Music In Film...Rachel Portman

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Welcome to the sixth installment in a series of hub articles dedicated to music in film. Each article focuses on the collaboration between the director and the composers/song writers who create the film soundtracks. .

The link to the introduction of this series and the first installment (Steven Spielberg) appears below:


British composer, Rachel Portman, is a celebrated player and leading lady in a male-dominated industry. Portman broke through this glass ceiling by scoring over 50 films and winning numerous awards. She was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Musical or Comedy Score for Emma in 1996, and the first to be honored with the BMI Richard Kirk Award in 2010 for her significant contributions to music in film.

Portman’s love affair with music started at an early age; she began scoring at the age of 13. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Rachel composes on a piano and rarely uses electronic equipment such as synthesizers to augment her film scores. She is best known for her lush orchestrations, and imaginative use of piano and strings in the romance/comedy film genre.

Music is the emotional glue, so to speak, in any film; it can affect our emotions before the idea of the actual characters. This is especially true with the adaptation of a novel. When created intuitively, the musical notes lift the words from page. We are conscious, but not aware of, the music that helps to carry us on the author’s journey through the combined vision of the director and composer.

Portman is a master at enhancing the dramatic story, on-screen, and has collaborated with many directors. You may recognize some of her work in such films as Emma, Chocolat; The Legend of Bagger Vance (featured in the Robert Redford installment of this series); The Lake House; The Manchurian Candidate; Mona Lisa Smile...

...and a few that might surprise you:


  • Miss Potter


“Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: "One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.”

--- The Tale of Peter Rabbit


"I wish to hatch my own eggs; I will hatch them all by myself," quacked Jemima Puddle-duck."

--The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck



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Growing up in the conservatism of the Victorian England, Beatrix Potter never attended school and was exceptionally shy. Rather than focus her energies on finding a suitable husband she became an iconic figure in the literary world. Her “little books” thrived and enabled her to become financially independent. “Thank goodness I was never sent to school,” she said. “It would have rubbed off some of my originality.” As a child, Beatrix taught herself to draw with infinite imagination, creating timeless classics over the years that would delight readers for over a century.

In Miss Potter, director Chris Noonan takes us through various chapters from the life of this extraordinary woman, wonderfully portrayed by Renee Zellweger: Her childhood; her relationship with fledgling publisher, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor); and her work as a conservationist. Potter’s initial publishing of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" leads to a courtship with Warne who supports her work with great enthusiasm. In time, they fall in love and become engaged -- despite the protests of Potter's mother and father.


The soundtrack to Miss Potter is an orchestral score composed by Nigel Westlake and Rachel Portman. The beautiful, lush and playful melodies reflect the context of Potter's amazing life and the creative animation of her beloved characters as they leap from the page and into our hearts.

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  • The Cider House Rules

    “Goodnight, you princes of Maine…you kings of New England.”

    (Dr. Larch bids the orphaned lads goodnight, every evening, at the orphanage.)


John Irving scripted the screen adaptation of his novel, The Cider House Rules. Directed by Lasse Hallström, this story of self-discovery and optimism follows two main characters during the WW II years: Dr. Wilbur Larch (Sir Michael Caine) is the kindhearted founder of the St. Cloud's orphanage in Maine. He also provides safe abortions for women who are in the early stages of pregnancy. (Proponents of the Comstock Act were still waging war against any legal use of female contraceptive devices. Women were dying as a result of “back alley” abortions.) Dr. Larch teaches the orphaned Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) his medical expertise over the years. However, Homer has moral objections to illegal abortions and refuses to assist in any of these procedures.

Lt. Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd) arrives at St. Cloud one day with his girlfriend, Candy (Charlize Theron) who is seeking an abortion. Eager to venture forth into the world, Homer departs St. Cloud with the couple. Wally’s mother owns an apple orchard and cider mill, and Homer is soon recruited to work the fall harvest when Wally is transferred overseas to fight in the war.

The Worthington’s cider house has a list of rules which the seasonal field pickers are obliged to follow. The rules are actually a metaphor for adhering to existing laws and prevailing opinions that often fail to deal with life's complexities. During Homer’s journey of self-discovery, his moral code is tested in ways he never anticipated. He and Candy become close during Wally’s absence and embark on an affair. In addition, one of the teenage migrant pickers becomes pregnant after being molested by her father.


Portman’s sumptuous, Oscar nominated score reflects the innocence of those times and the stunning New England countryside. Despite the seriousness of themes, the music is rooted in the optimism of the screenplay that heralds the conclusion of the film...and those “princes of Maine and kings of New England.” It is one of the most beautiful melodic scores ever created.

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  • Beloved

    "Love is or it isn't, Paul D. Thin love ain't no love at all."

    (Sethe's remark to Paul D. when he tells her that her love is "too thick.")


Beloved was adapted from Toni Morrison’s novel; winner of both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize in literature. Brilliantly directed by Jonathan Demme, the story begins in the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1873. Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a former slave, and her teenage daughter, Denver (Yada Beener), live in a house that is haunted by a malevolent ghost -- the spirit of Sethe’s deceased, two-year-old daughter. They live an isolated existence until a man from Sethe's past, Paul D. (Danny Glover), pays a visit. (While pregnant with Denver, Sethe had fled the oppressive cruelty of Sweet Home, a plantation in Kentucky where Paul D. was also a slave.)

Paul D.’s presence revives events from the past that have been locked away in Sethe’s memory for nearly two decades. After a violent confrontation with the ghost, Paul D. moves in with Sethe and Denver. The troublesome phantom disappears. Shortly thereafter, a strange young woman (Thandie Newton) who calls herself Beloved arrives at Sethe’s house. Childlike and seemingly lost from reality, Sethe and Denver are drawn to her and take her into their home. Strange events soon begin to reoccur.

The story unfolds by combining elements from the present with the past through a series of random flashbacks of the major characters…”like an unpleasant dream from a troubling sleep.” This profound and complex film follows the struggles of the main characters’ ability to love, combined with the overwhelming and inescapable effects of slavery.


The musical scoring marked a departure from Portman’s usual sound. Using a few instruments and an African choir, voices of harmony and dissonance create a stunning musical tapestry that respects the somber and thoughtful tone of Morrison’s brilliant novel.

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  • Oliver Twist

    "Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature."


In Oliver, director Roman Polanski provides audiences with his own interpretation of this Dickens classic. Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is an innocent young orphan in Victorian England who works in a depressing workhouse operated by a miser, Mr. Bumble (Jeremy Swift). When Oliver dares to ask for more food, he is given over to an undertaker who treats him cruelly. Preferring life on the streets, Oliver runs away to London to make his fortune. He meets a pickpocket, the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), who belongs to a gang of young thieves that are trained to steal for their master, Fagin (Ben Kingsley).

In Oliver Twist, Dickens indicts with unforgiving satire the societal impact of industrialism on 19th-century England. He grew up in a world of workhouses, and people who preyed upon and abused children for their own benefit and greed. It is his voice we hear throughout the film that is detailed with adventure and visuals that portray this life with stunning realism.


Polanski wanted to present Oliver as a quirky character whose innocence survives amidst the moral decadence of that society. In a sense, Polanski and Portman “meet Dickens in the middle” with a wonderful score that is filled with dogged adventure and a rebellious spirit.

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  • The Human Stain

    “Coleman, you think like a prisoner. You're white as snow and you think like a slave.”


The Human Stain was directed by Robert Benton. It is a deeply complex and moving story based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Roth's best-selling novel. Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a classics professor at a fictional college in New England. False accusations of racial discrimination are brought against him, thereby ending his career. His wife suffers a fatal stroke during the investigation. Furious with the college he blames for his wife’s death, Coleman asks his neighbor, author Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), to write a book about the events. The character of Nathan narrates part of the story.

After the tragic death of his wife and departure from the college, Coleman begins a scandalous affair with the beautiful and deeply troubled Faunia Farley. Faunia is a local cleaning woman who fled from a world of privilege and an abusive stepfather at the age of 14. Their relationship is further threatened by Farley’s abusive ex-husband, Lester (Ed Harris), an alcoholic Vietnam vet with PTSD. Lester unjustly blames her for the death of their two small children during a fire.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Coleman has led a life of deception. He is a light-skinned African American who has passed himself off as white and Jewish since the 1940’s, completely severing all ties with his mother and family in the process. By fleeing his past, he thought to gain more control over his independence and personal freedom in order to fulfill his ambitions. His rebellion exiles him from the truth and the very freedoms he desires. He does not share this secret with anyone until he meets and falls in love with Faunia.


Rachel Portman collaborated with Benton to create a beautifully haunting score. Her signature piano and strings shift between minor keys to convey the somber, introverted nature of the story. Intensely personal, the musical phrases repeat a yearning for love and tenderness in a world of prejudice and cruelty that secludes the heart.


In closing, I wanted to express my apologies for omitting such films as Emma and The Manchurian Candidate. Several hubs would be needed, at minimum, to encompass Portman's brilliant and impressive body of work.


The next and final installment of this series will feature directors Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan, and their collaboration with German composer Hans Zimmer ((Rain Man; The Lion King; Pirates of the Caribbean; Gladiator; Inception; The Dark Knight Rises).



References:

All Music; Rachel Portman Biography; Artist Biography by Joseph Stevenson; December 5, 2012



Written content has been copyrighted, 2014, by Genna East. All rights Reserved. Said copyrights do not extend to the videos that are utilized solely for learning purposes.

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20 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I do love this series. Although this director may not be a household name like some, she is very talented and has made some excellent films.....did I mention I love this series? :)


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Music really is "the emotional glue" that binds us to the story. I fondly remember theme songs and lyrics from movies I watched years ago. Just to hear one of these brings back such touching memories of the characters and the stories. You've done a terrific job on recapping the importance of music in film and of those who take on this task like Rachel Portman.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

I really enjoyed this. You feature some of my all-time favorite movies. I can't believe i missed seeing ' Beloved ' My kind of movie. I am much more in tune with the music since reading your series and thinking back to some of the very best, it's the music that you recognize first, like ' Gone with the wind, Dr Zhivago ' and so many more. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. Tweeting to share with friends...


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Beautiful music--what a great series!


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Rachael Portman certainly does have a brilliant and impressive body of work. Wow, her music in The Human Stain is beautifully haunting indeed! I just love it. I have not seen that movie, but just because of the music, now I want to watch it. I think I hear the Pan Flute, so lovely.

I am so glad you are doing another hub in this series! I look forward to reading.

Up and more, tweeting, pinning and sharing

Have a lovely weekend, dear Genna.


DnWW 2 years ago

Finally – the Brits – thank you, luv! Molly is upset that she didn't know about the movie Miss Potter. Cider House Rules is hands down my favorite music, but Irving left a lot of his book out of the screenplay.

I like ‘the musical notes lift the words from the page’ and how you used book adaptations in your illustrations. ‘Rachel Portman collaborated with Benton to create a beautifully haunting score. Her signature piano and strings shift between minor keys to convey the somber, introverted nature of the story. Intensely personal, the musical phrases repeat a yearning for love and tenderness in a world of prejudice and cruelty that secludes the heart.’ Great writing.

Dana


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

you know Geena I always find myself reading these types of hubs over and over I just love this little series keep them coming :)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Genna, I am enjoying your series of music used in films. This is so interesting as I have seen most of these films, but knew nothing of Rachel Porter. You have made me more aware of the importance of music in films and the mood, atmosphere etc. it affects. I now listen more carefully to the music in films. Thanks for bringing music in films to our attention. Voted up+ and shared.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 2 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Genna. I read this when you published then was interrupted and am slow getting back. What an interesting article you have here and on several levels. I see that two movie titles, if memory serves are set in New England. Also two titles are Pulitzer Prize winners. Here again, I did not know the name Rachel Portman, though it appears I should.

I think it is your keen sense of observation that makes this series, and your other writing so poignant. Sad to see the note near the end that the series ends with the next article.

As an aside, I have not read Philip Roth but he gets high accolades and therefore I should.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

(My apologies for being so tardy in responding, but the painters have been here for several days, and everything is at “sixes and sevens.”)

@billybuc

Hi Billy. Thank you for your continued support of this series...I am so grateful for your visits and comments. :-)

@PegCole17

Hi Peg. I can't imagine taking on the task of composer for music in film; it requires a level of talent and perception that is awe inspiring. I hope I have done these composers and directors justice. There is so much more I could have written, but didn't have the room. Thank you for the visit and thoughtful comments. :-)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@AlwaysExploring

Hi Ruby. I hope you are enjoying your weekend. I couldn’t agree more. The music in films such as “Gone With the Wind and “Zhivago” (I love “Laura’s Theme”) are so identifiable – aren’t they? “2001 Space Odyssey” and “Star Wars” are others. We don’t hear too many of these more traditional melodic scores lately. The trend seems to be shifting to more action-oriented films like “The Dark Knight,” or other non-melodic music scoring such as “Gravity.” Thank you for your wonderful comments and continued encouragement of this series! Hugs.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@Audrey Howitt

Hi Audrey. Thank you! I have enjoyed writing this series because I love the music these composers create. :-)

@FaithReaper

Hello Faith! “The Human Stain” is a poignant, sad story, and I agree that Portman captured the psychology of the characters so well. I won’t tell you how the story ends, but I think you will be moved by it. Thanks so much for your kind comments and encouragement, Faith. Hugs.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@DnWW

Hi Dana. “Finally – the Brits – thank you, luv!” Lol. Just for you, Dana! I’ve read Irving’s book; it’s very good. You are right in that he left large swaths of time out of the screenplay. But I assume all is fair since it is his book he was paraphrasing which I guess follows the rules. And as you are fond of saying, “Roos is roos,” my dear friend. Thanks so much for your continued support of my hubs. I have no doubt Molly purchased “Miss Potter” before I wrote my comment. She will enjoy this film. Hugs to you both. :-)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

@FrankAtanacio

Hi Frank. Thank you! I re-read your wonderful stories, too. Bless you, and thanks for the nice comments and visit! :-)

@SuzetteNaples

Hello Suzette. I am so pleased that you are enjoying this series. The music can “make or break” a film in many instances. I love how it joins with the other creative aspects, if done well. Thank you for your visit and comments and continued support. :-)

@Mckbirdbks

Hi Mike. Good to see you. Yes, New England is the setting for two of the films. :-) Rachel’s name is not well-known, although as a woman composer she has managed to break through the glass ceiling of this male-dominated field. Her score for Cider House is one of my favorites. Often, when a score is popular and well-liked, it is use in other presentations. For example, Newman’s Shawshank was also used in one of the trailers for “Brokeback Mountain.” I don’t watch much television these days, but shuddered when I heard Portman’s Cider House played as background for a commercial. Sacrilege.

Thank for those comments, Mike. I am so grateful for your on-going support. I’m running out of steam for this series, as the articles take a lot of time write, and fear that time constraints do not allow the to do these wonderful, creative artists justice. I hope you are enjoying your weekend, and that all is well with you and your family. :-)

Not everyone is a fan of Roth’s, but he is a brilliant writer.


WriterJanis profile image

WriterJanis 2 years ago from California

I can't tell you the number of times I have read Oliver Twist and watched the movie. It is one of my all time favorites. I've always loved the music.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hi Janis. I agree...it is one of my favorites as well. Thank you for the visit and comments. :-)


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I enjoyed this overviewo on Portman (and others). She is indeed a talented person and has accomplished much in the arena of film and music.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you. Her story is an amazing one...not unlike Beatrix Potter's in how she managed to break through that glass ceiling in a field dominated by men. This is why I wanted to include her score for that film. I am grateful for your support and comments. :-)


ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 18 months ago from North Carolina

Genna,

Another awesome installment in an awesome series. Nice to see women composers get noticed. "The Cider House Rules" is one of my favorite books and loved the movie version as well. Had no idea that Portman was involved and as you have so eloquently pointed out: the music, composition plays such an integral role in the successes of films.

Voted up and shared per always. You are so incredibly talented and this series like all of your hubs demonstrates that talent.

Many Blessings and May Music Always Play...

Kim


Genna East profile image

Genna East 17 months ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

My apologies, Kim, for being so late. My computer crashed, and it took some time to have it upgraded, and all files restored. Your beautiful, thoughtful comment brings grateful smiles this morning. Thank you for your continued encouragement and support.

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