Julie Taymor, aka. Mrs Elliot Goldenthal, made her first directorial splash with a vibrant and imaginative version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, but from obscure Bard, she has moved onto a biopic of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Not an artist I have heard of, but judging by the examples in the CD notes, her work is striking and brilliant. As I noted in my review of Jeff Beal's superb score to Pollock, film composers seem to respond well to films about artists and Elliot Goldenthal is no slouch, responding well to every film he scores. For Frida, his music takes up around a third of the album's overall running time and interspersed is one of the key elements of the film, it's Mexican influence.
As Goldenthal mentions in his brief introductory paragraphs regarding the music, Mexican music is not just one thing, but varies from region to region. However, it has a distinct enough sound, namely the acoustic and Mexican guitar which always suggests a Mexican or Hispanic lilt to the music. I must admit that not all of the songs are really to my taste, I've never really been one for folk music generally and while some of the songs are most enjoyable, I can't help feeling they might seem better after a few tequilas. The rather curious singing style employed isn't always terribly appealing, although the instrumental backing is always striking and rhythmic. Goldenthal's music fills in with purely instrumentals, save for the final song. Arranged for a small ensemble, but with occasionally full strings, Goldenthal has ingeniously adapted Mexican music into his own style and it is perhaps surprising how well the two mix, especially during the more intense tracks such as The Floating Bed, The Journey and the superb Burning Bed.
The album closes with Burn it Blue, which is obviously not a 'real' Mexican song, despite the styling to that effect, and probably why I find it a stand out amongst the other songs. The superb vocals of Caetano Veloso and Lila Downs (who performs on a couple of the score cues, particularly the striking Estrella Oscura) greatly aid to the song's impact. Given the small ensemble size, the best comparison in Goldenthal's previous catalogue is probably the incidental music for play The Green Feather (another Taymor production), but with the Mexicana incorporated, most obviously in the particularly impressive La Calavera. There is no denying the quality of Goldenthal's music, it is intimate and dramatic, while sounding plausibly authentic, but I suspect many won't appreciate the songs a great deal (as, I must admit, I didn't) even though everything seems to blend together seemlessly.