Similar to other great composers, Hurwitz builds upon the themes and passages, the maneuvers and bags of tricks that have long interested him, by combining the tenets of hot jazz with modern patterns and lively rhythms to vocalize the sweat, grime, and majesty of the 1920s and 1930s. You can hear his interests on the soundtrack, in fact, in three variations of one idea.
The track “Coke Room” places an earworm horn riff within a sparse mix that perceptively leverages the room reverb for kinetic dynamics. That same riff becomes bigger and more emboldened by hooky chants, an octave shift, and a late-stage key change on “Voodoo Mama,” which structurally marries West Coast Revival, Swing, Big Band, and Dixieland Jazz with pop music. “Finale” retools the same riff, and plays over a montage of film clips dedicated to the innovations of cinema and silent film’s influence on those events. It adds a pounding dance beat set to a cascade of cacophonous styles culminating in a climactic final note that breaches the thin layer between the past and future, between elegance and ecstasy, for a piercing shock to the membrane. With a behemoth pulse, “Babylon” is Hurwitz’s most ambitious and searing work. (Robert Daniels)
The scariest shot of 2022 occurs just under the one-hour mark of Todd Field’s “TÁR,” when its titular composer-conductor, Lydia (Cate Blanchett), has returned to her apartment. After lighting a candle, she walks to a shelf to retrieve a piece of music. Cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister (“The Deep Blue Sea,” “A Quiet Passion”) frames this moment in such a way that we could easily miss what is staring us straight in the face. I didn’t catch this fleeting detail until my second viewing, and once I did, it haunted every other shot in the picture. Standing next to Lydia’s piano, with her shock of red hair, is Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote), the fellowship program member who Lydia may have sexually groomed before destroying her career after their relationship fell apart. As soon as Lydia obliviously passes by her, Krista goes out of focus before promptly vanishing in the very next shot, which is angled from her invisible vantage point. Lydia sits at the piano and begins to play before suddenly stopping. She looks directly at us, as if sensing an unwelcome presence. It is revealed several scenes afterward that Krista committed suicide around the time she appeared in Lydia’s apartment.
It isn’t until an hour later that Krista materializes again, seated in the shadows of Lydia’s bedroom and glimpsed out of focus in a quick pan. Awoken by the screams of her adopted daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic), Lydia races to her aid. This time, it is Petra who stares at us, prompting Lydia to do the same, once again startled by an unseen apparition. Though Krista has very minimal screen time, as a result of Lydia straining to forget her, Field and Hoffmeister make the young woman’s presence palpably felt throughout, beginning with two shots framing the back of her head as she watches her former lover being interviewed onstage by Adam Gopnik. Krista’s face is seen only in the film’s clue-filled teaser trailer, where it is covered in a design that turns up in the darnedest of places throughout “TÁR”—in an anonymously gifted book, near an inexplicably ticking metronome, on Petra’s table in the form of clay and in the newly vacated apartment of Lydia’s assistant (Noémie Merlant). The more times I’ve revisited this film, the more I’ve realized that it is a cinematic gift that keeps on giving, and that is in large part due to Hoffmeister’s endlessly fascinating compositions, each inviting us to take a closer look at what we are seeing, much of which just might exist solely in Lydia’s guilt-ridden mind. (Matt Fagerholm)