Richard Robbins

Remains of the Day

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Repetition is the conceptual foundation of Richard Robbins' austere incidental composition for The Remains of the Day, James Ivory's 1993 film adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel about an emotionally guarded butler. In an attempt to represent musically the butler's compulsive devotion to custom and ritual, Robbins populates his score with cyclical melodic lines that are repeated methodically throughout the film, occasionally building in intensity to convey suspense. It is an effective strategy for the film, which earned eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Robbins. But if repetition is one of the score's strengths, it's also the source of its greatest weakness. The problem is that Robbins is not only repeating himself within this particular score, he's also repeating musical ideas and phrases from his previous works. After more than ten scores for Merchant Ivory Productions, Robbins begins to seem like a one-note composer. Of course, this may have something to do with the repetition of the projects to which he is assigned; how much room for variety can there be in a series of films about the negative consequences of British formality and emotional constraint? But that seems like an inadequate excuse. Taken on its own merits, Robbins' work on The Remains of the Day is quite effective, if somewhat bland when heard outside the context of the film. But his particular brand of repetition is beginning to get repetitive.

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