October 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)  
Music composed by Danny Zeitlin
  Conducted by Roger Kellaway
Electronic and prepared piano music performed by the composer
Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie
  Available from Perseverance PRD 003  
Total running time: 71.02
Score: 38.56
Interview 32.06
Purchase from: Perseverance Records

invasion of the body snatchers

The second film version of Jack Finney's classic SF novel, the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers was also the last of the cycle of comparatively serious, adult SF movies which followed in the wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes (both in 1968), the tone of the big screen incarnation of the genre already shifting in the direction of big-budget family orientated fare with the blockbuster successes of Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Superman (1978).

I saw this Invasion twice on its original cinema run, then once on TV in the early 1980's, and twice more in the last couple of years on DVD, when I was happy to discover that it has lost none of its power to chill, and that its caustic take on modern urban life remained as relevant as ever. Much of the impact of the film stems from the realisation of an excellent screenplay with fine performances, unsettling camera work and a very fine score. All the more remarkable that the score was the first and last by its composer, Danny Zeitlin, who was at the time and remains to this day both an internationally celebrated jazz artist and a psychiatrist.

Zeitlin knew director Phil Kaufman personally, and when originally Kaufman decided on a jazz based score he asked Zeitlin to provide it. As the film developed the nature of the music required changed significantly, but Kaufman stuck by his choice of composer. As Zeitlin says in the 32 minute interview which follows the score on this CD, Kaufman is one of those rare directors prepared to take a chance both with untried talent and with musical direction (Stephen Warbeck's beautiful, highly experimental score for Kaufman's Quills (2001) is a recent example of this).

What Kaufman, who fell in love with jazz at high school yet studied music theory and composition with Tcherepnin and Muczynski, wrote for the film developed from his jazz work which already integrated elements of classical composition with rock and electronics. In this sense the direction had much in common with scores for other 1970's SF movies, ranging from The Omega Man (1971) to Demon Seed (1977), with Zeitlin's work taking the approach to a peak of accomplishment. If there is a downside, it is that Zeitlin's score proved so effective it has been imitated to the extent that it inevitably no longer sounds so fresh or original as it once it. This is not a failing of the score, but a tribute to its success.

This 25th Anniversary Limited Edition soundtrack contains a remastered reissue of the original soundtrack LP running almost 39 minutes, which is followed by a new interview with the composer conducted by Robin Esterhammer in December 2002. This interview is particularly enjoyable not only because Zeitlin has a most genial personality matched by a charming and relaxing voice, but because Invasion proved both an artistically rewarding experience and his only film score to date. Despite enjoying the work due to the sheer pressure involved Zeitlin decided against accepting further film assignments, and because this score is unique in his working life and because he had such a good experience creating it, he has many positive and detailed comments to make about this specific film scoring experience which might not always be the case with a composer who had written for dozens or hundreds of movies. Happily after a quarter century Zeitlin's enthusiasm shines through, making this a very rewarding half-hour listen.

The disc is complemented by a well produced booklet with good notes by FMOTW's own Paul Tonks, as well as by a two page "personal reminiscence" by Zeitlin.

As for the music: apart from a "Love Theme" (track three) which, led by relaxed late-night trumpet, might be a late '50's Miles Davis number, and a more or less traditional bagpipe version "Amazing Grace", the score ranges between atonal orchestral writing and electronic experimentation underpinned with a wild jazz heart, the boundaries between music and sound effects becoming at times purposely blurred. From the brief orchestral majesty of the climax of the "Main Title" Zeitlin ranges to the heart-beat pulsation and bizarre breathing effects of "The Reckoning" with vast imagination. Using every trick in the 1970's production armoury, blending percussion with both small instrumental groups and a full symphony orchestra and then adding the revolutionary Prophet synthesiser (the first digital-analogue hybrid keyboard), the result is an ever changing kaleidoscope of nightmarish textures and nocturnal soundscapes. The result may not be the easiest of listens but as opposed to the everything and the kitchen sink approach of too many modern horror scores, the music is not only always intelligently constructed, but demonstrates that rarest of qualities, originality; elements of jazz percussion surfacing amid the darkness, a jazz-funk workout emerging from "On the Streets", a cue such as "Flight" developing from sheer musical terror into a triumphant statement of the love theme which is close to exhilarating.

A musical tapestry pitching a free jazz sensibility against dehumanising horror, Zeitlin's score for Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not just one of the finest of the 1970's, but one of the most creative and imaginative film scores to have graced the SF-horror genre. A copy belongs in every serious collection.

Gary Dalkin

****(*) 41/2

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