3 days ago
Duke Ellington’s score for ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ is a hypnotically cool landmark in film music (for more reviews, follow the link in the bio).
Film: Anatomy of a Murder
Composer: Duke Ellington
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a lonely, desolate landscape, one of the few places left in America that feels undisturbed by humanity’s touch. And yet, Duke Ellington’s stylish score for ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ makes it feel like a big city with big problems.
Ellington’s composes the perfect score to a crime noir, replete with hardboiled detective cases, bloodthirsty thugs, femme fatales, and all the booze you can drink. The problem is that ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ is a courtroom drama whose main character, Paul Biegler, is a detached fifty-something lawyer who pores over law books and would rather be fishing than anywhere else in the world.
While this disconnect between music and film feels subversive, it actually works to heighten the importance of what occurs on screen. Ordinarily, a lawyer interrogating witnesses or opining on legal theory would be severely boring. But add Duke Ellington playing in the background and it becomes the sexiest thing for miles. Meanwhile the courtroom scenes are almost entirely devoid of music, adding a sharp contrast to the rest of the film. Rather than smooth and stylish, these scenes are stark and serious. A man’s freedom is on the line and Ellington smartly treats that with the high stakes reverence it deserves.
Ellington’s mastery makes it all the more of a shame that he only composed four film scores. Nonetheless, it’s fortunate that ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ is not only masterful but is also a landmark as one of the first mainstream American film scores by a black composer.