Szamanka (1995) is one of the more recent films by bizarro director Andrzej Zulawski, a Polish filmmaker best known to English audiences for the cult horror film Possession (1981), and a directorial style pre-ordained to assault the viewer with high-strung acting, and whole scenes that begin and terminate at the flick of a switch.
Having seen Szmamanka (albeit without English subtitles) it's hard to tell exactly how much communication went between the director and his longtime composer Andrzej Korzynski, as cues often start, cut out, are dialed down, or play low in the background – a use of score and sound elements similar to eccentric directors like Jean-Luc Godard, and William Friedkin.
Zulawski relies on two primary themes which have been designed by his longtime composer as extended versions of short phrases and melodic patterns lacking any development; whether applied in short, harsh cuts, or as brief, straightforward underscore, Korzynski's music seems to have been written to allow the director to pick and choose any length of thematic material which would remain unaffected by a sudden drop in volume or edit. It works for the film, but on album it becomes repetitive and tiresome, as Korzynski doesn't really alter his themes beyond the use of chorales, slight shifts in percussion, and varying levels of bass.
Using retro synthesizers and sampled vocal effects, the main theme, “Szamanka (Shaman Woman)” basically repeats a 4-4-3 note pattern with short buffering pauses, and it's used in the film as a kind of mood transition for the sexually strung-out heroine (known only as the Italian) who has affairs with a sexually inadequate doctor, a horny anthropologist, and an obsessive metal factory worker.
Often played under her walking, running, and wandering scenes, the theme more or less underscores her seething hunger for what eventually becomes a literal feast on a lover's brain matter with a teaspoon – Zulawski's extreme conclusion after having his heroine experience a constant stream of intense boffing, and unsettling scenes of the Italian hungrily watching bloody slop dribble from a giant meat grinder spout that's used to dispose of rotting hospital waste at her workplace.
The secondary theme, “Zdrowas Mario (Holy Mary),” is first heard during a part rape/part angry sex sequence that has the Italian girl apparently apartment shopping and meeting her most influential and ultimately fatalistic lover – an anthropologist whose sexual desires drive him to a level of madness, reaching its apex when the cadaver of a skull-fractured shaman, found in the mud by a city works crew, comes to life after marinating in yellow neon lab water.
Now, for a composer, this already sounds like a tough assignment, and Korzynski's familiarity with Zulawki's impenetrable narratives and contorted characters means he's aware the director doesn't want traditional underscore because it's a pointless effort; certainly in Szamanka, the music must be as behaviorally obsessive, and prone to moments of subtlety and immediate rage, so Korzynski's secondary theme functions as part boffing music, and the crowning touch on scenes with emotional eruptions – a typical trait in Zulawski's female characters, as in Possession, and My Nights are More Beautiful Than Your Days (1989): when characters sit and chat, for example, the leading female character goes bonkers, and like some teenage crackhead, she smashes the surrounding physical order and middle class objects that have become revolting during period of her malady.
“Zdrowas Mario” is probably the score's most dramatically satisfying theme because Korzynski layers strained male and female chorales, and sets the lament to a nasty, propulsive rhythm. A solo female voice repeats the liturgy, while male vocalists either drag out keywords, or engage in some rapid-fire liturgical incantation, like entranced acolytes in some mad Satanic cult.
Performed on keyboards and synth, “Zycie i Smierc (Life and Death)” is the album's most gentle cue, and the classically-styled harmonics offer a more peaceful, religious respite from the numerous reiterations of “2 that lard the album. Some versions of the latter emphasize synths and hushed breathing and sampled shakuachi flute ( heavily in vogue during the eighties), while versions of Szamanka” also shift moods a bit, including “Zycie i Smierc,” which segues into a pop instrumental unheard in the finished film. Korzynski also takes the pop distraction in “Zycie i Smierc” and reworks the happy-go-lucky melody into a minimalist variation for synth woodwinds.
The album also includes two source cues: “Ironia (Irony),” which plays during a lengthy party scene that has the Italian girl trashing an upscale home; and a hard rock cue, “Wielki Piec (Huge Stove),” which basically takes a bass line and adds squealing synths and electric guitar.
Most of Szamanka is very retro-eighties; the main theme recalls the opening bars to John Carpenter's The Fog (1978), and some of the album cue – such as “Obsesja (Obsession),” with its quasi barking dog samples - evokes the sometimes cheesy samples Claudio Simonetti added to his mid-eighties Dario Argento scores. A more intriguing variation is “Tania odziez (Cheap Clothes),” which scales back the instrumentation and adds pseudo-African percussion, with insect-like screeching that's looped and processed to mimic the pattern of a screeching wheel.
Korzynski's score is directly tied to the director's indulgent and emotionally extreme style, although here in its unedited form, the complete theme versions offers a slightly cleaner glimpse into the patterns of madness that Zulawski tried to weave into his graphic ode to obsession.
Albums by Andrzej Korzynski available from Soundtracks.PL include Dzieci z doliny młynów (1985-1990), Sweet Music, and Szamanka / Shaman (1995).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan