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From metal to ambience: Clint Mansell taps Slash for 'The Wrestler'

December 16, 2008 |  3:37 pm
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At midpoint in "The Wrestler," Marisa Tomei's Cassidy sums up the general feeling the film's characters have toward pop music. Enjoying an afternoon beer at a dive bar with some metal on the jukebox, she dismisses everything released from 1991 to the present with a swipe at Nirvana's Kurt Cobain: "And then that Cobain ... had to come and ruin it all."

One can only wonder how she'd rate the delicate atmospheric score from Clint Mansell. In a film loaded with '80s metal -- Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" and Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head" are prominently featured -- Mansell is the one who has to bring everyone back to the film's stark reality.

But one thing is probably certain. Tomei's Cassidy and Mickey Rourke's fading wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson couldn't fault Mansell's choice of a guitarist: former Guns N' Roses slinger Slash.

"We just thought it would be interesting, given that the character's favorite music is rock -- metal -- music," Mansell tells Pop & Hiss. "We wanted that sensibility and wanted to bridge the gap between score and source. Slash is one of the world's great guitar players, and he was up for trying something different than what he's known for, but he could also bring his sensibility to what I was trying to do."

Mansell's score fills in the blanks between the film's vintage metal and the original Bruce Springsteen track that brings "The Wrestler" to a close. With minimal guitar notes, the score flirts with a melody, but instead drifts toward more dreamy, atmospheric sounds. But the music doesn't lead the viewer, as the slight guitar pickings veer more toward something resembling a lullaby than anything overly emotional.

"We knew there was no way we could judge the character," Mansell says. "He sleeps in the back of a van after a wrestling match, and that might be a really horrendous way of living for some of us. But for him, he's just doing what he wants to do. So we didn't want to make the music maudlin or schmaltzy or anything that judges the character."

Clint2 Oddly enough, some of the music that inspired Mansell was by Springsteen, who composed the Golden Globe-nominated song in the film's namesake -- a cut that contrasts a plaintive melody with some street-tough imagery. Before the Springsteen song had been secured, Mansell had been trying to capture the stark, paired-down feel of the artist's 1982 album "Nebraska."

"I had talked to Darren [Aronofsky] about Springsteen's 'Nebraska' album," Mansell says referring to the film's director. "It's an emotional record, but it's quite restrained -- it keeps the emotion at a distance. I thought that this was the character that Randy Robinson was. That led me towards the guitar."

The fact that the film is set in New Jersey didn't hurt either. Mansell wanted an instrument that could reflect the grittiness of the setting and the character, even if the ultimate sound was soft. "He loves his metal music, and he lives in New Jersey, and all those things started pushing me toward the fact that the guitar might be the instrument that represents this character's voice."

Mansell is the go-to composer Aronofsky. The two first worked together on Aronofsky's first feature-length film, "Pi." Typically, Mansell and Aronofsky begin plotting the music before shooting begins. In the case of "The Wrestler," the idea of using a simple guitar score wasn't easily arrived at.

"We started thinking about what Darren called clown music, which was essentially New Orleans funeral dirges," Mansell says. "That led to an idea of a sort of ragtag of instruments that were broken down, like a wheezy accordion. Those felt too stylized for the location and the story. It felt like we were just being clever. So that's when we started stripping things back."

Mansell, a former lead of English band Pop Will Eat Itself, is currently scoring "The Rebound," a romantic comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.

-- Todd Martens

Top photo: Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler." Credit: Fox Searchlight

Bottom photo: Clint Mansell. Credit: Rudy Koppl

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