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Composed, Co-Orchestrated, and Produced by:
Stephen Warbeck

Conducted by:
Nick Ingman

Co-Orchestrated by:
Andrew Green

RCA Victor/BMG

Release Date:
November 21st, 2000

Also See:
The Lion in Winter

Audio Clips:
2. The Abbe and Madelaine (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

6. Royer-Collard and Bouchon (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

8. The Last Story (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

11. The Printing Press (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

Regular U.S. release.


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Buy it... if you want a touch of class to go with your serving of insanity, Stephen Warbeck's music for this film a roller coaster ride of mostly insufferable, challenging ideas meant to represent madness and sexual deviancy.

Avoid it... if you have small children in your home and wish to remain lucid and cognizant until they reach adulthood, at which point you can pray that they will never love this score.

Quills: (Stephen Warbeck) It's safe to say that the 2000 film Quills is probably the worst "date movie" to ever exist. Even mentally impure viewers with a sickly morbid and perverted sense of humor might have trouble digesting the grotesquely horrific dramatization of the life and death of controversial French writer Marquis de Sade in Quills. Not much was to be liked about de Sade as a person, though his confinement in the aftermath of the French Revolution and continued writing of provocative stories and plays made him into something of a legend. The movie, directed by Philip Kaufman in his decline, absolutely butchered the facts of de Sade's life in the process of over-emphasizing the man's extreme sexual deviancy and arguably insane mannerisms. Glamorizing the end of his life, Quills depicts the author's crazed interactions (conveyed with zeal by Geoffrey Rush) with the administrator and laundry girl of his insane asylum, using the latter to smuggle out his manuscripts to an eager public. The government, meanwhile, sends an enforcer to the asylum to silence "the Marquis" but he ultimately proves just a demented and has sexual issues of his own. Not immune to carnal tensions are the aforementioned administrator and the laundress, played by Joaquin Phoenix and Kate Winslet, the pair suffering passions unrealized until one graphically fantasizes about fornicating with the dead corpse of the other. Rush's performance of de Sade includes extraordinary body mutilation and fecal depravity, concluding with a completely fabricated, shocking death scene. Aside from strong acting performances and the usual technical prowess of these costume dramas, there's really no reason to witness Quills if not for what Time magazine labeled as its "vulgarly unamusing soft-gore porn." An understandable choice to score the film was Stephen Warbeck, whose ability to provide adequate to exemplary music for these period circumstances was affirmed by an Academy Award win for Shakespeare in Love two years prior. As one would expect, he brought his recognizable classical sensibilities to Quills, but not in the kind of package you would expect to hear. Warbeck indeed uses familiar tones to address the period of the tale (though the ethnicity of the score is still rooted in British and Celtic flavors rather than French) and the religious component, but from there he goes as wild as the script with experimental instrumentation and frighteningly alienating material that would, in a creative sense, make Thomas Newman proud. Unfortunately, the resulting score as a whole is completely insufferable, lacking any cohesive element to collect these disparate parts into a meaningful narrative.

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To say that Quills is an unpleasant listening experience would be an understatement, but some may find the music's extremely grim tone to be enticingly bizarre. Warbeck is all over the map in this music, writing a main theme of slight classical resonance for the orchestra and a lovely, Celtic melody on whistle and clarinet for the unrealized love between the administrator and laundry girl. Existing separately from these two identities is the application of the opening verses of French children's song "Au Clair de la Lune" to de Sade specifically, performed by Rush throughout the film (and heard in song form during the opening beheading) but not incorporated into the score or even represented on the soundtrack album. A choir is employed to accentuate the perversity of the faux-pious environment and to indulge the fantasy sequences with troubling dissonance, utilizing tones familiar to John Barry's The Lion in Winter. From there, Warbeck goes instrumentally insane, collecting a shawm, serpent, cittern, mandolin, electric guitar, didgeridoo, damnoni, filophone, and a variety of whipped and struck percussive effects involving sticks and buckets and merging them with various blown instruments with their ends placed underwater. Although the experimental, choral, and orchestral portions are pretty much segregated in the score, Warbeck alternates between them at will, usually without any tonal satisfaction. Nearly the entirety of this score is meant to unsettle, the only major exception being the bittersweet love theme expressed beautifully in "The Abbe and Madelaine." The main theme, though introduced sternly in "The Marquis and the Scaffold," erupts with choral magnificence (alongside hints of the doomed love theme) in "The End: A New Manuscript," though even here, these performances are tinged with the lunacy of the specialty instruments. Some of the purely experimental passages, such as "Aphrodisiac" and parts of "The Marquis' Cell at Charenton" and "The Last Story," barely qualify as music, instead emulating the sound effects of an alchemist's laboratory. The choir's role intentionally disintegrates along with the morality of the tale, eventually becoming atonally impossible by the infamous "sex with corpse" scene. The evil doctor, Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), is provided tortuous string, brass, and percussion rhythms of intense difficulty in "Royer-Collard and Bouchon." And, finally, there is the closing cue in the resolution scene, "The Printing Press," with arguably the worst mangling of medieval sounds to ever be recorded for a source-like environment. The problem with Quills in sum is not its intolerable components, but rather Warbeck's inability to draw them together into a clear narrative. There was so much potential in this collection of ideas that it's painful to hear the end result stagger so aimlessly. ** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Stephen Warbeck reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.29 (in 7 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.23 (in 9,009 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.46 Stars
Smart Average: 2.64 Stars*
*** 14 
** 10 
* 17 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.

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 Track Listings: Total Time: 43:04

• 1. The Marquis and the Scaffold (3:08)
• 2. The Abbe and Madelaine (2:19)
• 3. The Convent (2:22)
• 4. Plans for a Burial (1:17)
• 5. Dream of Madelaine (4:41)
• 6. Royer-Collard and Bouchon (4:15)
• 7. Aphrodisiac (2:59)
• 8. The Last Story (7:35)
• 9. The Marquis' Cell at Charenton (4:37)
• 10. The End: A New Manuscript (7:31)
• 11. The Printing Press (2:24)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a short note from the composer about the score.

  All artwork and sound clips from Quills are Copyright © 2000, RCA Victor/BMG. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 2/29/12 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2012-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.