Soundtracks can enhance a film. Listen to John Williams and Bernard Hermann’s scores, and instantly they add to the suspense of Jaws and provide a cathartic release in Psycho. However, surrealistic films are such a subjective experience that it is hard for a composer to promote a general response.
Steven Severin’s soundtrack complements, rather than upstages, the images in Jean Cocteau’s Blood of Poet. Shrouded in shadow at the side of the stage he conducts the music through a computer programme. Indeed, so minimal is his presence that he could just have put the whole thing on disc.
Cocteau’s allegorical film has themes of artistry, mortality, rebirth, the caprices of God or fate and innocence corrupted. A scarred artist becomes infected by an animate mouth from one of his paintings and transfers it to a statue that in turn comes to life and shows the artist his best chance of eternal glory is through suicide. A prank turns a snowball fight lethal and a cheating gambler experiences divine intervention.
Instead of the punk/goth sound you might expect from one of Siouxsie & the Banshees Severin’s music is ambient/new age. The first quarter sets a sinister mood. Echoing, pulsing tones startle the artist out of slumber. As he is yanked through the mirror to face his destiny keyboards and strings suggest the innocence of dripping rain, until a drumbeat and high-pitched tone takes us towards the consequences of a children’s game gone wrong. Severn’s inspiration deserts him and the conclusion is generic devotional organ music.
Blood of a Poet is more of an interesting experiment than a classic soundtrack.