It’s been nearly 38 years since Pee-wee Herman began his day accompanied by the live-action Looney Tunes sounds created by composer Danny Elfman. More than 100 credits after that definitive daffiness, Elfman remains among the few household composers in the film industry — delivering indelible works of love and lunacy, wit and woe, and other music for dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight. In honor of Elfman’s 70th birthday on Monday, May 29, Midwest Film Journal offers a selection of reflections on his work called The Elfman Cometh.
Danny Elfman’s score for Edward Scissorhands allows its viewers to experience the movie on a more profound level, heightening their immersion into its plot and themes. For a movie about love, inclusion and judgment, Elfman crafts a soundscape that subconsciously feeds the movie’s audience its desired messages through its emotive undertones, descriptive sounds and theatrical feel.
The story of Edward Scissorhands begins through its own retelling as a bedtime tale to a young girl (Gina Gallagher). The small child – swaddled in her puffy, gold-tinted blanket with her head propped up by five large, cotton-colored white pillows – fills her mind with the story’s colorful visuals and the sounds that accompany it. And through her youthful imagination full of curiosity, mystery and wonder, Elfman’s score for the movie is created.
Elfman’s soundtrack guides the audience through these imaginative scenes and fills us with emotion.
When Peg (Dianne Wiest) enters Edward’s (Johnny Depp) mansion through its black gothic gate and ascends into its garden of meticulously sculpted hedgework, Elfman pairs angelic harmonies from a distant choir with celestial strings strumming a rejuvenating tune. However, once Peg leaves this sanctuary of vibrant greens, reds and yellows and enters the interior of the mansion, with its rooms draped in dark, violet hues, the audience hears almost scream-like voices from closeby wanderers; these voices are like harpies hovering over a lone traveler, warning Peg, and the viewers, of imminent danger.
Elfman’s compositions and orchestrations help the viewers tap into emotions they may not have experienced without the assistance of the soundtrack. The score is a true companion piece, remaining at the forefront of the film’s scenes rather than discrete background accompaniment. Elfman’s music holds the audience, shows them what they should be seeing and brings their hands to their hearts as a guide in how they should feel. It’s as tangible and crucial an element as any of the film’s performances.
On one of Edward Scissorhands’ many lonely nights, Edward carves a naturalistic sculpture with his long blades in large blocks of ice. The ice blocks’ shavings flurry off of the frozen medium and dance around an admiring Kim (Winona Ryder). Strings from Elfman’s score glide and curve to match the ballet of falling snow. A harp plucks elegant notes of euphoric wonderment, paired with soft ringing bells that imitate the unique and individual snowflakes that kiss Kim’s hair. A choir exhales soothing harmonies, almost as if the singers themselves blew the ice shavings into the dancing flurry performed under a chilly night sky for an audience of one.
Elfman’s compositions also add a play-like atmosphere to Edward Scissorhands, making the audience feel like they are watching Edward explore the tropes and social constructs of suburban America from cushioned velvet chairs while a live orchestra performs below the play’s stage. It’s a theatricality that further immerses the viewer in the movie’s dramatic and purposeful voice, further filling hearts with beauty, grace, drama and suspense. Elfman guides us to the movie’s emotional notes through his score, better allowing people to share similar emotions during Edward Scissorhands’ runtime.
Outside of the film’s parameters, it’s easy for Elfman’s soundtrack to mentally transport audiences back into the movie’s cookie-cutter neighborhoods and snowy landscapes — reminding the listeners of the Wes Anderson-like pastel-palette homes of muted yellows, reds, blues and greens. But it is the score’s guiding hand, the undetachable nature to the film’s scenes and the storybook momentum that makes Edward Scissorhands’ soundtrack so strong.
George Dibble is a 22-year-old creative who believes that continuing in one’s learning and expression is integral to a fruitful life. Analyzing films, skateboarding with friends and writing to represent individuals and subcultures, George enjoys being involved with activities that require self-growth. Aspiring to be an editor, George wishes to help others convey their thoughts and emotions in meaningful and authentic ways.