Clint Mansell: A Musical Retrospective

Clint MansellHe is the brains behind one of the most recognizable melodies of our time, the only person Darren Aronofksy trusts to compose a score and one of the few original composers left in Hollywood at the moment. Fact is, Clint Mansell, once lead singer of the British band Pop Will Eat Itself, is a man to keep an eye on in the future.

Listing soundtracks like AguirreEraserhead, Risky Business and Betty Blue as inspiration, Mansell is influenced by very different, but mainly older sources. In his own work, the progressive composer is most known for blending orchestral elements with modern, electronic sounds, creating scores that stand out among the common Hollywood piano cliché and completely electronic soundtracks. In an interview with The Quietus, he states that he doesn’t listen to new soundtracks very often „because by and large they’re not that interesting.“ However, he admits loving the recent Prisoners soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson, which he regards as being „outside the norm of accepted film music“. Without doubt, Mansell has a liking for the unorthodox, the inventive and ground-breaking. Perhaps this is what attracted a young Darren Aronofsky and made him offer a long-haired Mansell the job as a composer for his first feature-length film, Pi.

Two years later, Aronofsky’s second film Requiem for a Dream released to raving reviews, and again, Mansell had composed the score. The centerpiece of the soundtrack, “Lux Æterna, spread like a virus through the world of entertainment. It has been featured in countless movie trailers, tv shows and was remixed for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Mansell has since become a prolific film composer, his most successful music mainly coming from collaborations with Aronofsky. However, in the last few years, he has been able work his way up further and further with compositions for small yet successful independent films like Moon, Stoker and Filth. It’s time to look back at this up-and-coming star composer and his most impressive tracks.

Collaborating with Darren Aronofsky

Requiem for a Dream
Jared Leto in Requiem for a Dream

After the break-up of Pop Will Eat Itself, Mansell moved to New York to compose a solo album – a project that was never realized. The band had been rather successful and in an interview with Empire Online, Mansell says that suddenly being comparatively broke sucked. However, he meets Aronofsky and the rest is history. While Pi didn’t have the biggest impact neither as a film nor as a soundtrack, Requiem for a Dream was a game-changer. Aside from the afore-mentioned centerpiece, the soundtrack evokes a bleak, disconcerting atmosphere that works perfectly within the nihilistic film. Aronofsky went on to recruit Mansell for every other of his projects, most of them gaining accolades for both the director and the composer.

In 2006, Mansell pocketed his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination for The Fountain. The soundtrack was very well received among both critics and audience. It has a more mysterious and light feel to it than Requiem for a Dream but shares the ominous undertone of the former success. 2008’s The Wrestler had a less successful soundtrack, however it became a favorite among fans online. Again, it’s a rather silent and ominous score with many small outbursts of electronic guitars and similar.

With Black Swan, both the filmmaker and the composer reached a new high 2010. The re-interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s original Swan Lake composition that was transformed into haunting tracks like “Perfection” and “A Swan Song” appealed to wide audiences and gained Mansell award recognition, such as a Grammy nomination. The latest Aronofsky-Mansell collaboration is this year’s Noah, a film that split audiences like no other Aronofsky film before. The biblical epic is scored by the expectedly hypnotizing tunes of violins and computer produced sounds, a soundtrack that has yet to prove itself come award season.

With Aronofsky usually taking 2-4 year-long breaks between his films, it is yet unknown what his next project is going to be. Still, it is safe to assume that Mansell will be on board once again, and produce something magical.

Indie Rock ‘n’ Roll

Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode in Stoker
Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode in Stoker

A composer can’t live on one paycheck every couple of years, so Mansell has worked on many films in between his projects with Aronofsky. After composing for many small productions that didn’t receive recognition among wider audiences, Mansell signed up to compose for Duncan Jones’s Moon in 2009. The film was celebrated as one of the finest sci-fi films of the decade and received instant cult status – and the soundtrack wasn’t overlooked either. Mansell himself enjoyed the film a lot and as he explained to CLASH, thought it was easy to write the score, since he liked the script. Living in L.A. he thinks that „getting a idea of the characters isolation in the film and the theme of feeling alone was pretty easy“. After all, Mansell describes his location as “Floating in space” in his Twitter account (@iamclintmansell).

Indeed, Moon‘s trance-esque soundtrack set it apart from previous sci-fi milestones like 2001: A Space Odyssey and may have served as an inspiration for the later space drama Gravity. Fast-forward to 2013, when the latter film was released, and Clint Mansell is hired for another two independent films that will go on to gain a decent amount of viewers. Firstly, the British black comedy Filth. Spiced with a longer list of existing pop and jazz tracks, the soundtrack features some very unusual, original tracks by Mansell, such as the catchy opening theme “Winter Wonderland”, the sexy, tango-esque “The Games” or the full-on scary Reeperbahn Madness”.

The second film that gained Mansell recognition in 2013 is Park Chan-Wook’s Hollywood début Stoker. The stylized drama gained a decent following for itself even though it couldn’t completely impress critics. Since the characters and the story are very odd and skew, the music mirrors this as well, resulting in a hypnotizing, eerie work that sounds like Alice in Wonderland gone bad.  

Less Recognized Works

Hilary Swank in 11:14
Hilary Swank in 11:14

Even though his music or the films for which he composed it didn’t always get acclaimed, a look or rather listen into Mansell’s earlier compositions shows that he’s had it in him for years. Shortly after the success of Requiem for a Dream, the musician signed up for the horror film The Hole starring a young Keira Knightley. The soundtrack bears many similarities to the Aronofsky film with tracks starting slow and peaking in an unsettling sequence dominated by violins, and a steady, electronic beat.

A year later, in 2002, Mansell composed the score of the Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke crime thriller Murder by Numbers. The soundtrack is just as twisted and sexy as the movie, although both have been more or less neglected by viewers since its release. It’s still better known than the 2003 indie thriller 11:14 though, a critic’s darling at the time and long forgotten by now. One of Mansell’s louder and more electronic scores, it’s a pulsating mess that’s interesting to listen to even without watching the movie.

In 2005, the composer stepped outside his comfort zone with the big scaled action-adventure-comedy Sahara starring Matthew McConnaughey before his serious days. Despite good box-office numbers, the film flopped due to its high budget. The soundtrack is different from anything Mansell ever did before or after, following the common Hollywood Blockbuster formula more than his other soundtracks. Still, it’s more inventive and mysterious than most other adventure movie soundtracks, exploring the opportunities that the oriental setting provides with tracks like “Mosque” and subtly adding a few electronic elements here and there. Mansell composed another action-oriented score for 2006’s Smokin‘ Aces, a film that was generally bad received. Disregarding this, the film’s score is one of Mansell’s most hyped works among fans. It’s more electric than his earlier work and works well for adrenaline-packed action scenes.  A surprising addition to Mansell’s  oeuvre is the 2010 indie drama Last Night. A quiet and simple character piece, the film is wonderfully scored by a list of pop songs that were not composed for the soundtrack and some subtle piano tracks as imagined by Mansell.

The Future

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

With this mixture of critically acclaimed, inventive and original soundtracks under his name, there is no question that the future is bound to hold many more scores penned by Clint Mansell. So far, the only project he has officially signed is The Imitation Game, a 1950’s biopic on British cryptographer Alan Turing set to release November 2014. The film will be directed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, known for Headhunters and distributed by the Weinstein Company. Alan Turing will be played by rising star Benedict Cumberbatch, co-starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode. Since its completion in 2011, the script has been highly sought-after in Hollywood and names like Leonardo DiCaprio have previously been attached to the project. It seems like this may be Clint Mansell’s first opportunity to get his name out among the most respected people working in the film industry, and who knows, perhaps this time he will succeed in going all the way to the Academy Awards. At any rate, The Imitation Game looks like a promising project.

Clint Mansell has proved his talent and skill in various productions over the last decade and showed that he’s a versatile composer who is not afraid to try something new now and then. While his success with recent independent films and collaborations with Darren Aronofsky is notable, he deserves to be challenged with a truly big chance that may help him get accepted as one of the finest film composers of our time. Hopefully, The Imitation Game is that chance.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Edited by Jordan, Misagh.

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  1. Erlinda

    I never thought i would enjoy his soundtracks as much as i did. Particularly the fountain, it is a beautiful moving piece of art work. it’s a good melancholic soundtrack, but it also works extremely well for passionate happy and nostalgic moments.

  2. Quezada

    The album of Black Swan is beautifully written, some of the great pieces from the movie are in it and they sound amazing, sound quality is also superb.

  3. Great to read about one of my favorite composer. After hearing Requiem for Dream, I instantly became a fan of Mansell and Kronos.

  4. Hui Frame

    Aranovsky has continued to impress me like know other, and his consistent hiring of the masterful Mr. Clint Mansell to compose the film’s score.

  5. The soundtrack to “Black Swan” and “The Fountain” are brilliant!

  6. Great work Clint, can’t wait for the next one!

  7. Vernie Dugas

    I’m a fan of Mansell, especially the Requiem Soundtrack, and The Fountain Soundtrack.

  8. I think the Black Swan OST is good, and I like it, it is just different – but I am sure the movie is different as well.

    • Mansell is maybe at his most minimalist here, but not in the cop-out manner of composers like Zimmer. He gives the music a mood through subtlety without letting it slip into a simplistic backdrop to the on-screen visuals like so many do today.

  9. “Requiem for a Dream” is perhaps the most depressing American film ever created, but it does have one of the greatest soundtracks. Especially if you are into scary electronica…

  10. Looks like you have summoned the man himself here:

    Great read.

  11. Love Clint Mansell, but I hadn’t realized that he did the music for Black Swan! Such a great film, with one of the greatest soundtracks out there.

    I also didn’t realize that he’d been involved in a few flops, too.

    Can’t wait to see where he goes in the future– hopefully it’s good!

    • Mette Marie Kowalski

      Me neither – I had never heard his *name* before but loved his soundtracks. It’s very interesting to study all of his stuff because he never really misses the mark.

  12. Gomz Ress

    I’m not as familiar with Clint Mansell as some may be and I’ve not heard all of his work but I feel he did a great job with the Black Swan score. Tracks “Lose Yourself” and “Opposites Attract” are my favorite.

  13. Cockrell

    Any fans of Clint Mansell or music should listen to his soundtracks.

  14. Monet Trahan

    The soundtrack to “The Fountain” is hauntingly beautiful and excellent! This is one of the best scores I have heard in a while.

  15. His music is amazing. The songs are so beautifully composed.

  16. THE FOUNTAIN! When I received my CD of the OST, I listened to nothing else for nearly a week. I just couldn’t get enough. The movie is beautiful too.

  17. The soundtrack for “Pi” was extremely good music.

  18. I saw The Fountain for the first time last week, and have not stopped listening to the musical score. I have been deeply effected by his music, and Darren Aronofsky’s vision of something more beautiful after we die.

  19. It’s very rare for any soundtrack to support the movie in such a powerful way but also be able to stand on its own as a complete art piece. Mansell’s has a talent for this.

  20. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    “Lux Aeterna” from the “Requiem for a Dream Soundtrack” is probably my favorite song. I once heard the song played at the finale of a reality show! Music from “The Fountain” is lovely as well.

  21. Guthrie

    I’m a fan of Clint Mansell’s soundtrack to Requiem but Fountain soundtrack puts it to shame. The music is some of the best I have heard.

  22. My go-to writing music is a handful of Mansell soundtracks–his music is so layered it just never gets old for me.

  23. All of his works are so well composed and turn a great film experience into something more. We’re lucky to have such talent!

  24. I’d certainly say that The Fountain is probably one of my favorite scores and Mansell is one of my favorite composers. While I do reserve a sentimental appreciation for John Williams and Hans Zimmer, Mansell really is one of the few who manages to bring a completely different mood to all of the films he works on. He really is an outstanding composer. Great article Mette 🙂

  25. Alice Bishop

    A good soundtrack really makes a film. I’m often a bit wary to label any silent films as ‘favourites’ because I’m never sure if it just had really good music put over it.

  26. While not a film, I find his single contribution to the video game Mass Effect 3 should be among his best works. “Leaving Earth” had that effective dirge of doom you rarely hear in the medium. Really showed how far it could go.

  27. “He [Clint Mansell] is…one of the few original composers left in Hollywood at the moment.”

    Considering the pop music industry currently, I can believe that.

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