June 17, 2024
Terence Blanchard
Miracle at St. Anna
Hollywood Records – 2008
Sounds of Timeless Jazz

“Miracle at St. Anna,” directed by Spike Lee, is a big-budget World War II saga shot mostly in Europe. The movie’s script, adapted by James McBride from his own historical novel, is a fact-based adventure revolving around the heroic exploits of four Black American soldiers¬† (Derek Luke, Laz Alonso, Michael Ealy and Omar Benson Miller) who became separated from their unit while fighting behind enemy lines in Italy in 1944.

The 100-minute original score was written by the distinguished Grammy-winning artist Terence Blanchard and is his twelfth collaboration with director Spike Lee. This musical masterwork provides a solid palette of thematic music which amplifies the awesome scenes that tell the stories of the noble men of the 92nd Division – The Buffalo Soldiers – during their fight against the Nazis in Tuscany, Italy.

Blanchard’s original score is not aural wallpaper. It is an active character with an active role in the film and has become part of the subtext of the film. It is also a completely orchestrated work that can stand alone independent of the film. Unlike the classic way of writing a soundtrack and having only one or two themes that are used throughout the whole film, Blanchard composed at least 24 signature pieces of music in the film that work in complete harmony with such dramatic sound effects as high intensity action sequences, explosions, flying ammunition, and other agonizing aspects of war. These signature pieces (themes) communicate specific emotions and alternate between tumultuous and lovely. Throughout the film Blanchard never fails to deliver the appropriate impact or feeling of harmony in order to immerse the viewer in the dialogue, character’s profile, the environment, or the subconscious gap between sight and sound.¬†

When you put all of that together, Blanchard’s imaginative score succeeds on all levels. The impeccably placed orchestral arrangements are logical and out of the box. In the world of war epics, this is no small feat. Blanchard’s inspired creativity also supports the fact the he knows who each character is, knows their context, knows his own limitations and impeccably relates the music to the visuals. In conveying the horrors and hell of war by implementing a variety of themes, such as “War Is Hell,” “War Is Hell – Final Battle” and “War Is Hell – Mourn The Dead,” among others, he chose to use powerful, tumultuous crescendo to depict the suspense, battles, heroism and bravery of the Buffalo Soldiers. These themes had audience members on the edges of their seats in response to the outbursts of crescendo. Blanchard’s further use of military drum marches to depict the arrival of the Nazis as in the “Third Reich” piece, and his use of penetrating, ricocheting trumpet tones in the ambush scenes and final battle scene to depict flying ammunition, the gravity and doomsday effect of dying and death were also effectively placed and played authoritatively and with finality.

By contrast, Blanchard used different techniques to offset the violent and graphic nature of the war scenes. In “Great Butterfly – Part 1” he successfully balances the viewer’s moods and the on-screen action through the use of a melodic, colloquial folk music duet played on guitar and accordion. Several serene, placid motifs were used to convey the astounding beauty of the 800-year old Italian village where the film was shot on location, the love scene, and the interdependence of the citizens as heard in both “Renata You’re Beautiful Themes.”

Terence Blanchard was also faced with the challenge of composing musical dialogue that would speak to the religious themes of hope, faith, prayer and God, inherent in James McBride’s screenplay. As a result, Blanchard was inspired to compose “Theme of An Angel – Parts 1, 2 and 3,” “Main Theme – The Prayer,” as well as several others. A native of New Orleans, Blanchard survived Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and may have experienced the guidance of his own guardian angel and muse as he reached deep within his own sensibilities and sense of mortality to infuse the concept of divine protection and miraculous intervention into the scenes involving Angelo’s recuperations and interaction with his unseen angel – Arturo.

It took Terence Blanchard eight weeks to write the unforgettable score and ninety- seven musicians to perform the music that helped to convey the heartbeat, the action, the spirituality , emotions and the outcome framed within the war epic and suspenseful murder mystery. Spoken in Italian and German (with English subtitles) as well as in English, Spike Lee’s epic vision, THE MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, is not only set to catapult him, McBride, and Blanchard to the level of Academy Award winners for Best Director, Best Adaptation for Screen, and Best Score, respectively, this film now becomes the first full length feature film to be released by a major Hollywood studio that documents a factual account of the Buffalo Soldiers’ heroism and bravery during World War II.

Reprinted with permission of…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *