Bless Me, Ultima
Composed By: Mark Kilian
Distributed by: Lakeshore Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Based on the 1972 novel by Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima stars Luke Ganalon as Antonio, a six year old boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II. Antonio is growing up under the tutelage of the town’s elderly curandera (folk healer), Ultima (Miriam Colon). As Ultima teaches Antonio about the links between all things in nature and helps him battle between the good and evil in his town, there are some who are fearful of Ultima’s ways and are determined to put an end to her “witchcraft” for good.
The musical score of Bless Me, Ultima was composed by South African composer Mark Kilian. While in South Africa, Mark Kilian earned a Master's Degree in composition and became a very active musical performer as a pianist. Moving to the United States in 1994, he enrolled in USC's Film Scoring program and, upon completion of the program, Kilian worked as an assistant to composer Christopher Young. Kilian went on to join Machine Head, composing music for use in commercial for such lucrative companies as Budweiser, Apple, American Express and Toyota. His first feature film score was Lovergirl, in 1997. Since then, he has composed musical scores for Traitor, Rendition, Before the Rains, Legacy, Totsi, La Mission, The Least Among You, Body of Proof, Daybreak, Jake in Progress and The Matrix: Path of Neo.
For the music of Bless Me, Ultima, Mark Kilian was asked to combine tribal sounds with music that would express the emotions of the film. According to Kilian, “Bless Me, Ultima is a spiritual story and the filmmakers wanted me to make that the basis of what the music should be doing emotionally. But they wanted the flavor to incorporate Native American, Mexican, Spanish, African, religious, tribal, classical and spiritual sentiments, all wrapped up in a blanket of child-like innocence and wonder.” To that end, Mark Kilian combined regular orchestral music with traditional exotic instruments such as African wood percussion, Aztec shakers, Tibetan cymbals, Spanish guitar, South American charango and ronroco, Aeolian harps and Native American flutes.
Kilian insisted on playing the flutes himself as, according to the composer, “the fact that I'm not so good gave it a child-like imperfect quality.” Perhaps that is the case, but, quite honestly, I found the tracks in which the Native American flutes, Spanish guitar, flamenco vocals were the most interesting and thus, most enjoyable parts of the album. Mark Kilian seems to specialize in films that have an exotic air about them. Somehow he always manages to capture the culture and emotion of each film he scores. With each successive score, Kilian’s work gets better and better. His score for Bless Me, Ultima is his most enjoyable to date.