July 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Fox

Soundtrack and Music inspired by the film
ALEPH 017 [60:47]
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'The Fox, main title', opens with a burst of menacing piano, before quietening abruptly to introduce the pretty flute led melody that features prevalently throughout the entire work. It is heard in various incarnations on tracks like 'Fox Variation #1' and later given an almost tragic air in 'Dead Leaf'. At other times the theme is used as a counterpoint for the more threatening aspects of the score, where a strong sense of suspense and foreboding are created, particularly in tracks such as 'Paul's Memories', 'Frost Trees' and 'Snowy Bushes'. Add to this both a jazz version with female vocal on 'That Night' (not so welcome) and a final big band interpretation in 'The Fox Symphony' with virtuoso piano and laid-back rhythm section and the main theme certainly gets a lot of mileage.

However, despite the predominance of that theme, probably the most interesting cues are those that emphasise the psychological elements of this adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's novel of confused emotions. In fact these suspense cues come as something of a surprise with tracks like 'The Proposal' at times sounding like it could have easily been lifted straight out of the TV version of 'Mission Impossible'! Whatever the case, it certainly shows Schifrin on fine suspense form and the same can be said of the equally accomplished 'The Foxhole' and 'Desperate Interlude', the latter benefiting from an almost Hitchcockian quality.

The main problem with any score once it is reduced to purely a listening experience is how well it holds up simply as music. Among admirers of this singular art form there are different schools of thought as to how film scores should be best appreciated. Some argue that you cannot judge a score in proper context without having first seen the film it was written for. For my own part I take the opposite view. While I accept that often another dimension can be added once you have seen the images the soundtrack was specifically written for, truly great film music should also be simply great music. It should be able to stand alone, regardless of its origins.

And this score does illustrate this point in that despite its ambition and unquestionable technical prowess, it remains a work less satisfying separated from its source.

Even so, this Oscar nominated score is clearly an important work in terms of the composer's career and will be well received by his many fans. Ironically though its major claim to fame will probably always be its notoriety in France where it was used to advertise a leading brand of women's stockings. All I can say is that I trust Lalo was duly compensated!


Mark Hockley

But our guest reviewer Peter Holm is much keener:-


Lalo Schifrin's THE FOX hit me like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky. I was immediately hooked from the dramatic opening piano punch to the powerful resolution. Of course I've listened to his other spectacular scores such as Enter the Dragon, Bullitt, Dirty Harry (and it's sequels) and also watched several of the movies carrying his name, but I must admit it appears that I've missed the crown jewel itself.

Before I start discussing the music let me just say that I simply adore the CD cover. The highly imaginative and colourful artwork of the 60's is simply a joy compared to what we're used to these days (in exception for some of Varese's covers when they commission Matthew Peak).

The Fox, from 1968, is a drama based upon a novel by D.H. Lawrance. Schifrin's music has earlier been issued on vinyl record and he also received an Oscar nomination for it, but lost to the equally impressive The Lion in Winter by John Barry. However this is a new recording featuring the complete score along with a bonus jazz version of the principle theme.

To portray the film's gripping triangle drama the music balances between two distinctive sides. On one hand it's intensive, brutal and frenzy, and on the other delicate, soft and sometimes almost tragic in character. All of this is strengthened by Schifrin's choice of orchestral setting. Instead of a large one with big, bold and sweeping musical frames he chose a strong and highly intimate setting, like that of a quartet and chamber orchestra. This creates a sense of classical aura for the music, yet with a modern touch, such as 'Minuet in C' or 'Fox Variation #2'

Claude Debussy and Bernard Herrmann are mentioned in the liner notes, but only to a specific cue. However I feel that Schifrin has found some inspirations in their respective works and developed and integrated it and created his own sparsely musical landscape and emotional voice for this score. The elegance of Georges Delerue's music is another comparison, but Schifrin's a lot more powerful in that aspect.

Apart from the usual musical elements such as strings, woodwinds and brass the score features piano, harp, harpsichord and percussion. Due to the setting each instrument's voice becomes clear and present and very useful when the score takes on an experimental and dissonant path. These passages are also the most dark and menacing ones with colourful patterns. 'The Proposal' and 'The Foxhole' are two of these cues filled with turmoil and menace from the hammering piano and mournful flutes and they sure give a good thrill down the spine of pleasure.

The main theme is presented on flute in the opening cue. It's a hauntingly beautiful and memorable one with a lot of grace and sensibility and just enough touch of loneliness. Perhaps it was this theme that John Scott glanced at when he wrote the epilogue for Red King, White Knight in 1989? The theme is used throughout the score along with a second one that appears in 'Paul's Memories'.

Indeed Schifrin's music has many dazzling and refreshing cues to offer and several of them have a lavishing tapestry of a landscape in season transition (autumn to winter), for example 'Frost Trees' and 'Snowy Bushes'.

Schifrin's complex and compelling score is one that will grow with each listening and present new angles on its structure, nuances and emphasis on various instruments. Compared to his other jazz oriented scores The Fox is unique in that aspect and I find it to be a true masterpiece.


Peter Holm


Mark Hockley

Peter Holm

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