George Fenton (b. 1949)
It took time for me to realise the artistry of George Fenton.
He’s not shy to avoid the limelight when he designs his music.
I was entranced by the smart way in which he fuses impressively-convincing 18th-century music style, with more modern idioms, to great devastating effect in Stephen Frears’s Dangerous Liaisons (1988).
In an online interview with composer and film maker Ashton Gleckman, Fenton said:
When you’re scoring any film, what you’re trying to do with the music is to help to present the film in the way that the film maker wants the film to be received.
Recently I watched Hans Petter Moland’s re-make of his own film: Cold Pursuit (2019). The feature opens with a huge snowplough spewing huge deluges of snow in a huge landscape, driven by a huge star (Liam Neeson). Accompanying this is …a solo mandolin picking out a fragmented theme! It struck me as completely incongrous, but it worked! As the score develops, you realise the composer knows exactly what he is doing. The result is genius, rewarding repeated viewings.
As a French online reviewer wrote:
I fell immediately under the charm of the music of George Fenton who, despite a sombre script comes across as more cheerful. It counterbalances the acts of vengeance, of slaughter and thus lightens the atmosphere of the film which could otherwise be burdensome.
Fenton described his approach to the Cold Pursuit score:
Just somehow to me there’s a kind of an electronic, analoguey purity, kind of un-dressed-up, not washy pads and omnisphere and all of those kinds of highly developed things. …It was really, really interesting and fun to do and then I just added two or three solo instruments and a couple of shifts with a string group and basically that was it. …we had worked out a plan for the film …you spend a lot of time on the architecture.
As Gleckman says: “in this film, [with] …the director …and of course the score …it seems like there’s always this sense of control, there was always this fine balance between the drama and the satyrical black comedy, it’s a great balance.”
Fenton has said “I think really I owe my career in fact to the success of the people I worked for.”
His approaches are unique and astute.