It's not only how you start, it's how you finish

There's such emphasis on giving a picture a big opening — not in the debut weekend box-office sense of the phrase, but in starting the film itself off with a bang. Often, existing music sets the fuse and seals the deal. Think of the Dick Dale surf guitar blast launching us into the propulsively sleazy environs of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." Or the way "Rock Around the Clock" announced a world of social anxiety (such an innocent song today; such an affront to audiences back in 1955) in "Blackboard Jungle." Or "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, setting the tone so swiftly and well (Rosie Perez didn't hurt) at the top of "Do the Right Thing."

Just as important, though, is a movie's final aural impression, summing up for us the experience we've just had. When an audience stays en masse for an end-credits sequence, the reasons can be various and overlapping. I remember seeing "Ratatouille" with a full and age-rangy audience. Thanks equally to the marvelous stylistic change-up in the animation style deployed in the credits scroll, and to composer Michael Giacchino's brilliant outro music (very Henry Mancini in its shimmer and rhythm), nobody left before they had to. The audience applauded too. That doesn't happen very often.

With existing pieces of music, it's a related but different story. A director has a notion to sum things up with a specific sound, mood, pop song or classical selection. Sometimes the results are so right they're indelible, and the music seems instantly and forever wedded to the cinematic images before us. "Jump in the Line" at the end of "Beetlejuice." (OK, I believe you!) "Livin' Thing" by the Electric Light Orchestra, nailing the vibe and ethos of "Boogie Nights."

These we knew before, but they fit wonderfully within their new confines. Then there's music new to your life and your experience. Sometimes it's so perfect, you're caught in a whirlpool and you don't want to swim out. For weeks now I've been listening to the two-disc soundtrack to Paolo Sorrentino's new film "La Grande Bellezza" ("The Great Beauty"), which premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival. The story of a Rome celebrity journalist and the impressionistic portrait of Rome itself, the score combines original music by Lele Marchitelli and a wealth of existing classical, house, hip-hop, jazz and techno party tunes, remarkably all of a piece.

The film ends with a long, languorous point-of-view shot photographed from a boat chugging up the Tiber River. It's a beautiful shot, not especially distinctive. Or it wouldn't be, if not for the music accompanying the image.

Under this final shot, Sorrentino uses in its five-minute entirety "The Beatitudes" by contemporary Russian composer Vladimir Martynov. It was written in 1998 as a choral piece. The Kronos Quartet commissioned a strings version of the music in 2006. Nonesuch Records released the Kronos offering "Music of Vladimir Martynov" last year.

I have "The Great Beauty" to thank for introducing this music to me. One rhapsodic critic characterized the experience of listening to Martynov's "Beatitudes" as being "tortured by beauty." I know what he meant; at the close of the film's Cannes premiere, an astonishing number of people sat, or stood, transfixed, straight through to the end, even with deadlines to meet or dinner to be eaten (this was close to midnight). The end-credits music chosen by Sorrentino was too beautiful to miss.

The Kronos performance of Martynov's "Beatitudes" has this, and this only, in common with the ELO hit that closes "Boogie Nights." Listening to it is like sailing away on the crest of a wave. It's like magic. It's what you want as you leave the world of the film you've just seen and re-enter your own.

Listen to it for yourself right here:

mjphillips@tribune.com

@phillipstribune

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