Michael Small

The Parallax View

published in The Wire No.447, London, 2021
The Parallax View (1974)



Where does one casually hear atonal orchestral music these days? At the movies. Acoustically hammered out in concert halls of the first half of the 20th century, by the second half orchestral atonality was planed into amplified soundtracks in movie theatres. A myriad of atonal textures were consequently shaped, from the horrific to the terrific, from the pessimistic to the politicised, from the cosmological to the conspiratorial. Michael Small's score for Alan J. Pakula's political-thriller The Parallax View (1974) might seem disconnected from the purer realms of atonality, but it accrues depth and value by being associated with the abrasive fringes of modernist compositional technique.

Small contributed to the thriller genre chilling, Weber-like jazz-inflected themes. He initially composed for films driven by post-Vietnam investigative truth-seekers more than post-war Hollywood gumshoes: Klute (1971), The Stepford Wives, Night Moves, The Drowning Pool and The Marathon Man (all 1975), The Driver (1978) and The China Syndrome (1979). Those films are modern, urban, journalistic. Small scores them accordingly with an anti-classic Hollywood vibe. Conversely, The Parallax View sees Small musically registering American mythology through a fractured prism, composing a suite of slight but impressive cues that ignite powerful audiovisual moments in the film.


Text © Philip Brophy. Images © respective copyright holders.