Smuga Cienia

Wojciech Kilar

" The score by Kilar is an example of sparsely used music "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the music as heard in the movie

Smuga Cienia (The Shadow Line) is a Polish-British historical drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the book by Joseph Conrad. In the cinematic world of Wadja he usually relies on social and political Polish issues, against a historical background. Smuga Cienia was commissioned by a British production company, whose only demand was that everything had to be in English. In the process the film was co-produced by Polish funds, with a mixture of British, but mostly Polish crew. Unfortunately, it is one of the least appealing films in the career of the director.

Smuga Cienia marked the second with composer Wojciech Kilar, after Ziemia Obiecana. Even though he wrote the music to few Wadja films, Pan Tadeusz and Kronika Wypadkow Milosnych are amongst his most inspirational works ever composed. It was the last score to be conducted by Konrad Bryzek, a regular on approximately 30 Kilar scores. Both the conductor and composer were buried in Katowice, Poland. The only other conductor who could stand in his shadows is Antoni Wit, responsible for a large majority of great performances of the composer´ music, as heard on releases by labels such as Naxos and Dux records.

The film Smuga Cienia is essentially a survival story on a boat and the surroundings of the sea should call for an expressive musical theme to hold everything together. The 3 minute recording of the main theme, as featured on compilations, is a classic KIlar composition. I very much like how the theme, introduced by a solo piano, evolves into a piece of bold and melodramatic proportions with the characteristic use of strings in interplay with the piano.

The first 22 minutes contain no score, but then the roughly 45 seconds long opening statement of the theme, piano only, underscores the captain of being introduced to his ship. Another 20 minutes later in the film about a 1:10 of the theme underscores the cast off and setting of sails, with strings and piano. These two snippets are revisited towards the end and at the end credits. Musically, it gives weight to the journey the crew of the ship is about to embark on and providing an appropriate resolvement after the crews struggling with sickness and a mysterious lack of wind at open sea. One of the strongest qualities of Kilar, his repetitive thematic treatment that, if given the time, can evolve into something more emotionally. On Smugia Cienia this is not the case, and the film does not offer much for spotting other scenes that would benefit from the use of the theme, let alone let them evolve in the Kilar tradition.

The middle part of the film concentrates on the psychological drama of diseases on board and the lack of savior, due to a mysterious lack of wind to reach the ship's destination. For this a new set of piano tones, slightly offbeat, and repetitive in nature, is introduced and repeated five or six times, each them slighty different in approach and length. Arguably, these are far more connecting to the dark, dramatic occurrences and serves as a hypnotic undercurrent, very strong and powerful in simplicity and feeling.

The score by Kilar is an example of sparsely used music, that by those who have not seen the film, is mostly remembered for the strong theme. The dark, minimal piano music is equally appropriate and strong. Musiques De Kilar Pour Les Films D'Andrzej Wajda (Milan Records) features the score with three separate tracks, Campus records released them as a single cue, while many more releases solely offer the three minute theme.
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