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Hans Zimmer, Johnny Marr and an orchestra perform at the Hollywood premiere of "Inception"

July 14, 2010 |  2:08 pm

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At the afterparty for Tuesday night's Hollywood premiere of "Inception," the mind-bending new thriller written and directed by Christopher Nolan, chanson singer Tera Hendrickson, backed by a guitarist and drummer, stood on a tiny stage and performed sweet songs for the hundreds of attendees who had just had their brains blown by the new Warner Bros. epic.

The party was held in a massive white tent behind the El Capitan Theatre, and the female singer, wearing a floor-length red dress, sang in French while entitled Hollywood nibbled on hors d'oeuvres.

But there was one nagging question: How was the scheduled 20-piece orchestra going to fit on that little stage?

The composer of "Inception's" score, the ubiquitous Hans Zimmer and guitarist Johnny Marr (best known for his work with the Smiths) were to perform selections from the film, along with a small orchestra. They all couldn't possibly squeeze onto the platform. Surely, at some point, stagehands would shoo away the musicians and construct something bigger.

As the evening progressed and the trio continued to offer quiet background music, the mystery grew deeper. There was no movement near the stage. Would Zimmer and company play somewhere else?

All of a sudden, the lights dimmed, and the eastern end of the tent, which moments before seemed an impenetrable threshold, opened to reveal Zimmer, Marr and the orchestra on stepped risers overlooking the crowd. The wall had in fact been a white curtain, and the crowd was immediately looking at a small symphony. As in the film, which has at its heart a series of mysterious veils, one reality was supplanted by another, more grandiose one.

With a massive hum of ominous sound, Zimmer, standing behind a keyboard with Marr to his left, announced his arrival courtesy of sinister strings, brass and drums. The attendees carried their drinks and plates toward the music, and created a semicircle in front.

Over the next 20 minutes, the group performed instrumental selections as images from "Inception" scrolled behind the musicians. It's an intense score, filled with requisite peaks and valleys of bellowing brass and spooky, shrieking strings.

The group moved through the compositions, and Zimmer nodded as he worked his keyboard; Marr, with his spiked coif and angular guitar tones, strummed along. At one point, he walked to center stage and ripped through a short melodic theme from the film.

"Inception" director Nolan stood at the front of the crowd, watching intently. Ken Watanabe, who plays a powerful financier in the film, seemed transfixed at stage right. As Zimmer and orchestra burst forth with another of the many symphonic climaxes, a man in the crowd -- hopefully, an executive producer -- raised his fist in the air and flashed the devil horns.

Heaviness, it seems, takes many forms.

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Hans Zimmer (left) and Johnny Marr (guitarist, right) at the after party for the Hollywood premiere of "Inception." Credit: Peter "Oso" Snell / Warner Bros.


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