Timeless and Contemporary

A Single Man, dir. Tom Ford, comp. Abel Korzeniowski, Shigeru Umebayashi

  • A Single Man, dir. Tom Ford
    Film music composer Abel Korzeniowski was born in Poland. He moved in the United States and there, despite his already existing rich filmography in his own country, was discovered by western film authorities. Similarly, the leading composer of Japanese new wave, Shigeru Umebayashi, composed around 40 film scores up to date, but to general (western) public is known only by his scores which reached American and European viewers (The House of Flying Daggers, by example). The two composers are also connected by one film: Korzeniowski and Umebayashi composed together score for A Single Man, film debut of fashion designer Tom Ford. Here, Korzeniowski was signed as the main composer, while Umebayashi was signed as the composer of additional music.

    Since both composers like atmospheric-ambiental musical expression and the two, obviously, adjusted styles, it is hard to discover who composed what in the score. Nevertheless, according to the film credit, Korzeniowski wrote the most of it. He used typically expressive musical language, full of longing but also full of dignity and intellectualism (since the main character, George, is the professor at the British University) and full of agitated static (which completely suits George who simple doesn’t find the meaning in the life without his partner). In fact, Korzeniowski’s music is very simple, but also very emotional. He composes variations which are permutations of the main musical thought. The variations appear only after shown events, so they don’t attack the film visuals but they speak about George’s inner life with endless subtlety.

    In order to achieve maximum of subjectivity in music (which was in the film already achieved by Collin Firth’s majestic acting), Korzeniowski used strings almost exclusively. By doing that, his musical voice becomes intimistic on the one hand, and the bearer of the one-colored way of the tormented life on the other (namely, by using one instrumental group the music is put down to one color). Some colorfulness is brought in by the usage of piano and flute, but the color of strings remains dominant. Namely, when the composer decides to emphasize a specific state of mind, he uses solo instruments which also belong to the group of strings – violin and violoncello.
    A Single Man, dir. Tom Ford
    Umebayashi continued this type of composing by also putting strings in the front. He wrote the valse which appears to be another variation of the main material, but in which one can from the distance feel that there are some differences in usage of meter and rhythm. The valse accompanies George’s memories of his life with Jim, memories of routine which could go on forever if it weren’t of the accident which roughly stopped the routine by its terrible end.

    Accordingly, both composers put in the forefront inner and subjective, and they forget about the outer and objective. Namely, Korzeniowski, with Umebayashi’s help, completely drew attention from the time and place of the story (time and place are touched only by songs like Stormy Weather and Blue Moon, whilst aria from the opera La Vally by Alfredo Catalani stayed on the timeless ground). Composers called viewer’s notice to despair and to George’s fight with self – to the elements of the story which could be connected to any time and any space (this is why the movie as a whole gives the viewer a feeling of contemporariness).

    Also, the music is similar to the Philip Glass’ (is this association on purpose, maybe?). It nevertheless gives the specific atmosphere to the film (truth to say, this is not unique atmosphere, since similar can be heard in other movies). But this atmosphere makes homosexual relationship from the sixties (which was the time when protagonists really had to be invisible) acceptable, and makes the pain about the loss so strong that it should make weep even the worst enemies of gay communities.

    © Irena Paulus, FILMOVI.hr, 16 September 2010