The sadness inherent in Wold's score is exquisitely poignant and somehow universal; even without dialogue and the visual element of the film, it makes an eloquent comment on the human condition. - Option
...the music combines folk and classical elements to produce a monothematic, moody atmosphere of regret and loss. Highly recommended... - Film Score Monthly
About the film:
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Truly independent filmmaker Jon Jost has completed his latest trilogy ("Frameup"/"Sure Fire") about rural America and has since moved on to self-imposed exile in Europe, as reported in a film 'zine. This extraordinary film offers a long hard look at the American Dream and what it awakens in Americans. The camera is held steadfast not moving for long periods of time, picking up all the appropriate nuances with a deliberate dispassion. It looks at an Oregon lumber mill whose owner Ray Weiss (Tom Blair) is faced with unsettling economic news about the business he has built-up and worked at for the last 50 years. It focuses on this man and tries to find out who he is, using him as a metaphorical symbol for America. It also contrasts Ray's views on nature with Emerson's, paraphrasing from his transcendentalist's essays which are flashed on the screen.
By seeing who this man is through his thoughts, we get to see how Ray adjusts to his carefully scripted life: the fly-fishing he loves, his easy and almost genteel manners, and his very definite American persona. Ray is forced out of economic necessity to deal with the Japanese businessmen he inherently despises, and we get a picture of a rather complicated individual who has difficulty in communicating with himself and others. So the closer we get to him, the more we sense that there are a lot of things that remain unknown. The shocker about Ray's life that is about to unfold comes after he meets a foreign stranger on the street who is raving about the day of atonement coming soon and of how God knows all, and that he should pray with him for salvation. But the street preacher is told by Ray, that he has no time to listen to his message. Feeling uncomfortable being around this religious zealot, Ray fumbles around with his wad of bills and thrusts a few dollars in the preacher's pockets. This is not kindly received by the preacher, as he shouts that "he doesn't want his money."
Our perceptions of Ray as a Rock of Gibraltor type is squelched, as we see him come unglued in his very comfortable home. Ray slyly interacts with his second wife (Ellen McLaughlin), as she confronts him with a letter from her college-aged daughter, Tracy, who is his step-daughter via his first marriage. Mrs. Weiss insists on reading out loud a letter addressed to her from Tracy, which accuses him of placing his hands on her private places. Ray tries to respond indirectly to his wife's question as she says: "All that she wants to know, is it true?" But all he can respond is that he wonders why Tracy is doing this to him, indicating that she is probably mixed up. What results is apocalyptic in tone as the film becomes disturbingly mysterious and evasive, never settling for sure who is telling the truth but, nevertheless, this scene destroys the family. It could be deemed as an attack on America's soul exposing it to questions about truth and character, as one's principles are put under the microscope but cannot be determined. The story builds from here to its very tragic outcome.
This is one of Jost's deepest and most penetrating films to date, it could even be argued that he has made a classically great American film -- a poor man's "Citizen Kane." It forcefully and subtly tells an American story, replete with unanswered questions about family life that are haunting. It makes you think for a long time afterwards what is it about this country that is so raw and violent in nature -- so much so that it becomes a part of the people's own nature.
One of the most memorable scenes was when the camera panned to Ray dining with some co-workers at a diner and all we could hear, at first, was the muffled conversations of the patrons as the camera meticulously continued to pan the diner. This daily experience of eating out is routine for most Americans but it has rarely been captured so disturbingly exact on film, as we eavesdrop on the banal chatter and come away with a feeling that we heard nothing deeper than a conversation about the weather. But, at the same time, we are learning much about what it is to be an American and living where the frontier used to be. This time consuming shot is not attempted by commercial filmmakers who live in fear of losing their audience in a long non-action shot. That is one of Jost's strong points, his willingness to explore territory others fear to go.
Jost's film can probably be criticized for a few lapses in the story line it didn't clarify more precisely--exploring in greater depth Ray's relationships with family and friends. But, more importantly, the film should be praised for the poetry it brings to its story when telling about a malaise in the American culture that is difficult to come to grips with. What is clearly seen, is the American landscape that is perceived as so beautiful a sight to behold and the country as so wealthy a place when compared with the rest of the world. Yet, what must finally be asked: What does the American Dream mean...if Americans do not seem to be a happy people without their material comforts?
REVIEWED ON 3/20/99 GRADE: A
About Erling Wold:
Erling Wold is a composer, aesthete and a bon vivant. Last year saw the premiere of two large works, his Missa Beati Notkeri Balbuli Sancti Galli Monachi in St Gallen, Switzerland, and his solo opera Mordake for tenor John Duykers in the San Francisco International Arts Festival. He completed a noise-music collaboration this year with fognozzle for electronics and orchestra which premiered in San Francisco. He is cofounder and executive director of the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, which has just completed its seventh season of new orchestral works. He is working on a personal autobiographical theater piece detailing his corruption and death with the help of James Bisso, as well as a series of pieces for the Denisova-Kornienko duo in Vienna. His dance opera Blinde Liebe, on a true crime story, was recently performed in Europe and the US with Palindrome Dance of Nürnberg Germany.
His chamber works have been presented in Philadelphia by Relâche, in San Francisco and Santa Cruz by New Music Works, and by the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble. He completed a residency at ODC Theater with a presentation of his opera Sub Pontio Pilato, an historical fantasy on the death and remembrance of Pontius Pilate (also performed in Austria), a chamber opera based on William Burroughs' early autobiographical novel Queer, and his critically acclaimed work A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, based on the Max Ernst collage novel. The latter piece was given its European premiere in a German version by the Klagenfurter Ensemble in 2001 and toured to Max Ernst's hometown of Brühl.
He has written a number of solo piano works, including Albrechts Flügel, premiered by Finnish pianist Marja Mutru and more recently Veracity, which he premiered. He has worked extensively with dancers in the US and Europe. He has written a number of pieces for a dancer-controlled interactive video and music system for Palindrome dance. He has also worked with Nesting Dolls in Los Angeles and San Francisco on several theater and dance projects, including 13 Versions of Surrender and I brought my hips to the table. Most recently he has co-composed the scores for several Deborah Slater Dance Theater projects with fixed-media sound artist Thom Blum.
He is an eclectic composer whose teachers include Gerard Grisey, Robert Gross, Andrew Imbrie and John Chowning, but who has also been called "the Eric Satie of Berkeley surrealist/minimalist electro-artrock" by the Village Voice. He composed the soundtracks for four Jon Jost films. There are a number of CD and DVD releases of his music, and a DVD series is planned by MinMax over the next year. He was included in the first magazine/CD issue of the Leonardo Music Journal, and he has had a number of works published by Tellus and the Just Intonation Network. He has published technical and artistic articles in several publications, including IEEE MultiMedia, Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, SIGGRAPH, the Just Intonation Journal 1/1, IEEE Transactions on Computers and several books. He has six patents in musical signal processing. He holds a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley and was a researcher in signal processing and music synthesis at Yamaha Music Technologies before cofounding Muscle Fish LLC, an audio and music software company.