It seems a very unsatisfactory thing to have to score a traditional western
with electronics out of financial necessity. It transpires that the director
of Ballad of a Gunfighter, Christopher Coppola studied electronic
music under Jim Fox in 1980, before transferring to film school. Coppola
writes in his notes about how he and Fox dreamed of a film-making that would
be a true meeting of film and music, where "Neither art would be subordinate
to the other." He adds, "I like to think that this is how it is with Jim
Fox and me. That's why he's written the music to all but one of my films".
Yet the very language Coppola uses contradicts his intention - shouldn't
the films he and Jim Fox make together as creative equals be 'our films',
not 'my films'?
Coppola describes the music as "a majestic tone poem painting a nostalgic
picture of the Old West". Given that the film has had no sort of showing
in the UK, it is difficult to argue with the man who made it, though the
music sounds to me too often fragmented and atonal for the director's
description. Only rarely does it evoke the feel of the Old West as we know
it: there are some acoustic musicians involved, though they are not credited,
and at times it is difficult to be sure what is real and what is synthesised.
Apparently the "micro-budget" of the film made this mixture a necessity -
perhaps financial problems also explain why the film took ten years to complete,
which also suggests it was a true labour of love - a homage to the dime western
and the myth of the western as much as the real West. It is only to be hoped
that after all this effort the results were worth it, for on disc the music
doesn't inspire enthusiasm.
There is too much brooding underscore to make for a memorable CD, and while
it is generally very competent, the synthesised trumpet sounds terrible.
This is definitely one score which would sound much better with a real orchestra
- contrast with my review of Philippe Blumenthal's General Sutter,
which originally too was going to employ synthesisers out of fiscal need-be.
There is some very forceful action writing towards the end of Ballad of
a Gunfighter, and a great deal of atmospheric work before that, including
some rather modernistic passages in tracks like 'Stampede and Burn'. Yet
apart from the mouth organ which appears on various tracks, there is nothing
that really speaks of the genre. The music could at times come from a
contemporary thriller, a TV SF show or even a low budget horror movie, and
is likely to disappoint anyone wanting a traditional western score. With
no really memorable theme, and with 29 tracks over 51 minutes there is
additionally a rather off-putting fragmented feeling to the disc. Johnny
Rivers catchy 'The Ballad of Hopalong Cassidy' ends the album, and will probably
appeal to more listeners than anything else here. It probably makes much
more sense attached to celluloid, but given the total obscurity of both the
film and the composer, it is hard to see who might be interested in this
Gary S. Dalkin