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February 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Music composed by John Barry
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ - Lyrics by Don Black
  Available on Available on Film Score Monthly Vol.8, No.20
Running Time:
(‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’) 42:06
(‘Petulia’) 37:33
(Total) 79:48

It seems like an eternity since the last time John Barry scored a film – the excellent Enigma. The only consolation for fans of the great man of late twentieth century British film scoring is that there has been the reliable of re-released albums of pre-existing Barry titles. These include Film Score Monthly’s premiere CD issue of the LPs of Barry’s acclaimed scores for King Kong (FSMCD Vol.8 No.8), the Oscar-winning Born Free (FSMCD Vol.7 No.10), and now the double LP reissue of Alice in Wonderland and Petulia.

First to Barry’s score for the 1972 musical film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s heady fantasy. With lyricist Don Black (Barry’s collaborator on some of the better James Bond songs), Barry wrote a predominantly song-based score for 1972 James Sterling adaptation to be performed by Alice and insane miscreants she comes upon while following the White Rabbit. Though promising on paper, the film as realised seems awkward if the stills here are any judge, with famous performers like Michael Crawford and Peter Sellers running around in Teletubby-like costumes.

Sadly, to a certain extent, this awkwardness affects the film’s music too. As good as Barry is at writing songs for film, and themes that provide the basis for songs, the material seems to have gotten the better of him here. The themes themselves are good – Alice’s three ballads: the wistful ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ is suggestive of some of the mysterious love themes from the Bond scores. The expansive ‘I’ve Never Been This Far Before’ with its gentle mandolin rhythm brings to mind themes from Born Free and Cry the Beloved Country. The finale song ‘The Me I Never Knew’ is another strong piece in the Barry tradition, with a delicate lullaby tone. Each theme has an instrumental version as well – ‘Overture’, ‘The Me I Never Knew (instrumental)’ and ‘I’ve never been this far before (instrumental)’. And Fiona Fullerton’s vocals can’t be faulted either. At least this section plays well with repeatability.

As do the short frantic instrumental cues ‘The Royal Procession’ and ‘The Lobster Quadrille’. It’s the madness of Wonderland that goes awry. Relentlessly cheerful jigs and jolly wordplay just don’t seem to work in numbers like the White Rabbit’s ‘The Last Word is Mine’ and the Goon Show in Wonderland piece ‘The Pun Song’. The construction of these pieces is sound (though it surprisingly doesn’t sound like Barry at times), the orchestration is good (the mandolin in ‘The Royal Procession’ is a nice touch), the performance by orchestra and actors is enthusiastic. And yet by the time ‘Medley: Off with their heads’ comes around, you’re itching to change the disc over. If this release rested solely on Alice Adventures in Wonderland, it would not have as much to recommend it as Barry’s later fans might hope. This is a unique work in the canon of a fine composer, and listening to soundclips on FSM’s distributor, Screen Archives Entertainment, is recommended. If my experience is any indication, it won’t work for everyone.

Fortunately, there is Petulia. In the same year he composed The Lion in Winter, Barry slips into the jazz idiom that has served him well throughout his career to create a unique-sounding dramatic accompaniment to Richard Lester’s 1968 film. There are hints of both Body Heat and Playing by Heart here, though the score leans more to the former. ‘Petulia – Main Title’ sets out the principal melodic idea – a dramatic long-line string melody over Herrmannesque repeated woodwind arpeggios. It’s an attractive tune – both catchy and with dramatic heft.

The ambiguous but compelling idea is present in practically all of the score tracks (including two very different arrangements for radio – ‘Petulia’ and ‘Petulia’), though the variations and source cues keep the thirty-seven minute score continuously interesting.  ‘Friends of the Evergreen’ dramatises a scene between Petulia and an ardent young interested man using woodwinds for Petulia and lower strings for the suitor, and this idea is reprised in ‘Comprehendo’ and the moving ‘Once Having Been Lovers’. ‘Motel’ and ‘Eat Topless’ are more straightforward source cues demonstrating Barry’s gift for writing jazz, but sounding less like his writing than the more dramatic underscore. The funky action cue ‘Highway 101’ stands out and draws heavily on the marimba. Finally ‘End Title - Petulia’ marks a moving conclusion – the long-lined theme more elegiac in its final arrangement.

As always, FSM’s releases are highly commendable in their production values. Jon Burlingame’s liner notes well survey the dramatic function of each of these disparate scores in their respective films. Sound quality is better for Petulia, but both are more than acceptable. If the mark is lower than I’d usually give an FSM release, that rests solely on my lukewarm reaction to Alice in Wonderland, not its handsome production standards.

Michael McLennan


Film Score Monthly News Release:

This premiere John Barry CD features two Warner Bros. albums from a period of great creativity for the composer: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972) and Petulia (1968).

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was a musical telling of Lewis Carroll's famous story, with a star-packed British cast including Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Michael Crawford and Ralph Richardson. John Barry collaborated with lyricist Don Black ("Born Free," "Diamonds Are Forever") on the delightful song-score.

Barry characterized the soundtrack as having "almost a Gilbert & Sullivan style, but with a contemporary feeling," but fans will recognize no musical identity except for Barry's own. The score, as wonderfully recorded for the soundtrack LP, includes three ballads, large symphonic pieces, and enjoyable settings of classic Caroll nonsense -- with Barry melodies through and through.

Petulia was Barry's second collaboration with director Richard Lester (following The Knack...and How to Get It), a serious, contemporary drama set in San Francisco starring Julie Christie, George C. Scott and Richard Chamberlain. It is regarded as one of the best films of the era, with a sophisticated flashback structure (and cinematography by Nicolas Roeg) anchored by Barry's melancholy and melodic score.

In addition to the haunting main theme, Petulia features a distinctive figure for saxophones anticipating Diamonds Are Forever, and several pieces of vintage Barry source music -- low-key jazz tunes that rank with the best instrumental music of the era, and echo some of the source cues of the James Bond films.

This holiday present for Barry fans comes with new liner notes by Jon Burlingame, and is remastered from the original 1/4" stereo album tapes.

Track Listing:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Music Composed by John Barry, Lyrics by Don Black
  1. Overture 4:29
  2. Curiouser and Curiouser 2:16 - Sung by Fiona Fullerton (Alice)
  3. You've Got to Know When to Stop 2:09 - Sung by Davy Kaye (Mouse)
  4. The Royal Procession 1:44
  5. The Last Word Is Mine 2:01 - Sung by Michael Crawford (White Rabbit) and Fiona Fullerton
  6. Dum and Dee Dance 3:08
    Nursery Rhyme
    Lyrics by Lewis Carroll
    Sung by Fiona Fullerton
  7. The Pun Song 3:03 - Sung by Sir Robert Helpman (Mad Matter), Peter Sellers (March Hare) and Dudley Moore (Dormouse)
  8. I've Never Been This Far Before 2:19
  9. Curiouser and Curiouser 2:14
  10. I've Never Been This Far Before 2:19
    Sung by Fiona Fullerton
  11. Medley: 4:15 - Off With Their Heads - Sung by Dame Flora Robson (Queen of Hearts) / The Croquet Game / Off With Their Heads / The Moral Song - Sung by Peter Bull (the Duchess) / Off With Their Heads
  12. The Me I Never Knew 2:39
  13. The Lobster Quadrille 1:46
  14. Will You Walk a Little Faster? 1:57 - Lyrics by Lewis Carroll - Sung by Michael Hordern (Mock Turtle) and Spike Milligan (Gryphon)
  15. They Told Me 0:54 - Lyrics by Lewis Carroll - Sung by Michael Crawford
  16. The Me I Never Knew 4:10 - Sung by Fiona Fullerton

  17. Total Time: 42:06
Music Composed and Conducted by John Barry
  1. Main Title -- Petulia 1:57
  2. Friends of the Evergreen 2:05
  3. Highway 101 2:31
  4. A Little Old-Fashioned Nostalgia 2:51
  5. Motel 4:50
  6. Petulia 3:01
  7. Petulia 3:23
  8. Comprehendo? 1:59
  9. Border Gate at Tijuana 2:38
  10. Once Having Been Lovers 3:06
  11. Eat Topless 3:29
  12. End Title -- Petulia 5:03

  13. Total Time: 37:33
Total Disc Time: 79:48

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