The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Scree
A Dry White Season

Stars:  Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman, Zakes Mokae, Jürgen Prochnow, Susan Sarandon, Marlon Brando

Director:  Euzhan Palcy
Producer:  Paula Weinstein
Released:  MGM 1989

Story:  Ben du Toit is a schoolteacher who always has considered himself a man of caring and justice, at least on the individual level. When his gardeners son is brutally beaten up by the police at a demonstration by black school children, he gradually begins to realize his society is built on a pillar of injustice and exploitation.

The solemnity and pathos of the score for “A Dry White Season” heightens every aspect of this most dramatic and serious picture in the Grusin filmography.

While the action concerns the repression and terror of the apartheid regime, at its center is the steady metamorphosis of one man as he comes to terms with a sense of betrayal over the trust he falsely placed in the justice system of his country, and his resolve to expiate his guilt over the consequences of and very fact of that blindness.

It is on this intimate intellectual transformation that this score hovers, and the related scenes of brutality and tragedy are thus underscored to bring out a sense of revelation rather than outrage, dignity rather than anger.

The resonant and evocative sound of a South African choral group open and close the picture, making a statement of a million words which  this traditional singing does - vibrant, mellow and redolent with all the `history' of the South African people.  Such singing is also used within the body of the picture, and is especially effective in moving the location from white to black South Africa.

Although there are a number of  powerful and tumultuous cues to punctuate the more violent moments in the film, the intensity of most dramatic scenes is increased by a quite opposite and particularly effective cue form, used again and again in the film to great effect by virtue of this repetition.  It consists of a varying pattern of effects, including a moody and soulful trumpet, long, somber and expressive string notes, sometimes with more violins playing a melody against them, occasionally a haunting flute solo, all this punctuated faintly or sensationally by percussion.  

Although these cues project every ounce of

gravity in this film, they nevertheless have an almost metaphysical quality about them which is as light as a wisp of smoke.

This scoring gives even greater depth to such graphic scenes as the aftermath of the shooting of the child demonstrators, Gordon searching for his son, the visit to a morgue, testimony about events in detention and the announcement of Emily's death.

The harmonic strains of these cues which almost make one hold their breath with absorption, have a twin sisterhood with the bewitching score to “Havana,” which was released the following year.  Though both films have a struggle against a repressive regime in common, their musical kinship is more related to moving feelings stirred in the human heart.

Equally serious, the theme related to scenes of the Afrikaans family and their home is treated in a most unusual way - in early stages, filtered in such a way almost as if to  sound like distant source music - but invariably encapsulating a sense of the refined, serene and self-contained existence they live.  It unerringly declares that the security, elegance and tranquillity which marks their environment is the dead opposite of the black South Africans, and equally that this gentility is only the surface layer of an uncivilized regime which is even more savage than what they paint the blacks to be.

As this theme becomes more and more audible within the motion picture, it also begins to reflect the decency of  Ben which was always there, but which is now magnified, and giving him a focus for living.

At the end of the film, this theme, so faint as almost to be unheard initially, attains first a touching sentimentality, then even grandeur and majesty which categorically proclaims the sacrifice Ben has made and the warmth of the heart which was a part of the mind making that stand.

There is no comparable - completely absent of light relief - motion picture in Dave Grusin's cinema career, and consequently no analogous score with such unrelenting sombreness.  

Music Editor:  Else Blangsted
Assistant Music Editor:  Bunny Andrews
Recorded by:  John Richards

Dave Grusin
Feature Films