Friday 28 December 2007

Let's All Make Love In London

Tonite Let's All Make Love In London is the soundtrack to Peter Whitehead's 1967 documentary of the swinging-60's London scene. It is notable for its psychedelic soundtrack and a who's who of 60's cultural icons including Michael Caine, Mick Jagger, Edna O'Brien, Julie Christie and a wonderfully fruity David Hockney.

In addition to some early live recordings of a very youthful looking Pink Floyd, Tonite ... features a pantheon of Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label including The Small Faces, Vashti (Bunyan) and Chris Farlowe. The title of the movie comes from penultimate cut of the soundtrack and is a bit of socio-sexual political prose from beat poet Allen Ginsberg (aka Carlo Marx from Jack Kerouac's On The Road).

Both movie and soundtrack are a fascinating glimpse into the 1960's scene and notwithstanding the rare Pink Floyd performances, there are of course some very sample friendly quotes from the scene's cultural movers and shakers.

Sunday 23 December 2007

The Razor's Edge - a cut above the rest

John Byrum's 1984 feature The Razor's Edge is the second movie adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's 1944 novel of the same name. Comedian Bill Murray plays it straight as Larry Darrell, a traumatized WW1 fighter pilot who decides to search for elightenment by travelling to Tibet.

Critics and audiences expecting Murray's wise-cracking funnyman persona especially after Ghostbusters, were clearly confused by his noble attempts to demonstrate his acting talents and gave the Razor's Edge a universal thumbs down. In fact Razor's Edge is beautifully framed and staged with Murray putting in a thoroughly convincing performance.

The late Jack Nitzsche's lush orchestral soundtrack for The Razor's Edge is suitably romantic with a sweeping Barryesque theme. Elsewhere you will hear snatches of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber as well as ethnic music to reflect the exotic locales. This is a classic soundtrack not to be missed.

The Quest for Jonny continues

When I published a piece about Hanna and Barbera's Jonny Quest in November, I was pleasantly surprised by the response of those who had fond memories of this great cartoon adventure series.

First broadcast in 1964, Jonny Quest was created by veteran comic book artist Doug Wildey. According to the imdb, (Jonny Quest) "was originally intended to be a cartoon version of the classic radio serial Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy" However Wildey suggested a more original concept and Jonny Quest was born.

Jonny Quest was voiced by then child actor Tim Matheson, who later became immortalised as sex-obsessed smoothie Otter in the classic frat boy comedy National Lampoon's Animal House from 1978. Matheson himself became the co-owner and chair of National Lampoon magazine from 1989 until 1991.

The great jazzy score for Jonny Quest was of course provided by Hoyt Curtin who sadly passed away in 2000 at the age of 78. Curtin famously said that he wrote the Jonny Quest theme "in a killer key because I know how to play trombone and I know the hardest place to play is all of the unknown, odd positions. There wasn't anything open. Just murder, E-flat minor."

Jonny Quest was syndicated all over the world including Japan as Jonny Quest-O - It's a tribute to the imagination of Hanna and Barbera, Doug Wildey and Hoyt Curtin that this now veteran animation remains as fresh today as it was all those years ago.

Summon The Heroes - Williams at The Barbican

In June 1996, John Williams played a sell out concert at London's Barbican, celebrating not only William's enviable catalogue of classic film scores but also the fruitful relationship between the composer and the LSO, begun with the recording sessions for Star Wars in the late Seventies .

With his characteristically relaxed style Williams took the podium and kicked off the the first part with the Copland-like Atlanta Olympic theme, Summon the Heroes, - a fitting theme for a night of heroic music. This was followed by the Cowboys Overture and then JFK. The second part came to life with a salvo of Star Wars music - both the Imperial March and the Star Wars theme still get the blood pumping while Princess Leia's theme is a beautiful as ever. Part three took in the stirring Superman March, CE3K, Jurassic Park and an emotional Schindler's List. The final section featured ET, Sugarland Express and closed with a triumphal Raiders March - a perfect end to a great night of music.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

SAHARA - Clint Mansell gets his just deserts

Directed by Breck Eisner and released in 2005, Sahara is an action packed adventure movie based on the popular novel of the same name by Clive Cussler. With his tongue thrust firmly in his cheek, Matthew McConaughey plays intrepid adventurer, archaeologist and all-round hero, Dirk Pitt.

Chock full of death defying stunts, Sahara follows Dirk and his sidekick Al Giordino on their quest around western Africa for the “Ironclad”, an armoured gunboat from the American Civil War. Along the way they pick up Penelope Cruz, some dodgy Europeans and a corrupt warlord. Sahara makes no pretence at being deep and meaningful, it's just great fun and leaves you with a silly smile on your face at the end.

Although the soundtrack contains some classic rock tracks from Steppenwolf, Grand Funk Railroad and the Faces, it is Brit musician Clint Mansell, composer of the pounding Pi soundtrack, who supplies the good humoured and energetic score for Sahara. At times it recalls elements of David Arnold's Stargate and on cues like All Aboard, Arnold's own faux-Barry Bond-lite scores. To add some depth to a fundamentally action-based soundtrack Mansell employs some exotic Middle-Eastern and African stylings which reflect the west African backdrop very nicely.

All in all Sahara is perhaps not the most original soundtrack you'll ever hear, but it's got some strong themes and it's good to see Mansell elevate himself to the next level of big screen scoremuffins.

Sunday 16 December 2007

Enter the Labyrinth

One of my favourite horror fantasy films from 2006, Guillermo Del Toro's breathtaking Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) is set in two worlds - 1944 fascist Spain and a secret fairytale fantasy realm populated by nightmarish creatures, fairies and a mysterious faun.

Using stunning and sometimes gut-wrenching visuals, CGI, puppetry and makeup, Pan's Labyrinth tells the story of Ofelia, a girl fascinated with fairy-tales. Along with her pregnant mother, Ofelia is sent to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain chasing leftists in the hills of Northern Spain. During the night, she meets a fairy who takes her to an old faun in the centre of an overgrown labyrinth garden. She discovers she is a princess, but to prove her royalty and meet with her real father, the king again, Ofelia must complete three gruesome tasks.

Spanish composer Javier Navarette produced a poignant and melancholy score for Pan's Labyrinth A simple lullaby provides the basis for the score and reoccurs in various guises throughout the movie. The strength of Navarette's work is that it can be listened to outside the dark, dreamlike world of Pan's Labyrinth, yet in the context of the film it enhances the emotional impact of Del Toro's masterpiece.

Don't miss the chance to see this wonderful film.

Saturday 15 December 2007

Criminal records

Film and TV music is all about evoking moods and for me apart from Spy music, you can't beat a bit of crime music to get the old pulse pounding. Here's a couple of primo examples of the genre.

Representing movie and television crime drama recorded between 1954 and 1964, Music in the First Degree features compositions by Elmer Bernstein, Henry Mancini, Count Basie, Leonard Bernstein, David Amram and performers like Shorty Rogers, Stan Kenton and Quincy Jones. It's a bold and brassy affair that bursts from the speakers with little gems from familiar and forgotten crime related affairs like, The Wild One, The Man With The Golden Arm, Johnny Staccato, Touch Of Evil, Sweet Smell Of Success, Peter Gunn, Mike Hammer and The Naked City. Mix yourself a mean martini or a manhattan and let this collection take you into custody.

The wah-wah infested 1970's are represented here by Funky Songs for Private Eyes by German multi-instrumentalist Ambros Seelos. It's a blistering blend of previously unreleased funk and big band grooviness. With a lineup of musicians from the USA, Belgium and South Africa, the band encompasses a myriad variety of musical styles including groovy, easy, funky, jazzy and big band. Take down this band's particulars.

Grosse Pointe Blank - Don't kill anybody for a few days. See what it feels like

Writer / director George Armitage's 1997 release Grosse Pointe Blank is a gloriously witty and entertaining black comedy starring John Cusack as Martin Q. Blank, a professional assassin hired to carry out a hit in a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe. By coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time.

Cusack has a talented supporting cast including Dan Aykroyd as a rival hitman Mr Grocer, Minnie Driver as Debi his former Highschool sweetheart, sister Joan Cusack as his administrator, and Alan Arkin as Dr Oatman, Martin's unwilling shrink.

John Cusack burst onto the screen in Rob Reiner's delightful 1985 romantic comedy road movie, The Sure Thing - something of prototype for When Harry Met Sally. Since that time the versatile Cusack has proved he can do Rom-com (Say Anything and Serendipity); Horror (1701 and Identity); Arthouse (Being John Malkovitch); Blockbuster (Con-Air) Thriller (Runaway Jury) and wry Comedy (High Fidelity and GPB).

If you like the High Fidelity soundtrack, you will love the music from Grosse Pointe Blank. The original soundtrack is a treasure trove of quality 80's music including The Clash, The Jam, Guns 'n ' Roses, The Specials and Bowie and Queen. A second helping of Grosse Pointe Blank was issued that contained some fine tunes by Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Pogues, Tones On Tail, The Pixies, Echo and The Bunnymen plus some of Punk icon Joe Strummer's score for the movie which is used to great effect in the film.

There are some truly magical scenes in the movie such as a particularly violent struggle between Blank and a rival hitman underscored by the Beat's Mirror in the Bathroom. An emotional scene with a school friend's baby uses Bowie and Queen's Under Pressure, while a tender moment between Martin and Debi features Pete Townsend's charming Let My Love Open the Door.

Normally I have an intrinsic dislike of soundtracks made of songs included to make a record company rich. Grosse Pointe Blank however is an exception because of the care and attention lavished on choosing the songs to reflect the era and how they mirror the action. If you've never seen or heard Grosse Point Blank or The Sure Thing ...shame on you!

King Rat

Actor turned director Bryan Forbes' 1965 adaptation of James Clavell's King Rat portrayed the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp Changi in Singapore (actually filmed outside Los Angeles) as a living hell. George Segal plays the titular King Rat, a Jack-the-Lad US Army Corporal who controls of the camp's black market.
With the war reaching its end, the movie focuses on the King Rat and his British compatriot played by James Fox and their attempts to buy their freedom before the brutal guards slaughter them.

Forbes had established a professional relationship with John Barry who supplied the atmospheric score for Forbes' 1964 release Seance on a Wet Afternoon. With King Rat, Forbes, no stranger to War movies, wanted something different from the ordinary run of the mill wartime epics. Rising to the challenge, Barry composed a haunting theme that runs throughout the film created using an exotic array of percussion instruments to reflect the Pacific environment. King Rat may be one of Barry's less familar works but nonetheless it's an essential addition to any self-respecting John Barry Prendergast fan's collection.

Trouble Man - the real Mr T

Directed by former actor, Ivan Dixon (last seen in Hogan's Heroes and Car Wash) and released in 1972, Trouble Man was one of a series of hard-edged blaxploitation movies popularised by such hits as Shaft and Superfly. Alas compared to those genre defining examples,Trouble Man was a flop, though it spawned a superior score penned by reigning Motown monarch, Mr Marvin Gaye.

Trouble Man starred Robert Hooks as Mr. T, an LA-based pool shark, private dick, and all-purpose Mr Fixit. Despite this promising premise, contemporary reviews for the movie were negative in fact Vincent Canby from the New York Times described Trouble Man as "a horrible movie." The same cannot be said for Marvin Gaye's soulful score.

In a similar vein to his innovative What's Goin' On released the previous year, Trouble Man is full of great moments such as the sublime title track featuring Gaye's gliding ethereal vocals and magnificently moody arrangement. There's some memorable tenor, alto and baritone sax from Trevor Lawrence while Marvin contributes some excellent 'moog, ivory tickling and sweetening.' Overlooked perhaps in favour of Curtis Mayfield's Superfly and Isaac Hayes' Shaft, Trouble Man is actually a more complete and enjoyable experience. Well that's my opinion anyway. I'll leave it to you to decide.

Monday 10 December 2007

Antarctica - Vangelis' incredible journey

Koreyoshi Kurahara's 1983 movie Antarctica is based on Japan's first scientific expedition to the Antarctic in 1958. Inspired by a true story and filmed in a semi-documentary style, Antarctica attempts to piece together dramatically how the expedition's sled dogs cope when they are abandoned by the team forced to return to Japan because of bad weather.

Following in the footsteps of those great weepy creature features like Born Free, Ring of Bright Water, The Belstone Fox et al, Antarctica has some major eye-dabbing moments and by the time Vangelis' majestic and moving score kicks in, you may find yourself transformed into a blubbing heap of weeping humanity. There's no comic turns and funny voices applied to the dogs - they are given a dignity as befits them. Disney tried to remake Antarctica in 2006 as Eight Below but it lacked the power and raw emotion of the original.

Ken Takakura is magnificent and restrained as one of the guilt ridden scientists who returns to Antarctica to find the dogs. Takakura, you may recall was the Japanese policeman assigned to watch over Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia in Ridley Scott's Black Rain.

Vangelis really pulled out the stops with his rousing soundtrack for Antarctica, conveying the vast wilderness of the region as well as the many deeply emotional moments of the movie. An official soundtrack was released but an unofficial recording exists originally issued by Off World Music, who brought out some of the early Blade Runner bootlegs. It was later rereleased in equally unofficial form by Arkhan Records. The unofficial recording contains music taken directly from the film, and as a result certain tracks are a little muddy sounding but they are nevertheless beautiful to listen to. The sharp-eared among you will notice that one cue was recycled by Ridley Scott for the Unicorn Dream sequence in Blade Runner. It's worth purchasing the original soundtrack as well as hearing the unoffical version to get a real feel for the music.

I can't urge you enough to check out Antarctica. Those of you with multi-region players will be able to track down a region 3 copy easily. But a word of warning you may need to invest in industrial quantities of Kleenex whilst watching it. It's a bit like The Shawshank Redemption for animal lovers. You'll never look at a Husky the same way again. Long live Taro and Jiro.

Saturday 8 December 2007

One Million Years BC - Men in furs, women in bras

One Million Years BC was Hammer Film's most expensive production to date. Released in 1966, the adventure fantasy ignored history and pitted cavemen against Ray Harryhausen's stop motion dinosaurs.

Apart from the prospect of being eaten by your lunch and having no form of language other than grunts, Cavemen did manage somehow to invent the fur brassiere and decent haircare products for cavewomen like Raquel Welch.

A sort of follow up was made in 1970 called When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth which had a lower budget, even less dialogue - one word "Akita". On the plus side it starred the curvy Victoria Vetri who in a reflection of a more relaxed censor and an AA certificate showed innocent schoolboys like myself what was underneath the furry bra!

Hammer's third caveman picture, Creatures The World Forgot was released in 1971 and abandoned any pretence of dinosaurs and concentrated on the life of cavemen and how they coped with a grunt based language and providing Norwegian lovely Julie Ege with bras.

Italian-born composer Mario Nascimbene supplied a primitive-sounding score for all three movies featuring as one would expect percussion wordless vocals and Morricone style strings. Although the score for One Million Years is the strongest, I still have a soft spot for When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth specifically the Love Theme and the Boom-Chak Boom-Boom-Boom Boom-Chak percussion for the caveman scenes. Whilst the recording quality is a little abrasive, presumably mastered from the actual movies, the scores are fine examples of Nascimbene's 60's /70's film work.

Viva Blackpool!

Blackpool was a BBC production, part musical, part thriller, part drama filmed in the English seaside town of Blackpool. The series was notable for its comic touches and in a nod to Dennis Potter used pop music to underscore the narrative.

A gripping and witty whodunnit Blackpool, told the darkly comic tale of Ripley Holden (David Morrissey) a womanising small-time entrepreneur whose bid for fame and fortune rests on his state of the art amusement arcade. The discovery of a dead body during the opening prompts the arrival of DI Carlisle played by future Doctor Who, David Tennant. Matters are made worse when Carlisle falls in love with Ripley's long-suffering wife, Natalie , played by the delicious Sarah Parish.

Blackpool features 24 songs by Elvis, Diana Ross, The Smiths, The Clash and host of other artists. However, the official soundtrack issued to accompany the series only contains a fraction of the fun music featured on the Blackpool soundtrack and replaces the missing tracks with the dreaded 'music inspired by'. This prompted yours truly to seek out all the music from the series.

Standout tracks from the first half include, Johnny Nash's Cupid, Elvis Costello's Brillaint Mistake and The Smith's The Boy With A Thorn In His Side. The second half standouts are without doubt, The Faces' Ooh La La and Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. Check out the DVD to see just why these great tracks work so well. Like Pulp Fiction, the tracks become indellibly linked to the onscreen images.

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of The Rings - an heroic failure?

Since the release of Peter Jackson's epic and generally speaking definitive adaptation of Tolkein's Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version has become something of a filmic footnote.

Veteran animator Bakshi's Lord of The Rings is not helped by the fact that it is not only incomplete but also very condensed and to those unfamiliar with the book, it is pretty confusing. Characters come and go for no apparent reason and in the case of Saruman his name changes halfway through the film to Aruman.

Viewed today the first half of the movie is actually pretty good. The voice artists are excellent and many of the early scenes are genuinely magical. Alas the extensive use of rotoscoping during many of the action scenes is rather clumsy and makes the viewer feel slightly cheated.

Although the film actually performed well at the box-office, earning back $30 million from its $4 million production costs, the second half was never completed. Two truly ghastly cheapo direct to video family oriented versions of the Two Towers and The Return of The King complete with songs followed, but they really don't count.

Leonard Rosenman created an epic score for the The Lord of The Rings, with lots of rising fanfares and unusual intrumentation. In the first half of the soundtrack the charming Mithrandir cue uses children's and adult choruses and poetry by Mark Fleischer. The Helm's Deep cue utilises a language invented by Rosenman, occasionally using his name backwards! The main theme for Lord of The Rings which closes the second half of the score is the cue most people remember and is so hobbit forming you'll be whistling it to yourself for ages. Clearly Rosenman was so pleased with it he decided to recycle elements of it in his somewhat nautical theme for Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home.

Saul Zaentz, the producer of The Lord of The Rings may have lost out ultimately to Peter Jackson's masterful interpretation, but it didn't stop Zaentz from producing Lord of The Rings The Musical. Whilst this ambitious production has received a mixed reception, notwithstanding the problems of condensing the entire trilogy in 3 1/2 hours on stage and representing major sequences with a modest cast, it is actually tremendous fun, so make the most of LOTR The Musical before it closes.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Cinemaphonic Soul - classic 70's jazz funk

I was tidying up the loft the other day and came across a couple of little gems, Cinemaphonic Soul Punch and Cinemaphonic Electro Soul - two criminally crucial compilations of 1970's UK and US jazz/funk library music.

Considering this music was churned out on a regular basis for use in TV, movies and commercials it holds up remarkably well and has been imortalised in a pair of fine library lounge core compilations - Ready Steady Boogaloo and Blow up Vol 4..but I digress.

With cool contributions from leading library luminaries as Syd Dale, Alan Hawkshaw, Walter Murphy and Mario Nascimbene, these collections boast some wicked wah-wahs, awesome arps, menacing moogs, funky Fenders and boss bass.

Put Cinemaphonic Soul Punch and Cinemaphonic Electro Soul on the car stereo while you're on the way to Tesco's and imagine you're wearing a window pane check suit with two foot flares and lapels, packing a Magnum and driving a monster muscle car while staking out a major drugs bust. Right On!

The Black Windmill - pure Buddism

Veteran director Don Siegel's 1974 thriller The Black Windmill tells the story of John Tarrant, a secret service agent, played by Michael Caine whose son is kidnapped while Tarrant is investigating an international arms syndicate. When Tarrant discovers that he can't rely on his own people, he hunts down the kidnappers himself.

Don Siegel was of course the director of Dirty Harry and perhaps this fact was an indirect influence on Roy Budd's soundtrack for The Black Windmill . It is one of his funkiest works and is more American sounding and has more than a touch of Lalo Schifrin about it. At a risk of being lynched by the Roy Budd fan fraternity, it is for me a more satisfying listening experience than his breakthrough score for Get Carter. I'll leave that to wiser Budd (Budweiser?) fans to decide.