by Victor Field
As anyone who’s seen silent movies on Sumo TV can tell you, vision without some kind of sound only works in small doses. So providing brand-new accompaniment for the newly spruced-up print of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger is the perfect way to keep audience attention, and with Nitin Sawhney being a fan of Bernard Herrmann we have… history sort-of repeating itself. See, The Lodger is a film about a serial killer running amok in London, and Frenzy – also about a serial killer running amok in London – also wound up getting new music when Hitch became the only director to ever throw out a score by Henry Mancini (Ron Goodwin replaced him).
Not having the restored version to hand I watched a less-than-brilliant copy via YouTube on mute, with the new score playing underneath – due to the flaws of said presentation (resulting in the running time actually being shorter than the soundtrack album, which passes the finish line at 90:43) it was a little tough to sync up the action, but I did get an idea of what was meant to go where. Sawhney’s opening title music is a jaunty little piece that wouldn’t be out of place on an ITV detective drama, and he also provides a nice little “streets of London” motif (“Golden Avenger”), a charming track for the main female character Daisy at her modelling job (“Daisy Fashion Model”), and a sinous theme that suits the title character – mysterious but never actually identifying him as the blonde-hating murderer, “The Lodger Theme” works particularly well when blended in with suspense in tracks like “Tension Between Lodger and Policeman.” (As the track titles practically tell the story of the film, Sawhney seems to have followed in the steps of Hitchcock’s last composer, John Williams.)
What doesn’t work so well is Sawhney’s curious decision to include a shoutout to his hero; “The Press” and “The Mob” both have guest appearances by Herrmann’s main title for North By Northwest – which ironically contains one of the best examples of when to leave music out of a scene (Cary Grant, fields, plane, you know the one). That didn’t make sense when it turned up in V (not the one with Kara from Smallville and Juliet off of Lost, I mean the original, best, helping-ITV-beat-the-Olympics-on-BBC1-in-the-ratings-in-1984 version) and it doesn’t make sense here; true, in both cases the music accompanies rushing about, but it’s a little distracting.
But not as distracting as the score’s main misstep – come “Daisy’s Song” the LSO take a breather and up pops a something that sounds like a David Arnold/Bjork castoff for the film’s triangular romantic subplot involving the titular lodger, the aforesaid Daisy (the daughter of the family he’s lodging with) and the detective investigating the killings. Sawhney may have been intending to illustrate the young woman’s feelings with lyrics like “I don’t know who you are,” but the effect is more akin to the scene in Somewhere In Time when Christopher Reeve sees a coin from his own time and immediately gets yanked back to the present from the 1910s – the mood set up by the instrumental music is shattered and it’s 2012 instead of 1927. Orchestral scoring when done properly just doesn’t have the same detrimental effect.
The trick doesn’t work any better when he tries it with “Sister’s Death” and “Daisy Understands and Consoles” – see what I mean about the track titles? – and it ends up undercutting the big love theme… that’s its actual name, “The Big Love Theme” (sigh). But that’s part of the risk of rescoring movies out of their time, especially when it’s done by people who – let’s face it – aren’t primarily known for screen work.
Still, Sawhney’s name is certainly going to get more attention than Carl Davis (who’s done several scores for silent movies) – and it could have been worse; the BFI could have commissioned Plan B or Ed Sheeran. Or Skrillex…
Nitin Sawhney’s The Lodger OST is available today on CD from Network (and will later be packaged with the BluRay release of the restored The Lodger).
Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for your chance to win a copy of the soundtrack, and a stylish MostlyFilm t-shirt!