Film Music - Crash

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  • Topic: Music, Mark Isham, Piano
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CRITICAL STUDIES: Film Music

Assessment 1: Research Essay

Crash (2004) – Composer: Mark Isham

Crash is a film directed by Paul Haggis and was released in 2004. The film depicts various social and political themes, the strongest being the issue of racism in the larger societies of the US. Mark Isham composed the score for the film; his work mostly consisting of smooth, ethereal and other-worldly sounds. The scene in analysis consists of a car crash in which Officer John Ryan, a racist white cop who tries to save a black woman from her upturned car, his attempt in rescuing her being delayed as he realises that she is the woman he had sexually abused the night before.

Mark Isham was born in New York City, USA. He grew up learning to play classical piano, violin and trumpet. He played jazz trumpet whilst in high school and ventured on to electronic music in his early 20s. He had simultaneous careers as a classical, jazz and rock musician, performing with acts such as the San Fransisco Opera, The Beach Boys, the famous jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and co-lead Rubisa Patrol with pianist Art Lande. In 1979, he formed the Group 87 ensemble with Peter Mannu, Patrick O’Hearn and Terry Bozzio, in which they released a self-titled debut album a year later and A Career in Dada Processing four years after. He also recorded and toured with Van Morrison’s band, playing trumpet and flugelhorn. (Oxford Online)

Mark Isham started to develop his compositional skills in the 80s, using brass, electronics and his own trumpet. His work is quite extensive and can be heard in films, documentaries and children’s fairytales. Some films in which he’s worked in are The Times of Harvey Milk, Made In America, The Net, Kiss the Girls, Blade, Rules of Engagement and many more………..

Paul Haggis’s Crash is a film which delved into the ‘prejudices’ or racist attitudes that people have about others, in a larger society of the USA. The film’s foundation is the exploration of racism and how people’s cultural prejudices affects the lives of those around them. The film maintains its narrative around different characters, their lives, and these characters intertwining with the lives of the other characters. The main characters are: two young black car thieves, one of these young men is the missing brother of a black detective who’s partner is white; a black film director and his wife, his wife sexually abused by a white racist cop – his white partner having a problem with his unethical attitudes and behaviour; a white upper class lawyer and his wife; a Persian family who owns a store in which is robbed and vandalised and a Latino man, his wife and daughter. This film is set in a postmodern, post-civil rights, postracial, postfeminist, post-9/11 U.S. culture and so the various racial, social and cultural themes presented within Crash are a reflection of Haggis’ bold gesture to inform and challenge audiences about the ‘prejudices’ and cultural differences that everyone has. (Middleton, J.I, 2007)

The scene in analysis is a scene in which a racist white cop Officer John Ryan gets to a crash scene and realises that the victim in the upturned car is Christine, the black woman he had wrongfully abused the night before. Her distress is heightened when she realises that he is the one who had abused her and his attempt in rescuing her is delayed and strived. The music in this excerpt is ethereal, haunting and ethereal, Isham’s use of electronics and ethnic sounds enables the audience to experience the emotions and journey of the characters on screen.

The scene begins with the police car making its way towards the crash site. The cue in this instant consists of thick textured and ethereal string/ pad or electronic sounds which overall create an ambient and otherworldly atmosphere, which essentially remains consistent throughout the entire scene. As they get to the crash scene and Officer John Ryan gets out of the car, the sustained string/ pad...
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