[Marxism] The Bondage of Bad Taste and the Bottom Line » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 4 13:33:15 MDT 2014

It is therefore a surprising and nearly fatal error on [Steve] McQueen’s 
part to have Northup destroy his violin in a moment of hopelessness. 
There is no sign of this in the book and it fundamentally contradicts 
[Solomon] Northup’s own character. This overly dramatic, and utterly 
unconvincing, act of destruction is pure Hollywood gimmickry, a Romantic 
sort of exaggeration like that found infamously in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s 
short story, Councilor Krespel, about a violin-wrecking nutcase. In 
indulging in this kitschy nonsense, McQueen forfeits much of his effort 
spent in incorporating Northup’s musical worldview into the movie as whole.

Such tomfoolery should have never made its way onto the screen. If any 
violins should have been destroyed, it should have been those belonging 
to the studio musicians employed to record Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack. 
Rumor has it that the Hollywood heavyweight composer was brought in by 
the film’s producers (of which McQueen was one of several) at the last 
minute. Zimmer’s task was clearly to provide a salve for slavery’s lash 
and the relentless on-screen sorrow.  Zimmer cranked out the product he 
gets the big bucks for: portentous prayers, foreboding shadows, and 
earnest counterpoint that slowly bludgeon the viewer into never 
forgetting he should be taking in the moral message. More important 
still, Zimmer’s score softens the violence and dolor of the movie 
itself: soundtrack sermonizing becomes a palliative for the harder 
truths the film tries to get at.


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