|June 2000 Film Music CD Reviews||Film Music Editor: Ian
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
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Ancient Rome Feature
Hans ZIMMER and Lisa GERRARD
DECCA 467 094-2 [61:49]
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It is suggested that this review is read in conjunction with the interview with Hans Zimmer, new on this site, this month, in which Zimmer comments in-depth on his music for Gladiator.
I have to say from the outset that the album impressed me more than the usage of the music in the film. In fact I have grown to like this album more and more on repeated hearings.
As Hans Zimmer says, he wanted to equate Lisa Gerrards music with Maximuss, the Gladiators, thoughts of family and home in Spain. I have to confess feeling rather ambivalent about this choice, I was not entirely convinced. The music has a definite Middle-Eastern, almost Arabic feel about it, which might be thought to be at odds with the rather lush Spanish countryside where Maximus comes from. One can argue and justifiably, that the Moorish influence spilled over into Spain and Middle-Eastern modes strongly influenced European music well into the early centuries of the last millennium but that is to be unnecessarily academic. Anyway the opening shot, of the film, of a hand brushing over wheat is accompanied by this type of music with the voice of Lisa Gerrard, before the scene dissolves to reveal Maximus daydreaming of home in a wintry forest landscape just before the battle with the northern barbarians. This occupies the first two tracks of the CD segueing into the substantial 10-minute cue The Battle.
As Hans explained, The Battle is based on the Viennese Waltz -- but brutalised. I will confess I was amazed at this explanation but listening carefully to the cue again, I could recognise the pattern. If you think about it, Hans may have a point, the Viennese Waltz is very formal, disciplined and the men often in uniform. Zimmers brutal, disciplined music is often submerged beneath the action as the legions, like some well-oiled monstrous machine, smash through the barbarian enemy. The rich, multi-layered music is a study in crescendo with many interesting facets including droning voices (anticipating mourning?), Spanish-rhythmed guitar chords, staccato jabs and slurs, and war-like trumpet figures. In places Mars from Holsts The Planets is recalled; at others, Waltons Battle in the Air from Battle of Britain. A seething cauldron, this music which can be enjoyed independently of the rest of the album (just forget the quotes, enjoy the ride). Its a hi-fi enthusiasts delight. So too is the 5½-minute cue The Might of Rome although in this case I was disconcerted, when I saw the film, with Zimmers Wagner quotations (from Götterdämmerung Siegfrieds Journey to the Rhine and Funeral Music). The associations created seemed confused, a real mixed metaphorthe mental link one could make between Wagner, Hitler, Commodus, Rome (before Commodus has a chance to exert his evil machinations) is somewhat tortuous and tentative, and anyway Siegfried was a hero! That apart, the music makes an impact, beginning in barbaric splendour, it is brutal and proud and hints at carnal pleasures before the Wagner-like music heralds majesty and solemnity. The other big set piece is the 11-minute cue, Barbarian Horde, exciting, fierce, crushing, very energetic; very much akin to the Battle music, with the Holst influence again apparent. The rhythms seem to have a swaying motion rather suggestive of the progress of a closed phalanx of soldiers moving relentlessly forward into battle confrontation, the brass braying in fury.
Of the other cues, I particularly liked the emotional restraint of Patricide. This is the music that underscores the complex scene between Commodus and Marcus Aurelius, in which the father is torn between sincere paternal affection for his wayward, dissolute and cowardly son and his duty to provide a strong succession for Rome. Commodus is devastated when he learns that his father has decided to favour Maximus and so suffocates Marcus Aurelius to inherit power. Zimmers music nicely captures these strong emotions and the dilemma, culminating in a crescendo for the murder. The music then segues into the cue The Emperor is Dead in which the cymbalom/zither-like Chinese instrument is used. Again, this choice puzzled me because I could see no relevance, and when it reappeared during a scene between Commodus and his sister I was nonplussed unless it was some sort of signal for Commoduss madness and evil? Whatever, it sounds good.
I would just mention Am I Not Merciful? and Now We Are Free. The former is apparently music of the arena, in the aftermath of the fighting. It begins with an oblique reference to the Dies irae stated on double basses, low in the strings. The musics heavy, mournful tread picks up as the music moves up through the strings and the tempo quickens but the atmosphere remains tragic and there is an echo of Lisa Gerrards music, mens voices, wordless intoning, until a requiem-like climax is reached. The concluding cue, Now we Are Free brings more relaxed, warmer music with Lisa Gerrard singing a muted celebration of victory mixing joy and optimism with grief; this is a victory bought at a price. This might be the commercial exploitation track that usually comes with big blockbuster epics these days.
Gladiator might be regarded as a flawed minor masterpiece in the Zimmer canon.
Ben-Hur Suite; Spellbound Concerto; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Danielle Laval (piano); Northern Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, Miskolc Conducted by László Kovács
VALOIS AUVIDIS (naïve) V 4841 [63:01]
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Based on his own score for the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock production, Rózsas Spellbound concerto starts out as unequivocally romantic and yet because the story of the film centred around the lead characters psychosis, an underlying darker tone gradually takes precedence and by the mid-way point we have truly descended into the heart of darkness. For me this is by far the best section of the piece, as it perfectly conjures the discord that can sometimes seize the human mind. The more routine romanticism that bookends it is less interesting however, although the finale itself stands up rather well.
The highlight of this CD though is unquestionably the suite from the multi-Oscar winning Ben Hur (including best score for Rózsa himself). Opening with the stunning Prelude, this is a rousing, majestic incorporation of the main themes from the film and in particular introduces the Love Theme that is then expanded and given a fuller rendition in the next cue. A truly beautiful, emotional melody for strings and woodwind, this ranks as one of the great themes of cinema.
The next two pieces Rowing of the Galley Slaves and The Burning Desert drive along with a pounding urgency and are as fine an example of dramatic film music from this era as you are likely to hear. And when you think you have heard the best The Mothers Love proves beyond question what an incredible talent Rózsa really was with a heart-rending theme of real tenderness.
Finally Parade of the Charioteers demonstrates his skill with fanfares, something that has been proven time and time again by his work on such historical blockbusters as Quo Vadis, King of Kings and El Cid. In fact, it could be argued that Rosza is the very voice of the movie epic. His sound and style have now become a part of our musical and cinematic consciousness.
Alongside his contemporary Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa was one of the true godfathers of film music, in the sense that his greatest work remains both timeless and influential. There is no sense of a style that has become outmoded or unsophisticated. Instead it sounds as fresh and original as it did when first heard.
To conclude the CD, Rózsas Opus 31, a work commissioned by pianist Leonard Pennario and completed in 1966, is given a full-blooded interpretation and makes a very interesting companion to his music written especially for film.
Made up of three movements, the first is the dark and dangerous Allegro Energico with dissonant piano that is as intense as anything you are likely to find in his film work. Actually, this is similar to Spellbound as it also evokes a sense of some troubled inner conflict.
Adagio features oboe and piano working together to bring to life a gentler theme, although there is still a sense of unrest with strings taking a firmer hold mid way through, before the piano is finally given its head in strident, incisive manner. This then subsides, fading out with genteel simplicity.
The tempo quickens with Vigoroso, the percussive and xylophone backing used to good effect. A number of different instruments take brief centre stage to create a mosaic of sound and although there are some respites, the tempo becomes steadily more manic, galloping on towards an almost frenzied conclusion.
For any established Rósza admirer this would appear to be a must-have. But also for those who have yet to discover this outstanding composer, this seems a very good place to start.
I suppose if there was a fault to be found with this collection it might be that for those who have more modern sensibilities, the two concertos are a little dense and demanding. But for those with an appreciation of more classical work or simply those looking to sample a taste of one the greatest film composers of the last century, they will certainly be in for a treat.
Ian Lace adds:-
The interest in this 1998 recording is that the orchestra is Hugarian (Rózsa was born in Budapest).
Their performance of this six-movement Ben-Hur Suite is generally very good; the majestic Prelude with those magnificent themes resounding splendidly. Kovács delivers a brilliant finale in which the Parade of the Chariotteer fanfares really reach out and grasp you, and then there is a marvellously brutal Rowing of the Galley Slaves with its accelerating cross-rhythms. The Love Theme is sweetly eloquent too and The Burning Desert nicely scorching, with that beatific music, most affecting, for the sequence where Jesus brings water to Ben-Hur.
The glamorous Danielle Laval attacks the bravura passages in the Spellbound concerto like a tigress and caresses the more delicate figures that end the Adagio of the Piano Concerto. Kovács eshews the theremin in the Spellbound concerto, opting for the same effect using brass and strings. This is a strong and enjoyable interpretation, full of romantic passion, if a little coarse-grained and wayward at times. The Piano Concerto fares even better. This is strong, diamond hard music more reminiscent of Rózsas film noire scores but with the more tender episodes very much akin to the Spellbound music.
************************************************************** EDITORs CHOICE Classical Score June 2000
More Music from The Fall of the Roman Empire
CLOUD NINE/SILVA SCREEN CAN 7016 [44:35]
[As this title is now officially deleted finding a copy might prove difficult. Best "first port of call" would be SOUNDTRACKS DIRECT. Their new web-site is:www.silvascreen.co.uk and they can be e-mailed on: email@example.com]
I very much regret that my choice this month is of a recording that has been deleted but assiduous searching may well reward keen Tiomkin fans (I saw one copy in HMVs London Oxford Street flagship store). But quite frankly this score stands head and shoulders above practically all the material that has come into this office this month.
(With the exception of Rozsas Ben-Hur music but that was only a short suite in the Rózsa album reviewed this month)
Last month John Huether reviewed the Sony-PEG original soundtrack recording of Tiomkins The Fall of the Roman Empire music and in his concluding paragraph, John said that it would be nice to have another 20 or 30 minutes of the score in an expanded release. The Sony-PEG disc lasts for some 39 minutes. This expanded original soundtrack edition, boasting some 14 new selections, when it was released in 1991, clocks in at 44:35 minutes (an additional five minutes or so of music).
I agree with everything John Huether said last month about this score -- it is absolutely magnificent. That huge organ chord at the beginning of the Prelude lifts you from your seat and the magnificence and majesty of the treatment of the love theme through the Prelude with those powerful brass flourishes is hair-raising.
Pax Romana never fails to impress either no matter how many times one hears it, what a wonderful processional and as John Heuther aptly observed how it heightened the effectiveness of that long scene where the rulers of Romes far flung Empire paid tribute to the ailing Marcus Aurelius. And the Forum Romanum music, too, is full of splendour.
I will now pass on to a description of those 14 new selections that are included in this album.
The Fanfares and Flourishes are heard as the cinema/theater lights dim and are a tingling anticipation. The misty delicate music of Dawn on the Northern Frontier heralds a new day as Marcus Aurelius prepares to preside over the gathering of tribunes, consuls and kings that is the Pax Romana. A busy orchestral flourish heralds Liviuss Arrival speeding his chariot along treacherous Alpine byways. Old Aquaintances underscores the early scenes where Livius (Stephen Boyd) warmly embraces Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guiness) and greets Timonides (James Mason) before the lovers reunion with the beautiful Lucilla (Sophia Loren); at this point the love theme is serene, unsullied by the dark portents of the Prelude. Decoy Patrol, Battle in the Forest and Reinforcements are all brilliant combat evocations steel clashing on steel, braying brass, fiery cross-rhythms and most impressive of all, wild and brutal timpani cross-rolls and hammer-like blows -- all tremendously muscular and immensely thrilling. Brutish, angular, oddly-accented rhythms for the barbarians are pitched against the remorseless formality of the Roman legions.
The Intermezzo: Livius & Lucilla is a vocal arrangement of the love theme. Conflict in the Caverns is another wild confrontation with material very akin to Battle in the Forest and Decoy Patrol. Aftermath and the Journey to Rome has dissonances for the evil excesses perpetrated by Commodus. There is also more noble material as the rebellion (led by Lucilla with brief reference to the love theme) gains momentum. The Army Enters Rome is music of celebration pomp mixed with festive mandolins suggesting more intimate celebrations as the legions enter Rome but they have been won over by Commodus's gold. The cue finishes on a sour note reflecting Commoduss increasingly unstable mental condition and continues in a twisted manner as the personal duel between Commodus and Livius becomes startlingly public and the two men engage in mortal combat.
Summing up, for those who already have a version of this score in their collection including the Sony-PEG edition which John Heuther reviewed last month (that seemed to contain yet other selections not included on this album), I am listing below what were claimed to be, when this album was released in 1991, the new selections so that you can see if there is some gap you might want to fill:-
Fanfares and Flourishes (0:51 set before the Prelude)
Dawn on the Northern Frontier (2:17)
Livius Arrival (1:02)
Old Aquaintances (4:31)
Decoy Patrol (0:57)
The Battle in the Forest/Reinforcements (3:49)
Intermission Title (?)
Intermezzo: Livius & Lucilla 92:17)
Conflict in the Caverns (1:45)
Aftermath & the Journey to Rome (2:27)
The Army Enters Rome/The New God/The Challenge (4:03)
Restoring this masterpiece
This recording comes in part mono-part stereo format for when the record producers approached the owners of the films rights they discovered that the original music masters were no longer available. A world-wide search was instigated and it was three years before an excellent tape of certain cues was discovered albeit in mono sound.
To quote from the booklet: "Although this find in no way constituted all or the best of the full score, it still contained some prime material and it was possible to draw additional selections from the Music and Effects track including the original mix of the PRELUDE music, the opening fanfares and choral INTERMEZZO (these in stereo). All the available cues were transferred to digital tape and subsequently edited, sequenced and equalised utilising solely digital technology. However the recordings have not been "limited" in any way effectively preserving the broad acoustic gained during the original sessions at Shepperton Studios and the Central-Hall at Westminster where the massive pipe organ had to be warmed by an array of electric fires for two days to bring it up to concert pitch. Much of the music on this album is being heard on disc for the first time with other more familiar pieces being presented in the relatively fresh guise of their original soundtrack performances".
The 16 page booklet contains David Wisharts full and articulate track analysis, two essays, "Profile of an Epic" (about the background and the making of the film) and "Dimitri Tiomkins score for The Fall of the Roman Empire" plus many colour and black and white stills from the film.
A magnificent score and an invaluable album. Although it is now deleted, perhaps Silva Screen will one day decide to reissue it for Tiomkins many fans, old and new?
************************************************************** Editor Recommends June 2000
James NEWTON HOWARD
Snow Falling on Cedars
DECCA 466 818 2 [67:30]
Purchase from: Crotchet Amazon USA
Yes, I know that we carried a review of this score on this site recently but our reviewer Paul Tonks got his review copy way before most other UK reviewers including myself. Paul was unenthusiastic and awarded the score only one star. I beg to differ. But thats what Film Music on the Web is all about -- why we like to include more than one review to embrace a spectrum of opinion.
Snow Falling on Cedars, based on David Gutersons best selling novel is set in 1954 on an island in the Pacific Northwest. It is a story of love thwarted by social pressures and familial customs. The drama stems from the crisis of Pearl Harbour following which there was a general feeling of paranoia and suspicion towards Japanese-Americans who were relocated to internment facilities where they remained for the duration of the war. The film focuses on the Anglo and Japanese-Americans who had lived in relative harmony on San Piedro a fictitious island off Puget Sound before the outbreak of hostilities. And the focus narrows to the childhood friendship and then the frowned-on teenage love of American Ishmael Chambers and Japanese-American, Hatsue. Nine years later, in 1954, Ishmael returns to find Hatsues husbnd, Kazuo is on trial for his life accused of murder.
James Newton Howardss score is restrained and low key with its more vibrant colours provided by oriental instrumentation and harmonies. Tempi are slow, often very slow. There is no denying that this 67 minute-album does have its longeurs, as Paul Tonks intimates, particularly in the middle stretches where there is a measure of sameness that can become soporific. However, if one is selective of cues for future listenings (and they are worth it) there is much to admire here. The cues are played seamlessly without a break. Much use is made of a solo cello adding an autumnal glow and conveying a nostalgic sadness and poignancy. Voices add an element of mysticism.
The opening cue, Lost in the Fog, begins slowly, quietly and mistily with long held string chords and isolated bass drum strokes, gradually the music gathers momentum as though we see, through shredding mists, shapes gradually becoming distinct. The iron grip of winter, a desolate white landscape and a glassy calm sea is implicit in Newton Howards very evocative music. In many cues the intense winter chill is wonderfully sound-painted; the music glistens, it is crystalline and diamond hard. You can see rows of cedars heavy with snow, gaunt; the landscape frozen, still. At one point, what sounds like an aeolian harp allows random music to be plucked from the frosty air.
There are many cues that are very imaginative. Moran finds the boat seems to suggest a boat rocking in a slight sea swell. Typest and Typing are little gems with most intriguing oriental orchestration and harmonies, very colourful. The evacuation is infinitely sad and poignant speaking of alienation, separation and prejudice. A desolate chorale is followed by a battery of heavy, bass-drum gunfire that resounds around the sound stage.
One of the most moving cues is Humanity goes on trial, scored for strings and choir. It proceeds very much like Vaughan Williamss Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, very cathedral-like. In the middle a solo voice poignantly suggests complete isolation and alienation.
A very interesting score and one of Newton Howards best of late
Reprise 9 47696-2 [48:44]
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The 3 hours plus of this movie seemed to have wall-to-wall music. It was a surprise to discover only 50 minutes of it on this disc. A disappointing surprise in fact, because this reviewer found the film to possess one of the most intriguing sound designs heard in a long time. The film is bracketed by documentary-like vignettes that offer a disclaimer on the fragmentation and randomness of life. This is the writer / directors ruse to string together the lives of a disparate collection of character sketches. By having extremely lengthy musical cues develop over the top of the many jumps to and from these separate lives, a cohesive element was added. During the dramatic set-pieces, something like the 10 minute "Showtime" really helped in making sense of why one persons problem might have anything to do with anothers.
Despite the albums short-changing on running time (and even if you havent seen the film), these lengthy cues are a standalone treat. Only one small 45-second burst of inappropriateness disturbs the accumulative effect, and thats the "WDKK Theme" sequenced in the middle of the cues.
Stylistically, much of the music bounces along like some jovial quaint circus accompaniment; which isnt to be taken as negative by any means. Elsewhere, the time-stretching effect is achieved by sustaining notes at great length, making for an almost quasi-religious tone for many of the characters falls from grace and / or redemption. Although a liner note comment suggests this all fell like divine inspiration from the pen of Brion, the cue "Ive Got A Surprise For You Today" bears a distinct resemblance to Hans Zimmers The Thin Red Line. Same trick. Same result.
My recommendation is to see the movie to truly appreciate the ideas this music represents. Then listen to in isolation and enjoy the opportunity to create ideas of your own.
LONDON RECORDS 4344311362 (40.41)
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With its at times striking mixture of strings, synth, drums and reverberating sound effects, Angelo Badalamenti has concocted a score that despite its ultimate shortcomings, certainly cannot be accused of being predictable.
Bizarre City, all synth embellishments and pounding drums, kicks things off before making way for the very different approach of The Beach Theme (Swim to Island) featuring traditional strings, piano and some restrained choral work. This is a lush, old-fashioned romantic melody, although it does switch mid-way into ominous synth and rhythm, before finally returning to the tinkling, syrupy main theme.
This gushy ultra romanticism is nothing new for Badalamenti and has been evident in past projects such as Twin Peaks. Although some may find it appealing, in this particular case I found it hard to take very seriously. Its so overtly schmaltzy that it becomes almost like a parody. If that was the intent then it was very successful, but if not, it really is a quite nauseating.
These first two pieces sum up quite succinctly the main styles used throughout the score, with on the one hand The Beach Theme dominating tracks like Starnight, Mythical Waters and Waterfall Cascade, while strong synthesizer and rhythmic work highlights cues such as Vision of Fantasy and Killing Fields. This latter piece is actually one of the most effective on offer with the imposing drum work really getting the adrenaline pumping, augmented mid-way through by a simple but powerful ascending four-note motif.
Probably the best of the string based pieces is Mournful Myth which also incorporates some more subtle vocal work and really is as mournful as the title suggests and all the better for it! Another of the stronger pieces, Pure Victims, employs strings and brass in a powerful, disturbing cue with additional rumbling sound effects, that eventually trails away into low-key foreboding.
Its a pity really that the highs do not outweigh the lows, because this does undoubtedly have its moments. But inevitably the cloying main theme undermines the entire score and Im left with the distinct impression that Angelo Badalamentis dark side is far more interesting than his sweetness and light.
The Tigger Movie
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It is said that to become a man one must put away childish things, including the fear of being child-like and the wish to be very adult. The manliest critique of Harry Gregson-Williams' score for "The Tigger Movie" you will ever read is probably this: "The Tigger Movie" is fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.
The composer appropriately uses a pure symphonic tone for all but the most assertive moments (and excluding a big band arrangement). He gives a few touching nods to the Tigger-ific Sherman Bros. songs from the "Winnie the Pooh" shorts. The interpolation of 'Winnie the Pooh' for the 'Main Title' got me grinning, and the adaptation within 'The Seasons Change' sparked the fire of my earliest memories. That the score is episodic as it accompanies our stuffed-with-fluff friends on another adventure creates small friction. It is otherwise charming and playful, at times heartfelt and dramatic. There is a dearth of 'mature' aesthetic baggage in the orchestrations that allows the direct (but by no means simplistic) structuring to work in its own way. The music sounds smart, youthful -- vigorously and entertainingly so. It is as animated as its catalyst.
Disney shortchanged the underscore with its 'songs & story' release. That this appears on a limited demonstration CD-R rather than appearing on store shelves says more of politics than art... or entertainment.
Up at the Villa
VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6128 [55:30]
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Im finding it more and more difficult to remember the Pino Donaggio of the 70s and early 80s. The contemporary Donaggio, unlike his youthful, perhaps somewhat impetuous self, seems to lack the spirit and originality that was so much a part of his earlier work. When I recall his beautiful, emotional melodies from Carrie (despite the fact that it was a horror movie!) Donaggios work here appears so devoid of inspiration. To my ears it is nothing more than background music, to be seen and not heard. And is that really all we want from a composer who is capable of so much more?
Primarily a string based work for a romantic drama set in the composers native Italy in the 1930s, the main title, Up at the Villa is a rather old-fashioned piece (although sadly not in the best sense) which is oddly oblique and much more about mood than melody. Its all very low-key and unmemorable and this sets the tone for the work as a whole.
Brief moments of interest surface in tracks like A Pistol in Florence, Tennis Plot-Flowers and Arrivederci, but these are very much in the minority and short-lived. The majority of the score is devoted to meandering, rather dull string and piano pseudo romanticism, which eventually becomes very tiresome. The only other distinctive score element features in tracks like Party at Peppinos and Florence Two-Step which attempt to capture the authentic flavour of the musical styles of the era, but to be perfectly honest they are far from compelling and pass by without making any impact at all.
I truly cant imagine many of Donaggios fans enjoying this. Melodic invention, surely the very thing that won them over in the first place, is sadly missing almost entirely here. Unfortunately, its all nothing more than wallpaper music.
A score that tries for an old-fashioned romantic sensibility from movies of long ago, but only really succeeds in emulating those who few of us actually remember.
The 4th Floor
GNP CRESCENDO 8064 [34:19]
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Im a little torn for how to summarise the experience of listening to this disc. The last album that had the same effect on my ear was Don Davis House On Haunted Hill. What Im referring to is an over-abundance of different styles, but my problem this time around is in having absolutely no frame of reference. All I can find on this album (without researching elsewhere) is a reference to the film being "a story with otherworldly, horrific elements." Its got Juliette Lewis and William Hurt in it thats horror enough for me right away, but since there is some fine melodic content here Id like to be complimentary in context. Its definitely an example of a CD needing explanatory booklet notes.
In just "Main Titles" alone theres a disparate collection of things working together: a smoky female vocal, Armenian duduk, tinkling piano, gamelan (possibly sampled), and long-line tragic motif for strings and piano. Its almost an overture, except for the absence of the cacophonous action style that later pervades cues like "Attack The Locksmith".
Twenty tracks follow in 30 minutes which means it all flies by far too fast as well. When youre skipping between brushed cymbals in a lounge jazz environment ("Jane & Collins"), sprightly string ensemble providing a waltzing piece of faux period background ("Belle"), then back to the general bucket and spade throw together of styles ("Movers") its what Id call a jumble. The director is certainly taken by the results from his enthusiastic booklet spiel just a shame he didnt think to give us a précis of the story so wed understand why it jumps about all over the place.
The Crow: Salvation
Enhanced Score Disc KOCH KOC-CD-8075 [51:53]
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This continuation of "The Crow" comic book ('graphic novel' to the fanatics) story has a pleasantly puzzling underscore by Marco Beltrami, a decidedly modernist composer whose work is relatively unaccustomed to my ears. Beltrami, like Elliot Goldenthal, does attention-getting deeds for these types of projects, including metallic clanking, stinger chords, snarling brass, wordless soprano airs, driving rhythms, and other dark traditions where a smattering of melody may serve as the kindest reprieve. There are the bothersome heartbeats most recently heard in "Rules of Engagement," slightly muted to be just slightly noisome. Beltrami, unlike Goldenthal, is not too innovative about these effects, and so much of "The Crow: Salvation" appears to be temp-track offspring. I hear bits of Graeme Revell, who appropriately scored the first two films, and Danny Elfman, and Goldenthal...
Beltrami is praiseworthy in that he brings to these casual references a feel of his own. The music flows almost seamlessly on the album, and it is customarily involving both musically and dramatically. From the ominous 'Main Title' to the incredibly lush finale there is an obvious current pushing the music forward. Action music in particular is difficult to compose as there are only so many dynamics to work with, but Mr. Beltrami laces together ideas into a coherent, cohesive whole while changing the dynamics frequently, keeping the sound fresh and exciting. The result is at least enjoyable. Also of note is the love theme, which follows conventionality very little insofar as I can tell.
I never heard of flutter tonguing woodwinds quite like this during a love theme, and it sounds magical as the string section skips and glides thorough the braided melody. 'Meet Again,' the end credits pop version with generic lyrics by Lauri Crook, is antithetical to the ardent significance Beltrami provides. Jane Jensen's vocal performance, if one can call it that, sounds like a cat climbing glass, and has all the genuineness of a whited sepulcher.
A lack of track numbers make programming the album a chore, and the track times appear solely inside the booklet. The disc's sound is slightly hollow, from what I assume is too much digital compression. As for the CD-ROM bits, they contain web links, a screensaver, and a tiny gallery of pen & ink artwork by "The Crow" creator, James O'Barr. While the enhanced portion is considerably more than most releases provide, I trust a section devoted to the music, rather than to the publicity, is a reasonable expectation for a soundtrack album. No such animal exists here.
Still, "The Crow: Salvation" soundtrack is above average. It prompts a recommendation. It works:
RCA Victor 09026-63482-2 [50:20]
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After the dynamite mainstream success of Face/Off, Powell must have been batting project offers away. What came next was the hilarious spoof Antz with another demonstration of his capable handling of both orchestral and electronic environments. Then comes this completely left of field project about African championship athlete runners. Clearly Powell isnt prepared to sit still and be stereotyped.
This collection of Afrikaans meets Amerikaans is thoroughly charming. Noting the Thanks credit to Hans Zimmer (Powell has been a composer in residence at Media Ventures), it puts me vaguely in mind of Millennium if only by way of musical geography.
There are vocal contributions throughout (that scale warbling indigenous to place), and as in introduction in "Gigis Lament" Ejigayehu Shibabaws voice is a beautiful start to a score album. An elegant tone of mystery is then sustained all the way through to a one-off interruption with the upbeat "Buss To Addis".
Everything basically builds toward the showpiece 11 minutes of "The Finale Race". Some of the subtle orchestration that made Face/Off a surprise is evident at the opening, but then of course we build up and through exactly what the title suggests.
This may be a little hard to track down, but is well worth a run down to the shops to find.
Ghosts of Mississippi
Columbia CK 67914 [61:28]
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The most important reason to own this disc is to remind yourself that Shaiman doesnt just do big band arrangements for comedies. Since the early days of Misery and The Addams Family, its been easy to pigeonhole the guy as such. But this particular Rob Reiner collaboration bore much more interesting fruit.
This racial politics historical thriller covers the assassination of Medgar Evans and the subsequent court drama that ensued. Shaimans response to this material is sensitive without spilling into sugary sweetness. A sense of place and time creeps through every so often with a lick or two of Delta guitar. Principally though this is a well orchestrated portrait of sadness.
What has to be covered in this review however is the ill-conceived sequencing of source songs. Contributions from Tony Bennett ("I Will Live My Life For You"), Muddy Waters ("Mannish Boy"), or B.B. King ("The Thrill Is Gone") really shouldnt be popping up in the middle of the score. All pace and atmosphere is thrown apart by their intrusiveness.
So long as youre happy to be skipping tracks or re-programming, this really is worthwhile. The touching piano-led cue "Witnesses For The Prosecution" contrasted with the suspense of "Bomb Scare" are a wonderful reminder that theres more to the guy than South Parks "Uncle F***er"!
Great African Moments
NARADA CINEMA ND-66006 [42:52]
The music for Nature's Great African Moments contains inklings of developing distinction. When it could lean against a wall of nebulous cacophony like many present film and television scores it instead toys with Africa's autochthonous rhythms & instrumentation, chanting, samplers, and full orchestra. It has lovely moments, pleasant themes, and suitable orchestration. Yet the score's failing, and this is a big one, is that despite Whalen's attempt to make the underscore cohesive the elements rarely seem aware of each other.
There are two reasons for the separation: The sound mixing & editing provide such division of the parts that overdubbing is plainly obvious; and each section has their own ideas that are never shared among the entirety. Chanting appears layered below a symphonic melody, yet there is no reaction of one toward the other. There is no interplay. The samples come, the samples go. The themes come, the themes go. I find something to enjoy and admire in each contribution, and the soundtrack peaks majestically when the orchestra stands alone, but none of it connects to form an audio narrative with any sort of clear rational.
Michael Whalen has several scores under his belt, a few jazz, new age, and classical albums. A number of them are worth recommending. One in particular is Phantom of the Forest, a companion Nature album I reviewed for an upcoming Cluttered Reviews mailing, and one that I enjoy nearly twice as much as Great African Moments. The effect there is beautifully straightforward and comfortably suited to Whalen's composing style. The effect here is awkward with halfway innovation.
For Your Eyes Only
RYKODISC RCD-10751 [58:59]
Purchase from: Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon USA
John Barry, complete with the right initials for the job, over again showed the world how to score a James Bond film. Now hear "For Your Eyes Only," for '80s ears only. James Bond does discotheque.
Bill Conti uses traditional instruments in absorbing ways; notably the brass with trills, frills, and thrills that blare the confidence of a composer who perhaps knows the score is an immodest product of the times and decided to just bite the bullet. Funk guitar and caterwauling synthesizers try to take over the material, appropriately possessing the subtly (or lack thereof) of a Bond villain. "For Your Eyes Only" is a rare case of bad music made good. Or above average, anyway.
Like most of the composer's output the themes and orchestrations are absurdly derivative (consider 'The P.M. Gets the Bird,' or is Sir Edward Elgar still around?), though in this scenario the distraction is negligable. The 'James Bond Theme' of course deserves specific credit. The leitmotif is coolness in musical form, and while Conti's arrangements suggest something more frigorific the tune always injects the score with a degree of mystery and chic. Without the aid of that famous theme the music would merely be an unusually elaborate "CHiPs" soundtrack. With it, the score wraps around the occasional bubble of fresh air and keeps itself afloat.
The title song is a memorable, award-worthy ditty sung by Sheena Easton, whose voice I am not too keen for, but accept; she can actually sing, unlike the many performers who screech and shake like rusted Yugos. The lyrics by Michael Leeson are serviceable, raised higher by what is arguably Conti's best theme for a movie. At this, the pop approach suits the song and its instrumental relatives perfectly.
I miss the enhanced CD bits Rykodisc used to offer on these 'deluxe editions,' and rather wish the disc were sequenced to the film's chronology. Thankfully, the notes include approximations for makeshift programming that for the most part works as suggested. The sound is surprisingly clear considering it is approaching twenty years old. The music has the release it deserves.
Retrograde Records FSM 80124-2 * (39:52)
Purchase from: Crotchet Amazon UK
Deadfall occupies an interesting niche in John Barrys long and impressive resume. Composed at the height of his most creative period, the middle to late 1960s, the score includes what must be the longest single setpiece Barrys ever written: a 14-minute cue composed especially as a concert work. Romance for Guitar and Orchestra is performed on film before an audience while two thieves engineer an intricate break-in and safe-robbing at the home of a couple attending the concert. The movie cuts back and forth between the concert (Barry conducts his work on screen) and the thieves at the home, with Barrysmusic doubling as the background music for the break-in.
And, if director Bryan Forbes notes are to be believed, Barry wrote his Romance before filming started and with virtually no reference to a script, leaving Forbes to shoot the scene and pray that, in the end, the visuals and the music would fit. Frankly, that hardly seems likely, if for no other reason than that it also seems so unnecessary. Why wouldnt Barry have had an outline of the scenario with at least a rough timing of the break-ins choreography, thus helping him to construct his music with some sense of where dramatic highpoints were appropriate?
In any event, the result is unique in film music: an original work along formal lines (Barry demurred from calling it a concerto, though he well could have), heard in its entirety as background to an unrelated event. And as a formal work, Romance for Guitar and Orchestra stands up fairly well. The instrumentalist, on screen as well as on the soundtrack, is Renata Tarrago, who attractiveness no doubt made her a popular choice here. Barry opens Romance for Guitar and Orchestra with an andante movement, displaying the gently ascending theme in various sections. (Is it my imagination, or is a solo guitar especially suggestive of stealth? One can easily envision the music working with the concurrent scenes of a thief scaling walls and scrambling across rooftops.) The second movement, marked largo, also opens quietly with strings but steadily grows more intense as the heist begins to come apart. Orchestral climaxes occur at several points throughout the "romance," corresponding to moments of daring or high frustration in the heist scenes. Near the end, as the thieves chisel the safe out of the wall, Barry returns to his main theme with full orchestra augmented by small percussion, itself suggestive of the intricate tool work. The cue ends with the thieves lugging the safe out of the house as Barry and Tarrago take their bows in the concert hall. (Im indebted to Jon Burlingames liner notes which help track the music and screen action.)
How well any of this actually works on screen is difficult to say, as Deadfall is virtually lost today. Reviews when the film premiered in 1968 apparently were unkind, although one wonders how bad it could have been. Forbes was a talented film writer-director and he surrounded himself with decent talent, in this case actors Michael Caine and Eric Portman, producer Paul Monash and Barry, who scored six of Forbes films including King Rat, The Wrong Box and The Whisperers. By itself, Barrys Romance is a significant piece of film music. Although coming relatively early in Barrys career, it displays a maturity thats largely lacking in his recent The Beyondness of Things.
The rest of the score to Deadfall is unrelated to Romance for Guitar and Orchestra. It consists primarily of a main theme introduced in the main titles in the song My Love Has Two Faces. Its serviceable and used seemingly to some effect in the cue The Last Deadfall.
This 1999 Film Score Monthly CD, one of just three so far on its smaller Retrograde Records label, includes two additional versions of the song. Neither is nearly as satisfying as the main title version, sung by Shirley Bassey, whose previous collaborations with Barry on Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever were truly memorable. Lightning, alas, did not strike a third time.
As with all of Film Score Monthlys CD releases, this one has excellent sound and informative liner notes which, in addition to Burlingames contribution, also offer insights by producer (and FSM editor) Lukas Kendall as well as director Forbes comments from the original LP soundtrack.
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