WILD ORANGES Music Score Review

Mark Northam
Film Music Magzazine, October 2006

Vivek Maddala's score for Wild Oranges spins a wonderfully melodious emotional tapestry through a film that in many places becomes something wholly different with the addition of this new score.

Maddala's gift for melody is apparent throughout the film as he creates a combination of character and situation-driven themes; but he never rests on the clichés in style or substance that befall so many composers who tend to imitate, rather than create film scores. Indeed, this music is a creation—a new creation—from the very beginning. Maddala constructs an eclectic score that defies categorization, but always delivers.

The score combines melodies -- some more traditional, some more modern in tonality -- with a scoring style that provides both a sense of momentum through the longer scenes, and a sense of pause at selected points as the story unfolds, creating chapters at appropriate points in the film. Often at the end of a chapter, rather than finality, we are left with suspense and sense of foreboding of what might or might not happen next—all done with a contemporary flair. Maddala's liberal use of 20th-century harmony throughout the score gives the film a remarkable feeling, highlighting the mixed emotions we see in the characters in the film.

Among the scenes where music plays a critical role is one where John takes Millie on his sailboat and for the first time Millie feels a sense of freedom and life that she had not experienced before during her rural upbringing -- and the music beautifully (but not obviously) plays Millie's excitement and childlike wonder as she finds the magic and freedom of the open sea. But as Millie discovers how big the open sea really is and becomes frightened of the sheer scope of the unknown, Maddala's score plays the part of an unseen character, helping the audience make an effective transition as Millie's feelings of wonder and awe are overtaken by her long-held fears and anxieties. As an overwhelmed Millie descends into a mental abyss of fear, Maddala's modernistic score highlights her emotions just enough to unveil the true depth of her feelings without distracting the viewer or overplaying the scene.

Toward the end of the film, Maddala very effectively deals with a type of scene that too often is scored obviously and predictably: a fight scene. Watching the scene without music, it almost seems comical; but clearly the filmmaker had no intention of portraying humor as John and the insane man-boy Nicholas engage in a battle for the fearful Millie. As the film cuts between the men fighting and Millie trying to free herself from Nicholas' bindings, the music never falls back to obviousness and predictability. Instead it plays the emotions of the characters—the frightened but brave Millie; John defending the one women he finally dares to love; and the blind, primitive rage of Nicholas. Rather than playing “the action” as so many composers would choose to, Maddala's choice to play the twisting, roiling emotions of the characters using fresh harmony and even dissonance draws the viewer in at every turn, transforming the long fight sequence into a modernistic expose of the rage, fear, and love that drive the characters to act.

Maddala's Wild Oranges takes a small orchestra (whose players are often acting more as soloists than ensemble players), mixes in a healthy amount of modern dissonance and memorable themes, and seasons the mix with a liberal dose of jazz stylings to create a truly unforgettable and uniquely contemporary score for this classic film.

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