August 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Game of Death & Night Games  
Music composed by John Barry
  Available on Silva Screen FILMCD123  
Game of Death: 37.28
Night Games: 30.40
Running time: 68.08

game of death

Ready for a B movie double feature of sex and violence, just the sort of programme which used to clutter British cinemas in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s? Well the two scores on this disc come from atypical John Barry projects undertaken by the composer during that period, and are a world away from the more upmarket movies Barry usually associated himself with.

Game of Death was to have been a grade A kung fu picture, designed as Bruce Lee’s most personal work it would have been a showcase not only for superbly constructed and shot action set-pieces, but also for his philosophy on life. The star’s tragic early death put paid to any such lofty notions and the resulting picture arrive on screen as a farrago of body doubles, stock shots, cardboard cutouts (I kid not) and just a little of Lee’s own footage – which has since reconstructed on notable DVD.

Sensing a killing in the making, the producers of this hotchpotch seem to have decided a score by a top name composer would lend an air of class to what was in reality a shameless cash-in. Barry was apparently surprised to be asked, and not wanting to be associated with such a picture, named a fee he assumed was so blatantly excessive the producers would look elsewhere. Instead they accepted his figure, doing the composer a great favour, as in future he would be able to ask the same or more for all subsequent pictures. And what did he give them for their money? Presumably what they got is what they asked for; an imitation Bond score with a touch of the East. After all, Barry had already taken Bond to China in You Only Live Twice (1967) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), even becoming involved in some kung-fu action in the latter.

Thus the main title is a very seventies percussive affair with brass showing a tinge of the Orient and resonant synths whooshing along to give extra colour, while a break at the three minute mark leading into the "Set Fight With Chuck Norris" is pure Bond. Contrasting with this is a laid back, sultry sax-led pop instrumental love theme, "Will This Be the Song I’ll Be Singing Tomorrow", which later reappears as an attractive vocal number performed by Colleen Camp. The rest of the score consists of assorted suspense-action cues which are fine in their own right, if existing very much in the shadow of 007. Its all a little repetitive and hardly essential Barry, though its well worth a listen and of course serious Barry fans will want to add it to their collection. One track I could do without is the "Stick Fight (with sound effects)", which sounds like an extended sound collage from The Goon Show or maybe Monty Python.

After the violence, how about some sex? Night Games was a 1980 Roger Vadim softcore drama which didn’t do for Cindy Pickett what the director’s And God Created Woman (1956), and Barbarella (1968), did for Brigette Bardo and Jane Fonda. The score would appear to be by far the best thing about the film, and it certainly a more inspired work than Game of Death. Not that you would know it from the track titles… "Descent Into Decadence" opens with a bittersweet piano melody not a world away from his Somewhere in Time (also 1980), before Barry introduces mysteriously sultry and erotic wordless female choral vocals, with a sound not so far removed from Pino Donaggio’s work on Brian De Palma’s contemporary erotic thriller, Dressed to Kill (again 1980). And only a little more removed from the more ethereal choral writing Bernard Herrmann provided for De Palma’s Obsession (1976).

"The Lesbian Tango" is a most effective tango, which would presumably work just as well for heterosexuals, and then the titles get really "interesting"… "The Wet Spot" brings back the wordless female vocals for string based music which suggests some sort of soft-focus slow motion David Hamilton style erotica, as indeed does "Water Sports/The Dominatrix’s Waltz" and "The Phantom of the Orgasm". "Afterplay" brings things full circle with the return of the piano melody in full, completing a thoroughly enjoyable score, in perhaps more senses than one.

This is actually a reissue of a disc originally released in 1993 and the sound and notes by Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker are fine. Surely though Silva Screen could have done something about the very poor print quality of the text, and should certainly have replaced the very poor quality cover/artwork – it looks like a bootleg knocked up in someone’s bedroom studio and certainly is not appealing either to the collector or the casual fan browsing the racks in a music store.

Gary Dalkin

Game of Death *** 3
Night Games **** 4

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