Variations on a Theme, No. 9: Gods and Monsters (1998)

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Carter Burwell – Gods and Monsters (1998, dir. Bill Condon)

Winner at the 1999 Academy Awards: Nicola Piovani, Life Is Beautiful (1997, dir. Roberto Benigni)

After a week-long break, I am returning to finish my series of posts about great film scores that did not receive Academy Award nominations. Relating back to my earlier post on the 1935 horror classic Bride of Frankenstein, I now take a look at Bill Condon’s excellent biopic of director James Whale (as played by Ian McKellen), Gods and Monsters (1998). Carter Burwell’s score is sometimes quite loud and forceful, but the most moving selections encapsulate the heartbroken exhaustion from the end of Whale’s life and his regret over lost passions or passions never experienced. The composition “Love in the Trenches” (1) establishes what I think of as the main theme associated with the James Whale character. The piece is heard in a scene that recounts Whale’s forbidden romance with a soldier who fought alongside him in World War I, a person whose death haunted Whale and influenced the unsettling, German Expressionist-style imagery seen in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. “Frankenwhale” (2) depicts the darker side of Whale’s personality as a man tormented by inner demons, manifesting both in his directing (in his films’ subject matter and in his on-set actions) and in his private life; the combination of professional and personal leads Burwell to incorporate the main Whale theme at the 1:29 mark. In the last minutes of the film, “Friend?” (3) harks back to the touching question asked by Frankenstein’s Monster in Bride of Frankenstein, aligning Whale with the misunderstood creature who, despite being considered a misfit by society, was both sensitive and lonely, reaching out for a companion.

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