Clint Mansell, 'Requiem For A Dream' And 'Rebecca' Composer, On The Sound Of Sad Darren Aronofsky's 2000 film Requiem for a Dream spawned a musical motif that's rippled through media — and jumpstarted a new career for Clint Mansell, the composer of its haunted score.
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Requiem For A Theme: Film Composer Clint Mansell On The Sound Of Sadness

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Requiem For A Theme: Film Composer Clint Mansell On The Sound Of Sadness

Requiem For A Theme: Film Composer Clint Mansell On The Sound Of Sadness

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a big year for the composer Clint Mansell. The film that put him on the map, "Requiem For A Dream," just had a 20th anniversary rerelease. He's put out his first album of songs in 25 years. And later this month, he debuts his latest film score in a new adaptation of "Rebecca." Tim Greiving takes a look at his work.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: "Requiem For A Dream" is a relentlessly bleak film about addiction. Yet it established the careers of both director Darren Aronofsky and the man who wrote the score, Clint Mansell.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "LUX AETERNA")

GREIVING: When Aronofsky first met Mansell, the musician had just hung up his guitar as frontman of the post-punk, sample-heavy band Pop Will Eat Itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE IS NO LOVE BETWEEN US ANYMORE")

CLINT MANSELL: (Singing) There's no love between us anymore.

GREIVING: Mansell's musical aesthetic was rooted in the grim, industrial West Midlands part of England known as the Black Country because, he says, it was covered in soot.

MANSELL: When I was a kid, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees were two bands that I really gravitated towards because in their music, there's this overriding feeling of death and loss, even though that age, you don't know anything about those things. You're sort of drawn towards an experience that perhaps you don't know much about because of wanting to feel something, if you like.

GREIVING: The self-taught musician formed Pop Will Eat Itself when he was 19. The band had a mostly cult following, but it attracted the attention of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame, who signed the musicians to his record label.

TRENT REZNOR: I love Clint. And he is such a big personality and at the same time, with his sensitivity meter set to high in a good way, where he feels a lot.

GREIVING: Which allows Clint Mansell to get to the heart of what film directors want his music to convey. Originally, Darren Aronofsky wanted a hip-hop-style score for "Requiem For A Dream," but nothing Mansell tried was working. They randomly took one track, this extremely simple chord progression on sampled strings, and laid it against a pivotal scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "MARION BARFS")

MANSELL: We put the rough demo under that scene. And it was just like, oh my God, what's this? You know, what has just happened? What have we just seen? You know, it was one of those magical moments where image plus music creates this third element.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "MARION BARFS")

GREIVING: Mansell and Aronofsky made four more films together, including "Black Swan" and "The Fountain," which is about a man whose wife is dying of cancer and his desperate quest for immortality.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "DEATH IS THE ROAD TO AWE")

GREIVING: In 2014, death paid a personal visit to Mansell. His girlfriend, actress Heather Mottola, died of complications from pneumonia. She was 29. The last thing they saw in a theater together was a concert film of Lou Reed performing his polarizing album "Berlin."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROLINE SAYS, PART I")

LOU REED: (Singing) Caroline says that I'm just a toy. She wants a man, not just a boy. Oh, Caroline says...

GREIVING: Mansell's therapist recommended channeling his grief through music. He decided to make a track-for-track cover album of "Berlin," which he released this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROLINE SAYS I")

MANSELL: (Singing) Caroline says she can't help but be mean or cruel - so it seems. Oh, Caroline says...

GREIVING: Even though Lou Reed's subject matter is pretty grim, Mansell and his collaborator Clint Walsh decided to recreate it in the glam-punk style that Mottola loved to make it more about her and less about Mansell's grief.

MANSELL: The reinterpretation of the music actually became about us doing, it, not what it represented because, like, the original record is very downbeat, and it's bleak. I think we find some hope in our version, you know, and that really was what we kind of needed from it, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAROLINE SAYS II'")

MANSELL: (Singing) She's not afraid to die. Her friends call her Alaska.

GREIVING: Grief is also the subtext for Mansell's new film project. "Rebecca" is the latest adaptation of the classic story about a woman who's haunted by her husband's deceased wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "REBECCA, ALWAYS REBECCA")

GREIVING: The Netflix film was directed by Ben Wheatley.

BEN WHEATLEY: The thing that I love about his music in general is the sorrow and the sadness of things. And as light and as romantic as it can sound, there is always that underscore, undertow of sadness.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "REBECCA, ALWAYS REBECCA")

GREIVING: The director insists that Clint Mansell is actually a pretty cheery and funny guy. Mansell just seems to be drawn to stories in the realm of requiems. Or maybe they're drawn to him.

MANSELL: But I think it's more that - I think it's to do with the authenticity of those things, you know, and the stakes of them - that they just feel real to me. That brings something out of me musically WHERE I connect with them, where I want to spend the time with them, you know, that it feels important to me.

GREIVING: Mansell says it's a gift to find the thing that inspires you most, even if it's sad.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLINT MANSELL'S "REBECCA ALWAYS REBECCA")

GREIVING: For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.

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