Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 


"Don't make me any more movies where the people write with feathers," Jack Warner once demanded after a commercially disastrous flirtation with a costume drama.

But Jack had nothing on Irving Thalberg when it came to brandishing power from a narrow perspective.

"From this date onward, no music in an MGM film is to contain a minor chord," ordered The Last Tycoon upon being informed that a sound he didn't like in the daily rushes was the said noxious triad.

The mind boggles at what these moguls might have made of Quills, with a soundtrack featuring drain pipes, detuned guitars, a whirring stick and other assorted doodads. In fact, the music's so good I fancy they may have had their orchestras playing minor chords on fishing-line wire . . . with feather bows.

Of course, the reasons for this soundtrack's success, as with all triumphant works, are not to be found by reductionism. Its virtues (and delicious De Sadean vices) are multi-faceted and interwoven.

The notion of The Marquis De Sade improvising writing media - when they locked him up and threw away the quills - might engage the more credulous side of our curiosity, but the main fascination still lies with what he wrote not how he wrote it.

Similarly, the kinky instrumentation - curtesy of The Lunatic Band (an aptronym if ever there was one) - could be merely a cute conceit and nothing more if not for Warbeck's masterful composition. The exotic textures add just enough edge of thrilling madness, whereas overuse might have resulted in a listening experience more akin to the philosophies of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. [Ed: Masoch is indeed a fitting reference here, completing the S & M history lesson.]

Warbeck's lucid blending of the knick-knack ensemble with grand orchestral and choral figures captures a spirit of incorrigible, perverse genius. It is a schizophrenic sound-scape, disturbing, sensuous and dripping with Dionysian urges.

Despite such eclecticism, the score is founded in broad melodic themes that are introduced in the opening track (although a sudden, jolting coda alerts us early to expect the unexpected), and reach a zenith of lyricism in The Abbe and Madeleine . The contours of the melody pass between woodwind and strings until an angelic, hymn-like choral cue, The Covenant, reminds us that there is a fine line between pleasure and pain, the sacred and profane.

Midway through the score, dissonance and tension are given full licentious license in the cue Royer-Collard And Bourbon, before stuttering percussive passages build to galloping rhythms and increasingly baroque and Gothic orchestral patterns.

Then the climax comes with The End: A New Manuscript, an extraordinary 7-minute track, exploding at its start with brass-heavy melodrama, which then segues to a musical odyssey of seduction, whimsy, irony and poignancy.

Listen and indulge. The Marquis himself could hardly have dreamt of a more hedonistic pleasure."
Brad Green

Email this article

The Abbe and Madeleine
The End: A New Manuscript


Read our REVIEWS

TITLE: Quills

ID: 09026-63737-2

COMPOSER: Stephen Warbeck

FEATURED PERFORMERS: "The Lunatic Band" - Keith Thompson (shawms), Richard Henry (trombone and bucket), Dave Powell (serpent), Paul Clarvis (drum), John Parricelli and Graeme Taylor (cittern and mandolin), Dermot Crehans (violin)


Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020