The Black Dahlia

Brian De Palma on
The Black Dahlia score

Period appropriate music was just as vital to De Palma as location or costume choices. From the trumpets that bump in the first time Bucky (Josh Hartnett) and Madeleine (Hilary Swank) make love to the slow jazz band sequence when Bucky reveals a difficult truth to Kay (Scarlett Johansson), the score was the evocative creation of composer and jazz trumpet player(and a student of noir films) Mark Isham.

“The key to Mark Isham is that he’s a great trumpet player,” compliments the director. “I always heard a mournful trumpet in this blues-type of movie. It was like the voice of Bucky.” He adds, “You know you have a really great composer when he can replace the temp score and you’ve forgotten it completely.”

Mark Isham considers The Black Dahlia to be his best score- “from beginning to end it is very consistent, it is without doubt in my mind the best writing of my career. And it actually has a slight jazz influence.”

The Black Dahlia

This dark, sultry period piece is based on a real-life unsolved murder mystery that took place in 1940’s Los Angeles. Young aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was brutally murdered and her body discovered in a vacant lot. The newspapers of the day sensationalized the crime, giving Short the nickname “Black Dahlia” based on the title of a recently popular film called “The Blue Dahlia,” and her tendency to dress in all black clothing. The killer was never found, but the story intrigued many people over the years, spawning various theories about the killer’s identity, and several books about the case. Legendary director Brian De Palma brought the mystery to the big screen with an impressive young cast. Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down, Sin City) and Aaron Eckhart (Thank you for smoking) play cops assigned to investigate the young actress’s death; Scarlett Johansson (Match Point, Lost in Translation) and Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) also star.

For this 1940’s film noir murder mystery, Mark set about creating the proper mood with a sultry, jazz infused score. Recorded in London at the famous Abbey Road Studios, this score features a 100-piece orchestra with a beefed up percussion section that showcases 2 full sets of Timpani and a complete set of tuned Octobans. And of course Mark played the trumpet solos! When they first discussed the music for the film, Brian De Palma told Mark “I am looking for a mournful trumpet score.” To which Mark replied, “Well Brian, I just happen to be a mournful trumpet player!” All of these elements combined seamlessly to form a “moody score – rich enough to encompass jazz, period orchestral bands, and noirish musical tones.”

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