Music's Key Role in Movies' Moods

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Romantic movie music can be a silky cliche, coming on like heavy cologne, or it can seduce the viewer in subtler ways.

Some of the best composers in the movie business share their seduction secrets in tonight's episode of "Music: Behind the Scenes" (7 and 10 p.m., Bravo), the third installment in a revealing six-part series. In the coming weeks the show focuses on music for suspense films, chase scenes and independent cinema.

In "Emma," Rachel Portman's crafty score guides the audience through the heroine's game playing, and ultimately, to her romantic destiny. In the sewing-circle scene, director Douglas McGrath's camera circles the women as Emma weaves one of her matchmaking schemes, and Portman's music also has a sneaky, circular feel. Throughout the film, instruments help "voice" the characters, Portman says: A quivering violin stresses Harriet's uneasy stomach; a bittersweet clarinet accompanies Emma on her emotional journey.

George Fenton's score for "Dangerous Liaisons" conveys a colder form of gamesmanship. When the John Malkovich character throws himself at Michelle Pfeiffer, the music, like his maneuver, needs to be slightly over the top without straining credibility. When Malkovich sees through a keyhole that his ploy had the desired effect, "The music stops what it's doing because his game is over," Fenton says.

"The English Patient" tells parallel love stories--one smoldering, one gentler--so composer Gabriel Yared signals turmoil and yearning in shifting tones. The film's main love scene, as it were, comes when Kip hoists the Juliette Binoche character into the air to show her a dazzling display of frescoes. The boost he gets from Yared's lifting, swinging notes demonstrates how vital movie music can be.

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