Friday, 24 January 2014

The Ninth Gate by Wojciech Kilar

When I saw Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate in its opening week, at the only cinema bothering to screen it, a small London venue now called the Cineworld Haymarket, I might well have been the only person in the audience. 

I was certainly the only one to go out and complain when the film started and a misaligned projector began to show the movie halfway up the screen, with a wide band of blank screen underneath and the top of the image lost in the dusty curtains above.

Such was the unbelievable, miserable, reception of this film masterpiece. You wouldn't know from the way it was treated, but it is an outstanding movie and among Polanski's best. One of the many exceptional elements of The Ninth Gate was the hypnotic, haunting score by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. 

Previously best known for Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, The Ninth Gate is probably Kilar's masterpiece, at least as far as film music goes. And the composer's tragic death last month has prompted me to listen again to this gorgeous score.

The music features menacing, sawing double basses and spine tingling strings (Opening Titles), eerie, lovely, mysterioso female vocalise sung by soprano Sumi Jo (Theme From The Ninth Gate, The Motorbike), rolling, relentless and almost jaunty trumpet and harpsichord (Corso), marching brass and bouncing keyboards (Bernie is Dead) delicate, descending piano and strings creating a spellbinding spiral (Liana) and a relentless militaresque march — a bolero, in fact (Plane to Spain).

The first thing that struck me about the score, hearing it in the cinema, was Sumi Jo's fabulous, ghostly singing. It reminded me of Edda Dell'Orso's wordless vocals for classic Morricone soundtracks. And it's quite marvellous. But there is much more to enjoy here than one singer. This is wonderful music which deserves your attention.

(Image credits: The cigarette smoking Johnny Depp cover is for an unofficial (read 'bootleg') Argentinian double CD release of the complete score. It is taken from the site FF Shrine. The Depp and gate cover is from Funky Souls. The Neuvieme Porte  cover is the one on the CD I own and is taken from Amazon. Some of these sites offer shady downloads but you should go to Amazon or another proper dealer and buy a legitimate copy of the music.)

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