Friday 30 November 2007

Get Shorty and walk tall

Screenwriter, William Goldman famously said of Hollywood and the screen trade that "No-one knows anything." It is this adage that is exploited to the full in Barry Sonnenfeld's 1995 big screen adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel Get Shorty.

It stars John Travolta as Chili Palmer a mob debt collector hitting on Hollywood. Ably supported by Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, this tongue in cheek gangster/ romantic comedy lifts the lid on how movies do... or don't get made.

The jazzy soul based score credited to John Lurie is as cool as Chili Palmer and owes a fair debt to Booker T and The MG's who also turn up on the soundtrack along with US3, Morphine and Greyboy. Musically, the Get Shorty soundtrack has less in common with Out of Sight, another Elmore Leonard adaptation and is more in tune with Jamshied Shariff's excellent score for the Nickelodeon feature Harriet The Spy or George S Clinton's swampy score for Wild Things. Each has that widescreen swagger that makes you want to wack up the bass and wear Ray Bans in restaurants.

ANGEL - live fast die never

Angel was a darker more adult spinoff series from Joss Whedon's phenomenally successful Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Despite this excellent pedigree, a cast you really cared about and Whedon's witty words and caustic quips, Angel was sadly spiked by the network after five seasons. By no means a failure, but still a sad demise for a TV show that got it in the neck when it deserved a longer life. (Browncoat Firefly fans will be familiar with this scenario).

Removed from Buffy's Sunnydale environs to the streets of Los Angeles, the series followed the exploits of Angel (aka Angelus/Liam), a vampire cursed with a soul who searching for redemption, fought evil plaguing the city with the help of his associates including Cordy, Wesley, Fred, Lorne and Gunn.

Whereas Buffy The Vampire Slayer featured music from indie bands in many of its sequences, the Angel score with the exception of its excellent viola based indy rock theme by Darling Violetta, was more orchestrally focussed. Generally, the action cues utilized familiar instrumentation like bubbling sequenced electronics, orchestral stabs and that old soundtrack standby, the anvil. The quieter more reflective sequences accentuated Angel's lonliness and remorse. But it wasn't all doom and despondency especially when the old green queen Andy Hallett in his Lorne persona was pumping out Lady Marmalade and It's Not Easy Being Green in an over the top Vegas style.

Angel left our screens confronting a gang of unpleasant unworldly beasties bent on ending the world as we know it. He and his team will be sadly missed but you can still relive the high points of the big blood-guzzler trying to save us mere mortals by giving this score a listen.

The united colours of Pleasantville

The term 'Capraesque' could easily be applied to Gary Ross' delightful 1998 feature Pleasantville. Starring Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, and Jeff Daniels, Pleasantville pitches modern day teenage twins into the world of the black and white 1950s titular television town where everything is 'swell' and sex and toilets don't exist.

As a result of the actions of David (Tobey Maguire) and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), the Pleasantville population and the environment literally transforms from black and white into colour.

Pleasantville is for me one of those great heartwarming, lump in the throat movies like Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life or Lost Horizon. Apart from the stunning cinematography and an excellent cast, Pleasantville has two threads of great music. The first is an Americana-styled score by Randy Newman while the second is a dream jukebox of early Rock'n'Roll and Jazz classics.

You get some real crackers like Presley's Teddy Bear, Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula, Miles Davis' So What, Brubeck's Take Five and Etta James' gorgeous At Last. Also included is Fiona Apple's sonambulistic rendition of the Beatles' Across the Universe and hearing la Apple's whistful vocals and Randy Newman's touching Real Rain fair brings a tear to the eye.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Fantastic Planet / La Planete Sauvage

René Laloux’s trippy psychedelic sci-fi animated feature from 1973, based on Stefan Wul’s novel Oms en série, was a co-production between France and Czechoslovakia.

Fantastic Planet tells the story of the fight for freedom by humans (Oms) kept as domesticated pets by an alien race of blue humanoid giants called Traags. The film is seen as an allegory of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the late '60s.

I first came across this little gem of a film when it was part of a double bill with Crystal Voyager - a surfing movie that used Pink Floyd's Echoes to frame the action. But I digress..... Currently out of print, Alain Goraguer's memerising psychedelic jazz score for Fantastic Planet is the perfect accompaniment to a science fiction cult classic.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Performance - Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

The late 1960's were a transitional time. The so-called Summer of Love was long gone, hippies became yippies, drugs became heavier and things were getting darker. Many musicians and film makers were responding to the zeitgeist with projects like Zabriskie Point and the disturbing Performance - famous for its casting of Mick Jagger and its graphic depictions of violence, sex and drug use.

Filmed in 1968 but not released until 1970 Perfomance was directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg and was initially envisioned as a Swinging 60's romp starring Marlon Brando.

With a dramatically re-written script dealing with identity crisis, the lead role eventually went to distinguished actor James Fox who played 'on the run' psychopathic gangster Chas who seeks refuge in the basement of a house owned by former rock star Turner played by an androgenous Mick Jagger - a quantum leap from the wrinkly beknighted roue and corporate huckster of today.

With genuine gangsters turned thesps in the cast, it is rumoured that Fox took part in a real robbery as part of his research into his part and after the troubled production closed, he took a sabbatical from reality in the nether world of heroin addiction. There are also stories that some of the sex scenes were not simulated and footage exists of some of the principals engaged in some onscreen hanky panky.

The soundtrack produced and written by veteran knob twiddler Jack Nitzche (apart from Jagger and Richards' Memo from Turner), is both intriguing and terrifying, being a melange of folk, blues, wailing and primitive electronica. Ry Cooder's distinctive slide guitar is all over the score and his open tuned guitar style clearly made an impression on the Stones and can be detected on much of the band's late 60's and early 70's output.

The stand out track that most Stones fans seek out is of course Jagger's sinister solo spot Memo from Turner. Although the Stones recorded their own version which eventually saw the light on their patchy odds and sods release Metamorphosis, it fades in comparison to the snarling, satanic swagger of the film's original. Other highlights include The Last Poets' proto-rap Wake up Niggers and the scary Turner's Murder, which features Merry Clayton, who provided the soulful vocals for the Stones' Gimme Shelter, wailing over Beaver & Krause's thunderous electronica.

"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness."

Drugstore Cowboy - Elliot Goldenthal

The critically acclaimed Drugstore Cowboy from 1989, was writer / director Gus van Sant's breakthrough movie. With a cast including Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham, and William S. Burroughs, Drugstore Cowboy was filmed mainly around Portland, Oregon. It tells the story of a group of drug addicts travelling across early 1970's US robbing pharmacies and hospitals to support their habit.
Drugstore Cowboy's quirky film score is made up of an inspired if perverse selection of 60's hits plus Elliot Goldenthal's own slightly avant-garde compositions. Drugstore Cowboy was among Goldenthal's earliest movie scores and is about as far away as you can get from his big budget offerings. Instead he uses a small ensemble including keyboards, synths, sax and digeridoo. Well worth a listen.

100 Years of Cinema

For soundtrack buffs there are a great many collections available that address certain film genres, like War, Westerns, Romance, Musical etc. To get round the labyrinthine copyright issues, compilers often have to miss out crucial scores or make do with re-recordings. This is not the case with The Official Cinema 100 Album, which brings together original recordings from 34 feature films.

I have seldom found a soundtrack collection that is so diverse. The first part encompasses such classic scores as: Things To Come; Casablanca; Ben Hur; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Dr No; A Shot In The Dark and 633 Squadron; while the second part features such cinematic delights as Dr Zhivago; Grand Prix; The Thomas Crown Affair; Out of Africa and The Piano to name but a few.

Unfortunately it appears to be out of print but if you are looking for a comprehensive collection of classic movie music, The Official Cinema 100 Album is an essential addition to any soundtrack collection.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Demolition Man - Elliot Goldenthal

A Joel Silver production, Demolition Man was a time travelling action film released in 1993. The film starred Sylvester Stallone as the no-nonsense renegade cop and a pre-Blade Wesley Snipes acting Stallone off the screen as his scenery chewing nemesis. As with many Silver productions the emphasis is on bombast. The soundtrack by Elliot Goldenthal hot on the heels of scoring Alien³ features a cue called Action, Guns, Fun, which pretty much sums up the film.

The Demolition Man soundtrack introduced movie audiences to Elliot Goldenthal's off-beat style that came to fruition in Joel Silver's cartoony Batman movies. Goldenthal's signature big brass clashes and complex, dramatic string arrangements are very much in evidence throughout the soundtrack which won him an ASCAP award in 1994 for best original score.

Bond and Beyond - John Barry

In April 1999, the Royal Albert Hall played host to the great John Barry conducting the English Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Barry's phenomenal movie portfolio.

Cutting a slight, stick like figure Barry took to the stage opening the first half of the concert with a majestic Goldfinger, followed by the regal We Have All the Time In The World.

Coming over as a slightly curmugeonly but likeable schoolmaster Barry introduced each movement throughout the night with the occasional anecdote. He certainly had little time for the likes of Duran Duran and A-Ha! Ultimately though he was there to perform and kept the small talk to a minimum. Themes from Zulu, Somewhere in Time, Moviola and Midnight Cowboy followed - the latter accompanied by the harmonica playing of Tommy Morgan who played on the original soundtrack as well as Dances with Wolves which closed the first half of the set. Not before the roof was raised with the stirring Space March. For a cue that was basically underscore for You Only Live Twice, Space March was deservedly a concert highlight along with the sultry Body Heat.

The second half opened with Born Free followed by All Time High and Out of Africa. Chris Botti took the stage to add his distinctive tones to the haunting Remembering Chet and Playing By Heart. A suite from the Beyondness of Things, a sparkling Girl withThe Sun In Her Hair and a medley of Bond themes closed a magical evening of sensational music by one of our greatest living composers. This man deserves a knighthood!

Sunday 18 November 2007

Blade Runner Trilogy: 25th Anniversary 3 CD Soundtrack release on UMTV

Universal Music TV is set to release a stunning 3CD collection to mark the 25th Anniversary of Blade Runner on December 10th, 2007. Featuring previously unreleased music from the film, bonus tracks and a brand new album of Vangelis material inspired by the film with sleeve notes written by Ridley Scott.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, with its apocalyptic depiction of LA in 2019, has become one of the most celebrated sci-fi releases of the 20th century. It’s one of those films where all of the constituent parts - the set, the lighting, the characters, the sparse dialogue and of course the music - work uniquely together to produce a cult masterpiece.

The music has always been a key element of Blade Runner and there have been various versions of the soundtrack over the years, some ‘official’ and some bootlegs. But they have all either been incomplete or have suffered from poor sound quality, until now. Blade Runner Trilogy: 25th Anniversary is a 3CD set which - for the first time - puts all the pieces together, providing the complete music from the film and a lot more besides.

CD 1 features the original and remastered soundtrack as it first appeared in 1994, twelve years after the film was released. The second CD contains all the remaining music from the film that did not appear on the original 1994 soundtrack, plus two bonus tracks ("One Alone" and "Desolation Path"). None of this material has been released before.

The third and final disc will be of real interest to Vangelis fans - as it contains an entire album of newly written material composed by Vangelis to mark the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner. The music is strong and flowing, and retains the dark, atmospheric sense of the original score. There are some intriguing spoken word contributions too, from Ridley Scott, Roman Polanski, Oliver Stone and a host of distinguished actors, personalities and world dignitaries.
Full track listing details:
CD 1: Blade Runner Original Soundtrack Album
Track 1: Main Titles (3': 42")
Track 2: Blush Response (5': 47")
Track 3: Wait For Me (5': 27")
Track 4: Rachel’s Song (4': 46")
Track 5: Love Theme (4': 56")
Track 6: One More Kiss, Dear (3': 58")
Track 7: Blade Runner Blues (8': 53")
Track 8: Memories Of Green (5': 05")
Track 9: Tales Of The Future (4': 46")
Track 10: Damask Rose (2': 32")
Track 11: Blade Runner (End Titles) (4': 40")
Track 12: Tears In Rain (3': 00")
CD 2: Blade Runner Previously Unreleased and Bonus Material
Track 1: Longing (1': 58")
Track 2: Unveiled Twinkling Space (1': 59")
Track 3: Dr. Tyrell’s Owl (2': 40")
Track 4: At Mr. Chew’s (4': 47")
Track 5: Leo’s Room (2': 21")
Track 6: One Alone (bonus track) (2': 23")
Track 7: Deckard And Roy’s Duel (6': 16")
Track 8: Dr. Tyrell’s Death (3': 11")
Track 9: Desolation Path (bonus track) (5': 45")
Track 10: Empty Streets (6': 16")
Track 11: Mechanical Dolls (2': 52")
Track 12: Fading Away (3': 32")
CD 3: BR 25
This is the album with the new music, composed by Vangelis for Blade Runner’s 25th anniversary.

Track 1: Launch Approval (1': 54")Spoken word: Scott Bolton, Bryce Bolton
Track 2: Up and Running (3': 09")Spoken word: Sir Ridley Scott
Track 3: Mail From India (3': 27")Ney: C. Lambrakis
Track 4: BR Downtown (2': 27?)Spoken word: Oliver Stone, Akiko Ebi, Cherry Vanilla
Track 5: Dimitri’s Bar (3': 52")Spoken word: Akiko Ebi, Oliver Stone, Saxophone: Dimitris Tsakas
Track 6: Sweet Solitude (6': 56")Saxophone: Dimitris Tsakas
Track 7: No Expectation Boulevard (6': 44")Spoken word: Rutger Hauer, Wes Studi, Bhaskar Balakrishnan (Executive Director of the Asian Heritage Foundation), Shobhana Balakrishnan, Laura Metaxa, Sir Ridley Scott, Zhao Yali (Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Cyprus)
Track 8: Vadavarot (4': 14")Spoken word: Irina Valentinova, Florencia Suayan Tacod
Track 9: Perfume Exotico (5': 19")Spoken word: Edward James Olmos
Track 10: Spotkanie Z Matka (5': 09")Spoken word: Roman Polanski reciting excerpts from the poem "Spotkanie z Matka" by Konstanty Ildefons Gaczynski
Track 11: Piano In An Empty Room (3': 37")
Track 12: Keep Asking (1': 29")Spoken word: Bryce Bolton
All music composed, arranged, produced and performed by Vangelis.
"One of the great experiences of my directing career was working on the music for Blade Runner with Vangelis at his Marble Arch studio in London where he would perform rough demo film cues for me on the fly, obsessing over every detail and capturing every moment with exceptional beauty...the final result took us far beyond my expectations." - Ridley Scott, sleeve notes
This CD release ties in with some significant DVD products launched to coincide with the 25th anniversary. On December 3rd, 2007 a 5 DVD set ‘Final Cut: Ultimate Collectors Edition’ is released, which contains all 5 versions of the film, plus interviews, a documentary on the making of the film and a letter from Ridley Scott.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Walking With Dinosaurs - when dinosaurs really did rule the earth

First broadcast in 1999, the BBC's time travelling Walking with Dinosaurs was the most expensive documentary series per minute ever made. Filmed in New Caledonia, California, Chile, Tasmania, New Zealand, Bahamas, the six-part series used computer-generated imagery and animatronics to recreate the life of dinosaurs in the style of a nature documentary.

Benjamin Bartlett's soundtrack for Walking With Dinosaurs is a billion years away from the music that used to accompany Ray Harryhausen's cuddly stop motion antics of yore. Employing the BBC Concert Orchestra, Barlett presents a sumptuous score that echoes the experimental side of Goldsmith, the majesty of Williams and the romantic sweep of John Barry. Giant of the Skies could have easily been from the pen of Out of Africa era Barry, Antarctic Spring could have come from Goldsmith, while Time of the Titans is a fitting counterpart to Williams Jurassic Park theme.

Land of The Tiger - Nicholas Hooper

If there's one thing that the BBC excels at it's wildlife documentaries. The epic Land of The Tiger took viewers on a breathtaking tour of India and its myriad flora and fauna. The soundtrack to this six part series was provided by Nicholas Hooper who recently composed the score for the latest Harry Potter movie.

Using the talents of the BBC Concert Orchestra plus sound samples and Indian players, Hooper creates a sweeping soundtrack that skillfully mixes both Indian and Western tones and textures that evoke the vastness and diversity of this fascinating continent.

Despite its Indian setting Hooper avoids the cliched sitar and utilizes flutes, violins, tablas, the otherworldly santoor and the beautiful vocals of Krishna Chakraborty. Land of The Tiger is no balti house background muzak, this is a musical feast to savour.

Out of Sight - David Holmes

Cinematic adaptations of Elmore Leonard's novels have, on the whole, been notoriously bad. The notable exceptions have been Tarantino's criminally under-rated Jackie Brown, Barry Sonnefeld's Get Shorty and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, Out of Sight retains all the slickness of Leonard's plotting and dialogue, yet provides a perfect platform for its director and stars to shine.

The soundtrack, provided by DJ David Holmes, is impeccable with classic cuts from the Isley Brothers, Dean Martin, Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo interspersed with dialogue from the movie and Holmes own Fender Rhodes led compositions. Tracks like The Trunk Scene, Tub Scene and No More Time Outs positively ooze the all too evident onscreen sexual chemistry between the movies' two attractive leads.

Out of Sight proved that Elmore Leonard could be brought to the screen in a way his many fans appoved of, George Clooney wasn't just a pretty face, Jennifer Lopez wasn't just a perfume commercial with generously proportioned gluteous maximus and Steve Soderbergh and David Holmes were a winning combination.

Friday 9 November 2007

Spaghetti Westerns

The Spaghetti Western emerged in the mid 1960's as a variant of the traditional western. Produced by Italian studios they were filmed in Spain with an Italian, Spanish, German cast and the occasional American like Lee Van Cleef and of course Clint Eastwood.

Immensely popular and violent for the time, these minimalist movies such A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and the epic The Good the Bad and The Ugly have rightfully become part of movie legend and iconography. Possibly the most famous Spaghetti Western Director was Sergio Leone whose partnership with composer Ennio Morricone set the style and tone for the entire Spaghetti Western genre. Morricone's influence continues today with Guy Zerafa's Spaghetti Western style score for Exiled

Most people with even a passing interest in the genre will be familar with Morricone's signature Spaghetti style. Twangy guitars, whistling, big strings, trumpets, bells, organs and almost wordless vocal interjections. I chanced upon this slightly inaccurately titled compilation called Western Spaghetti which is a fair introduction to certain aspects of Spaghetti Western music and Morricone, though quite why Hugo Montenegro's Man From UNCLE Theme is included is beyond me! Still any collection that includes A Fistful of Dollars, the stupendous Paying off Scores and the haunting Harmonica Man from Once Upon a Time In The West is alright by me.

John Waters' Hairspray - A Divine comedy

Almost 20 years before Travolta 'dragged up' in a fat suit and Marc Shaiman cranked up the camp-ometer to 11 with his musical remake, Hairspray was John Waters and his 'muse' Divine's crowning commercial achievement.

Unlike Shaiman's shamelessly entertaining danceathon which features original compositions, Waters' Hairspray, apart from Rachel Sweet's gloriously Spectoresque title tune, uses actual dance tunes from the 60's. And what a collection it is. Some are so obscure, that they could only have come from John Waters' personal record collection.

It's hard to pick the standout tunes because virtually every one is either a dance floor shaker or a soulful smooch. If I had to choose I'd go for Ray Bryant's The Madison Time, The Ikettes' I'm Blue (The Gong Gong Song) and The Five Du-Tones' Shake A Tail Feather.

There's no question of whether one version of Hairspray is better than the other as they both have their magical moments. While Waters' original will remain a much loved 80's movie, Shaiman's musical could well become this generation's "Grease".

For those who don't know, here are a few 'Hairspray' facts:

  • Jerry Stiller appears in both versions of Hairspray and is Ben Stiller's dad.
  • Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono and Ric Ocasek (from 80's band The Cars) appear in the original.
  • Talkshow Queen, Rikki Lake plays Tracy in the original.
  • James Marsden who plays Corny Collins in the musical plays Cyclops in The X-Men.
  • John Waters cameos in the musical as the 'Flasher who lives next door' in the opening song.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Crippled Champions - The Crippled Bargain

If you like Vampyros Lesbos or in fact anything that emerged from Cine-Citta in the early 1970's, then 50% of this compilation will appeal to you.

Part crime jazz, porno pop, shock rock and alt. rock, this slightly schizophrenic collection from 1998 mixes 10 tracks of dubious taste and quality, and 12 sexy boogaloo tracks from such artists as Jerry van Rooyen, Peter Thomas and Gert Wilden. There's big beats galore, parping brass, moody Moogs, hot Hammonds, shimmering sitars and furious fuzz guitar. A word of warning though, things do get a little scatalogical on track 13 and things don't really recover afterwards.

The change is quite sudden and I can only describe the experience as being akin to watching a cute nature programme on TV about Puffins or Meerkats and then someone comes in unexpectedly and switches over to the Kerrang channel and hits you over the head with a frying pan.

That aside Crippled Champions features some great music (provided you programme your CD player to only play tracks 1-12). Stand out tracks are Jerry van Rooyen's The Great Bank Robbery, Gert Wilden's Rolf Torring and Doris Troy's earth shattering opener Kill Them All. Play it loud at your next orgy!

John Williams Documentary

It's fair to say that John Williams single handedly brought back the classic Hollywood orchestral soundtracks to the silver screen with his partnerships with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

In 2006 John Williams was interviewed by the BBC's Francine Stock. During the interview broadcast on BBC Radio's Film Programme he discusses his music, his influences and his close relationship with director Steven Spielberg.


Fans of Vangelis' landmark soundtrack have even more reasons to be cheerful, with news filtering through that the forthcoming official release of the Blade Runner soundtrack will be a triple-CD set.

Subject to official confirmation, the new release will be a deluxe set, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Blade Runner movie. Described as a three CD package titled "Blade Runner Trilogy", the set is said to start with the 1994 official Blade Runner soundtrack. The second disk will feature unreleased music from the film (bootlegs excepted click here for details), as well as unreleased music made for the movie at the time. Finally, the third disk is expected to be Vangelis' new album, inspired by and thematically linked to Blade Runner.

Confirmation and more details will be coming soon. It's expected that "Blade Runner Trilogy" will be released in December. Well that's my Christmas present sorted :)

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Bedazzled - Moore than meets the eye

Released in 1967, Stanley Donen's Bedazzled was one of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's first faustian filmic foray. A far cry from their familiar Pete 'n' Dud TV personas, Bedazzled cast Moore as a short order cook enlisting the help of the devil played Peter Cook to win the hand of the comely Eleanor Bron.
Infinitely better than Liz Hurley's diabolical remake, Bedazzled was only a moderate success at the box-office (even with the help of Raquel Welch!). However Dudley Moore's jazzy soundtrack has become a much sought after collectible.

The Bedazzled soundtrack certainly deserves its fame - the classico/jazz main title theme, Lillian Lust, The Millionaire and the Ying and Yang pop of Love Me and Bedazzled fill me with enertia.

The diminutive Dud was so much more that the cuddly and cute comedic foil for genius satirist Peter Cook's acerbic wit. Classically trained Moore was an established name in the London jazz scene with the Dudley Moore trio comprising Moore on piano, Chris Karan on Drums and Pete McGurk on Bass. Evidently Moore taught himself the rudiments of jazz in about 30 minutes after attending an Errol Garner concert.

In addition to a regular jazz gigs, the Dudley Moore trio provided the musical interludes on Cook and Moore's hugely popular Not Only But Also TV Show. In 1965, Decca released The Other Side of Dudley Moore a stunning debut with a profound Oscar Peterson / Errol Garner influence and featured many of the compositions performed on the show including the melancholic Sad One For George, the stormy Sooz Blooz and a slinky My Blue Heaven. The album was issued on CD with two extra tracks under the title Authentic Dud Vol.2 which was unfortunately withdrawn due to copyright issues.

Without doubt, it was his partnership with Peter Cook that put Dudley Moore's name on the map followed by his lucrative career in Hollywood culminating in a sad demise in his latter years. However, there was more to Dud and thankfully his musical legacy lives on in the Bedazzled soundtrack and on the BBC Radio Four panel game Quote Unquote where his Duddly Dell composition provides the theme music.

Sunday 4 November 2007

The Black Dahlia

Brian De Palma's good looking thriller The Black Dahlia, based on James Ellroy's novel, has a lot going for it. However comparisons with Curtis Hanson's stylish LA Confidential, another Ellroy adapation are inevitable.

Even if the Black Dahlia may be slightly lacking as a movie, there is much to enjoy in Mark Isham's soundtrack, which at times echoes elements of Jerry Goldsmith and the melancholy of John Barry's later work.


Richard Thorpe's 1952 adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was an exciting and colourful affair. Filmed in Britain in glorious technicolor, it boasted a cast that included a luminescent Elizabeth Taylor, the great George Sanders and the rather wooden Robert Taylor in the lead role.

Many years ago my mum took me to see Ivanhoe at our local fleapit on its upteenth reissue, and I always remember the kids in the audience (including myself) getting very excited by the battle sequences even if some of the Saxons and Normans were plainly fighting with very floppy rubber swords!

The real star of Ivanhoe however, is Miklos Rozsa's rousing score. It's one of his very best and excentuates the spectacular actions scenes as well as the doomed romance between George Sanders and Elizabeth Taylor's characters.


Peter Weir's 1985 feature Witness, threw Harrison Ford into the Amish community to protect a witness to a murder linked to police corruption. Not perhaps the most exciting concept at first glance, but nevertheless Witness proved to be a popular hit with cinema audiences.

Veteran composer Mauric Jarre supplied the soundtrack. Instead of reflecting the somewhat bucolic non-technical nature of the Amish by using traditional acoustic instruments, Jarre provided an entirely synthesiser based electronic score. The film's main title and the Building of the Barn are stunning examples of how well Jarre's soundtrack works. In less sensitive hands this juxtapostion could have been jarring (no pun intended). It is perhaps because Maurice Jarre as a trained classical musician regards a synthesiser in terms of the sounds it can produce as opposed to its technology thus injecting warmth and humanity into a pure electronic instrument. It's a gift that only a few other musicians like Vangelis have mastered. So watch the movie and let the sonic textures of Maurice Jarre's lush score for Witness envelop you.


Terry Gilliam's 1985 dystopian black comedy Brazil and its second cousin once removed Blade Runner for many years defined the look of advertising and filmic futures. Even today Brazil still packs a wallop.

The late Michael Kamen provided the soundtrack and makes much use of Ary Barroso's 1939 hit Brazil, a translation of "Aquarela do Brasil," as featured in Disney's short latin feature Saludos Amigos. Even Kate Bush gets to warble the tune. Featuring score and snippets of dialogue the soundtrack for Brazil has a decidely dreamlike quality that admirably matches the mood of its visual counterpart.


Not since Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire has black and white photography looked so colourful as it does in Luc Besson's romantic comedy Angel-A. The success of the movie is helped in no small way by the image of statuesque Rie Rasmussen confronting pint sized Jamel Debbouze.

The dreamy soundtrack for Angel-A is provided by Norwegian singer-songwriter Anja Garbarek. Whilst she occasionally strays into the trip-hop territories previously occupied by Bjork and Emiliana Torrini, the elfin Anja holds her own and produces a very appealing and pretty soundtrack for a beautiful film.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Henry Mancini - a life in film

In 2003, during its Archive Hour slot, BBC Radio Four broadcast a touching documentary on the life and work of the late great Henry Mancini - the man who composed some of the most enduring popular music on screen and on record.

Presented by conductor and composer Carl Davis this hour long documentary features archive interviews with the man himself along with many memorable reminicences by family and friends including fellow composer Elmer Bernstein and film director Blake Edwards. As well as discovering the stories behind the music there's an all pervading feeling of love for (Henry/Hank/Weirdo) Mancini. The Life of Henry Mancini is a must for all music fans.

Welcome to Sherwood Forest

Warner Brothers' 1938 adaptation of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' was a perfect example of all the right ingredients coming together to create a timeless classic. An inspired director in Michael Curtiz; a great leading man, leading lady and villain - Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone respectively; plus sumptuous technicolor and of course Erich Wolfgang Korngold's magnificent score.

Orchestrated by Hugo Friedhofer and Milan Roder, Korngold's lush and romantic compositions virtually write the book on leit motif based soundtracks. Each character and scene has its own memorable theme. Who can listen to Capturing Sir Guy without seeing Robin and his Merry Men literally swinging from the trees of 'Sherwood Forest' to do battle the villainous Sir Guy of Gisborne.

There are possibly three classic soundtracks from Hollywood's Golden era that the serious collector must own. Korngold's Robin Hood is most definitely one of them.

Sad fact for movie anoraks #1 - Maid Marion's white horse in the movie was Roy Rogers' legendary four-legged friend Trigger.
Sad fact for movie anoraks #2 - James Cagney was Warner's original choice for the role of Robin

La Femme Nikita

Director Luc Besson, really hit his stride with the stylish thriller, La Femme Nikita. An insipid Hollywood remake followed along with a so-so TV series, but the original was the best.

Starring his then current squeeze Anne Parillaud, Nikita was a triumph. It was cool sexy and above all exciting. It also continued Besson's relationship with his musical partner, composer Eric Serra who provided the score for The Big Blue, Leon and The Fifth Element among others.

Throughout the soundtrack, Serra's signature (pochhhhh) percussion and fretless bass pervade the score as well as his Peter Gabriel style vocals. However it's when he chills out that things really take off. The Free Side and First Night Out are simply stunning and while they frame the movie visuals beautifully, they stand on their own.

It was perhaps on the strength of Serra's Nikita that he got the gig to score the first Brosnan Bond movie Goldeneye. Alas his first stab at the sacred 007 shrine was not a success, in fact even though it's recognisable as a Serra soundtrack alas everything that was good about Nikita is sadly missing from Goldeneye. But don't let the Bond bomb colour your opinion, indulge yourself in the bombe surprise of La Femma Nikita

Belleville Rendez-vous

Belleville Rendez-vous (aka Les Triplettes de Belleville) is without doubt one of the most bizarre yet original cartoons to emerge from France. Only in that country could you produce a film about a septuagenarian triplet singing group, the tour de France, mafia kidnappings and a dog.

The soundtrack for the film by Canadian guitarist Ben Charest is great fun and mixes songs and instrumentals that hint at Benny Goodman, Django Reinhardt, Lalo Schifrin, Surf Music, French Chansons, Musique Concrete, Jacques Louissier to name but a few. C'est magnifique

DIVA - a study in style

Oozing style, sophistication and gallic charm from every frame, Jean Jacqus Beineix' Diva was the surprise hit of 1981. Its soundtrack, by Vladimir Cosma is as original as the movie itself.

Given that it was released at a time when the "high concept" antics of Simpson and Bruckheimer et al were ruling the nation's cineplexes, Diva should not have logically been the success it was.
Adapted from the virtually unknown (in the UK anyway) novella of the same name by Delacorta (Daniel Odier), Diva was French for a start so there were those pesky subtitles to deal with and it was about, a postman, murder and opera - hardly a great night out. Therein lies its charm and perhaps the root of its success. It was the perfect 80's yuppie date movie. After all, you could hardly impress a prospective date with Die Hard or Porky's 2. But by taking them to a French movie that looked as stylish as a pack of Gitanes and featuring a beautiful soprano singing opera, you became 'super intellectual' in one fell swoop!

In all seriousness, Diva was, and remains a joy to watch. Vladimir Cosma's stupendous soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment and features the titanic tonsils of real life Opera diva Wilhemenia Wiggins Fernandez and Cosma's own thoughtful compositions, the creme de la creme being the appropriately named Sentimental Walk. The Diva soundtrack is a reminder that not all films in the Eighties had to have the obligatory 'exploding helicopter' sequence and a song by Kenny Loggins.

Friday 2 November 2007

Hey..get your Car Washed today

Directed by Michael Schultz and written by Joel Schumacher, Car Wash (1976) was generally regarded as the first "disco" movie of the 1970's.
Featuring a lively cast including Richard Prior, Antonio 'Huggy Bear' Fargas, actor/director Bill Duke plus a number of unknowns, Car Wash recounts a day in the life of the employees at a Los Angeles car wash presented as a series of loosely plotted vignettes. When compared to its contemporaries, Saturday Night Fever and Thank God It's Friday, Car Wash looks the least dated despite the preponderance of big 'fro's.
Even with a lack of real plot the film still retains a freshness that is underpinned by former Motown supremo Norman Whitfield's driving funky soundtrack that never misses a beat. Nestling among the familiar hits by the likes of Rose Royce and the Pointer Sisters reside some rock solid instrumentals that are a masterclass for aspiring bass players. Cheesey it most certainly isn't.

Jonny Quest

In the early 1960's, TV cartoon gods William Hanna and Joseph Barbera hit upon the idea of creating an animated adventure series that could appeal to not only a young audience but also keep the adults happy. The result was Jonny Quest.

Mixing adventure, science fiction, espionage and a bit of magic and laughs on the way, Jonny Quest followed the exciting adventures of the titular Jonathon Quest, the 10 year old son of leading scientist and inventor Dr Benton Quest, former footballer Roger "Race" Bannon, Hadji, an 11 year old indian boy and Bandit the bulldog.

Featuring better than average animation for a TV show, Jonny Quest first aired in 1964 and boasted entertaining but intelligent scripts that didn't patronise the audience. The show only ran until 1965, cancelled no doubt by a network concerned over the programme's portrayals of violence. It was updated in the 1990's and repackaged as The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest and featured 3-D computer animation and upped the educational content.

For me though the 'real' Jonny Quest was Hanna-Barbera's original series with its big jazzy score by Hoyt Curtin, composer of many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons' popular theme songs, including those from The Flintstones, Top Cat and The Jetsons. Curtin's Jonny Quest score was later updated to reflect the James Bond craze on the Jonny Quest story LP called 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Even though Curtin's jazz tinged cues were used many times thoughout Jonny Quest and other HB cartoons they always evoked the action magnificently and as such are a legacy to a great and relatively unsung talent.