Original Soundtrack

Days of Heaven

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AllMusic Review by

Prolific composer Ennio Morricone has written so many film scores that it would be foolhardy to call his music for writer/director Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven the best work he's ever done. It is, at very least, however, some of the best work he's ever done. With his background in spaghetti Westerns, Morricone may have been the ideal choice to score the film, not because Days of Heaven is a spaghetti Western (it is a Western, of a sort), but because, like the spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone, it takes on the Hollywood tradition of Westerns and presents a different viewpoint on it, employing a familiar vocabulary to tell a new story. Also, it gives Morricone an opportunity to express his emotionalism, again within a specific context. Malick begins the film, set initially in pre-World War I Industrial Revolution squalor, with a series of vintage photographs and sets the collage to the "Aquarium" section of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. (The recording of the piece heard on the soundtrack LP, performed by the Wurttenberg Chamber Orchestra, is not the same one used in the film, which was "not available for album purposes." It is not much different, however.) After an excerpt from the artless narration by pre-adolescent Linda (Linda Manz) and Leo Kottke's guitar theme "Enderlin," which takes the story to the wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle, Morricone enters with "Harvest," unabashedly picking up the theme of "The Aquarium," but transforming it into a different, more lyrical mood through his re-orchestration. His own melodic style appears on "Threshing," and the music remains warm and welcoming through the middle part of the film, with a joyous side trip into Cajun style via Doug Kershaw's "Swamp Dance." Morricone introduces a delicate theme in "The Return," using an electric guitar backed by strings. But discord arrives in "The Chase," in which a harpsichord leads the orchestra in a cue that could provide lessons in the writing of suspense music. The score's tour de force is the nearly eight-minute-long "The Fire," which employs some typically melodramatic Hollywood scoring, but develops it in an even more heightened manner. On "Ashes and Dust," Morricone reintroduces "The Aquarium," again re-orchestrating it with a sad, lovely development in the reeds. And on the closing "Days of Heaven," he develops it further into a new theme that has hints of Alfred Newman's main theme for How the West Was Won (albeit arranged in a sedate, lovely manner rather than in Newman's heroic treatment). Thus, Morricone reinvents Western music yet again, just as Malick takes the Western in a whole new direction with the film. Days of Heaven (especially in its initial 70mm-print release) is arguably the most beautiful movie ever made; practically every shot of the picture is like a photograph worthy of hanging in a museum. Indeed, the sheer look of the film completely overwhelms such other aspects as the acting and the plot. The only other element that keeps pace with the rapturous images is Morricone's equally beautiful music. (Cinematographer Nestor Almendros appropriately won the Academy Award for his work on the film. Morricone's score was nominated, but, astonishingly, lost to Giorgio Moroder and Midnight Express. Well, it was the height of the disco era, after all.)

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