Not Just 'The Shining': 13 Soundtracks Featuring Krzysztof Penderecki
default, Not Just 'The Shining':
13 Soundtracks Featuring
Krzysztof Penderecki, Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining', photo: Forum; Krzysztof Penderecki, 1987, photo: Wojciech Plewiński, center, lsnienie-penderecki.jpg
The recently deceased Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki was a master of sound, not only in the concert halls of classical and contemporary music, nor in the sweaty technology-pushing experimental studios of the 1960s, but in the world of cinema. Here are 13 soundtracks where you will hear his work completely transform the on-screen action.
The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)
Cited as a favourite by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, Wojciech Jerzy Has’s classic interpretation of Jan Potocki’s supposedly kabbalistic book has the composer combining his classical expertise with the bizarre electronics he was creating at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio with engineer Eugeniusz Rudnik. One of the few films where Krzysztof Penderecki worked on the entire score himself, many scenes seemingly melt schizoid-like from one musical language to the other, the viewer’s ears never allowed to truly relax.
Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (1968)
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A major influence on Michel Gondry’s The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Alain Resnais’s curious time-travel love story Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (I Love You, I Love You) features the last film score Penderecki created before concentrating for the next few decades on pieces meant for live performance. It remains another example of Penderecki’s use of electronics with Rudnik at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, and uses a reinterpretation of the aria he made for The Saragossa Manuscript.
The Exorcist (1973)
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Absolutely shocking when it was released and still vastly disturbing, William Friedkin’s cinematic depiction of demonic possession gave people nightmares. Penderecki’s Polymorphia was used to such great effect here that it was soon established amongst filmmakers as the go-to creepy music when they needed something to truly disturb their audiences.
The Wanderers (1979)
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This early cult film from Oscar-winner Philip Kaufman, who went on to help write the Indiana Jones films, is often remembered for its rock-and-roll soundtrack featuring acts like The Four Seasons and The Isley Brothers. But at its darker moments, particularly when the titular gang cross paths with their enemy The Ducky Boys, a certain Polish composer’s pieces, Anaklasis and Fluorescences, change the mood entirely.
The Shining (1980)
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It’s hard to think of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic horror The Shining without hearing the tinkling creep of Penderecki’s music in your mind. The composer’s pieces are weaved throughout the film, used in many of its most unforgettable scenes.
Heavy Metal (1981)
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The cult animated film Heavy Metal is made up of short stories made by different animation studios, each soundtracked by the likes of Black Sabbath, Stevie Nicks, Journey, Grand Funk Railroad and other rock bands of the era. Many directors have cited it as an influence over the years, and playful modern references turn up every so often on our screens. But not many viewers are aware of one section called Neverwhere Land, a rough cut of which was created and due to be set to part of Pink Floyd’s Time. Although it was cut for time in the final release, when the draft was released years later in the various special editions of the film, the makers decided it was actually much more suited to Penderecki’s Passacaglia, and that is the only version available today.
Inland Empire (2006)
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David Lynch’s love affair with Poland was cemented by this multi-threaded film which saw the director shoot and set part of it in Łódź, as well incorporate several other Polish elements into the rest of the film. Penderecki’s pieces are used sparingly to much effect when trying to relate the difficult experiences certain characters have to endure.
Children of Men (2006)
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Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian film about a world where most people are infertile makes use of several long single-take scenes that make powerful viewing. The final long-shot scene near the end makes excellent use of Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, its discordant and high-pitched trills suitably part of an epic scene full of chaos and death.
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This was the first film in nearly four decades where Penderecki had worked on the music together with the filmmaker themselves rather than simply giving permission to music editors. This time it was with an icon of Polish cinema who specialised in bringing important historical episodes to the screen, Andrzej Wajda. The composer felt the film was an important project that he wanted to contribute to since his own uncle was also killed as part of the Katyń massacre.
Shutter Island (2009)
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Martin Scorsese wanted to make sure his psychological period mystery was nerve-wracking from the start, so there was no better way than to use Penderecki’s Passacaglia early on to set the mood.
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This modern retelling of a dybbuk tale, as first popularised by Michał Waszyński’s 1937 classic of Yiddish cinema The Dybbuk, sees a wedding party completely disrupted by a malevolent possessive force. The soundtrack makes use of Penderecki's Clarinet Concerto, and is a notable late addition to the horror films featuring his oeuvre – Demon was made even more haunting in real life by director Marcin Wrona’s suicide just before its premiere.
Twin Peaks (2017)
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A lot had changed in film and TV over the 25 years since the previous season of Twin Peaks, but David Lynch ensured its third season would not be seen as dated – he brought viewers an experience that either completely awed them or entirely baffled them, often both, and was certainly never boring. The standout of the 18-episode season is its 8th episode Gotta Light?, which is entirely black & white with most of the regular characters completely absent. The centrepiece is a devastatingly powerful sequence depicting a nuclear explosion – it’s essentially as if Lynch had created the ultimate music video for Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.
Black Mirror ‘Metalhead’ (2017)
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The bleakest episode of Black Mirror’s third season (which is saying something) is about people in the English countryside being hunted down by small murderous robots. There is little explanation for how this alternate history arose, but the episode is essentially an exercise in constant tension and fear. Unsurprisingly, the use of Penderecki’s pieces throughout as the musical accompaniment to the episode is very conscious, with many scenes seemingly edited to fit to Penderecki’s sound rather than Charlie Brooker’s pen.
Written by Adam Zulawski, March 2020
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