If you’ve paid much attention to film over the last decade, there’s a good chance you’ve heard one of Clint Mansell’s scores. Not only is he the go-to composer for Darren Aronofsky, working with him on Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan and more, he’s also scored recent favourites including Moon and Stoker, and most recently Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise.
In the midst of a short tour of live performances of his work, “the bleakest film composer at the moment” stopped by the Royal Albert Hall as part of BAFTA’s ongoing ‘Conversations with Screen Composers’ series for a surprisingly revealing chat about his life, work, and musical inspirations.
Sporting a goatee and a simple black t-shirt, he looked every inch the introverted, introspective loner he clearly sees himself as. “I’m probably a pretty lonely person,” he admitted while discussing string quartets, later describing himself as “a downbeat sort of character,” and “on the verge of quitting every week.”
It’s easy to see that reflected in his scores, from the moody, gothic touches of Stoker to the sparse Americana of The Wrestler. His best-known piece, Requiem for a Dream’s Lux Aeterna, is abrasive and arpeggiated, Mansell himself suggesting that it almost sounds like it’s laughing at the film’s troubled characters.
That piece recurs frequently throughout Requiem, a motif that’s become synonymous with the film itself. “I really like repetition,” Mansell admits, adding that John Carpenter’s similarly recurrent Halloween score is among his favourites. He’s self-aware enough to recognise the other perspective on it though, joking that he worries directors he’s working with for the first time will think he’s just re-using themes to fill up space.
His latest score, High-Rise, is one of his most memorable yet, resisting the temptation for ‘70s-inspired electronica in favour of something symphonic, his insistent strings capturing both the highs and lows of the film’s collapsing societal microcosm. Admitting that cult director Wheatley’s previous films gave him “vivid nightmares, freaky stuff,” he suggested that he saw in him a kindred spirit, interested in making the kind of films he feels are disappearing from the industry.
Dismissing most of today’s output as “not thought provoking, mostly escapism,” he perhaps summed himself up best: “I’m not interested in entertaining someone in that way. I’m not sure I know how.”
Words by Dominic Preston