Capelle on Composers: Day Two

Staff May 2, 2008

Marc Capelle is a native San Franciscan composer and musician. He writes music for films, television, commercials, web spots, toys and billboards. He has most recently worked with Tommy Guerrero, American Music Club, Tipsy and Virgil Shaw. He also performs monthly as musical timekeeper at the Porch Light story telling series.

Errol Morris has a giant brain. Anybody who wants to argue against that thesis does not have a giant brain. So let’s move on.

When Morris spoke with B. Ruby Rich Tuesday at the SF premiere screening of Standard Operating Procedure, he also has some very nice casual khaki pants and olive, drab, immaculate low-top lace-up Keds. He also makes a very good living making commercials and, when not doing that, manages to consistently make distinctly American films that are unrivaled in their quality of cinematography, sound, sound editing, musical composition and music editing.

So you got hundreds of commercials, pretty much the invention of the non-fictional renactment doc style with "Thin Blue Line."

But even more mind-roasting is that Morris is also is reportedly a pretty nimble and accomplished cellist. He and Yo-Yo Ma shared a teacher growing up. He also studied composition in France with Nadia Boulanger, who counted among her pupils Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Elliot Carter and Philip Glass.

In an recent interview on the film with the Chicago Sun Times, Morris talks about his close friendship with Philip Glass and his decision to do something different with the score of Standard Operating Procedure.

This something—or someone—different was Danny Elfman. One of Hollywood’s most prolific and accomplished composers, Elman (of ’80s rock band Oingo Boingo) is perhaps best known for his work on the Batman films, Spiderman and recently Charlie and Chocolate Factory.

And then there is the very powerful movie and score from this collaboration. with young American soldiers and NGO’s trying their best to explain what was happening in a Hussein torture compound that is now being run as a house of torture by the U.S. As the stories unfold in Standard Operating Procedure, and the pictures and the videos are shown, you have Elfman’s score with a range of orchestration that covers everything from almost fairytale-like sections of celeste, vibraphone and bells, to less surprising dogged pulsing cello ostinatos, and flurried woodwind patterns that flutter gorgeously like birds trying to break free. It makes me thinks of T.S. Eliot’s "Burnt Norton" in the Four Quartets, where he talks about the bird calling back to the unheard music in the shrubbery.

That unheard music is heard in the stories and images in this film. And thank God for the music, because it does what really great scores do: It keeps us in the cinematic moment. And gets us through a reality that is pretty hard to bear.

"Go,go,go said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present."