KISS THE GIRLS
"It's a very haunting score,” director Gary Fleder says of the music Mark Isham created for his film Kiss The Girls. “Mark made the film more terrifying than it already was. I don't know why it affects me, but it does. That's the highest compliment.”
Fleder made his major motion picture debut last year with the critically acclaimed Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. He based his second major film on the best selling novel by James Patterson, Kiss The Girls. The story has Washington DC police detective and psychologist Alex Cross (played by Morgan Freeman) plying his powers of deduction for personal purposes. He must find his missing niece, apparently kidnapped while attending law school in Durham, North Carolina. Joining forces with Dr. Kate McTiernan (played by Ashley Judd) and at odds with the local police, including Nick Ruskin (Cary Elwes), Cross unravels the chilling truth behind his niece’s disappearance in this big screen thriller.
“The film’s story is told in such a way,” notes composer Mark Isham, who wrote the score, “and the pictures are shot in such a way and the emotions are portrayed with large-ness. The way Gary approached this film, it was very big. It really benefited from a large feeling score, a score that rose up to the occasion and walloped you with size and scope and texture.”
Isham used his entire palette for the eighty-plus minutes of score in Kiss The Girls. The music ranges from orchestral themes to electronic music so subtle, you might not realize you hear it at all..
“A lot of it is just sort of lying beneath the scenes,” Fleder says, “making you feel the anxiety, the tension, the angst, the fear in the movie. Sometimes, I can't determine where score leaves off and sound effects pick up.”
A well-respected jazz recording artist, Isham won a Grammy for his 1990 album, Mark Isham. As a sideman, he has played with musicians ranging the San Francisco Opera to The Rolling Stones. He has earned Grammy nominations for his work on children’s recordings and soundtracks. His nearly 50 film scores encompass Ralph Bakshi’s lurid animation Cool World and his Golden Globe nominated score to “Nell.”
“The score for Kiss The Girls is extremely complex,” Fleder marvels, “a blend of electronic and written orchestral score. There's an incredible depth to it, a real density. It's almost bottomless.”
“I wanted the feeling of a large orchestra and even a choir,” Isham explains. “The hero is a woman, so I thought women's voices would be a tremendous asset to the score. The basic orchestration is solo electric cello, orchestra, a women's choir, a very large expanded percussion section, and then a few, noticeable, electronically generated sounds. Not many that are immediately spotted as electronically generated, but a few that state themselves as such.
"Another major element of the orchestration is guitars. I’ve taken guitar sounds and doubled orchestral passages with it. It sounds almost like it’s the orchestra being fed through a distortion box. It’s done in such a way that you don’t feel like it’s just this guitar player playing along. You feel like it’s some kind of strange animal exploding out from inside the orchestra.”
While the score compliments the action, Fleder also used a raft of interesting songs to move the score. “The music is pretty eclectic," he says. “It drifts from contemporary rap to really sort of classic, timeless blues, like John Lee Hooker. There’s a Little Richard tune in there as well, and even some techno dance stuff. When you first meet Seth Samuels, the boyfriend to the missing niece in the film, he’s playing basketball. We have this pretty angry rap going on, which reflects the frustration of this kid in the film. We tried to find source cues which would reflect and sometimes counterpoint, with humor and irony, what was happening on the screen. If they go to a dance club, there's got to be dance music. The very last scene in the film is the most powerful source cue in the film, which is the Little Richard version of the Leadbelly song ‘Good Night Irene.’ It plays over a pretty violent confrontation between Kate and the bad guy in the film. We push the source cues pretty hard and pretty loud.”
The music gets used as part of the mise en scene, which suits Isham. For the end of the film, he had to compose one of the few pastoral pieces of music in the film. “The film doesn’t have many peaceful moments,” he says, “but it’s the ‘everything is all right’ theme. ‘He won’t bother us again.’ ‘All is right with the world.’ It happens once about ten minutes from the end as sort of a red herring. Gary said, ‘I want this to really be a red herring. I want no hint that anything is still wrong here. I want the audience to think, ‘Well, we’re going to wrap it up now, and I’ll be in the car in a few minutes.’ But then of course he comes back for one last surprise. You hear it then and you hear it actually on the end credits, when everything is truly all right.”
Hope we didn’t spoil the ending for you.