Nineteen Eighty-Four

A Comment on the Music in Radford’s 1984 Film Adaptation of 1984

When one thinks of adapting a dreary, dystopian classic like 1984 to film, one, almost naturally, considers orchestral music the appropriate accompaniment.  At least, that’s what Michael Radford thought would fit most appropriately.

Consider his surprise, therefore, when he discovers that the company financing the film has commissioned a synth-pop band to produce the music for the soundtrack.  One would not be surprised if Radford was downright horrified.  Certainly pop has no place in such a tragic film about a forbidden love in a totalitarian establishment.

Radford had desired instead to have the music for the film composed entirely by Dominic Muldowney.  It was to be a traditional orchestral score.  Yet, Virgin Films insisted that Eurythmics music be included in the release.  What could Radford do?

Not much, it turns out.  All he could do was publicly express his displeasure over the fact that Eurythmics music had been “foisted” upon him.  And that’s precisely what he did.  To their credit, Eurythmics issued a statement afterwards that they had accepted Virgin’s commission in good faith, and would never have done so if they had known that it was not being done with the director’s approval.

Years later, a director’s cut was released, which restored the original Muldowney score to the film.  I discovered this one day while watching a DVD bought by a libertarian friend.  “This isn’t the music I heard the last time I saw this!” I realised.  Indeed it wasn’t—my friend had bought the Director’s Cut.

Now, the question naturally arises:  Which soundtrack is better for the film?  A part of me definitely wants to say the Muldowney score is better, if for no other reason, because I sympathise with the director’s position.  Nobody wants her or his art tampered with, least of all me.  But that doesn’t satisfactorily answer the question.

Which soundtrack is better for the film?  I cannot say with total certainty, having not heard the Eurythmics version for many years now.  Nevertheless, I seem to recall being pleasantly surprised when I first saw the film—despite the presence of Eurythmics music.

Make no mistake: I have nothing against Eurythmics’s music.  Yet, I had presupposed that their music would not lend itself very well at all to this classic tale.  Despite my presupposition, the Eurythmics music somehow worked in the film, as I seem to recall.  There was something hauntingly drawing about it.

But, who knows if I would feel that way now, were I to get ahold of an edition that includes the Eurythmics music.  Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t.

I have watched the Director’s Cut a number of times now.  And the Muldowney music works quite well in most places.  There is one glaring exception, however.  In a scene where some reporter is claiming that the war enemy has committed some sort of extraordinary and unforgivable atrocity and, therefore, deserves to be wiped out of existence, the Eurythmics music is superior to the Muldowney music.  I am able to come to this conclusion because there is an audio clip available online of this exact scene from the Eurythmics edition of the film.

Perhaps this is the only scene in which the Eurythmics music is superior to the Muldowney music, or perhaps the entire Eurythmics score is superior to the entire Muldowney score.  Again, I cannot say with certainty.  Nevertheless, I would hope the reader gives the Eurythmics version a shot.  It might surprise you.  In any event, I do hope that, when the Blu-ray edition of Radford’s adaptation is finally released, both scores will be included.