• Ben Erickson


Review for Paterno originally published in the April 2018 issue of Film Score Monthly:

Paterno is an HBO drama concerning the child sex abuse scandal with Jerry Sandusky and the consequent fallout with Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, starring Al Pacino in the titular role. Directed by Barry Levinson, the film focuses on Paterno’s reaction to the charges and the divided uproar from the public. The score is composed by French-Russian brothers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine, who collaborated prior with Levinson on the the 2017 American television drama The Wizard of Lies. Sons of classical composer Youli Galperine, Evgueni and Sacha were born in Russia, relocating to France in 1990 to complete their formal music training, and soon after cultivating an interest in film music. Their score for Paterno uses a standard orchestra with sampled programming and extended techniques to create a synthesis between organic and electronic constituents. The score is an accomplished psychological undertaking, as the Galperine brothers had to get into Paterno’s head, traveling through the five stages of grief and arriving at a deep remorse, all without ever being sympathetic. What is more is that they were able to do this with a score that’s featured in less than half of the film. This concentrated approach is effective, as the moments in the movie where music is present are made all the more significant, and anything more may have been overbearing given the heavy subject matter. Elder brother Evgueni said of Levinson, “[he] told us that he would like to have an emotional score to reveal Joe Paterno’s complex feelings, but at the same time he wanted to avoid playing to compassion or pity [...] His idea was to make people understand Joe, try to imagine what they would do in his place, but in no way did Barry want the score to entice the audience to pardon Paterno.” The music uses repetitive piano and string motifs that symbolically cycle through the score, much as thoughts run through Paterno’s head. The string section is of particular interest, employing rapid, shrill, and out of focus articulations to embody the confusing reality Paterno finds himself in (“The Arrow of Time”), but also playing to the retrospection of past circumstances with drawn, glimmering tones (“Adrift”). Electroacoustic mixing and percussive alloys are also on display throughout the score, along with a prophetic organ, appearing as judge, jury, and executioner when Paterno comprehends the gravity of his position (“The Game”). This effect is foreshadowed early in the film when the 409th win of the Penn State team is on the line (“And His Life Flashed Before His Eyes”). The music loses its strength only when used to depict elements of the story other than Paterno, becoming ambient and aimless on these occasions. That said, with regards to a purely musical context, “He Is the Game” is an intense, down to business cue with syncopated trombone shots that stir the furor of the game; the fact that it is not illustrative of the rest of the score is what makes it, more than any other cue, an enjoyable listening experience when divorced from the film. It is interesting to observe that the Galperine brothers, born into a musical family and well versed in concert music, do not put a greater value on musical development. Rather than use an orchestra the way it was meant to be used, for Paterno they recorded sample fragments and manipulated them into dense masses with varied consistencies sutured throughout. There is no doubt that this sui generis approach should be used more in the evolution of music, but to see it emerge from a seemingly traditional set of composers is curious. It makes one wonder if this generation of musicians is becoming overdependent on machines, or lacks the fortitude to write fuller, fleshed out compositions—unlikely in this case, but an important question nonetheless.