In the house, in a heartbeat…


John Murphy’s 28 Days Later score deserved more recognition than it got. Godspeed! You Black Emperor, a Canadian anarchist art collective and one of the post-rock scene’s founding lights, was the perfect music for 28 Days Later. It scored the film in Danny Boyle’s head during much of his creative process. Their relationship would be a tortured one.

John Murphy-In the House-In a Heartbeat

Brian Eno-An Ending (Ascent)

Godspeed!’s politics made them naturally extremely wary of any licensing, but Boyle won them over with what was then a sincere pitch for a leftist art house film, and they licensed two songs. As production progressed, however, 28 Days was picked up for major distribution. Godspeed! were disgusted and felt betrayed, and refused to license several more pieces that Boyle requested, but they had already signed away two songs, which made it into the final film. Without Godspeed!, Boyle went to Murphy, and basically gave him the task of copying Godspeed!’s sound. The tactic succeeds greatly at certain points, and while “In the House” lacks much of Godspeed!’s touch, it works well for the occasion, and is reused much more prominently in this sequel. Since then, it’s been ubiquitous in TV and film: in a Beowulf ad I saw and many other places.

“In the House,” progresses from two quiet piano notes to full-blown electric guitar, coming right up to the explosion and then falling back again to build-up more. The guitar plucks sound like paranoia, insanity knocking patiently at the door, and the lengthy operatic guitar-driven third act hits just the right balance of subtlety and strength.

The title, “In the House-In a Heartbeat” underlines the urgency of political engagement in the face of an external that can come crashing into your spaces of privacy, while ambivalently hitting nerve endings on the organs of fear and loathing grown in the population by conservative rhetoric of fear and loathing (the red phone and all that business). The peaceful extended outro is similarly open to multiple readings. Have we reached peace on earth or simply accepted the impossibility of a progressive order and passed on to the next world?

Traffic, a mirror travail and the film composer’s craft

 I’m reminded here of one of the many wonderful commentaries on the Traffic DVD, by DEA man Craig Chretien. His comment on the ending of that film brought out a sober dramatic resonance that I hadn’t felt before. Benicio Del Toro’s character sits in the stands of a night game at the baseball field he demanded be funded in exchange for his whistleblowing with US drug authorities. Chretien saw this ending as very bittersweet for Del Toro: he’d gotten what he wanted, and was content, but knew that he would soon be killed for his betrayal.

Interestingly enough, master film composer Cliff Martinez used Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” to score this epilogue. He’d attempted the same task as Murphy aping Godspeed!: he’d used Eno’s song as a placeholder until he composed his own song to replace it, but was never content, and in the end he and Soderbergh agreed to simply purchase the song for the movie and leave it as is. Since then, that song has become a film soundtrack staple, but it’s most notable inclusions were on the soundtrack for Traffic and, you guessed it: 28 Days Later.


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