|July 2000 Film Music CD Reviews||Film Music Editor: Ian
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I Dreamed of Africa
VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6143 (58.26)
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As a technician there is no doubting Maurice Jarre's ability, but as a artist his music all too often is bland and uninspiring and that is certainly the case here. The irony is that he has proven that he is capable of writing emotionally resonant work, such as his memorable score for Jesus of Nazareth. But as that seems to be the exception rather than the rule, perhaps in that particular instance it was more a case of divine intervention!
Anyway, 'Arrival in Africa' opens with a conventional, unsurprising mixture of strings and a few African tribal rhythmic embellishments that unfortunately only add up to a feeling of heard it all before.
Supplementing the Jarre tracks are a number of pieces by African musicians, the first being 'Ondiek' written and performed by Ayub Ogada. I suppose this could well be described as modern African folk music, but I'm sorry to say that I found it to be rather dull.
'A Different Rhythm' is curiously uninvolving too, as if merely going through the motions, although of course I'm certain that Jarre does intend that to be the case. The problem is that he so often provides film-makers with the flip side of what artists like John Williams or Danny Elfman offer. Where their scores seem to be so rich and evocative, Jarre's work can sometimes meander along without hitting any kind of strong emotional buttons.
Next Geoffrey Oryema contributes 'Kel Kweyo', an up tempo Africana piece with plenty of solid rhythmic work and moments of vocal interest, before Jarre returns with 'The Storm', beginning with dramatic percussion and brass followed by a lengthy section of low-key semi-melodic tinkling. A combination of buff and bluster and quiet introspection.
'Death and Misery' incorporates Richard Strauss and Joseph Von Eichendorff's 'Im Abendrot' with solo soprano by Michaela Kaune. The melodramatic string and tribal rhythm section half way through comes as something of a surprise after a very restrained opening, but once 'Im Abendrot' takes over we are at last provided with something of substance and quality. Whether the comparison is fair or not, Jarre's original work is made to look rather second-rate.
'Obiero' is the second track featured written and performed by Ayub Ogada and while it's more enjoyable than his first selection, I still didn't find it particularly engaging.
The final Jarre cue, 'Kuki's Determination' recaps some of the themes previously heard with swirling strings plus the obligatory African rhythmic elements. While this clearly attempts a big, uplifting conclusion, all that is really achieved is a sense of workmanlike mediocrity.
All of Jarre's pieces are on the longish side ranging from six to eleven minutes in length, but sadly this only seems to highlight their lack of vitality or invention.
I think it will come as no surprise if I conclude by saying that this is not a score I will returning to any time in the near future
High Road to China
SUPER TRACKS MUSIC GROUP JBCD 01 (53.29)
The 'Main Title/A Nasty Headache' is another one of those pleasing, rather stirring uniquely Barryesque themes we have come to know so well, the kind that this composer produces with unfailing consistency. Add to this a latter section of equally classy dramatic suspense music and the CD gets off to a sound start.
'The Flying Lesson' comes along next and is more string based high tension and spectacle. Barry can write this kind of thing in his sleep but it's always enjoyable if perhaps just a little overly familiar. 'Look out Charlie!/A Hurried Exit' opens with his distinctive use of brass, backed up by busy strings to create a sense of anticipation. Some of the offbeat background drum work seems a little superfluous though, but as ever with Barry there is much to savour here. 'Onto Waziri/Khan' gives a brief nod to the main theme before 'Escape From Waziri/Eve & Struts' utilises his typically menacing brass sound, before the strings take over for another rousing action/drama motif.
'On to India/Arrival in Katmandu/Souls Approaches' gives us a very pleasant rendition of the main theme, while 'The Dogfight/Journey to China/Anymore Surprises/The General's Cannon' is a longish track with some more interesting dramatic lines, very much in the Barry mould and pleasing enough without containing very many surprises.
'You'll get your Money/One Eye Open' offers a soft, romantic version of the main theme with the flute and violin working in tandem. Finally 'Raid on Chang's Camp/Finale & End Titles' sees the return of that imposing brass before delivering a number of variations on the score's primary motifs, concluding with the inevitable reprise of the main title.
A whole batch of 'Source Music' is also included, although I'm not really convinced it was needed.
'Mohamet's Dance' and 'Waziri Source' are valid as they are Barry compositions, the first a simple middle-eastern styled rhythmic piece and the latter a similar if far more restrained cue, both of which would be used simply to establish location and atmosphere.
There are also pieces such as 'Charleston', 'Love me Tender', 'When the Saints Come Marching in' and 'Swinging at the Riverside' to name just a few, all authentic 1920s ragtime style tunes and are fun for those who enjoy such things.
But for my own part, I did begin to forget exactly what soundtrack I was supposed to be listening to after a string of these tunes. I have to say that the effect was not particularly welcome, although I suppose one should never complain at being provided with extras.
'Allemande from the Bach French Suite' and 'Number #5 in G Major' are even more of these additional cues, so there is certainly a wide range of music on offer.
To my mind, John Barry's music is always likeable. Even when his scores are (as is the case here) written for not particularly memorable films. Sadly though this is not untypical of Barry's work, as he has all too often chosen projects that would seem to be beneath his talent, leaving his score to stand as one of their few redeeming features. And indeed, another by-product of these kind of collaborations must surely be that inferior productions are unlikely to bring out the best in him as an artist. So, as is illustrated here, the music is only ever likely to be solid rather than truly remarkable.
This specially produced CD on behalf of the composer himself, is all very pleasant without really reaching the heights of his most notable work. Nonetheless it is still essential stuff for both Barry collectors and lovers of film music in general.
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!
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.
the composer conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra * Orchestrated by Arthur Morton
Silva Screen FILMCD 132 * [77:52]
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Two composers consistently come out as the most acclaimed and popular in contemporary Hollywood, and there must be times when Jerry Goldsmith wonders why the other one gets the pick of the best jobs. John Williams had Star Wars and Superman, and Jerry Goldsmith got Star Trek and Supergirl (1984). Boldly going where Williams declined (or wasn't asked) to go, Goldsmith had the thankless task of scoring the third-rate adventures of Clarke Kent's younger cousin. Yes, I did see the full European cut of the film (126 minutes, against the re-edited 114 minute American version) well presented in a good cinema, so I'm not repeating hearsay. The film was competently mediocre. Fortunately, Goldsmith didn't let that deter him, and he crafted a strong, colourful and rousing score. It's not a great all-time film music classic like Williams' Superman, but given the difference in overall quality between the two films, it would be astonishing if it was.
The CD is a straight reissue of Silva Screen's expanded score album first released in 1993. There are some alternate versions of cues included, and some different versions to those on the previous original soundtrack album. For instance, 'The Flying Ballet' appears in the version used in the full-length cut of the film, as well as in the version for the shorter American release; the variance being mainly the addition of some extra electronic synthesiser 'whooshes'. Elsewhere, the cue 'Main Title & Argo City' is slower than that which appeared on the original album, and is the version actually used in the film. Likewise, 'The Storm Monster' contains more electronics than the version previously issued, and is the version used in the movie. The cues 'Argo City Mall', 'The Journey Begins', 'Chicago Lights/Street Attack', 'Ethan Spellbound', 'Flying Ballet-Alternate Version', 'The Map-Alternate Version', 'First Kiss', 'The Phantom Zone', 'The Final Showdown & Victory / End Title - Short Version' are all (or were when this version of the soundtrack was first issued 1993) previously unreleased. Given that the last of these runs over 12 minutes, this is a considerable amount of 'new' music. Indeed, this is a particularly lengthy album, clocking at very nearly 78 minutes. It's doubtful though that many people will want to listen to it all the way through in a sitting very often, for as is the nature of film music, there is a considerable amount of repetition. This is not to suggest that I would ever argue to leave cues off a soundtrack release, simply to note that its good to have the choice of which ones to play.
The album opens with an 'Overture' which is actually an unused, extended end title. As the notes point out, it features the films three major themes, the Supergirl March, the love theme, and the 'monster' theme for the villain's evil creations. Goldsmith's Supergirl march has the impossible task of standing against William's Superman theme, and still the composer acquits himself splendidly. His theme is built around a big, bold brassy rift augmented by lots of synthesisers which whoosh heroically. And that is the point, it is a heroic, jubilant, vibrant and youthful theme. Deliberately, and appropriately, it lacks the slow-building dignity and nobility of the Superman march. It is less memorable than Williams' creation, but it does what it sets out to do admirably.
There are frequent returns to the main theme plus developments of a tender love theme and the menacing 'monster' theme, while the orchestrations are full of lush glitter and fantasy are akin to Goldsmith's work on The Secret of Nimh (1982) and Legend (1985). The choral writing is likewise in this vein. Some of the synthesiser sounds will be familiar from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1980), and reappear in Legend, while the more robust diving action music looks back to the muscular assault of such 70's scores as Capricorn One (1978).
Both the playing and the sound are first rate. The brass in particular really is burnished, blistering forth proud and true, while the recording has tremendous depth, clarity and punch. This is especially so when compared to Howard Blake's Flash Gordon (1980) (which I also review this month on FMOTW) and which was also performed by the National Philharmonic. One would think it had been committed to tape 20, rather than four years earlier than Supergirl, such is the difference in sound quality. Apart from some tape hiss Goldsmith's score might have been in the studio this month.
For Goldsmith devotees this album is essential; likewise for collectors of lavish SF / fantasy scores, and for comic-book aficionados. For others this isn't as necessary as Star Trek The Motion Picture or Legend, but is probably about on a par with The Mummy (1999), which tracks like the epic 'The Monster Tractor' somewhat prefigure (actually, there is a strange and disconcerting edit in this track at just past the 6 minute mark which is surprisingly clumsy). Generally though, it gets better the further you turn the volume up, and turn it far enough and the result is often breathtaking, exhilarating and spine-tingling. 'The Final Showdown & Victory / End Title - Short Version' presents complete just the sort of rousing feel-good finale the music enables us to image the film having: forget the screen, listen to Goldsmith scoring the film they should have made.
Gary S. Dalkin
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Film Score Monthly FSM Vol 3. No. 3 [72:03]
Available exclusively from the magazine and website (www.filmscoremonthly.com) for $19.95 plus shipping. E-mail:Lukas@filmscoremonthly.com
It may be a little ungracious to say that you know what you're going to get from a Leonard Rosenman score. But if you are familiar with Fantastic Voyage, Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek IV - you'll have the composer's style set in mind. It's an often abrasively edged sound, perhaps suited better here than any of the features cited above.
Sitting shotgun on the sequel to Goldsmith's gloriously experimental original was a hard act to follow. Clearly taking the lead from the picture itself, Rosenman pulls an even more off-the-wall effort out the hat. Where Goldsmith worked leitmotivic devices out of his clusters of atonality and sound design, Rosenman through-scored his picture with only scant associative referencing. The cues can often sound incomplete or improvised - which actually compliments their complexity.
This may be a tough standalone listening experience, but if you can appreciate what this did for the picture - a portrait of utter chaos leading to Doomsday itself - it can certainly be admired for its intelligence.
For more information visit http://www.filmscoremonthly.com
Flash Gordon (also includes music from Amityville 3D)
arranged and conducted by the composer
Flash Gordon performed by the National Philharmonic
Amityville 3D performed by the Sinfonia of London
Composer's Promo HBCD 01 [Total 72:00 - Flash Gordon 50: 52 - Amityville 3D 21:08]
How to get copies of promotional discs
Perhaps it just that its summer, but it's definitely sci-fi month. That's right, not SF or Science Fiction. Prime slices of tacky pulp. Alongside Battlefield Earth comes a reissue of Jerry Goldsmith's Supergirl (both of which I review elsewhere on FMOTW this month), and the first ever issue Howard Blake's music for the 1980 version of Flash Gordon. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. A year before Star Wars producer Dino De Laurentis burnt a huge heap of cash on a spectacular and spectacularly misjudged remake of 1930's SF / fantasy landmark King Kong. Apparently he fancied having another go at the 30's, and why not given that Star Wars was essentially Flash Gordon with state of the art production values? The resultant film was actually rather better than many hoped (though the shelved Nic Roeg project could have been great), with glorious production design that captured well the colours and look of Alex Raymond's original comic-strip. Howard Blake wrote a striking score too. I clearly remember sitting in the cinema 20 years ago being struck by it.
Unfortunately, and bizarrely given that John Williams score for Star Wars had been so instrumental in the success of that film, to say nothing of selling a colossal quantity of LPs, the rock band Queen were invited to contribute to Flash Gordon. Originally the idea was that they would provide a title song, but things escalated, and they ended-up 'scoring' several sections of the film with, considering the cod-1930's ambience, completely inappropriate and crassly heavy-handed rock numbers. A hugely successful 'soundtrack' album was released, and a massive hit single was had. The foundation was laid for plastering action movies with rock music and editing the result like a pop video, a dire practice which came to 'maturity' with Top Gun (1986) and of course Highlander (also 1986), a fantasy adventure virtually transformed into a feature promo for Queen's then current album, A Kind of Magic. With Queen's Flash doing so well at the record store, Howard Blake's score has had to wait 20 years for a release, and even now it is as a composer's promo rather than a commercial issue.
Clearly it was thought worth sticking with what worked on orchestral SF and fantasy scores of the time, and there are some very familiar names in the credits: The National Philharmonic, Sidney Sax, Eric Tomlinson. There is a fair bit of tape hiss and the sound is not so full-bodied as the recent Star Wars and Star Trek The Motion Picture soundtrack reissues from the same period, but it is perfectly adequate and more than does its job. In-fact, apart from the strong stereo, rather than coming from 1980, it all round sounds more like a classic Bernard Herrmann soundtrack recording from the Ray Harryhausen fantasy films part of his career. The album presents 18 tracks from the film, five of which briefly interpolate some of the Queen material, though this fact can safely be ignored, such a good job did Blake do of weaving it into the tapestry of his score.
Some very short cues 'The Hero', 'Romantic Reunion', 'The City of the Hawkmen', leave space for some extended set-pieces such as 'Opening Scenes/Killer Storm/Plane Crash', with a very old Hollywood / Adventures of Superman action suspense feel, 'Tree-Stump Duel / Beast in the Swap' and 'Duel on the Sky Platform'. Some interesting pitch-effects come into play for 'Rocket Flight', the track developing into a mutant orchestral modern jazz before heading into Planet of the Apes pounding piano figures, all in 90 seconds. Only in film music! And so it goes, a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing score for the committed film music fan. I mentioned Bernard Herrmann above in respect to the recording, but I would take the comparison further. Both in the robust action writing and in the glittering oriental fantasy of cues such as 'The Princess' the legacy of Herrmann's imagination is apparent. Of course there isn't the big theme here to attract the more casual listener, Queen having grabbed all the opportunities for a rousing orchestral march, filling them with their patent brand of carnival rock. Don't however, let that put you off. The score is well worth exploring, and suggests that had things been different Howard Blake might have become famous for more than The Snowman.
Amityville 3D is necessarily a very different affair. The mysterious wordless female vocal in the main titles soon putting us right to the fact that we are deep in the heart of supernatural horror territory. It's second rate horror territory though, and Blake does a good job of bringing some real style and imaginative orchestrations to the routine proceedings. The female vocal returns throughout, echoing in the end-titles the best of such moody doom-laden sound worlds down the decades, demonstrating that Blake certainly knows how to both establish atmosphere and to Hammer the horror home. Not worth buying the album for on its own, but certainly well worth having appended to the main feature
Gary S. Dalkin
Telarc CD-80535 [73:34]
It's been a short while since Erich Kunzel's last compilation, perhaps waiting for enough high profile titles to make one worthwhile. Musically this does recommend itself "The Big Picture", even if it does fall down in the same sort of places. Although the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra is eminently capable with the straight re-interpolations of suites, it's in the orchestration of a piece's unique electronics that the only disappointment can be levied. The standout case in point here being the limp version of "Threnody in X" from The X-Files movie. Without Mark Snow's personalised samples it doesn't occupy the same parallel universe at all.
That sort of carries over to both The Rock and Armageddon, but some might actually welcome hearing these pieces performed by all live instrumentation. It's interesting to see 3 apiece from Goldsmith and Horner: The Mummy, Air Force One, L.A. Confidential, then The Mask of Zorro, Mighty Joe Young, and Titanic. Their styles have certainly translated well for the Pops and make for concert repertoire worthy choices.
Decidedly unusual suspects rounding out the playlist are: Contact, The Prince of Egypt, A Bug's Life, Elizabeth, Godzilla, and Shakespeare In Love. All take the ear nicely enough, but about the best surprise is a well thought out segue editing together the "Main Title" and "The Flag Parade" from Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.
The best fun to be had is testing out your speakers with Michael Bishop's new batch of sound effects. There's a swish of swords for Zorro, a helicopter pass-by for The Rock, Podrace zooms for Star Wars, a bee attack for Mulder on Scully, thudding footfalls in New York from Godzilla, and the teeth itching screech from ice on metal for the Titanic.
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