Is it time to give Pärt a rest? |

Is it time to give Pärt a rest?

The Guardian – Samuel Wigley
– Hollywood as well as arthouse directors rely increasingly on the magical music of Arvo Pärt to soundtrack their films. But is it becoming overexposed?

Stray close to an arthouse cinema this summer and chances are you'll hear the plangent music of Arvo Pärt emanating from within. The Turkish film Times and Winds, a tale of boyhood jealousies set in a remote Anatolian shepherding community, reverberates with the repeated stark tones of Pärt's Orient and Occident. The Banishment, a Russian film directed by budding Tarkovsky-like Andrei Zvyagintsev, sets a key scene to the sparse piano piece Für Alina and its end credits to the choral opus Kanon Pokajanen. And these two come only months after Paul Thomas Anderson interrupted Jonny Greenwood's screeching score for There Will Be Blood with a version of Fratres, composed by Pärt for strings and piano.

This has been going on for a decade. Where once film directors in need of some mournful gravitas would reach for Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings - famously, in Oliver Stone's Platoon; recently, in Michael Moore's Sicko - it now seems that Pärt is first in line, not only for arthouse auteurs but in Hollywood too. Pärt's music has been appropriated for The Good Shepherd and Candy, for Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes and Cédric Kahn's Red Lights, for Tom Twyker's Heaven, Gus van Sant's Gerry and Carlos Reygadas' Japón. It's there in Michael Mann's The Insider, it's there to furnish the terrible aftermath of the World Trade Center attack in Fahrenheit 9/11, and, incongruously, it's there when Madonna snogs the feet of her fellow castaway in Guy Ritchie's desert-island stinker Swept Away.

Pärt, a bearded Estonian living in prolonged exile in Berlin and a devotee of the Eastern Orthodox Church whose severe if ineffably beautiful music is released on Manfred Eicher's high-minded ECM label, might seem an unlikely candidate to be the film world's maestro du jour. Except, of course, that the music-buying public has also long proven a large appetite for this stuff, bringing Pärt a success and recognition that is rare for a living composer. Such pure, spiritually inflected work has struck a chord, providing, as critic Alex Ross points out in his book The Rest Is Noise, "oases of repose in a technologically oversaturated culture".

It's easy to see why so many film directors would want to latch on to these stirring resonances: music placed astutely on a sound track can conjure an instant magic for the most routine of sequences. Take that scene from Swept Away, in which the yearning delicacy of the music bestows grace on a risible montage of sunsets, smouldering fires, and hand-in-hand lovers on the beach. P T Anderson's visionary filmmaking needs no such crutches, but the use of Fratres still feels a little easy. This is music that drops jaws in any context.

Lest Pärt's sound begin to work in the opposite direction, jolting us from our involvement with a film as we recognise what a cliché its use has become, it is I think time to give it a rest. I mean this as no deterrent from seeing Times and Winds, which quietly stole the London Film Festival two years ago; it is an extraordinary film and its release is cause for rejoicing. But from now on, filmmakers of the world, before the allure of pieces like Spiegel im Spiegel is lost, let's have an Arvo armistice.