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Immersed in Movies: Composer Alexandre Desplat Talks 'Argo'

Features
by Bill Desowitz
January 28, 2013 2:45 PM
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'Argo': John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck
'Argo': John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck

With "Argo" seizing momentum in the Best Picture Oscar race after its impressive SAG and PGA victories over the weekend, there's also potential spillover in other categories, including Original score. Alexandre Desplat is a five-time nominee, at the top of his game in "Argo" and long overdue for Oscar gold.

But even though Desplat is one of the industry's most prolific movie composers (he had more than six last year, including "Zero Dark Thirty," "Moonrise Kingdom," and "Rise of the Guardians"), "Argo" is a very special score: For the first time, Desplat was able to personalize his love of Middle Eastern music by mixing indigenous instruments into a classical orchestra, recruiting half a dozen musicians from Turkey and France along with sexy Persian pop star, Sussan Deyhim.

"My mother is from Greece and my father is from France but traveled a lot and loved Egyptian music and spoke Arabic, and there was always something about my brain that heard all these sonorities," Desplat recalls. "And in my training, I was always interested in world music. And through the years, I've learned to write with instruments and to understand their rhythm patterns because it's a very sophisticated music. And this was an opportunity to work with Sussan Deyhim, who I've admired for many years. So, yes, this was an exciting project, and I knew that in the end I could put musicians together in a studio from all around the world and blend a sound that only could belong to this film."

Desplat views Ben Affleck's acclaimed Iranian hostage thriller/comedy as three movies in one. There's the Iranian story in which he was able to weave an otherworldly sound to underscore people surrounded by danger who don't know how to cope with it. Then there's the wacky Hollywood story in which he uses a combination of period rock music ("When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin) and more humorous cues in keeping with the escapades of John Goodman and Alan Arkin, as they pull off a fake movie as cover for Affleck's bizarre escape plan. And then there's the thrilling and improbable airport escape, which has a more symphonic sound.

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