic and elegant, there tense and ironic.

There is no violence in the music. Sometimes the sound is grave, serious but it’s never aggressive or disturbing. Maybe it’s because there’s undercover work in the story but the music hides and tip toes instead of coming right out. It is truly a beautiful, quiet score that is tender more than anything else. A cue like “Patrice library” brings some nostalgia to me with its melancholic sound. When the music gets livelier the electric guitar joins in and mirrors the same themes played before. It is remarkable how the composer managed to make this score sound so genuine, so tied to the period when the story takes place. Sometimes the dark ironic tones in the music make me think of Carter Burwell’s music for Coen brothers movies.

Out of the context of the movie the music is a bit too quiet and too much in the background to make an impression; yes it’s elegant and sombre, it’s beautifully written orchestrally but a little too restrained for my taste, too blurry and it often fades away. It’s frustrating sometimes because I should be enjoying this music on its own as well but maybe this is what the composer wanted to add to the movie, his own feeling of unease. People familiar with Blanchard’s more subtle style will appreciate it. It also sounds repetitive at times with two main themes being played over and over again. I might give this one a few more listens to make more of it. I did enjoy the nostalgia trip and the authenticity of the late 70s sound.

Cue rating: 75 / 100

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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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