Alfred Schnittke, The Story of an Unknown Actor (film score, 1976)
Depths require nothing more than surfaces. It is not the invisible that makes the world mysterious, Oscar Wilde once contended, but the visible: appearance itself can raise suspicion, and the mask, even more than the living face, begs interrogation.
Schnittke’s music has always been a world of uneasy play between depths and surfaces, but perhaps nowhere more than in his film scores. For often these scores end up inverting their function as a mere musical support or affective amplification for the images they accompany. Instead, in characteristic Schnittke-fashion, they end up subverting, even betraying the film; they can become not the face of the film, but its mask. Or, in a more frequent trope, Schnittke’s film scores force the film itself into a strange, subtle form of mask, in which the music now becomes the hidden face.
Schnittke’s score is classic film music, efficiently appending itself to a plot through single symbolic device. But at the same time, the seams in Schnittke’s score show; the melody’s stylized, fake-Tchaikovsky “russian” pathos in its opening incarnation may strike some as impossibly sincere, its saccharine swagger and soaring scope mismatched to the banal manner of its construction; likewise, its style cannot eclipse its own pastiche-like stylization – later on, when fake-Tchaikovsky becomes fake-Rachmaninov, the faking itself is brought to the foreground, to the surface…
- “The Story of an Unknown Actor, film score”, Seth Brodsky