This sampler features suites of themes from several short films scored by Ryan Shore, each written in a fairly distinctive style, and showing off Shore’s increasing maturity as a composer, and one of the best kept secrets in film music.
The first suite features material from Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher (2004), a 10 min. animated film done in the style of thirties movie serials. Shore chose a large orchestral canvas, but the music is written in a mid- to late seventies action writing style, with a prominence of woodwinds, brass, and hard percussion hits. In addition to a heroic theme, there are a number of action cues with sly nods to classic film scores.
Amid the gliding brass theme in “Bosom of Terror!” there’s a fandango rhythm recalling Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest, as well as a brief sweep of moody, tense string writing from Herrmann’s other Hitchcockian output. “An Amazon City!” echoes John Barry’s gypsy combat music in From Russia with Love, while “Eval Schnitzler” makes use of a good-sized choir for a heavenly little cue.
Shore also has fun with spiraling motifs in the hard action cues (“The Wrench”) and shows off his complete control of writing for brass instruments, with every nuance coming through with complete clarity (“Will They, Won’t They?”). The suite ends with a theme recap, and there’s a bonus fanfare that closes the album.
Shadowplay (2002) is a claymation short about a boy and his family in Hiroshima, Japan, after the bomb was dropped in 1945. The suite features a beautiful series of theme arrangements using ethnic and orchestral instruments. Sometimes bittersweet, tender, or dreamy, Shore’s brief cues have been edited into a tight suite with vivid instrumental colours, and a concise narrative flow. It’s the album’s most exquisite score suite, and a fine example of Shore’s strength in writing for any genre. When paired against the primitive, impressionistic digital fuzz of The Offspring (2009), Jack Ketchum’s tale of feral cannibal children, it’s hard to believe it’s the same composer.
Another animated film is A Letter from the Western Front (1999), which features a regal, large-scale orchestral score. It’s the most classical soundtrack on the album, with slow dramatic sweeps of strings and low woodwinds, and a powerful drive. “The Confrontation” is a stunner for its emotionally wrenching crescendo.
Cadaverous (2000) follows a similar classical score design for a mordant tale of a phobia-prone medical student. Shore emphasizes beautiful bands of light strings, and yet the tone isn’t heavy on terror. The score is the composer’s own little experiment in colour using strings and woodwinds, and the choice of tones and motifs creates a perfect combination of gallows’ humour and intrigue.
Light humour dominates Prom Night (2003), and the emphasis is on shifting rhythms and colours through woodwinds and strings. There’s a Goldsmithian feel to the selection of quick-moving cues (“Angie’s Intensions” evokes a bit of The Great Train Robbery) with fidgety strings and woodwinds.
The most recent short is Articles of War (2009), and deals with a WWII American fighter pilot writing a message to his father during a dangerous mission. The overall scope is large orchestral, with strong harmonies, and heavy string textures (“Dear Dad”). “First Solo Flight” has some lovely shifts in colour as Shore moves from strings to solo trumpet, and closing the cue with nearly full brass. The action cue “October 17, 1944” is all brass and percussion, and it’s a short but furious little cue, ripe with tension and danger.
Also grouped together are themes from the 2002 short Inherent Darkness and Enlightenment (a lovely theme played on a trio of Asian string and woodwind instruments); the whistling and funky brass theme from 1999’s Scout’s Honor; and a pair from unidentified films – the gentle piano and chimes theme “Little Marry,” and the sweet “’Twas the Night,” with lead instruments flute and soprano sax carried by a jingling seasonal orchestra.
The plight of most short films is that they tend to disappear into oblivion; even though they may exist online, it’s tough for the filmmakers to draw the average viewer’s attention away from Hollywood films to short indie and student projects.
Perhaps more difficult is getting some of the great music written for these shorts released. While Shore’s short film score compilation presents a flattering sampler of his gifts, it also urges one to seek out some of the films online, and on home video.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan