Sunday 1 November 2009
Like the Bond movies, the U.N.C.L.E. spies dressed cool, Solo at home in a well cut suit or a tux while Kuryakin was a black polo neck kind of spy. They also had their own fair share of gadgets, like the U.N.C.L.E. gun, which of course didn't kill people but shot them with sleep darts and a wonderful pen communicator, which every U.N.C.L.E. agent carried, opening all communications with the immortal "Open Channel D"
For further reading on the exploits of Messrs Solo and Kuryakin, I heartily recommend The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book by John Heitland, a long time fan of the show who has assembled an incredibly comprehensive, fully illustrated account of the show's history.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was the product of a simpler more innocent time that has been lampooned to death through Austin Powers. Nevertheless the is landmark series is still fondly remembered and its like will never be repeated or emulated.
Wednesday 28 October 2009
It is however, The Grand Canyon Suite, an unashamed slice of evocative Americana, that Grofé is perhaps best known. Grand Canyon Suite is divided into five highly individual movements entitled "Sunrise", "Painted Desert", "On the Trail", "Sunset" and "Cloudburst".
Wikipedia describes Grand Canyon Suite thus:
Sunrise opens with a representation of the moment of dawn in the canyon. The feeling of peace is present, a sense of still air, of a place owned by nature. Gradually we hear the sun mount the sky until the joyous proclamations of the full orchestra announce the arrival of another splendid and radiant day. Two main musical themes are presented: the first, announced by the piccolo, opens with a four-note motive (B-C#-G#-B) which will reappear later in the work in different guises; the second theme appears in the strings. After the trill by the piccolo, the descending notes that follow reflect the call of the canyon wren, a widespread but not frequently seen songbird common in the canyon country and desert southwest.
The Painted Desert is a watercolor of impressive delicacy and subtlety. Grofé manages to suggest the presence of some ageless, unchanging life still present in the arid and apparently lifeless desert, in the brilliant, sometimes startling colors of the rock formations, the geologic artwork of prehistory. Ingenious usage of chords and orchestral tone abound.
On the Trail is the best-known of the movements of the Grand Canyon Suite, the aural report of the day riding on the back of a pack donkey (imitating its clip-clop), beginning and ending with a great "hee-haw". A violin cadenza is used to wonderful effect. The principal theme of this movement, which is presented by the horns, and later, trombones, serves as the central motif of the suite. NB The "On the Trail" segment of Grand Canyon Suite was used for many years as the "musical signature" for radio programs sponsored by Philip Morris cigarettes, beginning with their 1933 program featuring Grofé and his orchestra.
Sunset is a nostalgic and pleasantly sentimental rendering of the most glorious of Grand Canyon moments, when the sky is alive with vibrant colors above the deepening shadows in the great gorge.
Cloudburst opens with a sleepy recollection of the theme from "On the Trail" in the upper strings. Then we enter a summation, a kind of panoramic view of the vastness of this Western scene, with brief references to other themes in the work. On to this scene suddenly come dark, scudding clouds and a rising wind. A lone cello solo suggests a mood of apprehension. The evening air is filled with fine sand and bits of tumbleweed, in the form of eerie slow violin glissandi. The storm breaks, with lightning, thunder and pelting rain. Then even more quickly, it is gone, with a last crash of lightning and peal of thunder. The moon emerges from behind the clouds and the earth rejoices in refreshed pleasure in a climactic rousing finish.
I have to confess I knew nothing of Grand Canyon Suite or its composer until a few years ago. It was only after I heard extracts on some classical compilations of American composers that I became hooked. I was struck by the epic, filmic quality of the music especially the airy Sunset, the explosive Cloudburst and the otherworldliness of the The Painted Desert - the latter would have made a great soundtrack for a 50's Sci-Fi movie! It also reminded me of the music from those wonderful old Walt Disney live action nature films that would support some Disney main feature like Blackbeard's Ghost or The Love Bug. It was therefore no big surprise to discover, that Disney had indeed used it to underscore The Grand Canyon short from 1958. The featurette is currently available as an extra on Disney's Sleeping Beauty Special Edition DVD. Don't take my word for it check out this stunning music for yourself.
Tuesday 27 October 2009
Flight of The Navigator concerns David played with great charm by Joey Cramer, a 12-year old boy who is abducted by an alien space craft in 1978. When he is returned to Earth, it is eight years later in 1986 though everyone else on Earth has aged eight years, while David is still physically twelve years old. On his return, he is taken to a NASA facility to be examined.
Sunday 25 October 2009
Released in 1988 Four Minus One features Andy Quin's Tatum/Peterson/Evans style piano, supported by Tony Woods on Tenor and Alto Sax, Brian Hurst on stand up and fretless Bass, and Pete Cotterill on Drums. Normally library music by its very nature is simply required to create a mood or provide succinct unobtrusive background. On certain tracks Four Minus One, adheres to these rules, however on the frenetic Bossa Da Company, the band get a chance to really let go. The saxes are sublime and the rhythm section is electifying. Quin in particular, allows himself to display his enviable skills on the 88, transforming a rambling latin flavoured cue into something altogether wonderful, which to my ears sounds like a syncopated outtake from Richard Rodney Bennett's Billion Dollar Brain.
Elsewhere, the hermetically tight quartet take care of business with the smokey jazz club style Eldidarap, the shades 'n' sharkskin suit sophisticition of Calculation and Backstreet, the title track Four Minus One and the perky Take Off which sounds like a cross between a theme for a game show or a late night chat show and allows Tony Wood's sizzling reed work to shine through. It's a fitting closer for the group session and in my mind's eye I can imagine a good natured but slightly exhausted band packing their gear away in the back of estate cars, exchanging jokes, jackets over their shoulders, while Andy Quin chills out on the old Joanna for the five remaining solo tracks.
Four Minus One has become something of a collector's item, with the vinyl version commanding some £50 for a decent copy. That aside, anyone who has enjoyed earlier postings about Dudley Moore and Gordon Beck, should find plenty to tap a toe to with the Mighty Quin.
Monday 5 October 2009
Check out the excellent fansite After Tonight for more information on this classic movie
Sunday 4 October 2009
For me, Gilles Mimouni's artfully directed L’Appartement is a thing of beauty, stunningly framed by Thierry Arbogast, with a stylish and intelligent plot and great performances by an excellent cast. A cool and sexy film to be savoured.
Saturday 19 September 2009
The movie is full of memorable and iconic scenes including the hold up/shootout at the beginning of the movie where Harry utters the classic, "I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?"
So memorable was this scene that it was used, albeit in a digital form, to trail a proposed Dirty Harry computer game, which curiously never saw the light of day.
Friday 18 September 2009
The Clangers have entered pop culture with plush toys still available in UK high street shops. In the late 1980s and early 1990's a Scottish alternative rock band called The Soup Dragons covered the Rolling Stone's I'm Free. In an old Doctor Who episode "The Sea Devils" there is a curious cameo where The Master is seen watching The Clangers on TV while in prison and believes he has picked up some extra-terrestrial broadcast and claims to understand their curious whistling dialogue! Cuuuute!
Wednesday 16 September 2009
The story follows the exploits of a prince who asks for the hand of a beautiful but spoiled princess. She rejects his gift of pearls and demands instead a magical tree - the titular Singing Ringing Tree. The Prince goes off in search of the tree and eventually finds it at castle with an enchanted garden ruled by an evil dwarf who offers the tree to the prince at a price. If he fails to win the love of the princess he must return to the garden and the dwarf.
Like all fairy tales there's always a bit of suffering and the princess rejects the prince's gift and the poor lad gets turned into a bear for his trouble and the princess gets ugly as a result of a nasty old spell cast by the dwarf. The Bear carries the princess off back to the Dwarf-realm. Despite being dumped on at every opportunity by the dwarf, the Princess learns to love and with the help of some downright weird animals in the enchanted garden she overcomes the dwarf's power. As a result she gets lovely again, the bear turns back into a prince and the Singing Ringing Tree sings and..er rings and they all live happily ever after.
So what's so bad about that? Well nothing really when you look at it in the cold light of day, but somehow the presentation on screen traumatised a generation and probably didn't help people of restricted growth integrate too well into society at the time.
Made in 1957 and first screened in Britain in the Sixties by the BBC as part of its Tales From Europe series, The Singing Ringing Tree (aka Das Singende Klingende Baumchen) was made in the former East Germany and directed by Francesco Stefani with music by Heinz-Friedel Heddenhausen.
Generously funded by the state, the Singing Ringing Tree was filmed in almost lurid colour with top quality production values for the time. Although originally filmed in German, the BBC added an English voice over to describe the action as it unfolded on screen. Whilst this idea was no doubt to save money by the strapped for cash BBC, the calm relaxing voice only accentuated the fairy tale aspect. It certainly needed to, as the dwarf was downright nasty and deeply scary and probably accounted for many a sleepless night.
Apart from the stunning visuals, a crucial aspect of the film was its score. Much of it is lush and romantic yet there are parts that are haunting and mysterious - particularly the scenes in the dwarf realm. Unlike the film itself, The Singing Ringing Tree score has never been released commercially but is a joy to listen to and may just have you hiding behind the settee or sobbing when you hear the tinkly theme tune.
If you want to see the Singing Ringing Tree, it's available on DVD and you can buy it here
Sunday 22 March 2009
Originally conceived as a double album but released as a single 12 track LP, The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart was no doubt part of Motown head honcho, Berry Gordy's master plan to make the Supremes, specifically Diana Ross all round entertainers.
At the tender age of 10 (when I first heard this record), these songs were my first experience of Rodgers and Hart and in some cases the performances that I judged others versions against. The storming opener The Lady is A Tramp still takes some beating as does Mountain Greenery, Dancing on The Ceiling, the classic Motown stomping take of My Heart Stood Still and a sublime My Funny Valentine.
In 1982 the original album was re-released as The Rodgers and Hart Songbook with all the missing tracks from the original sessions. The track sequence was changed along with the artwork, which replaced the Broadway style original with a rather lacklustre tinted illustration of the group. This release soon went out of print and began to attract silly prices on E-bay. It was only in 2002 that the album could be heard again in an expanded form plus a live version of The Lady Is A Tramp, thankfully with the original artwork and track sequence reinstated. Maybe it's a lack of reverb or the fact it's not being played on a Dansette but somewhere in the remastering some of the bite of the original recordings appears to have got lost and the songs sound a wee bit flat compared to their vinyl equivalent. This is not one of those vinyl versus CD comparisons - it's just an observation.
Yes this album is occasionally over the top, schmaltzy and camp, and compared to other Supremes albums it performed poorly in terms of sales, but just put The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart in your CD player, gaze at that ritzy clubland cover and imagine you're at the Copa slurping Martinis while the girls belt out the classics.
Saturday 28 February 2009
In addition to the dreadful double entendres, an important element of Carry On movies was the music, usually provided by Eric Rogers or Bruce Montgomery. Many of the early movie scores either employed a jazzy and brash big band or a military feel depending on the composer. As soon as you heard the Anglo Amalgamated Fanfare and the familiar Carry On music started up, you knew you were in for a cheeky hour and a half of slighty off colour fun and frolics
Seen today, there is nothing especially offensive about the Carry On's. There's no swearing, minimal nudity and only a few lapses in taste and decorum. The Carry On's were very much of their time and part of the bawdy Chaucererian humour that has been an intrinsic element of British comedy since the year dot. The mere utterance of "Saucy","Matron!", "Ding Dong!", the classic "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy!" and Sid James' lascivious cackle are all part of the Carry On legacy. So next time some TV channel like Living or UK Gold screens a Carry on Weekend, cast aside any political correctness and curl up and indulge in a great British tradition.
Friday 27 February 2009
The British movie industry used to turn out thoughtful, whimsical, thrilling, funny, charming, bizarre (and predominantly black and white) films that starred unflappable British greats like John Mills, Dirk Bogard, Jack Hawkins, Michael Redgrave and Kenneth More. Classic films like Brief Encounter, Henry V, The Dambusters, Scott of The Antarctic, The Cruel Sea and The Inn of The Sixth Happiness were the staple of many cinema goers' regular viewing sometimes supporting a US main feature or as the main feature themselves. Films like these were propelled by stirring and evocative scores that exuded a certain Britishness, coming from great beknighted composers including Sir William Walton, Sir Malcolm Arnold, William Alwyn, Sir Arthur Bliss, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Ron Goodwin and Alan Rawsthorne.
Sunday 22 February 2009
For those readers not familiar with Vanity Fair, it follows the fortunes of devious social climber Becky Sharp. Determined to reach the top, Becky schemes and seduces those who get in her way. When she unexpectedly encounters true love, her upward progress is seriously threatened.
The delightful Natasha Little played the scheming Becky Sharpe with a perfect combination of beauty and guile. Ironically Little ended up in Mira Nair's movie adaptation, playing second banana to Reese Witherspoon's Becky Sharpe. Although another of Andrew Davies' adaptations, Pride and Predjudice became the BBC's big seller, Vanity Fair is in hindsight the better story and one that has a longer shelf life.
Murray Gold, better known as the composer for Doctor Who, creates a fabulously energetic score for Vanity Fair. Using a dazzling array of brass, strings, percussions and reeds including the saxophone (not around in Thackeray's day), Gold's score, though not historically accurate with its borrowings from Jazz, Spanish folk, New Orleans funerals, Kletzmer and a bit of Kurt Weill makes a delightful din.
Unfortunately the producers of Sharpe did an Indiana Jones with Richard Sharpe and dusted off his uniform and let out the trousers for a disappointing prequel and a woeful sequel both set in India. The best way to remember Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe is the sight of him and his Chosen Men marching over the brow of a hill to the tune of Over the Hills and Faraway to face another exciting adventure.
Saturday 21 February 2009
Sumptuously photographed in locations round the world including the USA, Greece, Antibes, France, Peru, Virgin Islands, and Italy, The Big Blue was nominated for several César Awards and won France's National Academy of Cinema's Academy Award in 1989. Its languid score by Besson's musical partner Éric Serra won Best Music Written for a Film. Despite this recognition and success, the film is rather dull and in my opinion only rescued by Serra's beautiful and serene score.
Serra's trademake fretless bass, subtle keyboards and percussion, along with Gilbert Dall'anese's soaring saxophone especially on The Big Blue Overture and Huacracocha pervade this pretty soundtrack. Let Them Try is a bit of a low point for me where Serra produces a horribly dated 'dance' track with samples from the movie (he did the same on The Fifth Element).
Viewers of the BBC's Little Britain comedy series will be familiar with a character on the show called "Little Dennis Waterman" a diminutive actor who when auditioning for a part in a TV show always wants to sing the theme tune. Well Éric Serra has his "Little Dennis Waterman" moment when he gets to "Sing da Feem Toon" and warbles the closing track My Lady Blue in his faux Peter Gabriel voice. I suppose it's the chef's privilege that having cooked the tasty repast he is allowed a bit of self indulgence. All things considered though, The Big Blue is a lovely piece of music and another worthy addition to Éric Serra's magnificent musical portfolio.
Friday 20 February 2009
Thursday 19 February 2009
The man behind the music for Grupo Puja is multi-instrumentalist Gaston Luiz Lungman whose album La Musica which accompanies the show, reveals many influences including New Age, Drum and Bass, Prog Rock, Classical and most notably Pink Floyd and Clapton.
Absolutely unforgettable live, Grupo Puja! is an experience worth taking the time to see and hear.
Monday 2 February 2009
Recorded and produced in 1949 by jazz visionary Norman Granz, Charlie Parker With Strings was the first release to feature a jazz soloist backed by violins. 'Bird' takes the opportunity to soar above the occasionally syrupy strings and reinforces his reputation as arguably the greatest improviser of all time.
After a frustrating day battling the snow, that's if you're in the UK, take time to chill out with this cool collection.
Saturday 24 January 2009
Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters undoubtedly opened the doors for sci-fi comedies like Men in Black. The laconic Bill Murray all but steals the show with a stack of deadpan one liners such as:
- "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass."
- "Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.
- "Mr. Stay Puft's okay, he's a sailor, he's in New York, we get this guy laid we won't have any trouble."
- "Somebody blows their nose and you want to keep it?"
- "I don't have to take this abuse from you, I've got hundreds of people dying to abuse me."
- "Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, no job is too big, no fee is too big!"
There's some excellent support from the radiant but haunted Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barrett and of course Rick Moranis as the nerdy Louis Tully. Annie Potts who plays the Ghostbusters secretary Janine Melnitz was of course the husky voice of Bo-Peep who gave Sherriff Woody a woody in Toy Story.
To some folks, the music of Ghostbusters is personified by the catchy title song by Ray Parker Junior. Despite being proven to be a lift of Huey Lewis' "I Wanna New Drug", Parker's Ghostbusters was a mega hit of titanic proportions. I remember at the time of the film's theatrical release, going to a matinee performance at a provincial cinema and being highly amused by the kids in the audience all singing along to the theme tune as the opening titles came up - just like Saturday Morning Pictures!
The actual soundtrack for Ghostbusters was written by veteran film composer Elmer Bernstein and what cracking score it is too. Bernstein's piano driven swirling marching theme with a touch of the ethereal Ondes Martenot is a joy, in fact the latter instrument pervades much of the score. The exotic Zool cue is brilliant along with the fanfare which is originally heard during the Lion statue opening of the movie. Bernstein was evidently a little miffed that his score was padded out by a selection of rather insipid pop music, but in the 80's that's what film companies assumed audiences wanted. As a result it is only recently that music lovers can now enjoy the beauty of this great score instead of the limp songtrack that was originally released.
A rather dismal follow up Ghostbusters 2 was released in 1989 which rather abandoned the rough and ready style and and humour of the original and covered any plot holes if indeed there was much of a plot in favour of some not terribly special effects. Bernstein was not retained as the composer in house and score duties were handled by Randy Edelman. None of Edelman's pleasant score for Ghostbusters 2 was released and a so-so collection of pop, soft rock, rap and swingbeat was released instead including a Rap version of Ray Parker's Ghostbusters song by RUN DMC. Still Bobby Brown's Swingbeat On Our Own is worth tapping your feet to.
It appears that Harold Ramis is planning Ghostbusters III. Let's hope he doesn't do an Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull and lose any remaining cred!