The musical journey of the national charts for ‘Cyrano’, ‘C’mon C’mon’

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It’s a pretty neat idea, when you have two films on communication and human relations, to hire twins to write the music. Brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner have been swapping twins since they were born 45 years ago, and they’ve been making music together for almost as long – professionally for two decades with their band, The National.

Yet “C’mon C’mon” and “Cyrano” could hardly be more different. One is a low-key black-and-white drama starring Joaquin Phoenix as a melancholy reporter who bonds with his nephew. The other is a full-fledged musical, adapted from the famous French story by Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Peter Dinklage as the “misfit” with an eloquent pen and unrequited love for a girl named Roxanne.

Basically, however, both films are about characters trying and often failing to join – and, as Bryce Dessner said, “people are just trying to say how they feel.”

The end-of-year “Cyrano” release is by far the most ambitious. Based on a screenplay by Erica Schmidt – Dinklage’s wife of 16 years – the musical was first conceived in 2018 for a theater workshop in Connecticut before moving off Broadway. Both iterations featured Haley Bennett as Roxanne and Dinklage as Cyrano, replacing the comically long nose with the actor’s actual dwarfism as the focal point of the plot.

The songs had been in the works for years already, and for director Joe Wright’s film adaptation, the Dessner brothers drastically revised the original songbook, adding multiple numbers and composing a brand new score that weaves it all together.

“One of the issues I have with musicals, in general,” Wright said, “is you have a dramatic scene, you get out of it, you feel good, you feel safe – and then suddenly a song will come out of nowhere, and it can be quite disorienting when your characters start to sing, and they behave really weird – they might even dance.

To solve this problem, Wright wanted the score to “create a kind of seamless transition from drama to musical sequences.” So much of the score takes elements of the songs and then develops them so that while sometimes they’re not really recognizable, there is some kind of language that allows audiences to go from song to drama. in a way that’s not jarring.

“Cyrano” is like a musical river. Matched with Wright’s fluid, dancing camera movement, audiences are swept away by song and instrumental track after song, rushing headlong through Roxanne’s need for “waves of desire” and Cyrano’s love for she who is so desperate he can “barely breathe.” “

It’s a fitting analogy, said Wright, “because it’s also the experience of falling in love.”

The songs flow organically from the instrumental score, which grooves with repeating patterns, broken waltzes and echoes of song melodies. Classically trained Bryce Dessner provided the sleek orchestral minimalism and Aaron the quality of folk song and modern production.

Towards the end of the film, three soldiers sing about the loved ones they are about to leave behind – one is played by “Once” star Glen Hansard, another by the score violinist, Sam Starch. Wright wanted the score to continue under the dialogue scene that followed, and Aaron Dessner improvised a piece that deconstructs the song’s melody into its skeleton before it slowly rebuilds itself and blooms again.

The director’s overall goal was “to focus every element of the film on this experience of falling in love.” And I think somehow Bryce and Aaron have an incredible connection to that part of themselves. Their music is so tender and pulsates with such a true heart that seems incredibly connected to this place that falls in love. “

As “Cyrano” wears his heart on his sleeve, director Mike Mills has avoided big emotions like the plague for the recent “C’mon C’mon” outing – it’s “like he’s slalom skiing. “Said Bryce Dessner,” finding his way around those overly sentimental moments.

“We’re kidding,” Aaron added, “he’s like that punk rocker who, whenever there’s a hint of emotionality, he wants to torpedo it. That’s why the actual score ended up in it. very impressionistic experimental world, where you can really read it both ways.

At first, Mills, who produced the National’s latest album, only wanted to score under montages where the Phoenix radio reporter interviews real kids across the country about the future. Aaron found an interesting sound in his old Korg MS-20 synthesizer, like woodwinds slowly losing their pitch.

“We’ve built these deals for a lot of things using it,” Aaron said. “It could be that emotional chord streak, but because it’s like going out of tune, it kind of worked for Mike. So it was a big step forward. “

The role of the score eventually widened, creating a sort of dreamlike atmosphere for this very human story. For a scene after an important uncle-nephew moment, Mills even asked for a more positive emotion – “a ray of hope.”

If the score of “Cyrano” is a river of emotions, Bryce suggested, “C’mon C’mon” is a calm ocean.

“It’s like the movie is a boat, and the music is the water it rocks on.”


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