When Under The Skin came out, Mica Levi became a name to be reckoned with after producing a score as esoteric and alien as the film itself. And while her new score Jackie, from the film about the life of Jacqueline Onassis, shares DNA with Under The Skin, it’s a completely fresh yet similarly brilliant experience that perhaps will be less divisive due to its more classical approach, echoing the superb film work of Jonny Greenwood.
Two main musical ideas inhabit Jackie, a set of musical sighs, with cello and violin breathing in and out in distinct layers rather than counterpoint, and a longer more hopeful melody, with the score working to bridge the two and evolve the former into the latter. It’s a supremely intimaite score for chamber orchestra, perhaps best suited for the experiences Onassis went through, especially with the assassination of husband John F. Kennedy, and the score is a journey of reflection and introspection. Because of the intimacy it feels like a work that’s very much based on Onassis herself and her emotions, instead of being events-based, which many biopics and subsequently biopic scores have a tendency to be.
That means there’s no big action setpiece for the Dallas parade, or for JFK’s passing, it’s all small in size but huge in effect and stature. The opening track ‘Intro’ begins with the breathing sighs, the setting of which immediately put us on a slightly dissonant foot (much like Under The Skin), we’re given a phrase that wants to break out into an actual melody but isn’t able to, not yet at least. Subsequently, in ‘Children’ we hear an underlying woodwind along with the sighs and a flash of snare, with it resolving in a resolved yet hopeful melody. These two cues really make up the template for the score’s progression, and it’s infinitely interesting to follow.
There is a definite haunting quality to the colour of the score, such as the use of xylophone in ‘Car’, and the melancholic ‘Tears’, where the strings are broken up initially, only to come back together to something a bit more substantial. There’s a metamorphosis illustrated here, and it’s furthered by the strength and determination of ‘Graveyard’ and then the real change of ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’, where the hopeful melody is presented with traditional warm strings and a lovely flute. You can hear the breathing on the flute’s mouthpiece and it really adds something personal, something vulnerable. ‘Burial’ has tense strings being lost in a thunderous effect from the orchestra, but the storm is broken by the strings getting louder and louder, coming through clearly in both literal and metaphorical senses.
The penultimate track, ‘The End’, is where the evolution subtext is made text, as the breathing sighs transform into the long, hopeful melody, which just plays out beautifully. It’s so wonderfully emotional and reflective, and just heartbreaking, so much so that the final track ‘Credits’ seems almost an anti-climax, despite being an interesting mix of the sighs and xylophone. But it’s still an interesting end to a really fascinating listen.
Jackie is a magnificent score, extremely satisfying in an emotional and intellectual fashion. It perfectly illustrates that Mica Levi’s talent isn’t just in the weirder and esoteric mode, and is a beautiful journey that needs to be taken. And given the film’s acclaim so far, it’s not too hard to imagine a little statuette waiting for it in the early months of 2017. -CB
Jackie is out from Milan Records in December