Miller's Crossing
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  Carter's Notes
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"Miller's Crossing is an exciting score that represents some of Carter Burwell's best work to date. At times romantic, other times jazzy, and for the most part passionate this score is great addition to any score collection, regardless of whether one is familiar with Burwell's work or not..." - Roderick Scott,



Carter's Notes

When the Coens first showed me the rough cut of Miller's Crossing without any music, it was a chilling, violent experience. I suggested to them that perhaps it wanted a "warm" score. Their reaction was "Well, I don't know..." "You're thinking cold?" Their response: "How about neutral?"

Soon after the film has begun, Gabriel Byrne's character betrays his boss, Albert Finney. His motivations are hidden behind a handsome face of steel. I wanted to suggest with the music that his actual motivation was his love for Finney, and I proposed doing this with a sappy Irish melody arranged for orchestra.

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From David Morgan's interview with Carter Burwell in Knowing The Score:

CB: Miller's Crossing was the first orchestral score I did. No one other than the Coen Brothers would've hired me to do an orchestral score knowing that I knew nothing about orchestral music.

From the time we read the script together, before they even shot it, we all agreed it would be nice to use a big orchestra. We didn't know what a really big orchestra was, but something that sounds like one - big than a banjo! So while they were shooting I was learning about orchestration and how the whole thing works. It was really fun. I had an excess of time, three months, to write the score, which is a lot more than I usually get. And also, uniquely, they had money left over after the shoot - they'd actually come in under budget on the movie - so we could afford a large orchestra and could do everything we wanted to do. So it was a great experience. I love whenever this business gives you an opportunity to do something new.

The point of having a large orchestra was to get a big, lush, traditional sound befitting the period and mind-set of the characters. The music had to fit a visual environment that was rich and maybe a little ostentatious - at least an Irish gangster's idea of ostentation - big and sentimental and lush.

DM: And "Danny Boy" playing on the record player under the attempted assassination of Albert Finney's mob boss was obviously an Irish gangster's idea of relaxing mood music!

CB: Well, it's actually a little too obvious, yes! The Coens knew something had to be playing on Finney's record player when the assassins arrive and they stuck in "Danny Boy" assuming we'd ultimately find something else because it was just too obvious. And wouldn't it be nice if we found another Irish piece that people weren't as familiar with? But they cut the scene to "Danny Boy" and after trying lots of different traditional pieces there, nothing was really quite as good.

Ethan looked up the singer of our version of "Danny Boy", Frank Patterson, and asked if he would be interested in performing the song to our scene. Frank was very interested; he said "This film will introduce the song to a whole new audience!" He didn't seem at all off-put by the actual content of the scene, some guy getting his head blown off! He was very excited by it.

Larry Wilcox did the arrangement and we recorded it in this extremely old-fashioned approach. Frank would watch the film with us, and Joel and Ethan would say, "Now if you could hit the word 'bend' here and hold it until the car explodes..." He memorized the visual cues, sang while watching the film, the conductor followed Frank, and the orchestra followed the conductor. I think Frank got it in two takes. It was kind of amazing.


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Film Info

Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Composed by Carter Burwell
Music Editor: Todd Kasow
Music Scoring Mixer: Mike Farrow
Orchestrated by Sonny Kompanek
Contractor: Emile Charlap
Recorded and Mixed at RCA Studios, NY, NY

Starring Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney, John Turturro, Jon Polito

U.S. Release September 1990



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Audio Samples

iTunes Music Store lets you audition and download either the entire CD or specific tracks.
For demo purposes there are some score excerpts below.

 Title   Format Len
Opening Titles   iTunes mp3   1:54
Danny Boy   iTunes mp3   4:07
After Miller's Crossing   iTunes        
Nightmare in the Trophy Room   iTunes        
Goodnight Sweetheart   iTunes        

For an explanation of the columns above, click here.

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Last modified on:
08/26/15 12:25 PM