Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Birthday Take: Trent Reznor in "The Social Network" (2010)

Scene from The Social Network
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Trent Reznor
Born: May 17, 1965 (51 years old)
Nomination: Best Original Score - The Social Network (won)

The Take

Over the past few years, there have been few films that have obtained the status of "modern classic" quite like The Social Network. It almost seemed to come prepackaged with that guarantee. From director David Fincher's subtle use of special effects and Aaron Sorkin's ridiculously detailed script, it was a film that may have just been a courtroom drama updated to a more interesting setting - but its concept of what made modern society relate to each other definitely is fascinating. It is likely that you read this article by clicking through Twitter or even Facebook. It's how I promote all of my content. However, it is also pretty indicative of how friendships are changed by greed and the idea of patenting an idea in the 21st century. Mark Zuckerberg, in Sorkin's vision, isn't quite the prim and proper genius that we're used to. He's some guy in some college dorm who made websites to troll people before coming up with the idea.

While the idea of the film's "modern classic" status has died down in favor of time now deciding, there's a lot that should've been more iconic and representative of a changing way of film making. The only real difference is that trailers now use slowed down versions of pop classics, whereas it was still cutting edge in 2010 when this film used Radiohead's "Creep." The rest of the film mostly reflects what the rest of cinema hasn't been doing, even in the realm of drama. Sorkin and Fincher have continued to make fascinating work, but The Social Network struck a balance that spoke to the moment and likely will continue to until the next fad of human communication comes around. What's possibly the most interesting thing about the film is that unlike MySpace or Friendster, Facebook's shelf life hasn't expired and it still is arguably among the most relevant websites out there.

However, what is probably one of the more underrated aspects of the film is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score. It was the first film composing that Reznor did, and it became an immediate hit. It wasn't the familiar and organic score that surrounded most dramas. There weren't any strings or harmonies that even Hans Zimmer was using at that point. It was more electronic and pulsating, as if detailing Zuckerberg's long nights of typing in code. Of course, that's what the soundtrack was meant to embody, and it did so studiously and noticeably in ways that caught on. While the Best Original Score winners are rarely awarded to films that do ambitious work (at least nowadays), it's intriguing to know that this was one of the few exceptions. Maybe it was because Reznor and Ross' work was so jarringly different, but it could also just be that it should've set the template for scores over the decade to come. Speaking as Reznor's Nine Inch Nails set a bar for industrial music in the late 80's, it only seems fitting that his mark on film scores would be unique.

To his credit, his work in the film world has been some of the most striking scores. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an epic score, and one that managed to feature his and Ross exploring complex uses of sound. It was possibly even more jarring and impressive for a film that remains secondary in Fincher's recent filmography. Ross and Reznor's most recent, Gone Girl, is probably one of the more divisive yet interesting takes solely for its ability to play into the film's understated nature. The score itself is lackluster and unassuming, with a lack of grandiosity even by The Social Network's minimalist standards. Of course, anyone who has seen Gone Girl knows that "unassuming" was essentially the theme of the film down to its unimpressive opening credits. Even if it doesn't reflect the duo at their best, it shows just how creative Reznor is at fitting an atmosphere, no matter how abstract it may end up being.

Of course, one could mostly argue that Reznor's debut as a composer was highly anticipated just because of his previous status. Most quality musicians end up making film scores at some point, but few have such immediate success as he did. It could just be lucky collaboration, but it embodied something nuanced and exciting in film that should've inspired a wave of imitators. The Social Network may be a great film with a lot of clout, but it's still odd to note of how one of its most praised aspects (the score) somehow doesn't get talked about a lot anymore. Even in terms of Best Original Score nominees, there hasn't been too many comparisons. It may reflect impressive singularity, but part of me wishes that there were imitators, just to prove that his work had some sort of long term impact.

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