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At First Sight
Album Cover Art
Composed, Performed, and Produced by:
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Milan Records
(January 12th, 1999)
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Regular U.S. release.
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Decorative Nonsense
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you're among the vast majority that will seek the album for its easy-going collection of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald songs.

Avoid it... if you expect any truly compelling drama to come from the 20+ minutes of Mark Isham's mundane score on the album's first half.
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WRITTEN 1/29/99, REVISED 4/26/08
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At First Sight: (Mark Isham) Irwin Winkler's 1999 film At First Sight made the fatal mistake of trying to be both a serious examination of blindness and a sappy Hollywood love story, earning it a mediocre response from critics. Not only do the blind face a unique set of prejudices, but the few who have lived a life of darkness and are then faced with the awesome sense of sight often face significant psychological adjustments. At First Sight, based on Oliver Sacks' "To See and Not See," offers insight into just that experience. But rather than concentrate on the specifics of that curious transition, the film uses it as a tool to extend the melodrama of the love story likely deemed necessary to sell tickets. The relationship between Val Kilmer's blind masseur and Mira Sorvino's caring architect goes through all the typically ebbs and flows you'd typically expect, though it's a means of driving home the point of acceptance in a broader sense rather than actually exemplify to a normally-seeing person what it would be like to experience this radical change. Still, despite the film's clumsy attempts to explore serious territory, At First Sight ultimately generates a lovable atmosphere, and that tone is extended by Mark Isham's score for the film. Isham's ability to accentuate the sounds of Manhattan may have been well served by the composer's jazzy tendencies, but surprisingly, the composer completely ignores this avenue of possibility. The extremely conservative stature of the score is curious given the significant use of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald-performed songs written by old favorites like the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film seems to take the spirit of these songs to heart, and the album release for At First Sight heavily emphasizes them, but Isham did not follow their direction. Instead, he seemed caught in the same conundrum of aimless direction that plagued the film, and it would be fair to speculate that his score may be among the reasons why At First Sight sounds so stale. That said, there's nothing technically wrong with the music. It just could have had so much more of an impact than it did.

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Average: 2.72 Stars
***** 33 5 Stars
**** 39 4 Stars
*** 84 3 Stars
** 72 2 Stars
* 55 1 Stars
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Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
Total Time: 49:25
• 1. At First Sight (3:13)
• 2. A Simple Touch (2:44)
• 3. What Beautiful Looks Like (1:55)
• 4. A Seeing Celebration (1:58)
• 5. To Share a Feeling (1:35)
• 6. A Seeing Journey (2:42)
• 7. You Don't See Me (3:38)
• 8. This Look I Love (2:38)
• 9. Our Eyes Aren't What Make Us See (3:58)
• 10. "Love is Where You Are" - performed by Gigi Worth (5:41)
• 11. "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" - performed by Louis Armstrong (3:03)
• 12. "It Never Entered My Mind" - performed by George Shearing (4:46)
• 13. "Easy Come, Easy Go" - performed by Diana Krall (2:34)
• 14. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" - performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (4:40)
• 15. "Love is Where You Are" - performed by Gigi Worth (4:20)
(about 24 minutes of Isham score)

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The insert includes no extra information about the score or film. In a statement from the time, Isham wrote the following:

    "My music addressed the romance within At First Sight more than it did the fact of Val Kilmer's character, Virgil, being blind. There were a few scenes where the music needed to speak about his new experience, that of regaining sight, an experience that was both good and bad. Toward the end of the film, when he begins to revert to blindness, the tragedy isn't that he can't see, but that his and Mira Sorvino's character (Amy) aren't going to be together; the music was designed to underline that.

    The first place that we are aware of the unnerving aspects of regaining sight is when Virgil's bandages are removed, with a number of shots representing his point of view, with layers of unfocussed footage and unusual camera angles representing his disorientation. I tried to express his fear in the score. The visuals give you the objective sense of what he sees. This is a very specific issue; he's obviously used to being able to sense the presence of other people around him, then this sense has been thrown off after the operation. I had to simplify this, and communicate with music what it felt like, to have this new sense scare the hell out of him. So there's Virgil's initial fear, and then that of his sister and Amy, as the camera moves from his point of view to their reaction shots, once they realize that something isn't right and become afraid for him. Music can't be very objective; indeed, it's 99.9 % subjective. So, while the music can't say "My eyes are going bad" in a direct fashion, it can communicate the terror felt by someone experiencing that.

    For me, to express such emotions, it's always a question of harmony and color. This could be achieved electronically or with any combination of instruments. We chose the orchestra, which is considered to have the most accessible sound, with its ability to convey the broad range of emotions within this story. We started with a large orchestra, and began to reduce the elements as we needed for more intimate moments in the film, until it was down to a piano and strings for some sequences.

    I wrote themes, not for individual characters, but for points in the story. There was a theme for their love scenes. There was a breakup theme; two scenes had them very close to breaking up, and another where they actually did. There's a theme that I developed to underscore the two people discussing things that were important to them: Amy talks about her childhood, and when they're both sitting on the park bench in New York, Virgil talks about what he's always wanted, someone to accept him as he is, and that he wants Amy to be that person.

    I composed music to reflect interior states, the specific cognitions which Virgil experienced, such as when he's seeing himself for the first time in the mirror or when he finally glimpses the 'puffy' object that was his one distinct memory from when he had sight as a child: the cotton candy that he sees at the hockey game with Amy. Those scenes are about very personal experiences, there's hardly any dialogue, and their significance is underlined by the music. Obviously, being able to see changed his life, but those were ultimate moments, and as such required special musical treatment.

    The picture itself does much of the work at the end of the film, as far as letting you know that these two people will still be a couple. My music swells as Amy takes Virgil's hand and puts it on her face for the last time. There's the final instrumental statement of the theme, and then he faces her. As they turn away and the audience realizes that they will have a life together, then the end title song, "Love Is Where You Are," based on that theme, is heard with Diana Krall singing.

    Marilyn and Alan Bergman wrote the words for "Love Is Where You Are." Irwin Winkler brought them in and together we oversaw a couple of demo versions of the song. It's still quite an adventure for me, song writing. I've adapted a number of songs as score for earlier pictures, but this was my first time collaborating on an original song."
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or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from At First Sight are Copyright © 1999, Milan Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 1/29/99 and last updated 4/26/08.
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