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October Soundtrack Picks: ‘FRANK‘ and ‘RUDDERLESS’ are two of the top soundtracks to own for October, 2014
Also worth picking up BAD MILO, THE BOXTROLLS, IN LIKE FLINT, JOHN WICK, MARY POPPINS, MR. MOSES, OUIJA and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BOXTROLLS
What Is It?: With his impressively elegant use of a full, assured orchestra, the Italian-born, English-based composer Dario Marianelli hasn’t had to scavenge for major assignments, as such epically romantic historical scores like “Atonement,” “Agora” and “Anna Karenina” have proven, along with the mythic genre scores for “The Brothers Grimm” and “V for Vendetta” have shown. But even that latter film’s shadowy, dystopian-busting superhero doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of a morally bankrupt (and cheese-obsessed to boot) town like “The Boxtrolls,” its delightful score marking Marianelli’s first venture into perhaps not-so tyke friendly territory.
Why Should You Buy It?: Laika, the producer-animators of “Boxtrolls” have always had a weird taste when it came to scoring their off-kilter stop-motion subjects, whether it be Bruno Coulais’ surreal fantasy approach to “Coraline” or Jon Brion’s eccentric send up of 50s horror music in “Paranorman.” Marianelli’s approach to “Boxtrolls” effortlessly veers between wackadoo music, eccentric creeping about and truly fearsome symphonic menace. Marianelli conveys the titular creatures for the sweet scavengers they are with loads of chiming percussion, his spooky-ooky tunes getting across their gibberish bark that’s far worse than its bite. But best of all, “Boxtrolls” offers a bounty of themes that seamlessly tie together its grab bag of styles, whether it be rampaging suspense, clanging, cliffhanging peril cheesefest accordions or a brassy Viennese waltz. Yet there’s an undeniable, heartbreaking quality to Marianelli’s main theme as it personalizes a little boy lost to the far crueler human world above. It’s a nice, emotional potency that gives “The Boxtrolls” a mature power, no matter the nuttiness at stop-motion hand. But more often than not, “Boxtrolls” is about Marianelli unleashing his Halloween-loving child at heart, the sense of fun that knows the monsters under the bed offer nothing but love in spite of the real adult darkness about them.
Extra Special: “Boxtrolls” offers wistful, Devotchka-esque tunes by Loch Lomond that serve as catchy pleas for creature tolerance, a theme that extends to a charming spin on the kindergarten standard “Whole World.” Far more deliciously evil in a nursery rhyme vein is “The Boxtrolls Song,” with Sean Patrick Doyle doing his cross-dressing, Kurt Weil best in appealing for ogre annihilation, a song at once hilarious for its “Three Penny Opera” affectations as it is truly terrifying in recalling a Germanic-toned appeal for annihilating the seemingly ugly “other – an idea that proves “Boxtrolls” as anything but kid’s stuff when it comes right down to the inside of it.
2) FRANK and RUDDERLESS
Prices: $16.98 / $15.99
What Is it?: For all of the rock stadium popularity that a studio polished song soundtrack might have, it’s often the raw tunes of a decidedly unsigned, outsider band that reaches into the heart, or madness-addled brain in a way no Grammy-friendly album can. At their best, these little tune-filled albums can even find appeal with score fans who normally regard songs CDs as heresy, an open-minded listen especially deserving from them for a big-headed bizarro and a garage band finding the power of healing in unthinkably written songs.
Why Should You Buy It?: “Frank” is very loosely based on the strange career of England’s Frank Sidebottom, who had way more success than the band of misfit alt. rockers shown in this delightful, odd-head movie featuring a mostly masked Michael Fassbender. If “Frank” has a theme amidst the clanging, squealing and buzzing a band quite naturally named the Soronprfbs, then it’s of mediocrity versus truly insane brilliance, a musical idea that’s very smartly conceived by Stephen Rennicks (“What Richard Did”) with an outsider groove so dead on that you think he was likely a roadie for the equally insane Daniel Johnston. But yet this borderline 80s underground-meets-Devo mish-mash of synths, wacky samples, guitars and some truly beautiful piano melodies (with of course a Theremin thrown in for extra quirk) make sense, and are even catchy in their poetic psycho-babble as Frank’s unexpected brilliance is humorously contrasted with his acolyte’s non-talent. “Frank” truly rocks during its longer songs like “Secure the Galactic Perimeter,” or when the sound of a “Creaky Door” becomes an ever-amping shaman-like song. It’s Frank by way of Jim Morrison, which is part of the album’s charm of watching an outsider savant reveal that he’s as crazy as a fox, even while refusing to take his cartoon head off. Despite such hilarious, babbling breakdowns as “Frank’s Most Likeable Song…Ever” or Three Stooges samples filling “Frank’s Cacophony,” most of “Frank’s” tunes are surprisingly rockable, with Rennick’s snatches of underscore conveying a folksy, blissed-out vibe of the misfit Soronprfbs’ cult-like adherence to their masked leader. But it’s in the concluding song “I Love You All” where “Frank” reaches true, moving poetry. It’s an incredibly catchy song that’s a beautiful plea for acceptance, first performed for its raw, unhinged worth, and then played over the end credits with far more musical finesse. It’s one of the best, and most emotionally clever movie songs this year, though I suspect “Frank” is way to wonderfully weird to be on the Academy’s radar.
Extra Special: A far more serious kind of insanity fills the songs of “Rudderless,” though one might not hear it in the affecting lyrics and performance by stars Billy Cudrup, Anton Yelchin, Selena Gomez and ex Radish member-turned actor Ben Kweller. But that’s exactly the point in these poignant tunes that reveal a wounded soul desperately seeking an emotional connection through his songs – his tragic legacy forming the movie band of actor William H. Macy’s impressive directorial debut. You’d have to think back to “Once” to find such a memorably spiritual collection of acoustically driven tunes that also capture the energy, and enthusiasm of performers beginning to make it big in a small way. “Rudderless’” tunes range from the toe-tapping, grungy top 40 energy of “Beautiful Mess” to gentle hope for “Home,” a feeling of asking for forgiveness that also provides for the movie’s powerful message. But there’s also humor here in the bouncy groove of “Real Friends,” a real school rock version of “Wheels on the Bus” and a relationship laid unplugged raw in “Asshole,” a dead-on song that manages to make even that word sound pretty. Alt. rocker Eef Barzelay, who provided the inventively rhythmic score for the wonderful “Rocket Science” does similarly clever, if more haunted underscoring here, mixing folksy grooves and gentle vocalese that gets across the haunted journey of a father reluctantly turned into a not so over the hill coffee house rocker. So good are Rudderless’ sets that one could easily imagine the band becoming the real deal, especially lead singer Cudrup, whose delivery of the emotionally climactic “Sing Along” makes one feel the ghost of John Lennon as much as it does his character’s son. Not since Prince’s end set of “Purple Rain” has a movie singer ripped his guts out to such powerful effect, if done here to understandably more lyrically strumming resonance for one of this year’s most powerfully moving film scenes.
3) MARY POPPINS / SLEEPING BEAUTY – THE LEGACY COLLECTIONS
Prices: $21.88 / $13.88
What Is It?: For a company that’s re-released their soundtracks as many times as there have been DVD editions of “The Evil Dead,” Disney might have finally reached the alpha and omega of truly special special editions with their new spectacularly presented Legacy Collections. Begun with Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning “Lion King,” these gatefold CDs have used beautiful original art, copious liner notes and a kitchen sink of complete scores and outtakes to chronicle the creation of Disney music that remains undying for good reason – a heritage that now wonderfully continues with series producer Randy Thornton’s impossibly ambitious release of “Mary Poppins” and a stay awake edition of “Sleeping Beauty,” improving on the sound of a score that stands as the first stereophonic soundtrack release ever back in the day.
Why You Should Buy It?: “Mary Poppins” flew away with five Oscars in 1965, among them statuettes for Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and its “substantially” Original Score, all channeling the wondrous energy of what’s arguably the most eternal tune-filled soundtrack created by The Sherman Brothers. Sure Richard M. and Robert B. had done some memorable Disney work before on the likes of “The Parent Trap” and “The Sword and the Stone,” but their alternately jolly and melancholy numbers like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds” and “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” captured a real emotional resonance that went way beyond just having incredibly catchy hooks. It was music that heard beyond the dancing chimney sweeps and penguin waiters the subtly capture the emptiness of money-obsessed Edwardian England, and the desperate need of a family to make their father love them – all of course fixed in the end by the world’s best nanny. The first CD of the set offers the entire soundtrack as heard in the movie in a presentation that offers easily the best sonics that “Poppins” has ever rung across the rooftops with. But the true treat of this collection lies on CD two, which reveals a cornucopia of unused material. With nearly every song (heard and unheard in the film) given a jaunty piano demo by the brothers, the perhaps they should have used ‘em highlights include the unpacking cheer of the “Mary Poppins Melody,” the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque militaristic pomposity of “Admiral Boom,” the cheerful wake-up of “The Right Side” (a song that could just as well be the template of every heroine song introduction for Disney hereafter), and the deliriously rhyming kazoo melody of “The Chimpanzoo” – though one might understand how the walrus-voiced “North Pole Polka” might not have been prime material. But the far more grown-up stand out is “The Eyes of Love,” a song that likely made Mary a bit too womanly for Walt’s tastes. The Shermans are at their most enchantingly trippy when venturing to “The Land of Sand,” whose exotic, dream-like melody and haunting, sphinx-like chorus make for a striking precursor to the outright native songs the duo would write for “The Jungle Book.” Beyond its original interview with the cast and look back with the Shermans on the creation of “Mary Poppins,” the third CD is mostly comprised of the speaking sessions between the brothers and Australian author P.L. Travers. While their collaboration was depicted as combative in the wonderful making-of “Mary” movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” what’s heard here between the English-accented old woman and the peppy Shermans comes across as being an way-more pleasant experience for all concerned, not to mention an interesting peek into the real creative process that made “Mary” so cheerfully indelible for generations to come, fans who will delight in her new CD triple-play.
Extra Special: Many spoonfuls of Tchaikovsky sugar grace 1959s “Sleeping Beauty,” which uses that Russian composer’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” to base its music on. There’s a thoroughly pleasant grace and beauty to George Bruns’ Oscar-nominated “adaptation” of the piece, as well as thoroughly original, and exciting prince-to-the-rescue music that makes for the climactic battle between the now-misunderstood Maleficent. But for the most part, “Sleeping Beauty” is bird-chirping, sashaying strings that embody the Disney Princess at her most iconically pure-hearted, making for the most ingenious use of classical music the studio employed next to “Fantasia.” The lyrics by Tom Adair, Sammy Fain and Jack Lawrence are the definition of now un-p.c. desire for a woman to find her place in the arms (and singing duet) of a prince wit the lilting “I Wonder,” while the thematic tune “Once Upon A Dream” is likely the most gorgeous example of lyrics being put to any famed concert hall piece, with a waltzing enchantment that likely would have made Tchaikovsky smile. Though “Sleeping Beauty” offered far more score than songs, the second CD gives us the chance to hear the likely sillier musical that could have been, from the dueling kingly dads kvelling out their kids accomplishments in “It Happens I Have A Picture” and the pre-Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious wordplay of the fairy godmothers in “Riddle, Diddle, One, Two, Three.” And if the devilishly delightful numbers in “A Nightmare Before Christmas” could be traced back in spirit, then they’d find a hilarious Halloween town in “Evil – Evil,” a spell-reciting duet between a goofily-voiced demons as they relish the chance to make the world a miserable place, complete to the accompaniment of nursery bells. It’s a song so wonderfully outside of “Sleeping Beauty’s” orbit that one can only imagine its fiendishly delightful spirit somehow entered Danny Elfman’s consciousness – and a reason for those who might be put off by “Snow White’s” overwhelming niceness to grab this album.
4) HOWARD SHORE COLLECTOR’S EDITIONS
What is it?: Howard Shore made his musical bones on the body horror of director David Cronenberg, a match particularly made in visceral-intellectual heaven with “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch” and “Crash,” three scores that show the chilling diversity in what’s arguably the most rewardingly unhinged (and ongoing) collaboration between two creepily-minded auteurs of this dark side of Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. Now Shore gives this twisted trio a collector’s edition re-mastering, made complete with additional music that truly brings out his music’s mesmerizing power.
Why should you buy it?: 1988s “Dead Ringers” marked Shore’s fourth collaboration with Cronenberg for the most realistically disturbing movie the director had made so far, especially as it was based on the true, awful fates of twin gynecologists. But beyond its instruments for operating on mutant women, what made “Dead Ringers” emotionally unnerving was the soft, poignant sadness that Shore gave to its score. Gifted with what’s still the most deceptively beautiful theme he’s written for Cronenberg, “Dead Ringers’” theme plays like a waltz for two men inextricably bonded together. Shore’s silken strings and flute lead his thoroughly accessible, and tenderly melodic approach – at least for a short while before Shore contrasts one brother’s luxurious calm with the other’s drug-addled unraveling. A sinuously lush orchestra leads into piercing strings, the score’s delicate themes gradually unraveling with its feeling of inescapable, almost soaring tragedy that makes for one of Shore’s more Herrmann-esque scores. It’s a power that comes from his deft psychological probing as opposed to shock effects, creating “horror” scoring at its most silken in its mix of pathos and ghastliness. 1991s “Naked Lunch” threw reality out in the wastebasket of Interzone, the alternate drug reality inhabited by junkie novelist William Burroughs’ barely disguised stand-in of “Bill Lee.” Taking an equal seat to dine on this drug-addled score is jazz legend Ornette Coleman, a beat-jazz musician who truly could understand the 50s dope friend groove. His wild, untamed sax playing over Shore’s brooding score captures that elusive sound of “pure” jazz. The score reaches its terrifying apex with a pistol-shooting game of “Robin Hood” gone wrong, capturing the kind of life-changing agony that usually gets turned into a novel if the offender is literary-minded.
Extra Special: Shore had started out for Cronenberg with the eerie synth-filled scores to “Scanners” and “Videodrome,” an approach he’d mutate into the hypnotic, electric rock groove of 1996s “Crash” (and continue on with for “Cosmopolis” and their most recent effort “Map to the Stars”). Here, the sound of guitar-shredding metal is brilliantly appropriate for characters that can only get off in the aftermath of automobile wrecks. Shore twists about the music with their enthused, unholy fetishism, scraping, banging and clawing at all manner of iron and piano gut detritus to create a true “metal” score, but done in a completely unique way that’s anything but longhaired rock and roll. As topped with flutes, “Crash” has an Oriental Zen quality to it as well that makes the score even more hypnotically unsettling, going for voice-like tonal clusters that recall the pioneering moog work of Walter Carlos. The orchestra also plays its part here a la “Naked Lunch” in capturing increasingly shivering realization of just how bizarre this behavior is, giving “Crash” the impression of a modernistic tone poem as Shore gets into these characters’ metal-embedded skins to unsettling, and often beautiful effect. It’s one factor that makes the re-polished “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch” and “Crash” stand out more than ever as disturbed evolutions into the outer realms of movie scoring, as practiced with surgical, intellectual precision by two men who really know who to mess up human beings.
What Is it?: After doing numerous re-performances of John Barry’s work through the years with “Lion in the Winter,” “Robin and Marian” and an especially spectacular resurrection from the deep of “Raise the Titanic,” the team of producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and the now-stellar performers of The City of Prague Philharmonic take another trek with the composer’s sprit into what’s arguably his most successful continent. But where the themes for his furious jungle drumming, sweeping romance and brassy adventure of “Zulu” and his Oscar-winning scores to “Born Free” and “Out of Africa” can be recalled by audiences the world over, 1965s “Mister Moses” is a score that’s essentially been in the dark continent of soundtrack obscurity, which makes their new Barry safari all the more thrilling.
Why Should You Buy It?: Directed by “The Poseidon Adventure’s” Ronald Neame, “Mister Moses” starred Robert Mitchum as a n’er do well diamond smuggler who’s very reluctantly pressed into service as a would-be savior for an African tribe to relocate them from their homeland, which is about to be flooded for a dam – their journey led by an elephant named Emily and (of course) a beautiful missionary’s daughter. Despite their challenge, “Mister Moses” is a markedly more fun for Barry in its approach than the life-or-death challenge or raising an orphan lion club or guiding lovestruck Europeans to kill them. Led by the kind of rousingly repeated theme that the composer could write like no one else, Barry’s use of trumpeting brass is particularly appropriate for embodying the real, long-nosed star of the film, its pace led by native drum percussion. If anything, Barry’s rhythmic exotica even more authentic than “Born Free” and “Out of Africa” with its focus on a tribe, which Barry thankfully gets to play with more orchestral nobility than the thundering music for the “savages” in “Zulu.” Written the same year as “Thunderball,” “Mister Moses” is given passages of string suspense and dynamic bursts of brass that fans of Barry’s James Bond classics will appreciate, while the younger set of the time no doubt delighted to the monkey shines of Barry’s more outrightly playful moments, especially in the higher, tree-climbing register of its wind instruments. But while the western-style orchestra is rousingly present in “Mister Moses” as Barry notes the highlights of the journey like the Tarzan movie he never got to score, what particularly impresses is just how native the composer went to mostly convey darkest Africa at its brightest.
Extra Special: The microphone placement and mixing of Fitzpatrick’s projects have gotten so good at this point that it would likely be impossible to tell the difference between “Mister Moses’” original (and lost) tracks the mixing of the orchestra keep Barry’s sound energetically fresh while sounding as nostalgic as a 1965 LP, as played through a particularly good hi-fi system would. Frank K. DeWald’s knowledgeable liner notes shed light on the movie that still hasn’t reached the DVD promised land, while the attractive, animal-filled graphic layout can be complemented for evoking the movie’s iconography without having any original key art available – a pitfall that many albums of this sort usually are unable to cross successfully.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BAD MILO
Ted Masur is an ass clown in the truest sense of the world with a memorable physical soundtrack debut that poops out his delightfully twisted score about a monster that emerges from a nebbish’s butt to unleash hell on his master’s tormentors. Packed with devilish fury and eccentricity to spare, Masur’s music is a clever delight as it not only goes rampaging about in Elfman-esque fashion, but channels horror-indie energy into a uniquely comic sound that would be perfect for some Mike Judge movie down the line. There’s lunacy to spare in the off-kilter clocks of a “Firing Montage” to hilariously embodying the awful straining that produces “Meet Milo. And when it comes to the year’s best cue ever with “Myth of the Anus,” Masur uses with a cimbalom-like effect that might make you think you’re hearing the score to an absurdist werewolf movie, a diagnosis that that eerie violin of “Doctor’s Orders” only confirms. It’s all part of an amazingly successfully tightrope act as Masur walks the very, very fine line between cartoonish comedy and serious menace, often at the same time. It’s an attitude that also makes the movie’s one-joke, Troma-ready premise wildly better than any viewer or listener could possibly expect. Masur uses his limited musical means especially well with a wistfully poignant sense of child-like melody, a clanking xylophone and forlorn whistling giving us real sympathy for the little butt-devil, who nonetheless relishes in grand strains of swirling, nicely thematic horror action that ballsily goes for broke with raging chorus at its movement’s climax. At the least, “Bad Milo” has the best music ever written for a bloodthirsty hemorrhoid in the history of cinema. And what composer can make that claim?
. LA BUCA
Fans of Pino Donaggio can only visualize Brian De Palma’s frequent suspense music consigliore holding up a butcher knife composed of lush orchestrations for such scores as “Carrie,” “Blow Out” and “Body Double” given his work that hits stateside. Undoubtedly, they’ll get a big musical shock if they hear how he’s equally adept at handling the styles of George Gershwin and Stephan Grappelli with the finesse he usually gives to Bernard Herrmann. The latter two are the jazzy partners in musical crime for this Italian comedy that finds a shady lawyer using hook and crook to reverse the record of a just-released, decades-long prison inmate. But the real revelation of “La Buca” is just how equally beautiful Donaggio can be given a far lighter tone. While his telltale, romantically heavy use of strings definitely tips us off to the composer’s far more dangerous identity, he’s effortlessly able to switch to a rhapsody in blue, tango’ing about with a strumming Gypsy guitar. You’d swear this was the score for a wildly romantic adventure in 40s-era Havana by way of black and white Manhattan if you didn’t know better, but it’s just part of this wonderful score’s diversions that Donaggio can so beautifully evoke jazz vastness and intimate pathos in this odd couple’s not-so legal travails. Especially impressive here is Donaggio’s use of piano and brass melodies, turning his obvious love of Gershwin and that sparkling era to his own voice. Working as both modern, sophisticated comedy scoring and a gorgeously nostalgic album, “La Buca” is an homage so good that you might not even care if Donaggio ever picked up a knife or power drill again.
Between the sword and sorcery that helps seat the “Game of Thrones” to the tongue-sucking plague brought on by “The Strain,” Ramin Djawadi has been having a hell of a time giving eerily adventurous production value to genre TV. Now with “Dracula Untold,” Djawadi gets to unleash a truly epic supernatural score that bat wings its way to the top of his work. Vlad the Impaler gets his most emotionally vulnerable treatment a la that other not-so villainous revisionist movie “Maleficent,” the horror springing from the character’s humanity. Djawadi powerfully responds by giving Dracula a memorably bold, darkly heroic theme that becomes damn near operatic as he luxuriates in his satanic superpowers while trying to be on the side of the angels. Where Djawadi’s music is mostly restrained (though the shackles are definitely coming off) on “Game of Thrones,” “Dracula Untold” gives the composer the chance to really go for the period sweep with this neck-kissing cousin to that HBO hit, evoking a real-world Dark Age atmosphere for royalty-ruled Transylvania by using such Eastern European exotica as cimbaloms, yet sure to make the sound contemporary with the kind of propulsive, rock rhythms that are staked into today’s action scores. Especially effective is Djawadi’s tragic, music for Dracula’s immorata, a lush, pained feeling that mightily abets the character’s tragic nature, and righteously twisted vengeance. Where Dracula always talks about his nobility, this is pretty much the first score to actually play that blood-splattered lineage for all of its valorous, sword-swinging worth. When he truly assumes his mantle as the Prince of Darkness, Djawadi’s terrifically exciting use of a percussive, full-blast symphony shows off an orchestral power that’s rare for any “horror” score these days. It gives “Dracula Untold” a pretty great musical shove off for what Universal hopes will be the launch of an action-oriented monster line. This thrilling score gives us high hopes for that said franchise will be calling on the children of the old-school orchestral night for its supernaturally thematic panache.
Varese Sarabande continues to diversify to different audiences, in these two cases musically appealing to the younger set. The wee ones, particularly children with a thing for crayons, should enjoy repeated listening to “The Hero of Color City.” There’s a sweet, gentle enjoyment they’ll find in the songs and score by ex Ziggy Marley drummer Angel Roché Jr and Zoë Poledouris-Roché, who helped her dad Basil cook up an especially important theme for the way-more adult “Conan the Barbarian” back in her younger days. Tunes like “Color the World” and “Heave Ho” have cleverly rhyming lyrics and catchy melodies perfect for bedtime playing. As led by a catchy, hand-clapping theme, “Color City’s” instrumentals capture a similar charm, with lullaby-ready bells, energetic lite rock percussion and a fun Reggae rhythm, creating the kind of tinkertoy band tunes budding composers might be playing in their heads as they let their imaginations put crayon to blank musical paper. The tone of “Ninjago” has a decidedly more adult feel as Jay Vincent and Michael Kramer give an epic, Oriental sweep of the Lego knee to the “Masters of Spinjitzu.” Collecting music from the hit Cartoon Network series into an impactful hour of the score’s biggest hits, “Ninjago” impresses with its determination to reach the musical power of “Kung Fu Panda.” If anything, Vincent and Kramer are determined to be really serious (though no less fun) in melding a western approach with Oriental block fists of fury. Strong orchestral samples work quite well in tandem with Asian percussion, metal guitar, and a Chi-channeling chorus, creating a sense of dramatic excitement, and even danger that belie the playfully animated concept. It’s an admirable determination to really play in a big martial arts music sandbox that gives “Ninjago” an appeal of truly strong themes that chopsocky score aficionados will be pleased by, even as the score’s dynamic range begs out for a true symphonic army that could befit the excitement that the composers get a black belt for in conjuring.
. OUR MAN FLINT / IN LIKE FLINT
In the ying-yang universe of deserved film score karma, Jerry Goldsmith might have ended up with flying with “Supergirl” instead of “Superman,” or battling a “Swarm” of killer bees as opposed to climbing “The Towering Inferno.” But that never meant that Goldsmith didn’t give his musical all to some truly wacky wannabes, especially when it came to putting on a lady killing outfit for America’s Z.O.W.I.E. agent Derek Flint (as opposed to musically tailoring that certain other British spy). But as 60s-jazz as John Barry might have gotten with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, one couldn’t imagine that composer scaling the shagadelic heights like Goldsmith did with aplomb for 1966s “Our Man Flint” and its subsequent sequel “In Like Flint.” Where James Bond inspired all manner of spin-offs for the small and big screens during the 60s spy craze, the Flint films got the biggest studio sanction of all from 20th Century Fox. Given a mood and look just slightly less campy than “Austin Powers” would spoof, Goldsmith broke out his Nehru smoking jacket, along with the fuzz guitars, groovy electronic Solovox organ, and swooning saxes and trombones that typified a stylishly ridiculous era, given an extra puff of way-out electronics for the mad weather-controlling scientists of GALAXY in “Our Man Flint.” But given Goldsmith, “Flint’s” appeal goes way beyond its kitsch grooviness, as the composer thematically pulls it all together with a dynamically lush orchestra to give the score a relative saneness beyond the Watusi’ing action, his bongo-drumming spy action skills already honed on TV’s “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Yet the catchy score for “Our Man Flint” seems positively square when compared to “In Like Flint” as Goldsmith teams up his old Flint melody with an even better score-song riff in “Your Zowie Face.” Here Goldsmith helps Derek take on a legion of femme fatales trying to brainwash the world in beauty salons. There’s hep, insane energy to spare in Goldsmith’s delightful grooves, ostinato excitement and confident strings, especially when he roughhouses “Swan Lake”-style with bongo prancing, horn-slurring Russian dance moves. And even given the score’s way-lighter tone, there are also some dynamite two-fisted brass moves that Bond would envy. The effect is like crashing in on Dean Martin’s bachelor pad if Dino was in a particularly hep mood (though Goldsmith might be happy he never got assigned a “Matt Helm” movie). Intrada’s twin re-issue of the “Flint” LP scores sounds great, featuring Jeff Bond’s martini dry liner notes and delightfully mod packaging by Joe Sikoryak.
. JOHN WICK
Any Russian mobster who watched “The Matrix” would know better than to mess with Keanu Reeves. Fortunately as “The Equalizer” reboot recently proved, these enduring villains du jour don’t seem to watch a whole bunch of familiar former hit-man movies. And their latest f-up of killing a bad ass’ puppy gives “Devils Rejects’” Tyler Bates, “Beyond the Mat’s” Joel J. Richard and an assist by Dyland Eiland (i.e. the DJ known as Castle Vania) carte blanche to get some rocking payback. Starting off with some slow-burn ambience to get across “John Wicks” retired killer street cred, Bates, Richard and Eiland gleefully unleash electro-punishment upon the post-Commie malefactors. Reeves is an actor who brings particular grace to his annihilation, and the composers skillfully get that rhythm down with sleekly menacing strings, trip-hop beats, retro synths and grinding guitar, even allowing a cool theme to be derived amidst the mayhem. Better yet, there’s a mean, cimbalom-esque ethnicity to the score that gets across the bad guys as it repeatedly gets shocked, shot and stabbed by “John Wick’s” rave-ready dance moves. With neon propulsive songs by Ciscandra Nostaghia, M86 & Susie Q and even a jazzy “Evil Man Blues” number performed by The Candy Shop, this is one of those soundtracks that could just as easily be spun in a club as a movie soundtrack, which is right in hyper-beat step for style-conscious killer who moves with cool, yet enraged rhythmic elegance as he takes out the trash – given extra magnetism by musicians who definitely know their way around a dance floor where pulse (and the upcoming lack of many humans’) is the thing. In any case, “John Wick” is most definitely not for the mild score of heart, which for a glowstick-holding music fan is a cool thing indeed here.
OUIJA / JESSABELLE
Anton Sanko has certainly come a long way in scoring horror films since the days of “Strangeland,” employing the off-kilter vibe of such dramatic indie scores as “Scotland Pa.,” “Life in Flight” and “Rabbit Hole” to the far weirder likes of “Last Winter” and an episode a piece for “Fear Itself” and “Masters of Horror.” In the process, Sanko has impressed by evolving from cool, sampled quirk to fully commanding darkly emotional orchestral forces for “The Possession” and “The Devil’s Hand,” a talent that only becomes more uncannily formidable with the ghostly assaults of “Ouija” and “Jessabelle.” While the first spirit-talking board might now be property of Parker Brothers, Sanko uses its letters to channel the very accomodating ghost of Jerry Goldsmith with cunningly sinister string and piano-driven themes that could easily belong to the lethal seductress of “Basic Instinct” as opposed to an undead bad seed. While the requisite crash-bang fake-out shocks are present by horror score requiremet, Sanko mostly goes for a mood of mesmerizing restraint that helps give “Ouija” a maturity and intelligence uncommon for most good-looking teen multiplex fright flicks, using bubbling synths, clawing, metallic samples and eerie voices under an otherwise sleek and intimate orchestra to convey something very bad trying to rip its way out from the other side. It’s music that’s actually scary in its melodic deliberateness, the score’s intensity building nicely to the point where Sanko can let loose with throbbing percussion and a full, darkly angelic chorus for the movie’s decent pay-off, music that truly earns “Ouija’s” climactic, toy store available possesion its stripes.
No less melodically chilling, but far more terrifyingly in one’s face is the spiritual assault that befalls “Jessabelle” (available November 4th on La La Land Records), wherein a woman recovers from a disabling crash to find something far worse lying in wait for her visions in the bayou. Here it’s the hungry demon of “The Gift’s” Christopher Young that Sanko summons to stalks about a southern voodoo setting, as conveyed through through achingly drawn fiddle, strumming dulcimer percussion, bells and an ominously forelorn theme, with weirdly echoing atmospheres and reversed sound design creating a supernatural acid trip. As “Jessabelle’s” heroine literally goes off the deep end, Sanko only increases the black magic hysteria with sing-song voices that soon melt into tribal drumming, pulsating electroncs and shamanistic screaming of Sussan Deyhim, a vocalist who gives Diamanda Galas a run for gutteral insanity. It’s an inventive, paranoia-inducing assault on the senses that makes Rosemary Woodhouse’s devilish musical pregnancy a cake walk with when compared to the child-bereft “Jessabelle’s” submersion into black musical magic. It’s just a measure of how powerfully Sanko can convey the supernatural with elegance, or cruelty as he continues to weave some of the genre’s most creepily effective work from music that began in the underground.
In a particularly striking case of turning fate’s rotten apples into ironic oranges, quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve went with his immobilizing accident to gain the opportunity of bring true realism to the part of the paralyzed, voyeuristic hero – whom unlike the broken-legged James Stewart of the Hitchcock original – isn’t going to be getting out of his wheelchairl. Beyond Reeve get an Emmy nomination for his performance here, the TV remake’s second Emmy recognition would deservedly go to composer David Shire. With such memorably tense scores to his credit as “The Conversation” and “All the President’s Men,” Shire approached this new, especially creepy view from this 1998 “Window” in a far more musically active manner than Franz Waxman applied to the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock original. In fact, if any of the master of suspense’s composers haunt this technology-filled apartment, then that spirit belongs to Bernard Herrmann, as Shire uses a cinematically lush orchestral sound to play a gripping cat-and-mouse game with the wife killer across the street – a villain captured with jarringly percussive hits right at the start to signal this take on “Rear Window” will be far more frightening. Setting up a warmly empathetic theme for Reeve’s immobilized architect, Shire’s twisting,hair-raising themes vary with the rhythms of snooping about, an interplay of traditional piano, string and brass menace crossed with sometimes funky, electronic rhythm and a subtle electric guitar for the high-tech equipment that fills this living space. Shire gives the score a gripping feeling of melodic tension, with every cue neatly designed to build to the ultimate moment when the murderer will show up in person. Movie Score Media can be thanked for peering into Shire’s formidable repertoire to bring this impressive score to light again in the symphonically sumptuous album that shows just how grippingly good a musical remake can be.
. SEE NO EVIL
Where Henry Mancini got to play blind woman’s bluff with Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark” with creeping restraint, composer Elmer Bernstein got to scare the already-gone sight out of Mia Farrow with way more symphonic lavishness in this 1971 thriller from “Boston Strangler” director Richard Fleischer, who opened up the basic girl-in-peril idea from a Manhattan apartment to an English home and its surrounding countryside – where nearly all of the occupants have gone lights out thanks to a cowboy-boot wearing killer. Where Bernstein was best known for intimate Hollywood dramas or period epics, the composer was equally adept at the horror genre when give the rare chance. While he kicks up the groovy jams for “See’s” source cues and gives sweeping string melody to its heroine, no more swaggeringly than during cues like “Home Ground” and “Idyll” that could have easily accompanied a horse galloping montage in “True Grit” (but somehow appropriate for a horse-riding heroine). “See No Evil” is equally notable for its eerie, yet emotional intimacy, sparkling pianos, tender bells and vulnerable strings playing as if the score for “To Kill A Mockingbird” was suddenly thrust into a psychopath’s company. Bernstein springs brass shock effects on its terrified heroine with the best of them. The score’s retro appeal is abetted with fuzz guitar suspense and racing bongos the terror truly reaching frenzied proportions in cues like “Discovery” where staccato piano runs grow with rampaging brass adrenalin, or in an swirling “Escape” that would work just as well for a flight from a German prison camp. Sure Mancini may have been skulking about the dark, but it’s the sheer, alarmed craziness of Bernstein’s approach in between its tip-toe’ing that makes “See No Evil” so much boisterous fun. Once can only imagine how Bernstein might have scored a “Friday the 13th” movie had he be given the chance.
. ST. VINCENT
“Marley and Me” composer Theodore Shapiro has always had a thing for the comedic underdog in such scores as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “One Chance,” all while creating clearly distinct musical characters for these seeming losers, whether it be wacky percussion, dream-like melody or operatic triumph. But he’s likely never gotten a true, cantankerous schlub like Bill Murray’s boozing Vietnam vet who seems to be anything but “St. Vincent.” Yet like all of his previous life-losers, Shapiro finds a heart of gold underneath them with his catchy, rhythmic approach. The trick here is grabbing onto the music that Murray’s curmudgeon likely listened to during his glory days, then crossing it with whatever tune might have been playing in the bar he frequents. The result is a boozy, bluesy score that stays after last call on its way to a “Bad Santa”-esque redemption that only a nice latchkey kid can provide. Coming up with easygoing melodies that play off Murray’s undeniable charm, Shapiro gradually opens the score’s emotion up from a crabapple player piano, not-so-cool Hammond organ and alternately shuffling and stumbling percussion. He takes the score through its emotional beats in a way that’s nicely subtle instead of forced, from sweet hand-clap montage music to the eerie synths of more dramatic moments, with a poignant violin and tender guitar that enters the scene to signal some sort of bonding breakthrough. Eschewing the “cool” factor of other retro rock scores, Shapiro can be blessed for a funny and personable rough-around-the-edges score that plays up a ratty neighborhood and the fact that the guy next door isn’t such an a-hole after all. Like this thoroughly satisfying movie, that’s graced with Murray’s best work yet, Shapiro’s “St. Vincent” has an emotionally winning attitude with a capital A.
. 22 & 21 JUMP STREET
Far from signaling film scoring Devo-lution, ex-cult rocker Mark Mothersbaugh has consistently proven himself as one of Hollywood’s most wackily animated composers, loading his work with hip retro samples, wacky rhythms and knowingly bombastic strings. It’s a child-like glee that’s often having fun with his assignments while satirizing them at the same time, an ironic, adrenalin sense of fun that most recently hit it awesomely big for filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with “The Lego Movie,” a road of unabashed energy that began in “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.” But Mothersbaugh’s most hilariously satiric work for the duo is definitely their two shots at “21 Jump Street” and its delightfully unnecessary sequel “22 Jump Street,” both of which have been collected by La La Land Records. If a common musical (not to mention cinematic) problem with all of these TV-to-movie reboots is having older composers trying to show how “with it” they are for audiences who weren’t even embryos when these shows were on, then Mothersbaugh nails the hopelessly goofy quality of their scores at trying to be hip-hop modern. Wacky, out-of-shape synths, way-too manic electric guitars and thunderous strings rock out like an over the hill band. But that’s exactly the joke of these movies. You can feel the sweat flying off Mothersbaugh’s keyboards as he rags on every Bruckheimer-blockbuster score before him, yet with simultaneous affection that offers surprisingly good themes for action and romance amidst the patriotically trumpeting hijinks. His absurdist sound reaches even bigger heights of cop score portentousness in the even better sequel score for “22.” Sure he might be playing a golf cart chase. But the charm in these “Jump Street” scores is that he might as well be thrashing on top of an army tank as it’s racing to save the world. It’s a musical joke that pays off with an energetically wacky wink where every cop score cliché he indulges in is awesome.
. WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
From “The Doom Generation” to “Splendor” and “Kaboom!” Greg Araki’s films are Technicolor, sexed-up acid trips, full of bad behavior that can range from the hilarious to the disturbing – but never without empathy for his misfit characters. Two composers to particularly to get that vibe are Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, who first teamed to give a beautiful, translucent synth-rock vibe to the surreal UFO imagery that hid two young men’s awful truth behind Araki’s “Mysterious Skin.” Now the filmmaker sends another teen on a hallucinatory vision question to find the “White Bird In A Blizzard,” a caged bird that happens to be a daughter’s dissatisfied, and now disappeared suburban mother. Where Guthrie and Budd nailed a kind of retro sci-fi purple haze for “Mysterious Skin,” “White Bird’s” setting of the 80s allows them to spiritually get the guitar-synth doom groove of the decade, a proto-Goth music period that Cocteau Twins’ former guitarist Guthrie likely knows well. The result is long puffs of haunted, hallucinatory melodies that are things of ethereal beauty. As opposed to a more overtly traditional approach any other filmmaker or composer might have taken, Araki and his musicians play a smooth dream world of teen angst, with guitar-topped melodies capturing a feminine yearning that captures the weird transition between girl and woman, while a tender piano helps give lost humanity to an otherwise unsympathetic foreign hausfrau trapped in a suburb she never made. “White Bird in a Blizzard” is alt. rock scoring at its most dreamily transcendent, a finally uplifting tone poem for coming of age that abets this film’s unique, unquantifiable vibe in a way that’s more like fantasy silk than pelting snow.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande
WaterTower Music today proudly announces the [da.2014-11-18]November 18 release of [a.13923]Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, with music by renowned composer [c.237]Hans Zimmer, whose career has earned him Grammy, Golden Globe, Classical Brit, Academy, Tony, and American Music Awards. The soundtrack will be available in three configurations: a [a.13891]Star Wheel Constellation Chart Digipak, a [a.13923]deluxe digital-only version, and an [a.13924]Illuminated Star Projection Edition with bonus content (coming later this year).
Interstellar, from Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, pairs the creative forces of [c.237]Hans Zimmer and esteemed director Christopher Nolan, who collaborated previously on [m.]The Dark Knight film trilogy and...
The winners of the World Soundtrack Awards were announced Saturday night at the 41st Ghent Film Festival. Some of the winners and nominees were as follows:
Film Composer of the Year
WINNER: [c.752]Alexandre Desplat [m.35957]The Grand Budapest Hotel, [m.35275]Godzilla, [m.35958]The Monuments Men, [m.37818]Venus in Fur, [m.37817]Philomena, [m.37819]Zulu, [m.41620]Marius
[c.14]Marco Beltrami [m.32179]A Good Day to Die Hard, [m.33946]Carrie, [m.39472]The Homesman, [m.34084]Snowpiercer, [m.32331]Warm Bodies, [m.33298]The Wolverine, [m.32675]World War Z
[c.1974]Steven Price [m.32671]Gravity, [m.34826]The World's End
[c.234]Gabriel Yared [m.38466]A Promise, [m.39497]In Secret, [m.40553]Kahlil Gibran's The...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.91]Mark Isham ([m.36960]Fallen), [c.423]David Hirschfelder ([m.42268]The Dressmaker), [c.752]Alexandre Desplat ([m.42270]Suffragette), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 32 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-10-20]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.41738]23 Blast ([c.1488]John Carta), [m.41561]John Wick ([c.648]Tyler Bates & [c.4501]Joel J. Richard), and [m.31315]Ouija ([c.743]Anton Sanko). [m.39035]St. Vincent ([c.452]Theodore Shapiro) is expanding nationwide for its limited release earlier this...
Creature Features, a 2,000 square foot gallery devoted to film & TV memorabilia, books, and music in Burbank, California, is hosting the Superhero Soundtrack Signing with La-La Land Records. Composers attending will include [c.1169]Lolita Ritmanis, [c.531]Michael McCuistion, [c.708]Carlos Rodriguez, [c.13520]Stuart Balcomb, and [c.1540]Frederik Wiedmann amongst others.
Details of the event are as follows:
October 25, 2014, 1:00 - 3:00 PM
2904 W. Magnolia
For further details on the event, [url.http://www.lalalandrecords.com/Site/Events.html]click...
The Golden State Pops Orchestra is hosting a fundraiser event at Sonic Fuel Studios in El Segundo, California tonight. The event, "Anatomy of a Horror Score," features a behind the scenes look into the world of horror film music composition. In attendance will be composers [c.14]Marco Beltrami, [c.777]Charles Bernstein, [c.114]Joseph LoDuca, [c.810]Nathan Barr, and director Don Mancini.
The $200 ticket to the event will also include a backstage pass to a concert of one's choice during the 2014-2015 Season. [url.https://goldenstate-popsorchestra.squarespace.com/seasons/2014/9/14/halloween-fundraiser-event]Further details can be found...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.1231]Nathan Larson ([m.42218]The Wannabe), [c.3507]Laurent Eyquem ([t.42219]The Red Tent), [c.1058]John Swihart ([m.42224]A Light Beneath their Feet), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 43 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-10-13]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.39210]The Best of Me ([c.1015]Aaron Zigman), [m.36256]The Book of Life ([c.1132]Gustavo Santaolalla), and [m.37595]Fury ([m.1974]Steven Price). [m.41821]Men, Women & Children ([c.13685]Bibio) is expanding nationwide for its limited release...
Alexander Publishing, working with the North Family, has begun releasing the Alex North Film Scoring Series featuring newly engraved scores in concert key of actual film cues of Academy Award winning A-list composer Alex North. The first cue is Bones/Main Title running 1:34 and is 100% downloadable and printable in an oversized 11 x 17 format. With the newly engraved cue is also orchestrator Henry Brant’s original handwritten orchestration for study comparison. Henry Brant is the author of Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook and scoring techniques covered in his book are heard in the orchestrations.
Separate video instruction on selected cues focusing on orchestration and composition releases the week of October 13, 2014.
To promote the series, a newly designed movie poster alluding to the scene for which Bones was written has been created by Caroline J. Alexander and can be downloaded for free at the Alexander site.
Alex North’s instrumentation for Bones/Main Title is a true Hollywood balls-to-the-wall epic orchestral sound for full string section, 4 flutes, 4 clarinets, 4 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 4 French horns, 6 trumpets, 4 tenor trombones, 2 Euphoniums, 2 Tubas, 2 Timpanists (2 sets of timpani), crash cymbals, 2 different Organs, and 2 Harps.
The first of two video lectures on Bones/Main Title focuses on orchestration, composition, vertical registration and dynamic equivalents. “Though Bones/Main Title is short at a 1:34, what you come away with is titanic,” said Peter Alexander, General Editor of the Alex North Film Scoring Series and teacher on the Alex North video lectures.
The second video in the series, releasing in November, focuses entirely on harmony. “Those with a jazz harmony background will get lots out of the upcoming harmony video on Bones,” Alexander said.
For those not familiar with the 2001 score, the North family has permitted the original mono recording of Bones/Main Title, conducted by Henry Brant, to be posted at the Alexander Publishing web site.
All of the originally recorded cues for 2001 can be heard at Alex North 2001 at no charge to the listener. A concert of Alex North cues can be heard at the new Alex North Film Scoring YouTube channel.
A more recent recording can be found on iTunes conducted by Jerry Goldsmith on the Varese Sarabande label, where each re-recorded 2001 cue can be downloaded individually.
The Hollywood Music in Media Awards announced their nominees in the Visual Media categories this week. For more information on the composers and films nominated, [url.http://www.soundtrack.net/news/article/?id=1909]click here.
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.1065]Ramin Djawadi ([m.36888]Warcraft), [c.45]John Debney ([t.42177]Odyssey), [c.2495]Dave Porter ([t.40368]Better Call Saul), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 41 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-10-06]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.38926]Addicted ([c.1015]Aaron Zigman),...
This week the Hollywood Music in Media Awards announced their nominees in the Visual Media categories, which includes fields for original composition and music supervision. Some of those nominees are:
ORIGINAL SCORE - FEATURE FILM
[c.752]Alexandre Desplat - [m.38812]The Imitation Game
[c.11302]Antonio Sanchez - [m.39779]Birdman
[c.3198]Johann Johannsson - [m.40675]The Theory of Everything
[c.237]Hans Zimmer - [m.36450]Interstellar
[c.1974]Steven Price - [m.37595]Fury
[c.149]Thomas Newman - [m.38641]The Judge
[c.1745]Trent Reznor & [c.1283]Atticus Ross - [m.39148]Gone Girl
ORIGINAL SCORE SCI-FI/FANTASY FILM
[c.648]Tyler Bates - [m.34687]Guardians of the Galaxy
Varèse Sarabande Records will release [a.13512]Fury Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally and on CD [da.2014-10-14]October 14, 2014. The soundtrack features original score by the 2014 Academy Award-winning composer [c.1974]Steven Price.
"I remember having a chat with David [Ayer, director] on set and we discussed how no one had really shown the war [World War II] how it really was. He was incredibly accurate with every detail on this film," said Price. As a result, "the music needed to be honest and true. He wanted the audience to feel; to feel frightened when it was appropriate and give the feeling that life could end just like that."
"I sought to honor the characters' bravery; to create a score that was honest and true," said Price of his score for...
For a country where some people can congratulate themselves for electing a black President, it often seems that America is more behind the times then ever, both in lethally law-enforced terms, and artistic ones where “black” entertainment more often than not engages in minstrel show drama and humor. For an “enlightened” Hollywood that engages in “some of my best friends” lip service, it’s particularly disappointing when the precious few black film composers are kept by The Man in a musical ghetto where only brown color applies. It’s the kind of can’t-we-all-just-get along attitude that would make any self-respecting minority get outraged, let alone the students at tony Winchester University, whose biting voice of protest is the not-so ironically named Samantha White (Teresa Thompson), whose blisteringly hilarious podcasts give this Sundance winner its name.
As written and directed by Justin SImien, “Dear White People” comes across like “School Daze” as made by “Metropolitan’s” Whit Stillman, with its central conflict being as much between image-conscious black students as it is their white counterparts’ desire to make themselves part of their culture – satirically thoughtless stereotyping that comes to a boil at a Halloween party which becomes this movie’s version of a trash can hurled through the window of a Brooklyn pizzeria. However, “Dear White People” is way too Ivy-league smart to throw its can with hip-hop, shuck n’ jive clichés that other black filmmakers lower themselves to, with composer Kathryn Bostic particularly standing up to embody Simien’s satirically cool, Ivy League-level scripting and directorial style.
Toss away the color of “Dear White People,” and you’ll find the “snobs versus slobs” appeal that’s made for the college comedy genre since the landmark “Animal House,” which pitted misfits against the sniggering rich boys – except here the once-outcast students have already been co-opted. It’s a theme that informs Bostic’s super-intelligent approach, especially in its lush, aristocratic themes that stand for distinctly un-urban characters thrust into a white environment that’s desperate to show just how class-conscious it isn’t. Her music does wonders with Simien’s razor-sharp takedowns, where dialogue abounds racial references as much as it does pop culture call outs to “Gremlins” and Taylor Swift. For if you hear a familiar, catchily cool percussive take on a certain classical piece that got “Barry Lyndon” an Oscar for score adaptation, then they won’t be mistaken. When it comes to the jazz music that one black character dares to admit disliking, Bostic’s cool combo swings from Ellington-esque jazz romance to uptempo rhythm that bring to mind Bill Lee’s seminal score for his director son’s breakthrough “She’s Gotta Have It.” And for the climactic Halloween party riot, Bostic brings together electric guitar overload and drum percussion in a way that will have you applauding as the evil fratboys get a taste of not-so civil protest.
“Dear White People” has gotten a major push from its Special Jury Prize at Sundance, a counter-culture film haven that’s also given no small amount of inspiration to Bostic. It’s now given her career its biggest push yet after a range that’s encompassed her own concert appearances and playing beside such artists as Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne, on-camera musical appearances in shows like “Brothers & Sisters” and a long career in both television and film that’s recently included such well-regarded indie features as “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere.” Though her scoring identity has displaying an entrancingly ethereal and melodic voice that’s driven by strong-willed characters, Bostic herself isn’t a woman who’s about to get on a microphone to give a Samantha-level protest at being one of the precious few black female composers, especially in a town that can’t wait to traffic jam for an Obama fundraiser, while simultaneously pigeonholing most of its media musicians who happen to be black. Instead, Bostic prefers to let her chill scores speak for themselves, which it does with an especially smart, impressively melodic bite in “Dear White People” a film whose incredibly intelligent voice promises many of its participants will be heard loud and clear in the future, no more so than Kathryn Bostic’s.
Tell us about your musical upbringing, and what made you want to be a composer?
I grew up listening to everything from classical, jazz, r&b, rock and more, my parents loved music and my mother was a classical pianist and teacher. I started playing the piano when I was 3 and was always coming up with these little melodies that I’d play and sing around the house. As I grew older, I appreciated more and more how listening to music made me feel and wanted to sing and create my own music. I was in a few bands in high school and college and we’d have these intense jam sessions that would later become more defined musically. In college I started writing music for dance, theater, and short films and really enjoyed the way music worked in these collaborative contexts.
Were there any black composers who influenced you in particular, or was it film music in general?
Listening to the wide range of music that I did while growing up brought me to a phenomenal treasure trove of black composers including William Grant Still, Ulysses Kay, George Walker, Margaret Bonds, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye…I mean I could go on and on. They are all such extraordinary innovators of rich textures and amazing emotional depth. Definitely big influences for me. These are all cutting edge and visionary composers.
How did your time at the Sundance composer lab give you an insight into the kind of “indie” scores that go into making the kind of movies that do well at the festival like “Dear White People”
For me the Sundance Composers Lab is more about the craft of film scoring in and of itself. The lab helps to refine tools about music as story telling for film. It provides a hands-on process to explore palette, genre choices, and overall stylistic instincts. The mentoring is incredible, I mean you have some of the top studio composers right there with you giving you insight and inspiration. The Sundance Composers Lab also creates an environment where you learn more and more about the art of collaboration with a director and what it means to be a part of a creative team that is shaping the film. It was one of the most beneficial and affirming events I’ve had as a film composer. They’ve recently expanded the labs to include a sound design team at Skywalker and that experience was amazing. Being a part of these labs was a crucial factor in my deciding to actively pursue film scoring.
How did that fact that this was Justin’s debut as a feature director, and screenwriter affect your work? And was it an easier collaboration given that you were both black, and drawing from that experience?
I treated scoring this film the way I treat all my scoring jobs regardless of race and what film it is chronologically for a director. As a film composer, my task is to write music that serves the film, and have a creative chemistry between myself and the director that enables this. Justin and I had worked together before, so there was already a synergy and creative simpatico. You could argue that a composer’s race or cultural background is an essential in scoring certain films and I suppose in some cases that may be true, in this case it was about being able to deliver Justin’s vision for the score.
“Dear White People” is shot in a very subtle, almost cold way that’s the antithesis of “black” films where characters are mugging to the camera. How did that play into your approach?
My approach to the score was very much like Justin’s approach in creating this film, veering away from the traditional musical anecdotes that often underscore many of today’s’ black Hollywood films with typical comedic hits or deep and searing melodramatic swagger. He wanted something fresh and innovative which gave me room to be quirky without being clichéd. He had very specific ideas about the music and wanted the score to defy the expected and the norm. So there would be a moment where Swan Lake is the underscore and it bumps into a Bebop jazz moment that turns into an electronic trance groove that morphs into a Ligeti sound alike or a song. So there’s a great montage of seriousness mixed in with sly comedy and the score reflects that. Justin has a great instinct for music not only carrying a scene but being its own character playing off the actual characters in the scene. He wanted the music to be able to stand on its own and not have a presence that was exclusively tangential and in the background. At first I thought this would get in the way of the dialogue and emotional momentum already there through the characters, but the way he places the music really helped to further define these moments.
You make particularly fun use of Schubert’s Piano Trio in Eb 2nd movement, which is most familiar to music fans for its thematic use in the soundtrack of “Barry Lyndon.” How did this piece end up in the score?
Justin is a huge Stanley Kubrick fan and in subtle homage to him, Justin wanted that particular theme from “Barry Lyndon” to be re-created in different ways to underscore the masks and persona of the characters.
Beyond Schubert, how did your music want to satirize the snooty nature of academia, especially when black pop culture references were thrown into it?
I think the music in this film was used in a way that again has all these milieus and attitudes bumping up against each other and at times “fighting” for their own musical turf and identity just like the students in the film. There’s an instant assumption that classical music is going to reference academia high “brownishness” and yet at the same time it’s also used to underscore pretentiousness and inner workings of a character like Coco. These characters are not one-dimensional, they have complexities about their own sense of identity and race heightened in this academic environment so the score is a mosaic of these various attitudes and conflicts. I really appreciated this approach in working on the score. Justin was very masterful in laying out the blueprint for this.
What’s your favorite joke, or scene in the film, and why? Is there something you agreed with it that white people would just “get” about blacks?
Let’s just say I love the poster for this movie…this about says it all and I have experienced this a number of times LOL and not so LOL!
I think a lot of people are going to compare “Dear White People” to “School Daze.” Do you think it’s similar, especially when it comes to the differences in attitude between Justin and Spike Lee? Or in the use of music?
I think those comparisons are understandable to the extent that both films take place on college campuses and deal with identity and race in biting satire and serious truth telling.
Your scores for “Middle of Nowhere,” “I Will Follow” and even scenes in “Dear White People” seem to share a mellow, ethereal mood. How do you think that reflects your personality, and melodic approach?
These scores, in those moments, reflect the mood and emotional intent the directors wanted me to convey and create. So that ethereal tone was what they specifically wanted.
Beyond film, you’ve also done theatrical scores for August Wilson and Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” What do you think the biggest differences are between those two forms of scoring, especially when it comes to accompanying action?
One of the main differences is that theater is real time and live so the timing of the music used to underscore or hit a point of action is going to vary in each performance in terms of timing. Theater scoring is tied more to the script where film scoring is locked into visual points that are not fluid that way. Both require the music to elevate the emotional arc of a scene or scene transition.
Tell us about your work as a singer and songwriter?
I’ve always enjoyed singing and songwriting, for me it’s a great form of composing and storytelling. I’ve been a backing vocalist for some amazing entertainers in the studio and on the road, including Ryuchi Sakamoto, k.d. Lang, Nas, Dave Byrne, and John Hiatt. I was inspired by their original and innovative artistry. I learned so much from them and realized that I wanted to create more of my own material and give voice to that. I’ve also done quite a bit of session singing on extraordinary scores by major hollywood composers that include John Williams, James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, John Powell and many more. This has given me insight into how the voice is used as ensemble to elevate a particular scene.
When I’m at the piano there’s a fluidity that I really give into while playing, the lyrics usually follow the music and my songs kind of write themselves this way. I’ve been fortunate to hear and develop my ideas with some incredible musicians including Darryl Jones, Will Calhoun, Ricky Peterson, Keb Mo and Herman Matthews. I’m currently working with some really serious players who are patiently helping me “marinate my vibe” as I like to say. Special shout out to Abe Lagrimas Jr., Andrew Synowiec, Dan Pearson, Mitch Forman, Jamieson Trotter, Ross Garren and Ken Stacey. We play at local venues quite a bit so I get to hear my songs and compositions with an organic dynamic that really helps me to further define the music. I am deeply appreciative of this community and ultimately I take it back to where it starts, home while I sing, play the piano and see what the muse has in store for me.
What’s your reaction to people who might label you as a “black female film composer,” as opposed to just “film composer?” And do you think being in that minority can help, or hinder one’s chances?
If someone chooses to put me in a category and define me exclusively that way, then that’s what that is for them. I certainly embrace that I’m an African American woman and more, but deeper than that point of reference is my soul as an artist. That’s the place I write and create from and it’s always been that way, I didn’t sit at the piano at age three and say. “Here I am a little black girl playing the piano,” I just played the piano and wrote my songs. Obviously as I’ve gotten older the socialization, perceptions and projections about being black, about being a woman developed an awareness in me that also became a part of me. The awareness is absolutely there but doesn’t define me. I have always had an intrinsic instinct about being musically creative that transcends this. I believe those people who like what I do will want to work with me and this won’t necessarily be based on race or gender. It’s unfortunate that we still have to have these types of conversations because to me labels can potentially minimize and artificially define the depth of the work itself. There’s so much baggage with labels. It’s ultimately about the music…compose music that will serve the film in a way that’s effective and transformative.
Back in the day composer like Quincy Jones could score any kind of subject. Now it seems that black composers in general get “ghetto-ized” into only being considered for films that deal with black characters, or subject matter? Why do you think that is? And what’s your plan make people see you beyond those barriers?
I think film scoring is a hard nut to crack for anybody. Indeed, white males comprise the majority of the film and TV scoring community, the competition overall is very high and people tend to hire based on relationships that have been cultivated. For that matter, where are the Asian, Latino, Native American and women composers in mainstream film and TV scoring? The broader and important issue is providing music courses in the schools. There is a huge void in this area and kids are not being taught the basics of how to read or write music. That already creates a huge imbalance insofar as who is being encouraged, mentored and educated for this. There are so many talented kids from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds but the public school system needs to prioritize music education and mentor kids who aren’t able to afford private lessons and instruments. I think this has had an impact on the overall perception that there are no people of color composing music for film. I find the term “minority” to be pejorative and code for “less than” not only in numbers but in capability. This perception is confounding and false. I also think a mechanism for change is for directors and producers who are in a position to hire, to really want to think outside their comfort zone and make a concerted effort to look for and hire amazing talent beyond their “go to” roster. Ultimately the music, the score is what’s important and my “plan” is to focus on that with creative integrity and imagination that works for the film.
What do you hope that black, and white audiences take away from “Dear White People?” Do you want them to be outraged in a way that goes beyond the humor?”
I think the dialogue about race and identity are important and can’t continue to be swept under the rug or air brushed to fit into media savvy campaigns and programming about this group or that group. These are very transparent times and everything is up for scrutiny and reveal. This film definitely provokes much needed discussion about stereotypic attitudes that are being confronted and exposed.
“Dear White People” opens October 17th, with Kathryn Bostic’s score available online soon from Lakeshore Records.
Visit Kathryn Bostic’s website HERE
ON THE SCORE is sponsored by La-La Land Records
Hollywood has hosted composers the world over who proudly integrate their country’s respective rhythms into the grand tradition of film scoring, whether it be the Oscar-lauded likes of France’s Maurice Jarre, Italy’s Ennio Morricone or Argentina’s Lalo Schifrin. But when it came to truly recognizing the indigenous music of South America, it would Gustavo Santaolalla who truly made a seismic Academy Award impact, winning back-to-back Best Scores for the heartfelt western guitar of “Brokeback Mountain” and the rhythmic world-spanning music of “Babel.” An acclaimed singer, songwriter and producer in his homeland, Santaolalla’s distinctive scores didn’t so much beat a strictly ethnic path as much as they adopted their native rhythms and instruments to a poetic, indie sound. In America, Santaolalla’s stripped-down, acoustical spirit blended with often melancholy keyboards in such dramas as “21 Grams” “North Country” and “August: Osage County.” It soulfully traveled the back roads across the border in “Motorcycle Diaries,” or jazzily sought the heart of an unbridled beat America in “On the Road.” And perhaps only Santaolalla could hear a zombie holocaust with a the spare, visceral impact of a rustic guitar, soft strings and a lone piano for the acclaimed videogame “The Last of Us.”
The South American spirit has always been willing for Gustavo Santaolalla, but never quite with the Dia de Muertos joy that his scoring puts into “The Book of Life,” a film that marks his first chapter in animated feature scoring. Joining him is Mexican producer Guillermo del Toro, a superstar filmmaking exporter of such distinctive Latin terrors as “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – here helping realize the zanily creepy vision of animator-turned-director Jorge R. Gutierrez (“Mucha Luca,” “El Tigre”). It’s fitting that del Toro is a fervent fan of the twisted rock satire “Phantom of the Paradise,” whose brilliant songwriter Paul Williams joins Santaolalla for the catchily thematic tunes “I Love You Too Much” and “No Matter Where You Are.” Together, this richly imaginative team conjures a south-of-the-border “Nightmare Before Christmas” in celebrating Mexico’s far less freaked out celebration of the deceased, with a pantheon of other deities and creatures whose bric-a-brac design also seems to have come from a Salvador Dali acid trip. Santaolalla responds with a sweeping, magical score that compliments the antic musical comedy, rejoicing in his distinctively ethnic voice for guitar and percussion, while also bringing in chorus, orchestra, spaghetti western stylings and even rambunctious heavy metal in the in Hollywood tradition of epically antic CGI toon scoring.
Now on a new episode of “On the Score,” Gustavo Santaolalla talks about a distinctive career that pays equal heart to his native musical traditions and an ever-expanding Hollywood sound, one that bursts into new musical colors with the fun, skeletal fiesta that fills “The Book of Life.”
Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to DownloadBuy the Soundtrack: THE BOOK OF LIFE (Score Album) Buy the Soundtrack: THE BOOK OF LIFE (Soundtrack Album) Buy the Soundtrack: THE LAST OF US
Buy the Soundtrack: BABEL Visit Gustavo Santaolalla’s listening website
In a cinema where wannabe musicians have their aspirations lifted through the very mild tribulations of crotchety, yet ultimately humane instructors, filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” is “Fight Club” as opposed to “Fame” – the equivalent of a cymbal in the face, or a shower of blood splashed across a drum kit. While young percussion prodigy Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) gets out of the way of the first abuse-bomb, he’ll have plenty of blood, sweat and tears to give in his sadistic servant-master relationship to his instructor Terence Fletcher, a jazz drill sergeant who makes the scream-swear martinet in “Full Metal Jacket” look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Music Conservatory Farm. Fletcher’s determined to slap the greatness out of his students even if it means driving them to madness, and the desperate-to-please Andrew is determined to show he’s got what it takes. Their resulting drum clashes are far more physical beat downs than anything resembling the free-form joy that jazz is supposed to represent, resulting in what just might be the most viscerally exhausting, and nastily exhilarating film ever made about what it takes to make music. Not the happy cafeteria jam that sends the kids onto the streets outside Julliard, but the agonizing pressure of rising oneself above the pop mediocrity of being “good enough.”
When you see and hear the insanity that Chazelle went through in his acclaimed, autobiographical film, you can easily understand why he tossed the drumsticks in favor of a likely far more successful career as a writer-director. Yet for a movie where music stands for anything but harmony, “Whiplash” benefits from a terrific soundtrack that works as pure jazz and devastatingly psychological scoring as Andrew’s beloved music is gradually twisted inside of his head. The score by Chazelle’s fellow Harvard grad Justin Hurwitz is as far different imaginable from their joyous jazz musical debut with 2009s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” let alone the brilliantly lush “movie jazz” pioneered by Alex North’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” or Elmer Bernstein’s “Man with the Golden Arm.” Instead, Hurwitz’s astonishing work is work plays jazz as a progressive mental breakdown, with warping, drone-like effects over slurred, blaring carhorn brass and relentless percussion. A grimly poignantly theme for intimate piano and bell percussion (or played in devilishly melodic fashion by Fletcher on the ivories) capture the sadly wounded, beyond-eager to please child within Andrew. It’s a score as a skittering time bomb, waiting to blow as it curls back in defeat after one profane explosion after another. That Hurwitz has a whole other writing gig that includes “The Simpsons” and “The League” makes his musical work in “Whiplash” all the most astonishing.
The more pleasantly traditional jazz stylings in “Whiplash” go to Tim Simonec, an orchestrating and conducting sideman second to none. Such acolytes as Michael Giacchino and Graeme Revell have kept Simonec in constant scoring stage demand to make scores like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Aeon Flux” and “The Incredibles” sing, all while Simonec has made his own composing bones on “Survival Game” and “Fighting Tommy Riley.” In “Whiplash,” Simonec’s big band numbers “Too Hip To Retire,” and “Upswingin’” along with the rehearsals for Fletcher’s tightly wound jazz competitions are the energetic, ironic contrasts to Hurwitz’s neurotic grooves. This is brass and percussion swing at its happiest, which is anything but what’s going on – especially when Simonec’s name to conjure utter terror in Andrew. Simonec’s swing is right in line with “Whiplash’s” nostalgic use of Stan Getz’s “Intoit,” Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” (which provides the film with its bravura finale) and Hank Levy’s titular tune, which soon becomes a thematic callback to Fletcher’s repetitive abuse.
Now Hurwitz and Simonec reflect on creating an alternately troubling and joyous jazz groove that will likely make any potential student think twice about just what it takes, while showing just how dangerously exhilarating that drum-beating journey can be.
What was your moment when you decided to become a musician? And did that initial optimism ever get deflated?
Hurwitz: I started playing piano at 6. There were times that I hated practicing and wanted to quit, but stuck with it because everything else (sports) would have been more miserable. Now, I’m of course thankful that I kept music in my life.
Simonec:I started taking organ lessons at the age of eight. My mother took me to practice until I was about 16. I started organizing small singing groups and then larger singing groups through college, but never considered music as a career. Again my mom kept saying, “You’re not gonna become a minister (which is what I studied for and majored in while in college). Why don’t you go into music?” However, I did become a minister of youth and music in the local church when fate took a hand. I was asked by a friend to write a theme for a local television show. For the first time in my life, I was fortunate enough to work with professional studio musicians. The very moment they played my theme was the defining moment of me going into the music business. I knew I wanted to write music for movies and work with studio musicians. This dream was realized about six years later when I moved to Hollywood and began scoring music for the show “Happy Days” in 1980.
What do you think sets “Whiplash” apart from both “I want to be a musician” movies like “Fame,” or other movies that try to capture the essence of jazz like” Bird”
Hurwitz: Whiplash shows the sheer physicality and brutality involved with playing music at a high level, in a way that I haven’t seen.
Simonec: I believe at the essence of this film there is a driving passion for Andrew to become the best as a drummer. The huge challenge and obstacle before him is to deal with Fletcher. It is the passion to make great music that becomes the very conflict between Andrew and Fletcher. I also think that the film presents a truer look at the very essence of making music and the conflicts that are inherent in having a musical career – romantic entanglements, encountering someone in a position of leadership who doesn’t have confidence in your abilities, a family that doesn’t quite understand what you’re going through, and trying to possess the inner drive that necessary to make it in music.
What’s the big difference with having a director who’s also a musician, let alone one who’s made a film with autobiographical elements like “Whiplash?”
Hurwitz: Damien is amazing at communicating what he wants. He has a more advanced musical vocabulary than most directors. I don’t end up running around in circles trying to interpret a confusing note, like composers often do, because I always know what Damien is looking for.
Simonec: Working with Damien Chazelle, who is a drummer and has a great love of big band music, made the composition process extremely smooth and efficient. He was able to perfectly articulate the kind of compositions he wanted for each scene. Plus he provided me with audio examples from the archive of great big band music. Any suggestions or comments he had on my compositions only made them better. As to the autobiographical elements, I feel Damien was able to incorporate them into the final script and filmmaking process. His autobiographical experiences were secondary to making a powerful film and understanding the movie making process. He understood, and showed that all too well in the final product.
Justin, were your school experiences the same as Damien’s, and if so, did that put you in better synch?
Hurwitz: Damien and I were roommates from sophomore year on, and had very similar lifestyles. We didn’t do a ton of partying. We spent a lot of time in our room, working. Until we made Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (our first film) at the end of college, our work was separate, but we always kept each other motivated and on task. We’d see that the other one was reading a blog or watching a YouTube video and say, “Get back to work.” There’s a similar sentiment in Whiplash — the idea that to be good at something, you have to work hard and sacrifice.
Justin, did you work with Damien on the “Whiplash” short that got him the feature? And did you know how essential the music would be towards landing the deal?
Hurwitz: The short didn’t have any original music in it, only the titular song “Whiplash” which is a jazz standard composed by Hank Levy. But I knew that his plan was to make a feature, and that I would do the dramatic underscore and original jazz.
Did you ever have an instructor as terrifying as Terence?
Hurwitz: Not as terrifying as Terence Fletcher, but I had a piano teacher who used to hit me on the back with a ruler.
Simonec: Thankfully, no. But I did have quite the opposite with an instructor who helped me greatly.His name was George Strombeck and he was the band director at Trinity College. My major was Bibl Studies. But I was so into music and was very fortunate to just bump into George after school while I was doing an arrangement for singers in an orchestra. I shared with him that I had so many musical ideas in my head that I really didn’t know how to write them down on paper. George then taught me privately after school how to interpret and write down complicated rhythms so that they could be played by instrumentalists. Unlike Fletcher he was always very enthusiastic about my work and extremely encouraging to me. I will always be grateful for the part he played in my musical path.
If you ever had a moment where you felt you didn’t have it, what inspired you to continue?
Hurwitz: As a classical pianist growing up, I had a number of reality checks where I realized how much better other musicians were than I was, and that was sometimes demoralizing, but I kept at it because I knew that I was better at music than anything else I could be doing.
How else could you personally could you identify with Andrew’s character?
Hurwitz: I don’t have the greatest social skills in the world. I usually choose to stay in and work over, go out at night. There’s an early scene in Whiplash where a bandmate asks Andrew how his weekend was and he says, “Fun,” when we know that he stayed in. I love that moment because it always annoys me when people ask how my weekend was.
Conversely, do you agree with Terence’s teaching practices, or philosophy? How do you push someone without going over the edge? And how do you tell someone they’re not good enough?
Hurwitz: This is tough. I think it’s all right for a teacher to push a student as long as the student doesn’t break. Different students have different tolerances and breaking points, so a teacher has to adapt. There are aspects to Fletcher’s style that I certainly don’t agree with like his use of epithets, but I think it’s all right to be demanding and at times cruel depending on the student, their goals, and what they can handle.
Do you think we’re letting “Good Job” mediocrity get away far more often in jazz, let alone music?
Hurwitz: I think the line Damien wrote, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job” can be applied in a lot of areas, not just music.
How did you want to create a contrast between Andrew and Terence’s music?
Hurwitz: The music Andrew plays is increasingly feverish throughout the movie. We only see Fletcher play music once, and it’s a very tender piano piece that I wrote. He’s such a monster throughout the movie, that it’s nice to see glimpses of his gentler side. Twice in the film, we see Fletcher’s vulnerability. Once when he talks to his class about a former student, and once when he’s at the piano.
How did you go about choosing the jazz pieces for “Whiplash,” especially the title tune?
Hurwitz: Damien chose that piece because it was one of the tunes he played coming up as a jazz drummer himself.
With “Whiplash” showing up so many times, how did you want to make its renditions different?
Hurwitz: You never hear the full song in the movie. You hear sections of it during the rehearsal scene, but Fletcher keeps stopping them because of mistakes. Then you hear part of “Whiplash” played well at a competition, but you never hear the chart in full in the movie. The full song is on the soundtrack album.
New York City also plays a character in “Whiplash.” Do you think there’s an automatic association we draw from pre-existing tunes like “Intoit” and “When I Wake” that automatically conjures a bigger picture of Manhattan for audiences, even though we might not see any big recognizable landmarks?
Hurwitz: “When I Wake” isn’t pre-existing. I actually wrote it for Whiplash, to sound like something that was recorded in the 30s. And Nicholas Britell did some amazing production work to give it that old vinyl sound. But I do think that jazz and New York City go hand in hand in movies. There are so many jazz tunes where the #1 thing they conjure for me is the Woody Allen movie they’re associated with.
Do you think the irony of “Whiplash” is showing how restrictive a work that’s supposed to be improvisatory can actually be?
Hurwitz: That’s a really interesting point, although I would maybe phrase it a little differently. I don’t think jazz is restrictive. I might say that the movie shows how much precision goes into jazz, a style of music that some people consider to be “loose.”
What’s the biggest difference between rock drumming and jazz drumming? And with Miles having previous drumming experience, was it easier to push him further?
Hurwitz: You hold the sticks differently, and the rhythms are very different. Jazz is usually swung and full of syncopated rhythms while rock is straight. It was great that Miles knew his way around a drum kit already, but he still had so much to learn. Once he heard examples of the type of solos he was going to have to play, he got very motivated very quickly. What he was able to learn in the short time he did is astounding.
Could you talk about “scoring” the practice sessions? And on those notes, have you ever played so fast your hands bled?
Hurwitz: The music in the practice sessions was generally designed to get more intense as the movie goes on. My hands have never bled because piano doesn’t abuse them like drumming does, but I’ve skinned my knuckles playing glissandos. That’s pretty badass right?
Conversely, what was it like working with a non-musician like J.K.? And do you think it was as important to make his dialogue as convincing as his playing?
Hurwitz: J.K. actual does have a background in music. In fact, he went to music school. He didn’t have much experience playing piano, but I made him a note for note transcription of the pre-recorded jazz piece he had to play, and he played it perfectly. I came to set that day to watch his hands and make sure they weren’t playing the wrong notes, or playing out of time. There was literally nothing for me to do because he nailed it every time.
What do you think sets “movie jazz” apart from the real deal, and were you trying to capture that real deal here?
Hurwitz: “Movie jazz” can sometimes be watered down. Sometimes it’s harmonically simplified, or lacks a solo section. What’s unique about this movie is that Damien portrays the music exactly as he experienced it. Granted, the film takes place in a music conservatory, so you’re not getting the heroine-addled club version of jazz, but it’s very accurate to the experience of playing jazz in a cutthroat music school.
Justin, could you talk about the process of finding a style of underscoring that would complement the jazz pieces?
Hurwitz: Figuring out an approach for the dramatic underscore was a long conversation between Damien and me. We knew that the underscore shouldn’t be big band jazz, since there was already so much of that on screen and elsewhere in the movie. We knew that an orchestral score would be stylistically wrong, and that an electronic score wouldn’t make sense in a movie about musicianship and instruments. So we came up with the idea of building a score using the techniques of electronic scoring, but using 100% real instruments — in fact, only the instruments in a big band lineup. With this approach, we would have a score that felt atmospheric like an electronic score without actually being electronic, and organic to the movie’s existing soundscape, without feeling like just more big band music.
Our scoring session was really tedious because I recorded the score cues one note at a time. Literally, one note at a time. What this allowed me to do was layer and manipulate the notes in a way that musicians can’t. The resulting textures are reminiscent of an electronic score, except every note was either a sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, vibe, or upright bass. The majority of the notes in this score are slowed down to about 1/3 time, creating a hellish version of a big band sound. Damien and I joked that it’s like Andrew is being tortured by the very instruments he makes music with.
Woven into these textures is one familiar melody — the tune that Fletcher plays in the jazz club. I put that melody in many of the score cues, in major, minor, and other modes, depending on the situation. Damien and I love scores that are economical with melody — scores that establish one or two themes or motives, and use those themes or motives in every way they can be used. In this case, we found that one versatile melody was all we needed. The melody tied to Fletcher expressing himself at the piano seemed like the right melody.
What’s almost funny is that when you finally see Terence playing, it’s the most relaxed, nice jazz piano tune ever. How did you hit on this theme, and what do you think it says about Terence’s personal life?
Hurwitz: I wanted a melody that was pretty, but has a little bit of pain in it. The song is in minor, and the very first note of the melody is a dissonance (a ninth). The song visits a major key during the B-section, but always comes back to minor. The piece both shows Fletcher’s more tender side, but also betrays a sadness. There was a scene that got cut from the film where we see that Fletcher lives alone, and eats dinner alone. I think that generally he’s not the happiest guy, even if some of his teaching is very fulfilling.
One of the most impressive cues is “Accident,” where we see just how far Andrew’s commitment takes him. How did you want to play it as both a jazz piece, and one that goes inside of Andrew’s head?
Hurwitz: Like all of the score cues, this was built using the instruments of a big band lineup. Everything played by the brass and reed instruments is slowed to sound weird and unsettling. Then we have bass and drums, which aren’t slowed down. I layered several drum tracks at different tempos, so it feels crazed, at times cacophonous. And then right before the major event of the sequence, at the height of the cue’s craziness, I layered in a version of “When I Wake,” the sweet, old-fashioned jazz tune that played during the date in the pizza parlor. I thought it was an eerie juxtaposition.
In that respect, do you think the score is ultimately about playing a mental breakdown, especially with its drone-like effects?
Hurwitz: I hadn’t thought about that exactly, but it’s a really interesting point. Some of these cues can be seen a little bit as a sum of all the jazz swirling around in Andrew’s head.
The piano also plays an important role in signaling a sense of defeat and doom in “Dismissed.” Do you think it has an emotion drum percussion can’t reach?
Hurwitz: Absolutely. Being an instrument that makes notes, piano can get at certain emotions that drums can’t, like melancholy. That being said, the “Dismissed” cue has a rhythmic element to it too. The left hand is playing a rhythm that we’ve heard in many of the more intense cues. The rhythm is like one of a funeral march, or like the dread-evoking rhythm in Don Giovanni. Basically there are two motives in the Whiplash score: the melody from Fletcher’s piano song, and this rhythm. They come together in the “Dismissed” cue.
There’s rarely been such a bravura jazz performance in film as the climactic “Caravan.” What were the challenges of this scene?
Hurwitz: Give the credit to Damien, his cinematographer Sharone Meir, and editor Tom Cross. Damien had storyboarded and built an animatic for the scene. Shot by shot of where the camera is, beat by beat. “On this beat the camera is on the trumpet. Then on this beat it punches in on the trumpet bell. Then during this measure it tracks from this saxophone to that saxophone.” It’s amazing how well planned it was. Then they shot it with a bunch of cameras, and edited it together.
Tim, what’s it like to have a piece introduced with your name on it for a terrifyingly impactful moment?
Simonec: It was a real thrill to actually have my name mentioned in a movie. I had seen J.K. Simmons right after he wrapped up shooting the film and he told me that he mentioned my name in one of the scenes and we both figured it would end up on the cutting room floor. It doesn’t matter to me where it was used in the film, I just thought it was cool that it was used.
Do you think a movie like “Whiplash” will encourage, or scare away future jazz musicians?
Hurwitz: Hopefully encourage them.
Simonec: Probably a little bit of both. I do think that in some small way, the difficulty of a character like Fletcher encapsulates the difficulties any musician will encounter on his or her way to making it in the music business these days. I personally feel that “Whiplash” is a quality music movie, and to that extent, it will encourage young musicians to really work hard. Those musicians that work hard at their craft, persevere, have a supporting wife like I have been so fortunate to have, and surround themselves with good people…will succeed.
How long do you think you could take Terence before you’d snap? And how fast do you think you could dodge a flying cymbal?
Hurwitz: I’d like to think I could handle Fletcher at least as long as Andrew does, but my reflexes probably aren’t fast enough to survive a cymbal.
“Whiplash” opens on October 10th, with Justin Hurwitz and Tim Simonec’s score on Varese Sarabande Records available now HERE
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.14054]Josh Kelley ([m.42149]Home Sweet Hell), [c.448]Antonio Pinto and [c.3017]Dudu Aram ([m.38144]Selfless), [c.]Nathaniel Mechaly ([m.40708]Taken 3), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 41 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-9-29]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.41039]Annabelle ([c.1418]Joseph Bishara), [m.39148]Gone Girl ([c.1745]Trent Reznor and [c.1283]Atticus Ross), and [m.41301]Left Behind ([c.2996]Jack Lenz).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
Where it’s far from novel to have great conductors showing their talent at writing original film music, as Leonard Bernstein did with “On the Waterfront” or Andre Previn did in his previous composing incarnation with the likes of “Elmer Gantry,” it’s a bit more unusual to have a conductor specifically known his energetic renditions of other people’s work for years seemingly come out of nowhere to blow away his admirers by displaying a whole other cinematic vocation. But yet that’s the feat that Gustavo Dudamel does in “The Liberator” with all of the acclaimed wild-haired flair he’s given in America to the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an especially notable event in a film scoring medium that many might argue has become the new classical music.
Smashingly leading the charge with an emotionally imposing orchestra, haunting choruses and an overall surfeit of thematic melody that could have easily graced one of the great Hollywood epic scores of yore, this Venezuelan native shows that he’s got one heck of another job to go to when not at podium with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, or back home with the Bolivar Orchestra. For when you listen to the ethnic winds and percussion of his “Liberator,” you understand the passion that drives his fairly magnificent film debut. For Alberto Arvelo’s movie not only represents Venezuela’s biggest play into the Hollywood arena, but the continent’s as well as it details the valiant quest of the country’s most iconic figure. Imagine a man with the command of George Washington and the heroic charisma of Zorro, and you’ll get the emotion that Dudamel so ably communicates for Simon Bolivar (as charismatically played by Edgar Ramirez). This foreign-educated Venezuelan aristocrat returned home in the 1800s to lead a revolution to unite Latin America. But as opposed to a vainglorious Napoleon, Bolivar was the real, freedom-seeking deal. Yet it’s also historical fact that grand dreams have a way of going south of the border, as Bolivar’s noble ambitions descend into the realities of the political infighting that has seemingly doomed Latin America to the lethal mess it is today.
Yet there is much rousing hope to Dudamel’s score (as played by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela) that particularly draws on his experience conducting John Williams scores for the Philharmonic, a lavish sense of themes, melody and emotion that help “The Liberator” at the least succeed with its cinematic goal of being as relatable, and impressive a historic epic as David Lean or Ridley Scott has made. Now more than proving his own music as worthy of concert hall treatment, Gustavo Dudamel talks of the nationalistic pride, and film score savvy that’s made him an immediate, original composer to be reckoned with on the international landscape of movie music.
Did hearing movie scores play a part in you wanting to go into music? If so, how did they impress you?
My musical training started very early, as it does for many children in Venezuela, so some sort of “serious shaping” from the music of film is something that may well have been at play – let’s not forget how many of the great classical composers have works incorporated in film. Here I think of the greatest of so-called classical works: Beethoven’s 9th symphony and how Stanley Kubrick built this into “A Clockwork Orange!” Who wasn’t impressed, though, by the first time they watched and heard the brilliance of the “Jaws” soundtrack? The utter simplicity! But absolute genius! Music is, I believe, what brings film alive and while perhaps not the why, it is certainly an aspect I love and the use of music in film is something I’m passionate about. In film music, a single note can make an entire scene, but one wrong note can also ruin everything. To master the art of conveying great emotion through such simplicity is an important lesson for every artist.
How important do you think your film music performances with the LA Philharmonic were in shaping your composing abilities?
What a lot of people don’t know is that I’ve actually been a composer for my whole life – it’s something I shelved (along with the violin) when my conducting career took off and the huge responsibilities of both career and family meant that I could not have the time for it as I would have liked. Composition has never really left me and was clearly waiting to be jump-started when the offer came from my dear friend Alberto Arvelo to write for “The Liberator.”
Was there an “I should be doing this” moment while you were conducting, and working with an orchestra?
Never – it just became apparent – Alberto Arvelo wanted to make a film that was not only a testament to the significance of the historical figure, Simón Bolívar, but also to give a sense of the man behind the legend, and of his relevance to our lives today. Initially, Alberto asked me to join the team of “Liberator” as a musical advisor. Yet when I began thinking about Alberto’s approach to Bolívar, to the drama of this man’s life, ideas and musical motifs came to me, naturally. It was a very organic process, and soon I was composing the soundtrack myself.
With your involvement with a Venezuelan orchestral named after Simon Bolivar, do you think this was a score you were born to do?
Recording the soundtrack with the Bolívars was for me self-evident (and a LOT of fun!). They can do anything, and they understood after as many years as we’ve worked together, precisely what I wanted to achieve with the soundtrack. This is the orchestra I grew up with and when you work with an ensemble as I have this for almost twenty years, it’s a little like being married. They think and do with you, doing what comes naturally!
What were your impressions of Simon Bolivar while growing up in Venezuela, and how do you think the movie changed, or added to them?
Simón Bolívar is probably the most important single person in the history of South America. As a soldier, a thinker, and a leader, he affected the lives of millions of people and shaped the future of an entire continent. In South America, Bolívar is a legend: squares, cities, streets, airports, currencies, even a country (Bolivia) are named after him. We in Venezuela consider him the father of our nation, similar to the way U.S. Americans think of George Washington. We therefore hold him with that sort of similar reverence as the US Americans do their founding fathers. By writing the score to “The Liberator,” I had the chance to work with some of the greatest thinkers and historians on the topic and that was truly exciting for me.
“The Liberator” has the feeling of an old-school Hollywood epic, particularly in its orchestral score. Were there any soundtracks in that genre that inspired your approach?
It was a very organic process. For instance, I made a conscious choice to base the main Bolívar theme on a progression similar to Aaron Copland’s famous “Fanfare for the Common Man” because I wanted to reflect Bolívar’s character first as a man – a common man – and not right away as a hero. More generally, I don’t make any secret of the fact that my dear friend John Williams was a huge inspiration to me and I spoke with him at many different points during the process. When I decided to say “Si” to Alberto Arvelo and work on the movie, John was the first person I called because I wanted to share it with him and also be able to ask him LOTS of questions. So if there is any one mentor in that respect, or pure inspiration for me, it was certainly John.
Was “The Liberator” an experience where the music just flowed, or were their challenges you might not have expected, especially with this being your first major film score?
For me the process was what was so exciting. I remember sitting in dressing rooms at concert halls around the world – backstage at Carnegie Hall in New York, the Kimmel Centre in Philadelphia, at La Scala in Milan, or even my own dressing room in Los Angeles at Disney Hall, with minutes to go before the start of a performance, but I was still sitting at the piano working through some passage which needed work. Having a piano in my hotel room became no longer a luxury but an essential item where ever I travelled!
Could you talk about the indigenous, Venezuelan / South American element that you brought to “The Liberator?”
Well, there is the very simple element of the Flute, especially because it is written in the film for a special kind of South American wooden flute. This, for me, expresses the soul of the past, a sense of longing – both for Bolívar personally and for the traditional South American ethnic cultures swept away by the colonizing Spanish. And the percussion, of course – there are times in fact in the score when the entire section has the chance to improvise and bring their true spirit and inspiration.
For all of his accomplishments, Simon Bolivar is also a tragic character. How did you want to chart the “rise and fall” that accompanies these kinds of historical epics, as well as the dashing, romantic quality of his political passion that drew so many people to him?
Although Simón Bolívar is in the DNA of every Venezuelan like me, to interact with the man, with his psychology as well as his biography, with his strengths and talents, his struggles and his faults, with compassion but without sentimentality, is a rare privilege. Alberto’s film offered me the unique opportunity to renew my perspective of this legendary figure and ultimately to try to express through music the inspiration Simón Bolívar symbolizes for us all how a man becomes a hero. Heroes are not just statues from the past, or super-humans from the future. Heroes are all around us, every day. Heroes are real men and women, young and old, rich and poor, who find in their hearts the love and in their souls the courage to give of themselves, often at great personal cost, for humanity’s highest ideals. Heroes are not born, they are not made – they become.
“The Liberator” opens October 3rd, with Gustavo Dudamel’s soundtrack on Deutsche Grammophon available HERE
Director Wes Ball's September hit [m.37015]The Maze Runner features a score from composer [c.1154]John Paesano. Pete Anthony conducted the recording of the score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at 20th Century Fox. Our friends at [url.http://scoringsessions.com/news/279/]ScoringSessions.com have just made pictures of the session available.
[a.13384]The Maze Runner - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on CD and digitally on [da.2014-09-16]September...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.3914]Jake Monaco ([m.39182]Playing It Cool), [c.6903]Garth Stevenson ([m.42071]Ten Thousand Saints), [c.12928]Marty Beller ([t.42091]Gracepoint), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 37 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-9-22]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.35584]The Boxtrolls ([c.1069]Dario Marianelli), [m.38177]The Equalizer ([c.274]Harry Gregson-Williams).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
- [m.35584]The Boxtrolls (3 songs)
- [m.38177]The Equalizer (18...
Soundtrack Picks: ‘ANONYMOUS REJECTED FILM SCORE ‘ is one of the top soundtracks to own for September, 2014
Also worth picking up ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD, BATES MOTEL, BLOW OUT, THE DOLL SQUAD, THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, HANNIBAL, THE KNICK, THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SPIDER and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) ANONYMOUS REJECTED FILM SCORE
What Is It?: Many composers have re-purposed scores that either were tossed because they simply were too smart for the movie they were intended for, frankly didn’t work with the picture or became the victim of studio politics that shelved the scores for spite. But whatever the reason the music didn’t see the official light of day, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of release on its own, whether it’s John Corigliano turning “Edge of Darkness” into “Music from the Edge” (on Perseverance), Jerry Goldsmith transforming the main electronic melody from his blackballed “Alien Nation” way down to earth as the jazz love theme for “Russia House,” or John Murphy now morphing his own sad instance of MIA music into “Anonymous Rejected Film Score.” But where many tossed soundtracks are only superficially touched up, or used wholesale for their “new” incarnations, what Murphy has done here is to bring almost completely re-imagined new life into his work, making it even stronger as a tone poem that allows the listener’s own visual imagination to take over as its own powerful soundtrack.
Why Should You Buy It?: Like such progressive English compatriots as Clint Mansell, Murphy drew on his rock background to create the criminally insane scores for such Guy Ritchie movies as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” an often funkily surreal melodic sound that also became a favorite of director Danny Boyle on “Millions,” “Sunshine” and “28 Days Later,” the rock and roll zombie holocaust score that became Murphy’s breakout work – and whose alternately dream-like and menacing tone “Untitled” feels closest to. Like the best concept albums, “Anonymous” takes you on an emotional journey, beginning at “3:59 am” with a hummed, chillingly whimsical theme, whose female lullaby vocalese wouldn’t be out of place in a reboot of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Suspiria.” Murray has shown himself as a gifted musical texturalist ion such scores as “Miami Vice” and “The Last House on the Left,” introducing sound-effects like samples over the melodic intimacy of strings and pianos before kicking into edgy, angry guitar rhythms that build with a violent fever pitch – a signature vengeance-seeking groove that’s not only shown up in Murphy’s “28 Weeks Later” and “Kick-Ass,” but has also become the movie trailer cue du jour for “Avatar,” along with action builds that have been ripped off by just about everyone else. Murphy takes ownership of his simmering rhythm of the guitar heat back here with electrifying gusto in such tracks as “1-2-3-4,” topping them off with lush, melancholy string lines as he strikingly varies his main theme for the blistering epiphany of “Automatic,” even hitting a red alert trance groove with “How to Leave Your Body” along with a Theremin-like whistle. Though Murphy’s popularity for rock-driven scores like “Armored” tended to give his underrated orchestral talent less of a work out, “Anonymous” also remedies that with the gorgeously haunting waltz of “Dead Ballerina.” A somber piano, soothing chords and strings play the poignancy of “Boy,” while “Sacrifice” uses ghostly electronic voices and strings to elegiac effect. Yet Murphy is also capable of brightness, as “California” has surprising sense of optimism in its female voice and strumming guitar theme, with “Fade to” giving the album a reflective, hopeful send off, compete with an organ and exotic, resplendent melody.
Extra Special: “Anonymous” is worth naming as it encompasses progressive rock and poetically symphonic tone poem into an exceptional, involving listen well apart from any movie it was intended for. Even using the word “rejected” in this album seems an insult to the obvious passion that John Murphy has poured into these tracks. That he’s mutated them into a whole other transfixing piece of musical art says much about an intensely thematic work that would do itself proud in any gutsy film lucky enough to have it.
2) THE DOLL SQUAD / JUVENILE JIVE
What is it?: After starting out with Grade-A re-performances for the energetic scores that graced such wonderful B- genre features as “The Deadly Mantis” and “Day of the Triffids,” David Schechter’s label Monstrous Movie Music has segued to releasing the actual soundtracks for even loonier sci-fi movies like “Kronos” and “ Missile to the Moon,” with some decidedly non-creature filled detours into westerns and prestige Ernest Gold scores in the bargain But for all of their sporadic and increasingly eccentric titles so far (whose latest batch includes a herd of deliriously scored oaters with “The Gatling Gun” and a “Western Medley” collection), it’s a trio of ninja vixens and high school greasers that just might prove to be the most wildly entertaining entries of the lot.
Why should you buy it?: Exploitation impresario Ted V. Mikels can count “Astro Zombies” and “The Corpse Grinders” to his resume, but no picture of his has had the grrll power impact of 1973s “The Doll Squad,” wherein cat-suited babes under beck and call of the government take down a world-conquering crazy on a lunchbox budget – but with a premise that gave birth to “Charlies Angels.” Given the incredible funkadelic jazz action music of Nicholas Carras, you might assume you’re listening to some long-lost Lalo Schifrin score launching a renewed assault on Han’s island, given how much this score has in kick-ass common to that composer’s for a certain little Bruce Lee movie that came out the same year. While the Asian element is the only thing missing from Carras’ work, the fact that his musical dynamo’s fat brass could easily take on a martial arts army as opposed to Michael Ansara’s haplessly dying soldiers says much about the kitschy excitement that Carras generates. His brass-powered theme has a bodacious sexiness to it, which is catchy enough to be varied from jazzy assault to lounge lizard cocktail hour strains. Carras also makes the coolest use of an electric organ this side of Ron Granier’s “The Omega Man” in his action writing, whose sly, militaristic percussion wouldn’t be at all out of place if it were playing behind Farrah Fawcett delivering a karate chop. Sure Carras might not have had the budget for Schifrin’s Hollywood ensemble, but it’s precisely the lounge hour intimacy of his ensemble that makes “The Doll Squad” so wonderfully groovy as it jumps between smoldering, villain-baiting eroticism and shagadelic action. And if there’s more than a Bondian feel to its grooviness, hearing Buddy Kaye unleash his inner Tom Jones to belt out “Song for Sabrina” makes you particularly glad that John Barry never got wind of a tune that would have made for a pretty good 007 theme if he’d had more than a share of shaken and stirred martinis.
Extra Special: Nicolas Carras is back in a wild mood for 1960s “Date Bait,” which makes for disc one of the switchblade jazz which comprises the double disc collection of “Juvenile Jive.” Here he scores a teen girl who falls in love with a pill-popping fiend who ends up dragging her to the wrong side of the tracks, hook, line and marriage. When his hopping ensemble isn’t going into a dope fiend swing, Carras scores “Date Bait” with all of screaming, small orchestral danger that accompanies so many of Monstrous’ earlier scores. It’s a nifty, hilariously cool combination of creature-worthy drama, growling brass and hip marijuana den grooves that makes you half expect the musicians ran into a rumble between the Jets and the Sharks, or at least Frank Drebin and The Police Squad, complete with a particularly funny quote of “Here Comes the Bride” and the doo wop song “Date Bait Baby.” Before he had Kirk and Spock battling to brassily percussive Pon Far, Gerald Fried prowled the hallways of 1958s “High School Big Shot,” which works just as well as adult crime jazz as a kid’s big-time plans to snatch a million go awry. Fried’s work scoring the show “M Squad” comes in very hand with the crisp, brass and piano heavy score, with the kind of piercingly rhythmic melody that paved the way to the big Vulcan rub out. Carras concludes the punk score triptych with the soundtrack for 1960s “High School Caesar,” which has more empathy as a rich kid delinquent tries to fix the school election. Carras makes particularly good use of the bongos those reefer poets were playing back then, creating a neat crime does not pay combo, again given a catchy doo wop title tune. In any case, MMM’s showcase of “Juvenile Jive” stands as great crime jazz of any age, with Schechter as always providing beyond-detailed, and very funny liner notes for albums that come off as passion projects of the best kind, whether the scores accompanied the letters of A, B or Z.
3) THE KNICK
What Is It?: Where prolific filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has gone to Thomas Newman for the trippy ambience of “Side Effects,” and David Holmes for the jazz groove of the “Oceans” trilogy, Cliff Martinez continues to prove a reliable, experimental constant since director and composer made their indie bones on 1989s “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” Both have considerably broadened their repertoire from that ambient hip-hop score which redefined the look and sound of alternative cinema, their collaborations ranging from the enraged crime percussion of “The Limey,” to the modernistic orchestral score of “Solaris” and the retro-virus suspense of “Contagion.” But whatever approach he’s taken, Martinez’s voice has been an immediately, coolly identifiable one of pushing the tonal, propulsive with a hypnotic vibes of alternative scoring. One could definitely imagine hearing his hallucinatory, dusky sound in a contemporary cable hospital TV drama. But the idea of putting it into a show set in 1900 seems positively revolutionary – that is if you didn’t know Soderbergh and Martinez’s brilliant way of confounding expectations.
Why You Should Buy It?: Cinemax, or Skinimax as it will forever be known, has been doing much to shed its softcore smut skin, even if such shows as “Strike Back” and “Banshee” always had a way of throwing in multiple sex scenes so as not to lose that viewership. However, “The Knick’s” idea of NC-17 is the hardcore surgery scene of the week, which does much to inform us of the show’s intellectual pedigree, one that uses particularly dark, atmospheric camerawork to fascinatingly shine the light on turn-of-the-century medicine. It’s as much haze from the early days of electricity, as it is the opium smoke used by Clive Owen’s magnificent bastard of a surgeon, who’s doing his best to pioneer the medicine of the future. He’s literally a cutting edge dope friend whose character gives you all you need to know about why Martinez’s anachronistic, electronics-heavy work is so revolutionarily here. Using the Calypso-like glass sound of the Crystal baschet that’s become a far less dated definer of his sound that the Ondes Martinot was to the likes of Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre, Martinez creates a feeling of both medicine, and plot on the movie, surrounded by haunting, melodic drones. It’s an approach that likely makes a less Martinez-familiar viewer simultaneously think WTF as it pulls them completely into this hospital. Used in the show with a deliberately spare quality, Martinez’s music at times seems disconnected from the action on screen, much like doctors trying to keep their distance from the appalling cases they’re presented with, yet determined to seek some greater purpose. But then, subtly commenting on the action as opposed to directly playing it has been another powerful trademark of Martinez’s work, which sounds more like a cool computer bank here than ever before – a 70s analog synth sound amidst the emulated organs, chimes and dulcimers that capture the era’s still-classical spirit, if not to obvious effect.
Extra Special: What this well-chosen collection of tracks from “The Knick’s” ten episodes (with another season thankfully coming) ultimately creates is melodically measured, almost intangible music that accentuates the uniqueness of the show above all, an almost transcendental, often beautifully sad meditation on visceral horrors it’s hard to believe that any hospital had to deal with, yet taking an approach that’s psychological as opposed to the physical. Martinez’s “Knick” casts such a hypnotic lull that you can easily imagine its music being used as knockout gas of the coolest, comfortably numbing kind in a way that still keeps our attention rapt.
4) STAGE FRIGHT
What Is it?: Pulling off a musical satire, let alone one based around horror movies is fraught with a lot of unintentional peril, efforts that can go as unheard of as a bear relieving itself in the forest (does anyone remember Vincent D’Onofrio’s indie band slaughter “Don’t Go In the Woods?”). But when it really works, as in the case of “Phantom of the Paradise” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the lyrics usually satirize the conventions of rock and roll as opposed to horror. While “Stage Fright” is punishably guilty of that sin, it’s scattershot satirizing of every other musical form from Broadway to classical makes this one of the more successful efforts in its delightfully peculiar genre, even if the movie itself might be pleasantly flawed.
Why Should You Buy It?: Throw “Phantom of the Opera,” “Prom Night,” “Glee” and “Trick or Treat” into one big gay pot, and you’ll come up with a mostly ingenious, and gorily shocking satire that’s all over the place (mostly to its benefit) as the daughter of a murdered stage singer ends up reprising her mom’s role at a musical summer camp – with of course a masked killer doing his best to bring down the final curtain. The music and lyrics by Eli Batalion and Jerome Sable (who also wrote and directed) along with orchestrator Aram Mandossian are hilariously dead-on taking stabs at Andrew Lloyd Webber with their “stage” production of “The Haunting of the Opera,” nailing the composer’s floridly romantic ballads to a tea in a way that both Webber lovers, and haters will appreciate. It certainly helps when you’ve cast the movie “Phantom” star Minnie Driver to sing your ersatz tune in a bloodily memorable opening, with film daughter Allie MacDonald impressively carrying the vocal torch. And just like those Broadway by way of South Park fans Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Batalion and Sable snarkily know their targets, delightfully skewering Gilbert and Sullivan in “Where We Belong,” Rodger and Hammerstein as Meatloaf belts out “The Show Must Go On,” and invariably colliding multiple songs a la Sondheim in “Rehearsals” and even that great classical composer Franz with “Lizstomania.” The songs are so damn, hilariously good and tuneful that you wish there were far more of them, as opposed to the movie becoming a fairly unfunny by-the-book slasher by the end. While Sable’s comedic scoring is nicely thematic, his straight-up horror music also isn’t that particularly inspired as the body count piles up, with a show-stopping killer reveal that proves more energy draining than anything else. But given how many humorous notes that “Stage Fright” hits on all counts, it’s a soundtrack and film at least deserving of the cult love that “Cannibal: The Musical” got.
Extra Special: Of all of “Stage Fright’s” salutes, its most inspired just might be the rowdiest, as terrifically played heavy metal thrash becomes the Broadway-crashing voice of the Kabuki killer, whose theme song “Shut Your F***ing face screams it all for those driven homicidal by musical theater.
5) THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO / THUNDERBIRD 6
What Is it?: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s marionette-centric genre shows like “Joe 90” and “Supercar” might have seemed like charmingly ingenious kids’ stuff in other people’s wire-holding hands. Yet it was the couples’ joyful, uncondescending commitment to their literally wooden characters, and ingeniously designed models that made them truly come to flesh and blood life, especially by filling them with the robustly symphonic scores of Barry Gray. Their imaginations truly took off to become the toast of England, and the TV-watching world with their series “The Thunderbirds,” which had the Tracy family and their International Rescue roster of rocketships coming to the near-future’s salvation. With “The Thunderbirds’” global success, it was only natural that the series would launch into two feature films with 1966s “Thunderbirds Are Go” and 1968s “Thunderbird Six,” with Gray getting the chance to expand on his lavishly played weekly scores to truly fill up the wide screen with a completely fueled orchestral ensemble.
Why Should You Buy It?: While fans still had to with for “Thunderbird 6” to hear Gray’s lightning-charged main titles that promised 60 minutes of throttling action (let it not be said that the Anderson’s “coming attraction” titles weren’t the most excitingly scored of all time), practically every other memorable Thunderbird theme was on hand for these “Thunderbirds Are Go/” The presence of Space Probe Zero-X and the arch fiend The Hood make this the most exciting score (and movie) of the two to be presented on this La La Land disc, with Anderson relishing in his brassy, beyond-lush orchestrations. Carrying the same militaristic pride as any British WW2 fighter squadron might have had (especially when accompanying a marching band for the end titles), Gray’s music is the height of patriotic bombast, with snare drums and brass thrumming away for the Tracy team spirit, while romantic strings give pink-colored gloss to the spy friend zone of Lady Penelope. But the score’s most interesting moments belonging to the Thunderbirds trip to Mars to battle stone-spitting serpents, with Gray’s whistling, eerie electronic sustains, whirling sound effects and bell percussion prefiguring his scores for the Andersons’ live action “UFO” and “Space 1999,” as does his brass-and-bongo driven action for a rousing orchestra that’s either approximating the rhythms of blast-off or plunging to earth.
Extra Special: Where one could easily assume “Thunderbirds are Go” was written for Spitfire squadron taking on The Jerries given Gray’s straight-ahead, excitingly heroic approach, “Thunderbird 6” is more way out in a kid’s movie way. Given the opportunities of a world-travelling Skyship One, Barry jumps into the opportunity of doing a rocket travelogue score, proudly seguing from Middle Eastern to Indian music. Even America gets its dues with some familiar patriotic hymns and native drumming, with ballroom jazz detours along the way. There’s also wincingly goofy, high-hat cartoon music to spare, which might make the ride a little bit less adrenalin-fueled, but no less fun amidst the surfeit of perky musical Mickey Mouse’ing, with some darker brass bits coming when the Airstrip’s hijackers jettison their victims to villainous horn hits. You quite never know what style Barry will rocket to next here, which is part of this score’s ultra-thematic charm, with Barry finding ways to make even the most ethnically disparate music refer back to his iconic Thunderbirds march melody. However, the show’s opening theme does get an exciting workout here for Lady Penelope’s escape via Tiger Moth plane. And what can you say about a composer who can turn “The Flying Trapeze” into score for a crash landing? The pure, ingenious joy that this “Thunderbirds” feature score fly on might be a bit more kiddie-ish on its second route, but never once does the music betray that you’re listening to a rocket-powered dance of marionettes, its lush, wonderfully melodic symphonic energy showing just how indispensible a member Barry Gray was to The Tracy Family, let alone the Andersons. With the movies now released on Twilight Time blu ray, La La Land makes terrific-sounding use of the “Thunderbirds” sonic elements, with Jeff Bond’s FAB liner notes for a smartly designed booklet making for a nostalgic flashback to the most ambitious music to ever grace what might simply be called puppet shows, and the films to be spun from them.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD: THE MOVIE
Film scores are going through an 8-bit revolution with the likes of Nigel Gordich’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and Henry Jackman’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” But arguably non of these retro scores have the insane fanboy enthusiasm that Bear McCreary beings to a two-hour feature version of a game geek blog done good. Done with the same, blasting out of your parents’ basement energy of his epic metal-orchestral score for the RPG’er’s versus real monster score to “Knights of Badassdom,” McCreary plays this unlikely hero’s odyssey of uncovering the equally deadly E.T. game from an Arizona landfill with the same level of gleefully bombastic commitment. Indeed, no one has every played the 80s Atari synth sound to such dead-on extremes, with a wonderfully cheesy electronic vibe so accurate that one can only imagine the corpses of the Super Nintendo consoles that McCreary ripped apart to get this sound. But McCreary’s not so nerdy that he can’t go beyond a one-note approach of bowing down to Donkey Kong, as he score gets in nods to spaghetti westerns and crazed military action as the “Angry” quest takes on terrifying cosmic dimensions. Bringing all of the thematic attention that McCreary gives to his scoring for the far more respectable likes of “Shield” and “Outlander,” “Nerd” goes for gonzo broke because it hears this ridiculousness for real, especially during the ten minutes of “The Nerdy Hero,” which plays like a knockout battle of the bands between a raging metal orchestra and the speedy synth rhythms of Sonic the Hedgehog. That this score’s satiric, broad-hearted cheesiness could work just as well over a Michael Dudikoff ninja Cannon picture, circa 1985, as much as it does at convincing us that that this has the melodic balls of a real movie score, says much about the sweat-dripping enthusiasm that continues to make McCreary one of Hollywood’s busiest fanboys. More than ever, he’s got the thematic stuff to back up a wonderfully berserk and inventive score, complete with swear-filled song that Wayne and Garth might have rocked out with on a particularly pissed off day. “E.T the Game Score” “AGVN” is most definitely not.
. BATES MOTEL / PENNY DREADFUL
Two cable hits have been busy re-inventing everyone’s favorite Mama’s boy and band of Edwardian monster hunters. But leave it to Chris Bacon and Abel Korzeniowski to make these often horrific exploits go down with orchestral elegance. For Bacon, it’s realizing that melodic empathy is the room key to loving Norman Bates as much as his mom, tenderness that suffuses his often beautiful, lush score to “Bates Motel.” Yet the spirit of Bernard Herrmann certainly inhabits this abode, not in stormily gothic (or stabbing) violins, but in “Bates” long, drifting string lines and sympathetic piano. While there’s effectively uptempo percussion, stalking horror-score sample effects, and even some villainous country guitar to suit “Bates” modern-day CW-style reboot for A&E. It’s Bacon’s exceptional, intimate orchestral writing that stands out, showing his time working with James Newton Howard on the likes of “King Kong” and “Lady in the Water” as very well-spent in creating a solo career with such other noteworthy efforts as “Source Code.” Bacon’s stay at “The Bates Motel” (with this album representing the first season) continues to open intriguing musical doors that capture a horror “hero” in the making, one who’s as romantic as he is potentially terrifying.
There’s a deep sense of melancholy that runs through the bloodline of Polish composers, which makes horror scores by the likes of Wojciech Kilar (“Dracula”) and Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (“Lost Souls”) as sad as they are chilling. Now after his beautiful, romantically foreboding scores for the likes of “A Single Man” and “Romeo and Juliet,” Abel Korzeniowski gets to bring about sympathy for the devils, a rogues gallery that includes the vampires, werewolves and undead creations that clash in the alleys of fog-filled, turn-of-the-century London. But where the title “Penny Dreadful” might be a play on the gore-filled pulps of that era, Korzeniowski’s music is anything but lurid. With violins slashing out the main theme melody, Korzeniowski fills these cobblestone streets with gloomily gorgeous passion. It’s scoring that works as much for costume drama as it does unholy, bodice-ripping passion, lacking none of the lush, sweeping orchestrations that have made Korzeniowski one of Hollywood’s most promising melodists. While most certainly having its own fearsomely romantic face, “Penny Dreadful” also stands as a kissing cousin to his countrymen’s angst-filled work in the genre, and Kilar’s seminal “Dracula” score in particular in conveying a damned sense of longing, his strings becoming the creeping talons of unholy fat, which often go for the jugular. There’s real, beautifully haunted poetry in the episodic pages of “Penny Dreadful” that’s possessed with his country’s sad classical spirit, as well as the kind of lush, thematic lighting that Hollywood has been imbuing it creature prototypes with since the days when Franz Waxman’s electrified the Bride of Frankenstein. The fact that Korzeniowski’s resurrected a bunch of her pals as well says much about the unholy melodic elixir he’s conjured for Showtime.
. BLOW OUT
After “Carrie” and “Dressed To Kill,” DePalma and Donaggio were at the top of their ersatz Hitchcock-Herrmann game when they took a nihilistic detour into the paranoia-conspiracy territory that fueled such similarly bleak classics as “The Parallax View” and “The Conversation.” But while there was nothing remotely “meta” about those movies’ dark approach, the thrill of any collaboration between this director and composer was in seeing, and hearing just how close their homages could get to the originals and survive, while still being dazzlingly stylish in their own right. On that count, “Blow Out” is a terrific example of being on that knife’s edge, or rather the exactor knife that a sound editor used to cut audiotape in the pre-digital 1981 age. For DePalma’s bravura direction that mixed a fascination with the perception of narrative film with woman-in jeopardy suspense, Donaggio created a grippingly thematic score that mixed alarmed action with richly melodic string and bell builds, creating an ever-tightening spider’s web of military-industrial complex villains unraveling our heroes’ lives, silken orchestrations mixing vulnerability with snare-drum danger and piano percussion menace. The music’s sad destination is exceptionally well constructed with a shivering, anticipatory approach that also manages to have some humor about it (complete with cheesy synth horror music and a snatch of an Italian tarantella). But if “Blow Out” is more emotionally affecting than this duo’s other collaborations, it’s due to the ill-fated romance that suffuses the score, as embodied by a beautiful, ultimately mournful theme. Where Nancy Allen is great as a hooker with a heart of gold who ends up in the wrong politician’s car, its Donaggio’s music that gives her an extra depth of wind instrument empathy, especially in the white-knuckled, heart-pounding race that builds to the big, Hitchcock hero rescue moment, only to have the thrill tragically be ripped away, as the score is reduced to a tender piano melody. It’s arguably the most gut-wrenching moment in these collaborator’s repertoire, and key to the heart that rises “Blow Out” above the level of brilliantly made recreation, ultimately melancholy music that sinks in the realization that the greater, villainous forces at play will always come out the winner. It was a message that audiences at the time didn’t want to hear, but one that’s been increasingly venerated by fans, who will no doubt appreciate that Intrada’s beautiful-sounding “Blow Out.”
. THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1,500 edition)
One can only imagine the honor for a French composer to score an epic based on the events that defined his country’s future, and for a small time the ideals of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité. And it’s in that spirit one can understand the pure, gorgeous passion that Georges Delerue gave to “The French Revolution.” This massive, six-hour, two-part cinematic endeavor was done for the event’s 200th anniversary, starring the English-speaking likes of Jane Seymour, Peter Ustinov and Sam Neill, and ultimately turned into a TV miniseries that’s still unavailable on video in this country. Delerue had certainly done sweeping, historical orchestral scores before this, especially when it came to the excesses of English monarchy with “A Man For All Seasons” and “Anne of the Thousand Days.” But given the chance to bring Versailles’ bourgeois class bloodily down unleashed a whole other level of epic majesty to his voice that will no doubt surprise his admirers – most of whom have never heard this legendary score due to excessive Ebay prices that would have sent CD gougers to the guillotine back in the day. It’s a sense of importance heard in the choral “Hymne a la Liberte” that opened the “Revolutions” two parts, the song piercingly performed as well by soprano Jessye Norman (that you’ll also hear the song “La Marseilles” is a given). Delerue’s unequalled, and utterly Gallic gift for romantic melody plays the elegance and rollicking, regal brass of the aristocracy, a magical tone (inflected by period music and instruments) of days that will never seemingly end as the poor starve outside the palace gates. With the more optimistic tone reserved for “The Light Years,” the storm of “The Terrible Years” arrives with powerful suspense and raging brass, the action becoming swashbuckling, and outrightly cliffhanging in tone, while low strings signal inevitable tragedy for both the aristocrats and freedom fighters who can’t imagine meeting the ultimate Monsieur, their march to awful destiny led by beating drums and darkly trumpeting brass. It’s tragedy that Delerue plays for all of its tearful, chorally solemn worth, yet in his inimitable way of turning sentiment into a work of moving, ultra-melodic art, as any American who cried through his wind and string scores for “Beaches” and “Steel Magnolias” in that especially rewarding year of 1989 can attest. For few composers wore their emotions on their sleeve as powerfully as Delerue, no more so than as characters’ neck cuffs were being undone with the rousing performance by the British Symphony Orchestra. It’s a bravura expression of the go-for-broke energy that Delerue gave to a project you can tell that he regarded as a personal milestone, which can now stand tall as one of his most impressive works thanks to Music Box Records two-CD release, whose powerhouse sound, nicely photogenic booklet and smart liner notes by Gergely Hubai also show it off as an honor for this French label to release. But at 1,500 copies of the finally complete score (whose previous releases somehow switched the stereo channels), it’s only a matter of time before those Ebay debauchers get this soundtrack back in their control, much in the same way the monarchy came rolling back into France. But in the meantime, viva la “Revolution,” a la Delerue at his most epically impassioned.
. GORKY PARK (Expanded)
James Horner’s career was taking off in 1983, due to a dynamic signature sound that often meshed impactful percussion with richly thematic melodies that paid homage to such modern classical Russian masters as Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. So it was fitting that Horner’s music would journey to their Motherland with “Gorky Park,” its unique story (by “Nightwing’s”” killer bat author Martin Cruz Smith) pitting a Soviet cop against a murderous American capitalist pig, with furry sables as the MacGuffin behind a skinned face triple slaying. One need not dig far to turn up Horner’s usual, impactful suspects with a score that essentially takes the brassy jazz-pop beat of “48 Hours” San Francisco and gives it a suspenseful passport to Moscow, replacing urban rhythm with rich, cimbalom-balalaika strumming, Slavic bells and growling brass for pursuing suspects across the state, its relentless drive backed up with fever pitch electronics and an orchestra. “Gorky” has always stood as a landmark in Horner’s synth explorations, but on Intrada’s terrific release, the expansiveness of his instrumental layering is particularly astonishing at conveying foreign intrigue. “Gorky” richly contrasts its driving action with more subdued romantic mystery in his lovely, swelling theme for a beautiful dissident that of course will have a Communist cop questioning his value system. Her melancholy character infuses much of Horner’s oppressively exciting score, at last giving it a sweeping symphonic release from his musical Iron Curtain, as well as using a far happy variation as the little critters are set free from their cages. This was the score that set Horner up for the alternately pounding and piano-creeping spook house atmosphere of LV-426 in “Aliens” and the Soviet men of action in “Red Heat” and “Enemy at the Gates” in particular among the many impressive Horner scores to follow, with the 79-minutes on this greatly expanded re-issue a copious amount of alternates, while also separating Horner’s ingenious segues from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and the “1812 Overture” to his tingling suspect-tailing motif. It’s a major re-discovery of a seminal work that shows Horner working expertly on multiple dramatic levels, going into electronic and orchestral Iron Curtain with intense determination in a way that would make Russia sound both forbidden, and suspensefully intoxicating to a movie audiences’ Cold War ears.
. HANNIBAL: SEASON 1 and 2
To label the sonic nightmare that Brian Reitzell has cooked up for television’s most lethally elegant doctor-gourmand as “music” is way to simple a way of defining the wildly experimental stew of sound design and occasional shards of melody that infuse a show that by rights shouldn’t be anywhere near network television, especially scoring that could lead to seizures in more tender viewers foolish enough to tune in. But the psychological incisiveness with which Reitzell conveys the sound of insanity is like nothing else that’s ever been done within the psycho-killer genre, be it on the big or small screens. Taking a cue from the truly terrifying, razor nail-on-blackboard vampire score he created for “Hannibal” producer-director David Slade on “30 Days of Night,” Slade has gone for an experimental, constantly transforming sound collage of twisted metal, hammering percussion and unnerving ensemble playing – chilling sustains, come-from-nowhere percussion, swinging, hypnosis-inducing gestures and mutated brass the equivalent of being trapped inside a pitch-black hell of a psychopath’s mind. Yet there’s a method to Reitzell’s madness, as “Hannibal’s” impressionism is balanced with something resembling melody, mournful strings the cost of a profiler hero submerging himself in a dark parade of horrors, with Reitzell embodying the “killer of the week,” from the buzzing of bees to the playing of vocal chord violin strings, with the cannibal’s love of classical music similarly perverted amidst the morass. Reitzell’s been relentlessly scoring “Hannibal” over two seasons (with a third thankfully to come for us masochists), giving Lakeshore more than twenty hours of madness to create a four volume set that slices two seasons of “music” between them. Reitzell has done an exceptionally smart job of assembling the material, just allowing enough remotely conventional cuts among its elongated suites to serve as filler between the way more impressionistic stuff. With “Hannibal’s” first course offering a French set meal, Reitzell goes for a mocking jazz tone at its most inventive points. For “Hannibal’s” second, Japanese-themed meal, the composer noticeably scores in a Toru Takemitsu vein with cacophonic percussion, brass and piano amidst God knows what. They’re the savage contrast to lonely passages for piano and the Theremin, an electronic airwave instrument that’s been used many times to connote craziness, but never like this. Yet it’s absolute, eerie beauty that ends this collection with the chiming acoustical effects of “Bloodfest” for a second season climax so gory it’s amazing anyone will be sticking around for thirds besides the good doctor. It’s in this cue’s melodically rhythmic minimalism that Reitzell creates his most impressive serving of all, hearing one major character evisceration after another as a whispered, poetically elegant work of art. Ultimately for all of the horror he’s created, Reitzell knows he’s playing a character above his own carnage in his soundscape’s brilliant insanity – one well worth immersing oneself in for the four plus hours of hypnotically immersive goo and pure anti-matter music ingenuity.
. LES PASSAGERS (500 edition)
What Americans among us would have known that the first adaptation of popular thriller novelist Dean R. Koontz (written as “Shattered” under the pseudonym of K.R. Dwyer) was done for a French movie? But then, who’d have realized that its composer Claude Bolling wasn’t the first musician in the driver’s seat for a movie that ultimately appeared on our shores as “The Intruders” in 1977. But thanks to this intriguing Music Box Records release, both musical takes are out there to savor for as the road got paved for far better known Koontz movies as “Hideaway” and “Watchers.” But there’s nothing like the first time, as a father and son are pursued through dangerously winding Italian byways by his mom’s psychotic ex, which gives modus operandi to Bolling’s bonkers approach. With such English language scores to his credit as “Silver Bears,” “California Suite” and the chilling mummy revenge music of “The Awakening,” you’d be hard pressed to think of this music representing a white-knuckled steering wheel. Instead, Bolling’s “Passengers” are breezily accompanied by a sweet theme (which even gets a piano bar variation) and gamboling Baroque music. Slightly more typical is a sultry film noir sax and lush mystery befitting an eccentric take on Bernard Herrmann – which turns out to be Bolling’s ironic way of capturing a man who envisions that his love is still along for the ride. This just might be the least menacing psycho killer score of all time, which is part of the deceptively jaunty charm that the filmmakers wanted when they tossed the first score by Eric Demarsan to the curb. But like the boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer, his music is here as well for the ride. Having remained in France with such well-regarded scores as “The Army of Shadows” and “Le Cercle Rouge,” Demarsan’s score actually comes across as the saner of the two. One can definitely hear a mind turned to murder with low horns and the child-like bell percussion that makes for a truly sinister lullaby theme that spells out a Euro thriller, with pursuit given with pop piano and guitar in a manner reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. It’s a low key, effectively eerie approach that also has jazz to spare, but in a way that also chimingly spells out its villain’s intentions, With the movie unavailable in America, it’s up to listeners reading Giles Loison’s informative liner notes to figure out which of these two composing drivers in fact suited “The Passengers” best in one of the more interesting after-and-before score releases to hit since Film Score Monthly put out multiple variations on “The Appointment.” Here, Bolling and Demarsan handle Koontz’s mystery vehicle with an equally impactful ear for a dangerous road with more than a few cool jazzy detours.
. THE MAZE RUNNER
Starting off his career as an assistant to Jerry Goldsmith on “Star Trek Nemesis” and “The Sum of All Fears,” John Paesano has certainly been busy with DC animation, DV action and friendly children’s stuff with such work as “Superman / Batman Apocalypse,” “S.W.A.T. Firefight” and “Another Cinderella Story.” But given the chance to crush kids on a major Hollywood playing field, Paesano blazingly takes off with “The Maze Runner” to land in a zone of body-crushing walls and prowling creatures – attacking the opportunity with terrific excitement and character-oriented melody to boot. Where the YA sci-fi genre has given a similar breakout opportunity to Junkie XL with “Divergent” (and given fresh vibrancy to older dudes like Marco Beltrami with “The Giver” and James Newton Howard on “The Hunger Games”) Paesano is welcomely determined to use his own voice for an oft-trod book-to-hopeful blockbuster arena. The big difference here is that it’s a playing field where kids are fending off external menaces as opposed to each other, which opens up the opportunity for melodic warmth as well as furious action, his score given further distinction by using exotic, ethnic percussion and wind instruments to distinguish a surreal zone of death and deliverance that could just as well be taking place in Jurassic Park. Paesano suspensefully keeps this sense of mystery going in a way that thematically pumps the heroically adrenalin, its walls built from equal parts tenderness, racing terror and restrained electronic percussion of the tech that makes the maze work. A chorus helps to convey just how immovable, and suddenly crushing this awe-inspiring maze is, yet one where hope somehow survives, While its teen characters might not know where the hell they are, Paesano’s alternately rampaging, and emo scoring proves an impressive map that will no doubt have producers, and sudden fans beating a path to his keyboard.
. NO GOD NO MASTER
The anarchist movement in the early 1900s and the mass deportations its bomb-planting extremists inspired remain obscure, in spite of their lessons being more relevant today than ever in a society willing to do anything to stop terrorists in their midst. It’s a tragic, dramatic importance that infuses this historical drama, whose ambitious scope is given immense, tragic power by Nuno Malo’s score. With a sweeping, symphonic talent that actually made us musically believe in “The Celestine Prophecy,” the Portuguese composer take on affecting images of poverty-oppressed Italian immigrants struggling, some violently, for a new life in a land that’s not so free. While this movie might not exactly have the budget to equal “The Godfather 2’s” extra-filled tenements, Malo’s beautiful, elegiac theme nicely captures a neo-Italian, operatic sense of fate that Nino Rota’s “Godfather” scores did so iconically. Malo does an exceptional job of varying his own theme with more contemporary samples to give impact to its tale of David Strathairn’s straight arrow, sympathetic agent on the trail of the bombers, whose investigation leads to the not-so savory tactics of his superiors, including one J. Edgar Hoover. It’s am empathy for the unwashed immigrant underdog that suffuses the score of “No God, No Master,” from poignant violin solos to optimistic melody for the American Dream, which is tread under heel as Malo’s theme turns to dark, marching outrage. Yet the tone of “No God No Master” is more inviting than crushing, thanks to the often visually bright direction of Terry Green, whose decision not to go for the fatalistically grim period vision is a relief, as we brilliantly have more than enough of that already with the similarly set “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Knick.” Another unexpected dimension is this film’s telling of the Sacco and Vanzetti story, last dramatized by Hollywood in a still unavailable 1971 movie scored by Ennio Morricone. That composer’s talent for longing string and piano melodies also suffuses Malo’s approach in representing the characters’ nobility and unjust fate, which is no more tragic than when a Latin chorus takes up his theme to movingly close the film’s moving take on the still unending clash between radicalism and law and order run amuck. Released as a limited edition CD by Varese Sarabande (along with the worthwhile scores of Elia Cmiral’s “Wicked Blood” and Reinhold Heil’s “Haunt”), “No God No Master” shows Nuno Malo as no melodic anarchist when it comes to impressively thematic, symphonic scoring, while giving true, incredibly poignant heart to a smaller, human story swept aside by history.
Israeli composer Inon Zur is a rock star when it comes to scoring dozens of videogames from “Lord of the Rings” to “Everquest” and “Soulcaliber.” But success in one genre can often lead to a prison-like sentence from those who can’t see movie scoring talent from the sword-swing PS3 trees. Thankfully, Zur has gotten to break out with exceptional results in the far more realistic realm of child trafficking for “Reclaim.” John Cusack can certainly lay claim to that title as he keeps getting pulled back into the VOD arena as a bad guy, this time as the deceptively calm villain whose band of miscreants terrifyingly milk a desperate couple for all of their money, with the bait of a Haitian girl they think they’ve adopted. While this surprisingly well-made and acted thriller certainly delivers on the improbable, white-knuckle chases you expect from the iTunes action genre, Zur wisely chooses to put equal emphasis on the story’s emotion. So before cars end up on cliffs and people are shooting at each other in picaresque Puerto Rican locations, Zur’s strong, moving themes concentrate on emotional bonding, with an exceptional performance by the Macedonia Orchestra giving his melody-heavy score a real depth of feeling – all the better to hit the chase with rhythmic propulsion when it inevitably comes and doesn’t stop. Though meant for the small screen, Zur gives “Reclaim” a lush, exciting symphonic expanse with the kind of dramatic, human depth that elves, soldiers and androids might not exactly have for this niftily affecting score, making a winning argument that video game composers are just as capable of scoring the kind of live action assignments you might not expect their talent to lie in, no more so than when grabbing a kid off a cliff-hanging jeep works as well for emotion as it does excitement.
. RELENTLESS JUSTICE
David A. Prior, the Z-movie commando who gave the world the hilariously brutal “Deadly Prey” is back in the woods with a one-person army who happens to sport a killer figure and an Australian accent. While I don’t know if Victoria De Vries beats someone to death with their own dismembered arm, at the least she’s got Chuck Cirino as her musical wingman when it comes to racking up a body count. A composer who’s been to the ‘Nam of countless schlock movies, Cirino can be counted on to give his all to this sort of insanity, from the killer robots of “Chopping Mall” to the Godzilla-sized skeleton creature called “Bone Eater.” For just like these filmmakers and actors who know they aren’t making great art, Cirino is still out to have a fun time with the very limited resources at hand. And while he might not have the London Symphony Orchestra at his disposal, what he does give his cheesily sampled sound is surprisingly decent, self-aware music that often has more melodic and thematic content than the way bigger, and better pictures one hopes he could somehow get. “Relentless Justice” is another crafty, and funny score, coming up with a ripping, mean-ass melody that still tries to impart its heroine with an amount of piano tenderness that one might connote with the fairer sex. As she goes about winning trophies during this most dangerous game scenario, Cirino delightfully goes off the expected action-pulse reservation, first by skinning the strains of Ludwig Van Beethoven into suspense music, and then with a strumming acoustical sound that makes “Relentless Justice” into a western score with a touch of Spaghetti, especially when an electric accordion seemingly arrives from nowhere. This is one composer who deserves a female Rambo to rescue him after decades of being a POW in VOD prison camp, even if he can’t help but have a great time playing the hapless mayhem around him for all its worth – and then significantly some more.
. THE SPIDER
As the soundtrack label that’s taken up the torch for golden age score releases, one can see the blazing “Nordic Noir” light that attracted Kritzerland to release a soundtrack that’s practically unknown to American ears – and one that should be placed their promptly. For in composer Soren Hyldgaard’s music for this 2000 Danish TV miniseries about Copenhagen clawing its way out of the physical, and moral wreckage of WW2, one thrillingly hears the era’s blazingly melodic Hollywood scoring of Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann (as well as latter day masters like Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry,) as taken to a stylistically familiar land of black market skullduggery and outright murder. You can’t imagine someone getting away with the crime of scoring a movie like this in Hollywood today, which is what makes Hyldgaard’s score particularly thrilling in its skillfully bombastic playing by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Yet as colorful as the composer’s memorable themes are, the tone is pure black and white in conjuring a sense of trench-coated romantic darkness and outright fatalism, with romantically lush strings and tender piano creating a marvelously melodic web, with the very subtle use of the cimbalom helping to also evoke a “Third Man” spirit of to “The Spider’s” postwar suspense, whose reporter-hero’s headlines symphonically shout from the rhythmic presses with music that could have been straight out of some 40s montage. But then again, when you hear familiar percussion and a woozy trumpet, you’d swear that you were on the streets of Chinatown as opposed to Copenhagen. Or perhaps it’s the swaggering brass that makes one feel like a secret agent avoiding spies on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. At 79 minutes of this hypnotic throwback silk, “The Spider” is an old-school blast, and a major unmasking of a composer who definitely deserves some major play in the current viper’s den of LA after his English language indie scores for “Red” and “The Stranger Within.” “The Spider” is a score so full of smoke-filled orchestral atmosphere that you half expect it to be attached to a Maltese Falcon, as made in Denmark.
. WON TON TON THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD
Neal Hefti was one of the swinging-est composers of the Mad Men era, a musician who put a happy-go-lucky bachelor pad groove into the wet bar of such comedies as “Sex and the Single Girl,” “How To Murder Your Wife” and “Barefoot in the Park.” However, it’s his cool, superhero scoring via Vegas for TV’s “Batman” that remains Hefti’s best-known work among a criminally under-represented discography. Thankfully, Kritzerland comes to the rescue with this two-fer of great scores for box office bombs (whose chances certainly weren’t helped by their way-too long titles). While I can’t attest if 1976s “Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood” was a mutt as a movie, Hefti’s music is a charmer as it gives a composer who most often played a 60s shagadelic beat the chance to jump into the music of Hollywood’s roaring 20s for his final score. Starting with a rousing rendition of the Paramount fanfare, Hefti unleashes his Won Ton theme with a Dixieland orchestra, then chases it about with the madcap stylings of a Keystone Cops comedy, the over-emphatic emotion of a tear-jerking Mary Pickford drama and cliffhanging thrills that could easily accompany Lillian Gish in ice flow distress. Not only does Hefti delightfully catch every nuance of a classic silent movie score, but he furthers the satire by transposing its theatrics onto the off-the-lot travails of Madeline Kahn’s wannabe actress who ends up being one lucky pooch owner. “Won Ton Ton” constantly surprises, whether it’s going for rapturous Egyptian music worthy of The Sheik, a Scott Joplin swing or out-of-tune playing that sounds like a pit band going to pieces. That’s certainly not the problem of the Jonathan Winter’s mummified husband, whom Rosiland Russell drags around in a suitcase for 1967s “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hug You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad,” a notorious adaptation of Arthur Kopit’s way-better regarded stage play. But as a score, it’s pure Hefti wackadoo gold, as the corpse’s vacation to the islands makes for kitsch fun. Another catchy Hefti theme is particularly off the wall when played with a Calypso grooves for fender guitar and kettle drum, with another brassily percussive theme that you half expect to break into the refrains of a certain caped crusader’s name. A wittily funereal mood is given by an angelic chorus, gently picked harps and a diabolical organ. “Oh Dad” get across the swinging-est corpse ever, with an especially hilarious wah-wah title song that captures the bright energy that embodied Neal Hefti’s jazzy brilliance for an album that will equally delight Rin Tin Tin and Don Draper.
. THE ZERO THEOREM
When you think back to Terry Gilliam’s latter good old days with “The Fisher King,” “Twelve Monkeys” and arguably “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the directors’ movies worked so strikingly well by being simultaneously mind-blowing and nightmare-inducing acid trips, unleashing exaggerated performances and imagery that tended to turn the world into a dystopian wonderland. It’s a sad sign of how far Gilliam has fallen since “The Brothers Grimm” that “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys” have gotten upchucked as “The Zero Theorem,” which equals near insufferability – though not without Gilliam’s seemingly unbreakable visual talent on display. But the one element of “Zero Theorem” which adds up quite wonderfully is its score by George Fenton, who last took a more wildly traditional approach for Gilliams’ crazy medieval quest in modern day Manhattan for “Fisher King.” With “Zero” pretty much set in the same universe that uses Central Services, Fenton imaginatively plunges into the addled mind of a math-obsessed civil servant pursuing a computer-enhanced dream woman. It’s a mesmerizing pursuit for Fenton as he uses mind-bending bells, crazed electronic-analogue samples, techno hip-hop and merry-go-round melodies to create a soundscape quite unlike anything he’s ever done in a mostly symphonic career, though strings do provide the melodically binding force here. It’s a pleasant contrast to the movie’s spastic, indecipherable antics, the musical equivalent of the Soma that being hooked up to virtual reality provides, yet with a sad, poignant quality for anguished solo violin that reflects how hollow the babbling hero’s sensuous illusion is. At its best, Fenton’s “Theorem” sounds like a squeezebox steampunk dream machine cobbled together out of old instrumental bits and parts, doing its best to stave off a mental breakdown, but unable to hide the madness it’s running on. A sultry, 40s style lounge version of “Creep” provides another neat touch for Fenton’s mesmerizing future shock, which is easily the only good trip worth taking within Gilliam’s otherwise hallucinogenic mess of used parts from far better movies. Indeed, good is Fenton’s work at finally suggesting salvation that you wish it could scoop up the filmmaker along with it.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande
Varèse Sarabande Records will release the [a.13440]Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu Original Television Soundtrack digitally and on CD [da.2014-09-30]September 30, 2014. The soundtrack features original score composed by BMI TV Award-winners [c.13653]Michael Kramer and [c.13652]Jay Vincent.
"Jay and I really love mining diverse musical genres and experimenting with new combinations of styles and instruments," described Kramer. "I think it satisfies the little mad scientist that lives in each of us! Whether it's retro analog synths fused with mystical ney flute, or a funk band meets classical Indian music, we always look forward to conjuring up fresh sounds."
"From the very outset we set up a musical dichotomy between the heroes and villains, so when the kids...