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Music from the Films of Tim Burton


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The danse macabre is never far away in Tim Burton’s films, even when it is treated with humour. It is no wonder, then, that the music Danny Elfman composes for much of Burton’s output suggests a threatening imminence, with its heavy and mounting rhythms indicating dark clouds massing on the horizon.

Consequently, shade largely outweighed light in rearranged sections of a wide range of film scores in this Adelaide Festival performance, despite bells and whistles conveying an occasional and brighter circus or folk music mood. The latter is maybe a reminder of Elfman’s affection for composers like Shostakovich, who were caught up in the purge of formalism in Russian music.

Conducted by the renowned John Mauceri, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Festival Chorus again showed how well they turn a hand to new work. The performances were accompanied by projections of brief film clips and character sketches by Burton on a single large screen. These did connect images with particular music, but the whole effect was disorganised and grab-baggish. Better clips and more effective illustrations might have been chosen.

Music from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beetlejuice (lovely staccato effect), Mars Attacks! (all too brief) and more was included. It seemed that what the fans really wanted was the Batman touch, which was greeted with whoops and hollers immediately the name was shown. Just when there seemed too little variation between pieces, a wistful moment would erupt, such as a piano solo or a pleasant slide into a waltz. Part of The Corpse Bride score even hinted at court music.

Special guest Sandy Cameron played the dark Burtonesque role in her violin solo. There were lots of flamboyant postures to go with her tight black outfit, but exquisite playing was what mattered most. More winning, going by the voices around me, was the contribution of nine-year-old soprano Charlie Wells, especially when his diminutive figure took a front-stage spot.

Danny Elfman appeared on stage and was in fine form singing a number of tunes as Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. He certainly has stage presence; perhaps his frontman experience with his old band Oingo Boingo accounts for that. Two standing ovations and it was lights up.

A large dose of fantasy and a soupcon of the gothic help to make Burton’s imaginative work attention-worthy. The quality of his output varies but there is consistency at least in Elfman’s contribution. It is a very effective partnership but one wonders what would happen if there were to be a trial separation.

Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton was a one-off performance at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre as part of the 2015 Adelaide Festival, which has now finished.

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