Johann Johannsson, composer of haunting Hollywood film scores, dies

The award-winning musician and film composer has died according to his manager, Tim Husom. Husom says Johannsson died Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 in Berlin. (AP)
Updated 11 February 2018
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Johann Johannsson, composer of haunting Hollywood film scores, dies

NEW YORK: Johann Johannsson, the award-winning Icelandic composer whose haunting yet minimalist scores instilled depth in films full of abstraction, has died, his manager announced Saturday. He was 48.
Johannsson was found dead Friday at his apartment in Berlin, where authorities were investigating the cause of death, said Tim Husom, his Los Angeles-based manager.
“I’m so very sad. Today, I lost my friend who was one of the most talented musicians and intelligent people I knew,” Husom said in a statement.
Johannsson, who blended classical form and electronic instrumentation, had become an increasingly in-demand musician for directors whose films probed more theoretical ideas.
He won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score for “The Theory of Everything,” about physicist Stephen Hawking.
Johannsson was nominated again for “Arrival,” for which he altered human voices to create amorphous, otherworldly sounds to dramatize the story of a linguist seeking to communicate with an extraterrestrial visitor.
He scored several films out in 2018, including “Mary Magdalene,” a biblical drama about the much-debated female follower of Jesus.
While Johannsson won acclaim outside of the film world as an avant-garde composer, he was careful never to make his music needlessly convoluted or overbearing.
He kept strong, repeated melodies and said that many movies had far too much music, not allowing silences that were also crucial.
“I think my music is a way of communicating very directly with people and with people’s emotions. I try to make music that doesn’t need layers of complexity or obfuscation to speak to people,” he told the online interview magazine The Talks in 2015.
Daniel Pemberton, the composer for films including Danny Boyle’s biopic “Steve Jobs,” said he sat transfixed when he heard Johannsson’s music for “Sicario,” which showed “you could still do something radically new in mainstream film music.”
“He was always pushing the boundaries, creating works of art so unique and exciting it becomes hard to imagine they didn’t exist before,” Pemberton wrote on Twitter.
The experimental DJ Flying Lotus tweeted that he was in “disbelief” over his death, calling Johannsson a major influence and hailing his score for the new thriller “Mandy.”
Growing up in Reykjavik, Johannsson said he listened to everything from John Philip Sousa marches to deafening shoegaze rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain, but was transformed when he discovered ambient music pioneer Brian Eno.
Largely self-taught as a musician, Johannsson studied literature and took inspiration from the French Oulipo school of writers such as Georges Perec who aimed to stir up fresh ideas by imposing constraining rules on their compositions.
Johannsson co-founded Kitchen Motors, the influential Icelandic artist collective that also helped launch experimental rockers Sigur Ros, and in 2002 released his first album, “Englaborn,” set to a theatrical piece.
His most ambitious albums included “IBM 1401, A User’s Manual,” inspired by the early mass-manufactured computer.
Johannsson’s father, a programmer in 1960s Iceland, had playfully transformed the computer into a musical instrument by making reel-to-reel recordings.
Turning the concept of computerized music on its head, Johannsson made his ode to the clunky old computer fully human by writing for a 60-piece string orchestra.
He again brought in strings for the mournful melodies of his 2008 album “Fordlandia,” inspired by Henry Ford’s disastrous project to build a city for rubber plant workers in Brazil.
Johannsson in 2016 signed a record deal with leading classical label Deutsche Grammophon and released “Orphee,” an exploration of portrayals of Orpheus, the legendary bard of music, from ancient Greece onward.
Johannsson had little sign of slowing down and was recently announced on the lineup of Barcelona’s Primavera Sounds festival.
“Arrival” was Johannsson’s third film collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, although the French Canadian director surprisingly replaced him for last year’s anticipated sci-fi sequel “Blade Runner 2049.”


Lebanese director wins Cannes jury prize

Nadine Labaki, along with Zain Al-Rafeea, shows the jury prize award for ‘Capernaum’ at Cannes on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2018
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Lebanese director wins Cannes jury prize

  • Labaki took six months to make “Capernaum,” which relied on amateur actors.
  • “Shoplifters,” directed by Japanese filmmaker Hizokazu Kore-eda, was awarded the Palme d’Or.

CANNES, France: Lebanese director Nadine Labaki won the Cannes jury prize on Saturday for “Capernaum” — her devastating portrayal of poverty in Beirut.

The film, set among the city’s poor, left audiences in tears with a breathtaking performance by Zain Al-Rafeea, a 13-year-old Syrian refugee boy.

Labaki had been tipped to become only the second woman to win the Palme d’Or, but the jury, led by Cate Blanchett, awarded that honor to “Shoplifters,” directed by Japanese filmmaker Hizokazu Kore-eda.

The winners were announced during the Cannes closing ceremony after one of the strongest festivals for Arab films in decades.

Labaki took six months to make “Capernaum,” which relied on amateur actors. Zain plays a boy of the same name who runs away from home after his desperate mother and father sell his 11-year-old sister into marriage for a few chickens. 

He then takes his parents to court for having brought him into the world.

Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” the highest-profile American film in competition at Cannes, was awarded the grand prize. The film ignited the French Riviera festival with its true tale of a black police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. 

Palme d’Or winner “Shoplifters” is about a small-time thief who takes a young girl home to his family after seeing scars from abuse. The family decide to keep the girl and raise her as their own.