New from Label ‘X’ is this score to the off-beat sci-fi opus The Quiet Earth (1984). Directed by New Zealander Geoff Murphy, Leonard Maltin describes the film as an “intriguing and extremely good-looking end-of-the-world saga.” one which has attracted a cult following. John Charles’ score sounds good too, and in fact is one of the most intriguing scores I’ve heard in some time.
Charles was born in Wellington in 1940 and brings to his film scoring a varied background in composing concert music, playing jazz piano and conducting both symphonic works and opera. The Quiet Earth is not easy to categorize. It’s definitely symphonic with a sweeping use of large orchestra, but it’s never bombastic or ostentatious. At some points it has a minimalist feel, especially in its section for solo cello, bells and harp, and at others it exhibits the urgent sense of open space and melancholy evoked by the, best American concert composers. (In fact, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra that performs the score recently released a well-received CD of music by Samuel Barber.) Though Charles’ score is not derivative. The Quiet Earth does suggest the intensity and brooding emotion of Barber’s music. The haunting main theme has a curious feel of bluesy Americana to it, perhaps in keeping with the film’s last-man-on-Earth plotline, It alternates with a series of short motifs; a counter motif for bells and harp, an agitated passage in a neo-classic style, and a brief recurring benedictory fanfare for brass. The score also features electronics, but used very judiciously and mostly for the sequences involving the mysterious “effect”: the opening “Sunrise” and the final “Saturn Rising” when Charles really pulls out the modernistic stops—both are among the most impressive I’ve heard in a recent score.
The disc is rounded out by Charles’ score to the television feature Iris, this in a more intimate chamber vein, but still urgent and intense, and apparently in keeping with the tone of this dual-leveled biography of Iris Wilkinson, a New Zealand writer who committed suicide at age 33.