Fans of Frank Perry’s adaptation of the famous Joan Crawford tell-all bio are well aware of the film’s inherent kitsch, but the film wouldn’t have its strange haunting quality without Henry Mancini’s score, grounded by one of his loveliest main themes.
In its simplicity and economy, the theme manages telescope everything one needs to know about the central characters, Crawford’s mood swings, and the contrast between an idyllic life as glossily portrayed in Hollywood fanzines, and the private, abusive relationship between mother Joan and daughter Christina.
Typical of his smooth style, Mancini’s theme moves from a pensive introduction to a smooth, almost reassuring chord change, but the shift back to the delicate melody supports the film’s ongoing contrast between illusion and reality. Slight touches – such as a brief solo violin at the beginning of “May Darling Daughter” - also suggest specific time periods without overtly mimicking the scoring style of the era.
A repeated pattern on piano or harp infers ongoing tension within Christina’s life as she becomes aware of her unique life the child of a movie icon, and the step-like ascension of the melody sets up scenes like chapters, recapping characters with revisions to their emotional states, like the brief “The Little Star,” which consists of two distinct moods that never coalesce into a firm statement. The harmonic structure of the score’s rare, overtly dramatic statements – notably “Battle Axe” – share the idiosyncratic construction of Mancini’s Lifeforce (1985), where a spiraling theme seems to eddy upwards with short, strained pauses to accent an already tense cue.
La-La Land’s CD features the complete score (including unused cues) plus light, jazzy source music and a few alternate cues, and the mastering is unsurprisingly first-rate. The score’s thematic repetition isn’t severe, but it does get a little heavy towards the end.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan