Considering how often enthusiasts talk about the current film score landscape being a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland patrolled by Remote Control productions like HK units from THE TERMINATOR, 2013 as a year has been pretty good. While we’ve had some great stuff from the big names, the amount of wonderful music from some newcomers has been really refreshing. In that vein, it’s time to add another newbie to the list with Oscar Navarro and his score for LA MULA.
LA MULA – or THE MULE – is a movie that has courted controversy in its production country of Spain due to finance disputes that eventually got the director kicked off. I haven’t seen it but by all accounts it’s about a mule that goes to war – absolutely unrelated in any way to that other tale of equine military involvement, I assume. But one thing it certainly has in common with WAR HORSE is a wonderfully classical score that invokes the Golden Age of Hollywood scoring.
This is not to say that Oscar Navarro is John Williams, that would be crazy. But there are certainly splashes of the maestro’s influence here, as well as others. Maurice Jarre is one that has been mentioned, and whose epic scores have the same sense of scale and melody typified by LA MULA, particularly the opening cue ‘Love Story’, which introduces the main theme on an intimate scale before expanding into sonic widescreen with a stirring big string and brass piece that screams “epic”.
Navarro’s music often reaches this sense of scale without losing steam, although it certainly has enough variety in between the massive pieces to not overload itself. ‘Castro and Conchi’ has a wistful melody on violin, while ‘Friendship’ features sobering piano which leads into a wonderfully classical Hollywood moment with the strings. Then there’s the soothing guitar of ‘Mule Count’ and the delicate piano in ‘Future Plans’, where Navarro captures a sense of emotional reflection that works to balance the score with the bigger pieces.
That said, the big pieces are where LA MULA’s heart and soul lie. What Navarro has created really is a big homage to the days of David Lean epics with massive scores that used the orchestra to its full extent, to the point where it will definitely have viewers and listeners nostalgic for those days of old. But it doesn’t ever ring false. Of course I haven’t seen the film, but at least on record it feels like emulation but not imitation, if that makes sense.
Navarro uses the orchestra beautifully, infusing the traditional feel with a Spanish flavour using guitar and castanets and some wonderfully melodic outbursts – such as in ‘The Turntable’ – that make you feel like you’re in a fiesta (a festival that is – not a small reasonably-priced hatchback). ‘A Young Gentleman’s Gift’ is a lovely piece that centres on tuba, while ‘Long Live Castro!’ is a very traditional Hollywood march with joyfully jaunty woodwind and brass interplay. Even the action pieces have style, with the thrilling brass bursts of ‘I Am Not A Slave To Anyone’ amidst the continental exoticism.
Unbelievably, LA MULA is Oscar Navarro’s first feature film score. It’s an incredible achievement really – not only a lovely nostalgic homage to film music of days past, but also a wonderfully fun and emotive work in its own right. A brilliant score.
LA MULA is out now from MovieScoreMedia/Kronos Records
Words: Charlie Brigden