Musings About Music In Film


By Karol Krok fargo

The recent trend of adapting any kind of filmic property into a television series seems to indicate studios and writers involved are indeed running out of ideas. And while many titles, like Hannibal and Bates Motel, prove this point by producing half-baked re-imaginings of original properties, there are some surprising exceptions to that rule. On the first glance, it seems mad to even attempt to meddle with Coen’s brothers arguably most accomplished film. And yet, if handled right, the television medium offers a chance to successfully expand upon that pallette and create an even more intricate fictional world of an ever-snowy Minnesota. One of the main attractions of this show is acting - Billy Bob Thornton’s tale on an enigmatic and dangerous Lorne Malvo is a real show-stopper, Martin Freeman offers his strongest and richest performance to date and Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks create a very strong and fascinating couple as well.

Just as television show echoes in some aspects the much acclaimed film, so does the original score takes a page right out of Carter Burwell’s music from the 1996 film, without actually directly quoting it. The main theme, introduced in the first track (‘Bemidji, MN’), makes an impression as if it could have been used in Coen’s legendary film. The tone of the music is very hard to pinpoint, oscillating somewhere between cozy small town folk and mischievous horror story. It’s solid and entertaining scoring from composer Jeff Russo.

The choice of instrumentation has also been retained. The original score focused on a small orchestral ensemble, with particular attention given to fiddle-like violin performances, harp, solo woodwinds and, most distinctively, sleigh bell Christmas-like percussion. That last element serves as an ominous musical accent to punctuate the most disturbing elements in the story. The parallels with the Die Hard films are also quite obvious, where the seemingly homely and heartwarming wintry gestures got subverted for a very different use.

‘Malvo’s Theme’ is strangely whimsical and lighthearted, given the on-screen atrocities commited to this ominous (but always likeable) character. He’s been portrayed as an almost otherworldly being and the simple Twin Peaks-like double bass plucking serves this concept extremely well. ‘Stavros Prayer’ is a beautiful passage for string and solo woodwind, portraying an ironic biblical elements of one subplot, connected to the infamous ransom money buried in the 1996 film, where one character (played by Oliver Platt) is conned into thinking he’s being cursed with all Egyptian plagues. ‘Poor Demitri’ serves as an ironic culmination to that tragic story.

A lot of the score is very quirky and low-key. ‘Wrench and Numbers’ is essentially an extended percussion solo, while ‘Dullard’ brings a lot of light-heartedness. ‘The Parable (Gus’ Theme) introduces another important theme, strangely reminiscent of the Spider-Man theme song from the 1960’s. Only occasionally does Russo allow music to become warm and homely. ‘Gus and Molly’ is a great example - guitar manages to warm up the cold environment with some tenderness that’s sparking between the two central characters. ‘Thin Ice’ underscores the show’s very final sequence. It’s a surprisingly tragic and tender moment, almost a lament, led by solo violin. After that, we are treated to the gorgeous harp-led reprise of the main theme, after which the entire ensemble takes over. The end credit version of the same tune fittingly closes the album.

The entire CD is surprisingly enjoyable, given that it compiles musical pieces from all ten episodes. Usually, television soundtrack albums fail to offer consistent listening experience, but given how self-contained this story is, the 53-minute flows very well. It’s melancholic and low-key, occasionally dark and ominous, but never dull or uninteresting. Very much in the spirit of the Coen brothers’ film and the Carter Burwell score. And, as such, a worthy companion to the original.

Fargo is out now from Sony Masterworks