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Comments about the soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jon Brion)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Justin Norman
• Date: Sunday, October 5, 2008, at 11:55 a.m.
• IP Address:

(The following donated review by Justin Norman was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in October, 2008)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: (Jon Brion) By now, you have very likely heard the many praise-filled reviews of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's 2004 masterpiece, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and its thought-provoking premise: If you could permanently erase all memories of one person from your mind, would you do it? However, for those unfortunate enough to have missed viewing this splendid film, I will quickly rehash the basic details. The two-hour picture follows the life of the very introverted Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) and his very extroverted girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) who have just hit the abrupt end of a long relationship due to the fact that Clementine has undergone a procedure at the Lacuna Corporation. Lacuna, as Joel soon discovers, offers people the ability to literally delete a person of their choice from their memory. After Clementine suddenly treats him as a stranger and acquires a new boyfriend, Joel then decides that he cannot continue living in his current state of misery, and signs up to have the procedure done on himself to get rid of her. However, as a pair of incompetent makeshift surgeons undertake the task, the unconscious Joel begins to relive his memories of he and Clementine's relationship, and decides he doesn't want her erased after all. This leads to a film which is constantly jerking from memory to memory in backward motion as Joel attempts to hide Clementine in the dark recesses of his mind, juxtaposing this with the forward motion of the surgeons' battle to find her and wipe her out.

All of this is necessary to know because, of course, since most movie scores are not written specifically for an album, but rather to enhance and compliment the film they are linked to, all of this chaos is reflected in Eternal Sunshine's very strange and wonderful soundtrack. Like the film, it throws one odd and touching event after the other onto its disc, ultimately blending them all together into something fully comprehensible and beautiful. The man who has taken on the task of creating the musical environment in which all these events take place is Jon Brion, whose early credits include performing in The Grays and producing for Fiona Apple. Having also scored Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, two odd films with unusual scores (the latter much more so than the former), Brion seems very qualified for the task, and proves it throughout the course of the album with his distinct and unorthodox style. While most experienced composers rely heavily on some form of orchestra, Brion, for the most part, performs the music himself, at times using a very sparse orchestra in which each instrument snakes a very clean-cut path throughout every piece.

Most of the tracks are relatively brief, clocking in at under a minute, and include some variation of one of the three or four themes Brion has created, including instrumental variations of his single vocal song "Strings That Tie To You." "Collecting Things" and "Phone Call" share a delicate guitar loop which sounds as though it's being played on a vinyl record, while a sad string section builds around it, eventually disappearing suddenly, just as Clementine does in Joel's memories. Later on, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes the same loop and produces it in a much clearer fashion, sprinkling bits of light keyboard in place of the thicker strings.

Other tracks are much more avante garde and somewhat akin to experimental Thomas Newman, such as "Showtime," which is comprised mostly of isolated percussion while garbled musical clips from many different moments in the film are played on keyboard. This track works excellently as it appears somewhere near the beginning of Joel's surgery, and foreshadows the different memories through which we are about to journey. The best of this montage of memories includes the main title and "A Dream Upon Waking," which both stand out in their marvelous ability to create beautiful, organized chaos with a barrage of different melodic sounds and instruments, while other highlights like "Row" and "Peer Pressure" create absolutely gorgeous images with their simple, heart-churning use of solo piano.

On the negative side, I have what seem to be the typical gripes from those who are more fond of the score than the vocal songs on these albums. The disc is comprised of twenty-six tracks, seventeen of which are composed by Brion, but given their short running time, this isn't nearly as much as you'd think. For music which relies so heavily on the story it represents, it is quite disappointing that the tracks are not in chronological order, nor are all of the instrumental cues present. I assume this is partially due to the fact that every song by other artists which appeared in the film has been included -- even those which appear only as brief, faint background music in the film, such as The Polyphonic Spree's "Light & Day." Even more odd is the fact that three songs which never even appear in the film are dropped in, taking up over thirteen minutes of time that could have been used for the missing cues. Granted, the Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" does appear in the theatrical trailer, but I would have preferred to have the complete score rather than this. Aside from these minor complaints, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a good soundtrack, with a unique approach, and if you are either a fan of Jon Brion's prior work or experimental composition, you would do well to purchase it. ****

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