In the process, I sacrificed most parts of the review. My notes ran for pages, and my rants at other people - generally inspired by the simple question ‘Was it any good?’ - often drifted into cosmic ravings. Shamanistic prattle. Exultation and pumped-up nonsense. I trimmed that stuff back, mostly, leaving some stuff unformed. I said nothing about the film’s score, for example.
Wow, the score. It’s by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, by the way. One guy you probably know - he’s the man who mashed up meticulous industrial metal production and Depeche Mode pop songwriting for the 90s alternative crowd. The other is his close collaborator, who formed a crucial studio-based cornerstone of the (currently) final phase of Nine Inch Nails’ now-dormant career, and has followed Reznor’s lead in his creative projects since.
Even though I’m a fan, I was surprised. Director David Fincher created the video for Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Only’ single back in 2005, but that was a streamlined bid for MTV airplay - featuring an insistent groove, a shout-along chorus, and clean CGI-aided Pin Art from Digital Domain. It didn’t hint at the textured explorations Reznor and co. would pursue as they drifted back into the musical periphery. Furthermore, it seemed odd.
This is a film about Facebook after all, a saga set in the recent past, and they were choosing to be relatively light on the radio hits and other tunes, and instead to rely heavily on what turns out to be a moving mixture of organic tones and electronic sounds. The links with the EP project Ghosts - which Reznor released back in 2008 in a highly profitable, and innovative, online distribution strategy - are immediately apparent. It is overcast ambience, tender at times, but brittle, brooding and mournful at others. Check out score opener ‘Hand Covers Bruise’.
It recalls Eno, in his dark ambient, On Land guise, and there’s a hint of Vangelis in there, as the score mirrors those composers’ ability to suggest emotional current within their cavernous productions - human blips within musical negative space. These sonic landscapes are punctured by harsh synths, drum machines and distorted noise, adding tension and twisted trauma. In a stroke of genius, the score actually gives the film a moody counterpoint to Sorkin’s zingy dialogue, providing a beat, yet highlighting the darkness to his character drama. Take the second cut, ‘In Motion’, which accompanies an early sequence where Zuckerberg, recently dumped by his girlfriend, swigs beer, bitches on his Livejournal, and hacks the assorted Harvard dorms' ‘facebook’ services, in order to create the Facemash site - where users rate mugshots of female students against each other.
The film cuts back and forth between Zuckerberg’s twisted, unwitting creativity (the popularity and compelling nature of the site both anticipates and spurs on the invention of Facebook), and a sleazy depiction of a drunken sex romp held in another fraternity. The track, a minimal subversion of four-on-the-floor club electronica, builds with swirling sequencers and abrasive dissonance - conjuring up technomages, cyberpunks and hyper-cool computer virtuosos. But instead, it’s just a wounded, pathetic young man, indulging in mild misogyny and dreaming of recognition. As Reznor and Ross lay down this bed of unsettling underscore, it allows Sorkin’s writing to really fly, with Fincher’s sumptuous, nuanced, but relatively neutral direction to bridge the two. It gives the film a superb breadth of tone and feeling.
But when Fincher let’s go, so do the composers. In one stand-out sequence - which, for all narrative-thematic intents and purposes, is effectively digressive - the tilt-shift photographed gaze swoops down over a miniature reproduction of rolling English landscape, depicting the Henley Royal Regatta. Zuckerberg’s twin nemeses, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, future Olympian rowers, are both participating. What ensues is a breathless, pacy sequence that captures the strength required and tension inspired by the sport. It’s a beautiful scene. And the score? Oh, just a little rearrangement of Edvard Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, recorded in the style of Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach album. It is, quite frankly, brilliant: regal, operatic, and powerful - yet utterly playful, and over before you know it.
It’s an astounding work, overall. I’m glad to see Reznor achieve a potential he’s exhibited since he recorded ‘Something I Can Never Have’ back in 1989 (which itself was reappropriated on the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers, which he supervised). While he has always been pigeon-holed (not entirely incorrectly) as a raging angst-monger, it is in his intricately textured production that his more impressive talents lie. Across all his albums, there have been the down moments, the instrumental passages that hinted at compositional ambitions outside of leftfield pop. And after his provisional score for Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo was rejected (and eventually recorded in part on the Still live album), you could have been led to worry that he’d only ever craft such pieces for his own daydreams and concept albums. Thankfully, he’s been given a shot here, and the result is a work of sublime richness.
You can download a 5 track sampler of the Social Network score for free, and purchase the full album in a variety of formats, over at nullco.com.