By Karol Krok
Frederik Wiedmann is mostly known to film music fans as a resident composer for numerous DC Comics animated features and series (Green Lanterns, Son of Batman, Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox) and some horror films (Mirrors 2 and the recent The Damned). It has been a dream of his to finally branch out stylistically and score a sweeping period drama, in the likes of Barry, Horner or even James Newton Howard, and he’s finally got his chance with Field of Lost Shoes – the independent, relatively small-budget Civil War period piece that is getting its theatrical release this month in the United States.
If you could imagine James Horner’s anguished melodrama making sweet love to Thomas Newman’s more eclectic sense of Americana, then you’d end up with a score like this one. It has the emotional sweep of old fashioned film music, but injected with a subtle dose of contemporary electronics and instrumental solos. Some of the chord progressions recall Brian Tyler or any composers of younger generation, but they are fleshed out with greater care for orchestrational detail and, as a result, offer a greater sense of emotional satisfaction. ‘Main Title’ right off the bat brings fond memories of Glory from 1989, with chorus and solo fiddle leading the way with full orchestra eventually taking over. It is a noble and very hymnal melody, serving as a backbone for the story of two main characters. Not all variations are grand, however. There are several more intimate renditions present on the album, like the subtle hints in ‘A Picture of the Past’ and even more emotional fiddle-led ‘Thoughts on War’ later in the story.
There is another major theme developed within the score. There can be no war in a period film without love, so Field of Lost Shoes indulges us with a tragic tale. The theme gets its fullest statement in ‘Love at First Sight’. Towards the end of the score, in the battle aftermath of battle, it comes back yet again in a heart-wrenching rendition.
Wiedmann weaves quite a few quasi-folk elements into the tapestry of his score. Perhaps not in a truly accurate way, but that is not essential, what matters is the general effect and the feelings they evoke. ‘The Issue of Slavery’ starts off with a Newman-esque echoing woodwinds, before seguing into a much weightier string-led passage. That early impression is not misleading, however, as we’re treated to a jumpy quasi-folk piece in the following tracks, also reminiscent of this composer (‘Young John Wise’). Same goes for later portions of the album (‘Sunstruck Rat’). This more contemporary take on Americana helps to balance out the purely martial and idealistic orchestral elements. There is a nice counterbalance between the two, so Wiedmann’s score never goes too far in just one direction. One element that is curiously underplayed in the score is purely militaristic Civil War era music. ‘Young Cadets Marching’ features period-like music, but other than occasional lonely trumpet solos (the very end of ‘Storming the Hill’), the score is largely devoid of it.
The final action-packed sequence, commencing from ‘May 15 1864’, marks a sudden shift in style, however. As the group of young characters engages in battle, the music takes a decidedly more modern direction – the power ostinatos keeping the pulse going, while choral ensemble heightening up the tension. While all of this certainly works and is well executed, it detracts from a more classically pleasing surroundings and breaks a spell a tiny bit. Certainly this kind of scoring brings a Marvel movie to mind, as opposed to period drama.
The final duo of cues (‘Aftermath’ and ‘A Soldier’s Heart’) bring the score back on track with a powerful emotional sense of denouement. ‘Field of Lost Shoes’ is an elegiac piece perfectly fitting as a coda to this album programme, complete with mournful vocal solos, before going back to the main theme.
The album, as presented through La-La Land Records, is a long one – over seventy-two minutes of music, made possible by recording in Skopje with the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra. There is no choir credited so one has to assume it could have been a sampled one, but regardless of what is actually the case, the use of those vocal effects gives the entire score a nice eerie feel. The very subtle and distant sound is not completely dissimilar to James Horner’s use of synthesized voices in his notorious Titanic from 1997. And an effective way to conjure a ghostly past, to be sure.
It’s slightly disappointing the physical album will be only available in a limited quantity of 1000 copies, but on the other hand, it’s a miracle one will be pressed at all. While some more modern action passages towards the end push it slightly too much towards the realm of functional trailer music sequences, the vast majority is a very nice surprising treat for lovers of traditional melodrama. Another surprising treat in an already very strong year for film music and Wiedmann’s finest work to date. More stuff like this, please!
Field Of Lost Shoes is available now from La-Land Records