CD Review: Bright Star

In BRIGHT STAR, Academy Award-winner Jane Campion once again mines the well of illicit love as she did in THE PIANO. The drama is based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and girl next door Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at age 25. Oscar buzz is already begun to swirl for Campion and Cornish, and newcomer Mark Bradshaw has earned his share of praise for his score.

Bradshaw is making his feature film debut, having collaborated previously with Campion on her two short films THE LADY BUG and THE WATER DIARY. He has composed music for several other shorts, and tours with his string/electronic/voice ensemble, MARK BRADSHAW AND THE LIKE.

Bradshaw’s classically-flavored score for BRIGHT STAR features solos or various small combinations of five instruments–harpsichord and other keyboards, two violins, viola, cello. Bradshaw doesn’t attempt to define character or certain moments in the film. Instead, the music serves as aural atmosphere and a quiet bed for Keats’ poetry to lie upon. The CD lists something called “musical treatments,” which I assume is the reverb effect that gives the music a haunting quality.

Bright Star soundtrack

The CD consists of 9 tracks, many of which have sound effects and dialogue. Two tracks feature Bradshaw’s vocal arrangements of Mozart instrumental pieces, and one track has no music whatsoever. Bradshaw’s original score (at least as it is represented on the CD) amounts to less than 14 minutes worth of music, and much of that underscores dialogue and Keats’s poetry.

Ultimately, I don’t know who this recording is marketed to. There’s not enough poetry to satisfy the spoken word crowd. And the dialogue and sound effects will irritate most film music fans. At 23 minutes, the CD is ridiculously short and yet feels excruciatingly long. The whole album seems a colossal waste of time, effort, and money. More importantly, it does a great disservice to Bradshaw’s efforts.

Perhaps the album will serve as a pleasant reminder if you’ve seen and enjoyed the film. But its poor construction, at least from a musical standpoint, has actually deterred me from seeking out what apparently is a very captivating film.

So much for effective marketing.

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