Soundtrack Picks: “HALLOWEEN” is the top soundtrack to own for October, 2018
Also worth picking up: 9/30/55, * BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED, FIRST MAN, THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS, KING OF THIEVES, MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN, THE PREDATOR, THE SANDLOT and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
What Is It?: One could say that composer Leonard Rosenman was just as much of a method upstart as James Dean, a boundary-pushing actor who was both the budding composer’s roommate and restless piano student. A pupil of impressionist musician Arthur Schoenberg, Rosenman’s own, audacious talent was given a ticket to Hollywood when Dean introduced him to director Elia Kazan. The result was a big break for the two young men on “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without A Cause,” showcasing their naturalistic, turbulent charisma that from the fields of of Monterey to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. While Dean’s career would be cut short by tragedy before “Rebel” even opened, Rosenman went onto invigorate film scoring as he pushed the boundaries between melody and modernism in such scores as “Fantastic Voyage,” “Race with the Devil” and “Lord of the Rings.” In 1977 with “9/30/55.” Rosenman would have the unique opportunity to revisit his first two classic scores on the date of Dean’s death, an event that shocked the actor’s growing legion of fans, in some cases changing their very lives.
Why Should You Buy It?: One filmmaker who found that September impossible to forget was James Bridges (“The Paper Chase”), who’d turn that youthquake into an autobiographical film. And who better to score the film than the man who served as Dean’s voice? Having won Oscars for adapting Handel and Woody Guthrie’s music for “Barry Lyndon” and “Bound for Glory,” Rosenman was put in the unique position of configuring “Eden” and “Rebel” for “9/30/55.” But as opposed to playing the same tunes, Rosenman brilliantly brought his scores into a 1970’s idiom. Where’s Eden” certainly wasn’t a humorous score, Rosenman turned its main theme into a rollicking, hayseed-meets-50’s doo wop chase as harmonica jams with the saxophone. In another ingenious retro-update, funk-jazz a la “Shaft” met with Rosenman’s brass signatures. He also somberly replays the aching, orchestral lines that highlight “Eden’s” tearful, evocation of a son desperately trying to get a father to love him – his gorgeous melodies now playing for a borderline psychotic kid’s identity becoming subsumed into what his vision of James Dean – just ass so many teen have done since. It’s in this ingenious tracking of “Eden” and “Rebel” that he finds new music to explore, with his final score for Dean taking center stage as its hero rides out of town, past a theater marquee featuring the next tragically lost, legend-to-be Marilyn Monroe.
Extra Special: That Leonard Rosenman was still working his experimental old magic with both nostalgia and fresh energy made the this unsung, powerful film all the more impactful, Album producers Cary E. Mansfield, Bryon Davis and Peter Hackman offer a straight-up, exceptional sounding vinyl-to-CD transfer of the MCA LP (a la their new release of “Fletch”), which shows off the idea of soundtrack-as-storytelling, with southern-flavored songs like “In the Jailhouse Now” and “Making Believe” well-integrated into Rosenman’s score, with star Richard Thomas’ passionate dialogue excerpted in between its exceptionally well though-out presentation that brings us back to the days when scores were as revolutionary as their rebels.
2) * batteries not included
What Is It?: By the late 1980’s, James Horner had become the sound of family friendly science fiction and fantasy for a generation with scores like “Willow,” “Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn,” and “An American Tail.” Immersed in orchestral melody, the composer’s twinkling percussion, whimsical flutes and ethereal electronics, Horner could touch both the cosmic and the intimately humane. Few movies during the musician’s golden era collected all of his wondrous “Horner-isms” in the cute, tiny package like the flying, little people saucers of 1987’s “* batteries not included,” wherein a family of google-eyed space visitors bring miracles to a New York City tenement, and a restaurant owned by adorable octogenarians and legendary acting couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
Why Should You Buy It?: With its 1940’s big band component, “*batteries” was a follow-up for Horner and the stars to their 1985 smash “Cocoon,” where classic jazz was wistful nostalgia for senior citizens desperately in need of uplift, in both cases to the wonders that aliens could bestow. Horner had a real affinity for the various styles of the big band era, a talent that he’d go on to explore with the likes of “Swing Kids” and “The Rocketeer.” Here his Glenn Miller-infused brass is a golden age delight as it goes from swing to rhumba, a sound which provides a dark set up for how big city innocence has fallen as the opening Glenn Miller-esque montage of the cute couple in their Gotham heyday turns to gloomy white flight reality of a building in shambles. Horner’s theme suddenly becomes no longer in the mood as his theme brilliantly transitions from jazz ensemble to a full, devastated orchestra. A composer who also reflected old age with heartbreaking tenderness in such scores as “Dad” and “Field of Dreams,” Horner’s poignancy towards the characters’ urban blight gets a magical, mischievous uplift as the steampunk visitors show up as new tenants, bringing along major renovations to pay the rent. Their Raymond Scott “Powerhouse” style paved the way for the Rube-Goldberg musical comedy of Horner’s score to “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” with a spooky-ooky harpsichord foreshadowing “Casper” as well. Yet Horner never got quite as wackily with his kid-friendly comedy as with “*batteries,” with scraping metal and chugging rhythm antically hitting the pratfalls of these busy bee machines. Beyond the many themes on display, what really fuels the through line between jazz and orchestra is a lyrical sense of empathy, whether it’s the flute of a baby saucer or the melancholy piano of a wife watching her beloved husband’s mind succumb. Back in Amblin golden days when movies of this sort weren’t afraid to balance sweetness with real danger, Horner isn’t afraid to go for to outright, smashing menace in the sharp brass hits and symphonic peril of gangsters with their own plan for urban renewal, and tragically smother the jazz vibe in the process. But for the kind of ever-rising tragedy that Horner was just as adept at, this is the sort of story that’s guaranteed a happy ending for all of its peril as gloriously warm strings recharge “*batteries” to its dance hall glory days.
Extra Special: Despite serving as one of the launch pads for Horner’s further explorations, both soundtrack and film never quite got the love they should have back in the day. Only available on an out of print CD worth its platter in gold, “*batteries” finally gets to shine at double its original 45 minute length via Intrada’s two-disc release, which also offers its album presentation. Given Horner’s penchant for unusually long cues (some running nearly nine minutes here), having every note included shows just how dexterously Horner developed his themes through long, enchanting passages, sounding off with its big bang and orchestra with gorgeous, moving vitality that once again makes fans think of the enormous talent that was lost in the composer’s race up to the heavens, but whose music will continue to stand the test of time, especially when the listener can bask in 80’s nostalgia by way of the 1940s.
3) FIRST MAN
What is It?: Music has been the tempo for the ever-formidable missions of director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz as they travelled from the relentless drum lessons of “Whiplash” to jazz aspirations that encompassed “La La Land.” Now they dare to go to the moon with Neil Armstrong with “First Man,” taking a truly groundbreaking flight path that’s almost utterly different from any NASA movie, or score before it. For where the likes of Bill Conti and James Horner took a heroic course that left no doubt of the astronaut’s patriotic spirit in winning the space race, Chazelle and Hurwitz are all about looking inwards at a resolutely quiet man, conveying inter-planetary travel in all of its claustrophobic terror until heavenly elation is finally heard on the moon.
Why Should You Buy It?: The quite ingenious rocket fuel of Hurwitz’s is “Lunar Rhapsody,” a 60’s song from exotica trailblazer Les Baxter, whose novel use of instruments brought together orchestra, piano and the sonorous Theremin stylings of Dr. Samuel Hoffman – the master of an instrument that automatically conjured visions of sci-fi aliens. This beautifully wacky tune is the dance between Neil and his more-than-patient earthbound wife in one tender scene. Hurwitz bring the eerie, voice-like sound of this instrument to life with a Moog Etherwave Plus into his impressively thematic score, conveying space as a void just waiting to destroy intruders. Yet “Rhapsody’s” key player is also the tragic fruit of Armstrong’s marriage in their young, fatally ill daughter, whose spirit becomes the astronaut’s driving force. It’s embodied by a poetic harp melody, one rhythmic and the other spare and haunting. Shivering reverberations convey the unknowable, while another percussive signature becomes the never-say-die spirit that takes NASA to the big Apollo 11 launch. While none of this is remotely rah-rah stuff, it’s just as impactful in conveying the heroism of “First Man,” even if audiences wondering if they’ll ever get the traditional symphonic payoff of a real space opera. Hurwitz steadily gets us to the payoff, first as the Moog search for a module turns to his playful string spin on “The Blue Danube.” With strings and percussion building down the score showpiece launch, “First Man” finally shows that multiplex musical systems are go in a way that doesn’t sell out Hurwitz’s unusually brave approach, his themes coming together with a full-on symphony for a thrilling blast-off. The moon landing similarly takes the motif’s darkness off as Hurtwitz’s minimalistic NASA motif accelerates brassily accelerates in a way that might make you think that John Barry is the score’s co-pilot at one point.
Extra Special: When Armstrong makes his giant leap, it’s met again with his the Moog, now conveying profound, spiritual wonder as opposed to danger. It’s the daughter’s music that’s especially moving because of its wind-like sparseness as opposed to something bigger, an excellent example of how defying musical expectations makes Hurwitz’s “First Man” one giant leap in bringing interstellar heroism down to earth with no less impact
What Is it?: John Carpenter wrote the book on slasher synths forty years ago with his improvised score for The Shape. It was creeping, minimalistic scoring that would go down as arguably the most memorable psycho theme off all. Given a knife-stabbing hulk minus any Norman Bates personality, Carpenter’s way of embodying Michael Meyers’ single-minded, neo-supernatural pursuit of prey was with spare, eerie melody and a rapid-fire percussive signature. Not only did they give terrifying speed to his kills, but also made the audience feel Meyers’ stalking, heavy-breathing presence in every corner. While Carpenter’s themes have graced just about every “Halloween” sequel since, they’ve never been more powerful employed than in filmmaker David Gordon Green’s picture that demolishes every Shape movie since. It’s evil magic is in trading Meyers’ bare musical essence for an astonishingly developed, scored-to-picture approach that announces Carpenter has returned in the killer company of son Cody and Ray’s offspring Daniel Davies, all of whom provide “Halloween’s” greatest musical hits while expanding the terrifying repertoire way beyond a few classic themes and a keyboard.
Why Should You Buy It?: While of course beginning with The Theme to kill them all, fans can immediately tell there’s something up with a fuller sound, and a far speedier rhythm that portends a different score to come under an ageless, featureless Shatner mask. Conjuring new, eerie themes that pack an atmospheric presence of dread akin to “The Fog” and “Prince of Darkness” this “Halloween” tells us that Maestro Carpenter is most definitely behind the wheel here, while building on his telltale sound with industrial music, unique synths and a twisted rock and roll attitude that just as impressively announce he’s with the band. Right from Meyers’ first kill that plays like a scratch speed demon alongside resplendent synth stingers, the new blood of Carpenter and Davies is splashed. Together, they helped Carpenter senior jump back on board the retro synth revival with his “Lost Themes” album, as well as generating an electrifying groove with Carpenter’s greatest hits concert tour. Stabbing guitar and a greatly increased rhythmic gait bring a whole new level of fear, and speed to Meyers, who hasn’t lost a beat in his stealth approach. Yet the familiar motifs are just as ready to reveal their face. Their “Halloween” is a cool revamp, in its way similar to how Carpenter expanded the films’ repertoire way back when alongside Alan Howarth for the far darker score to “Halloween II” and the Stonehenge-packed computer beats of “Halloween IIII.” Here Michael’s new groove speaks for a relentlessly evil child-man without revealing his secrets, let alone voice. It’s a truly creepy, tricked-out dread that spreads the fear to Laurie Strode, the score tying their relentless need for the other’s destruction. It’s music that reflects one character’s haunted mind, and another being propelled by some unspeakable force, their combat finally exploding like a rock battle as it veers between fury and pulsing anticipation for what might be the most suspenseful “Halloween” stalking of all.
Extra Special: Without losing any of the original’s rapidly chiming, prog-rock street cred, this “Halloween’s” impressively shows that the The Shape’s musical form is more alive than ever when abounding in fresh ideas gleaned from the alt. synth scoring revolution that Carpenter put on the Hollywood map like no one’s business. In Haddonfield Illinois’s unluckiest holiday, it opens up new terrifying playing fields galore that will doubtlessly expand for this undying franchise.
5) THE SANDLOT (25th Anniversary Edition)
What is It?: While many great baseball films, have stood the test of time from “The Pride of the Yankees” to “Bull Durham” and “The Natural,” it’s doubtful that any have struck a cult hit out of the park like filmmaker David Mickey Evans’ 1993, 1962-set ode to that special coming-of-age summer, as embodied by pre-teens getting a grip on the greatest game of all. With any number of character lines burned into the public consciousness on the level of “The Godfather,” a lot of “The Sandlot’s” magic comes from playing fast and funny with the rules, especially when it came to a rambunctiously thematic score by David Newman which, while giving a rousingly orchestral tip of the home run bat to the sports score genre, has a rural wackiness that could have easily accompanied a western. It’s one score that delightfully rounds all the stylistic bases, music that fully, and finally slides past the home plate with La La Land’s 25th anniversary edition.
Why should I buy it?: From his first scores for the likes of “The Brave Little Toaster,” “Little Monsters” and the hockey playing “Mighty Ducks,” composer David Newman knew what it sounded like to be a baseball-obsessed kid at heart. Arguably the most symphonically wacky member of his legendary scoring family, Newman would bring a rousingly lush string swing in a way that dad Alfred and cousin Randy could definitely appreciate. And “The Sandlot” would certainly have worked had David stuck to that winning orchestral play a la “The Natural.” But it might not have made the film itself quite as memorable (or budgetary affordable) had he not had the inspiration of treating the San Fernando Valley with a bluegrass guitar, harmonica and piano that could have easily been set in Monument Valley. The approach is instead a throwback to the “backwoodsy” origins of the 18th century game, as personified by the appearance of the legendary Bambino himself, whose presence also delightfully figures into the score with he kind of 1940’s big band music that Newman had been swinging with in his scores for “The Marrying Man” and “Honeymoon in Vegas.” Here it pinch hits for the classic New York Yankee spirit from wistful brass to channeling a bit of George Gershwin. Newman also can’t resist paying homage to Americana with one homer that passes from an Aaron Copeland hoedown to Alfred’s “How the West Was Won.” But if “The Sandlot” continually flyball’s over the chance to play the early 60’s riffs of the film’s setting, it goes for Newman’s topical use of electronics, whose thematic melody and voices charmingly unit this ragtag team.
Extra special: As “The Sandlot” segues from one vignette to the other, one big story through line is the seeming monster dog that never fails to eat their balls. The fearsome tail of “the beast” that lies beyond their field’s wooden fence has Newman imagine hilariously over-the-top supernatural music that’s spilled over from his rampaging horror score to “The Runestone.” The kids’ hapless attempts to retrieve their prizes turn into a contest of military rhythm versus devil’s fiddle and raging brass. It’s in their confrontations that Newman brings his hyper-madcap style of comedy bursting into “The Sandlot,” no more hilariously than as a carnival-like chase becomes a Spaghetti western showdown that’s all about bark being worse than bite. It’s the monster mutt music that helps fill out “The Sandlot’s” extra innings in an album that expands its previous release (which first appeared on Varese alongside Newman’s “War of the Roses”) from around 22 minutes to a whopping 69 here. It’s the real homer that this score has deserved for decades, even as the movie itself became an institution – a journey chronicled in Tim Grieving excellent liner notes that features new interviews from Newman and Evans about being a winning team unmatched in Hollywood’s little-big league.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE DARKEST MINDS / KING OF THIEVES
Benjamin Wallfisch is on a roll with a vibrant talent that crosses the generation gap from YA sci-fi to not so over the hill jewel robbers. Though there may have been no future in sight to the stillborn franchise of “The Darkest Minds,” Wallfisch’s entry into the dystopian genre is certainly a highpoint here. Given the premise of a child holocaust leaving only X-Men candidates alive, Wallfisch is able to evoke a sense of innocence and loss amidst the material’s rhythmic action demands, a piano and voice evoking both a lost generation and the survivors’ innocence in a world out to destroy them. Wallfisch cannily gives an alt. rock vibe to the characters’ quest, bringing in nicely melodic guitar grooves alongside lush strings, The score’s darkness comes across in psychically powered electronic effects, furious string playing amidst sonic booms that really take off for our hero’s battle against their fascist counterparts at the climax, with huge, dark brass and chorus leaving little doubt as to who’s the misguided villain. While the smashing psychic energy blowout stuff and rousing heroic statements are certainly effective, Wallfisch’s “Darkest Minds” score shines brightest in its more lyrically intimate emo moments, reflecting the kind of outcast romance that I suspect is at the heart of the seemingly extinguished YA genre’s attraction to young viewers in the first place.
When so many scores from “Going in Style” to “Mortdecai” and any number of “Oceans” have been to the retro-jazz till in the service of robbers, it’s a wonder there’s any rhythm left to loot. But leave it to Wallfisch to make essentially the same material sparkle like new for “King of Thieves.” Michael Caine turns from the American compatriots of “Style” to old British salts for a true-life diamond heist that counted as one of their country’s biggest robberies. You have a feeling that Roy Budd wouldn’t be crying foul for the cimbalom employed here straight outta “Get Carter,” or that John Barry would yell about his lush string style being fleeced – or Tchaikovsky crying foul in Russian about how his sugar plum fairies have been revamped for big band for that matter. Even more of the usual crime jazz suspects come into play from Neil Hefti to Lalo Schifrin, and even Miles Davis in a way that sounds utterly new and groovy for one of the most thoroughly fun soundtracks this year. Where some past scores in the genre think its enough to let the rhythm play, Wallfisch is a strong enough composer in way less jazzy scores to give this all a thematic framework, rolling with the break-in suspense punches in a way that makes his crime jazz sound both free form and controlled. Wallfisch has gleeful energy to spare from finger-snapping, fuzz guitars to Wurlitzer grooves that make one positively feel young again on the swinging 60’s streets of London, just as “Thieves” hoods were in The Day. But matters become a bit more musically serious and tick-tock menacing as things go awry in the heist’s aftermath and the coppers circle in. Wrapping up the fresh nostalgia in a too cool for school orchestral suspense, “Thieves” makes it all sound groovily new again. After “King of Thieves,” they might as well hang up the cleaned-out sign from this genre’s coffers thanks to this especially ingenious composer who knows how new, cool ways to drill into the crime jazz treasure chest.
. DUCK DUCK GOOSE
Mark Isham has certainly played leader of the flock with his playful score for “Fly Away Home,” as well as embodied animal hijinks for the likes of “Racing Stripes.” They’re qualifications that put him in fun stead for the animated antics of “Duck Duck Goose,” as a fowl bachelor with a love for destructive stunts ends up becoming a very reluctant father figure for two wiseacre chicks. While the result farting and face-in-pig butt gags are certain to occur, Isham brings wit to the proceedings that capture the soaring orchestral sound of his past scores, with the looney cartoon scoring guide off Carl Stalling often taking the lead. Isham swirls, twists and dives on a dime with a fun, rambunctious attitude in a way that’s exhilarating without being musically tiring. There’s also pleasant sentiment on hand that lets Isham make good use of his talent for string-driven melody, until the music takes rambunctious flight once more. With the film originating from Asia (though dubbed here by such distinctly American stars as Jim Gaffigan and Zedanya), Isham brings in battery of Chinese bells and wind-riding instruments like the Erhu, as well as Taiko drumming that makes these ducks a cute musical cousin to a certain martial arts panda. But what Isham does with the soaring, eastern ethnic music that accompanies the very western-style comedy is very much his own animal, especially in the score’s more heartfelt moments. As most animated movies of these sort teaching a lesson of perseverance, there’s Isham brings a nice feeling of optimism that takes these waterfowl to their sweetly crazed destination. It’s an unexpected majesty that makes this little film and big score that could a real underdog. Topping off “Duck Duck’s” extensive score are fun, Disney Radio ready songs, with Dave Bassett’s “Paradise” making particularly clever use of the quack-quack rhythms of Isham’s main theme.
From killer bees to mountain lions, the movie animal kingdom was savagely unleashed on humankind following the smash of 1975’s “Jaws.” One of the first cash-in critters to amble up on land was the “18 feet of gut-crunching man-eating terror!” called “Grizzly.” Yogi this ornery bear was not as he munched on the killer shark formula for all it was worth, his lumbering terror conveyed with the lowest-sounding tones and orchestral instruments of The National Philharmonic Orchestra of London under the fierce hand of composer Robert O Ragland. Starting off as an arranger for the Dorsey Brothers Jazz Orchestra, Ragland often showed off his musical talent in service of such nutty exploitation fare as “The Thing with Two Heads,” ”Mansion of the Doomed” and “Q: The Winged Serpent.” With “Grizzly” director William Girdler segued from “Abby’s” “Exorcist”-inspired thrills to a creature noshing on a national park, Ragland created a fearsome, mercilessly lumbering score. If John Williams captured a beast with submerged, evil grace, Ragland’s approach was conversely berserk, even if he’d start with the catchily wholesome song “What Make a Man a Man?” This tune that you might expect to hear in “Shenandoah” becomes the more pleasantly thematic aspect of “Grizzly” as breezy, pretty harmonica-topped melodies capture the great outdoors’ rural, romantic splendor. But it isn’t too long before the composer mercilessly unleashes music that smashes together the high and subterranean extremes of the orchestra through one lurching, clawing musical attack after the other. Playing the grizzly as Satan on earth with Theremin-like electronics, Ragland’s command of his impressive musical resources given the film’s budget adds powerful fury to the score’s excitement as brassily rousing heroism takes on the monster via helicopter and bazooka. While he might not have two notes instantly conveying a titular beast, Ragland’s thematically impressive way of evoking roaring fury with the score’s clash of warm rural melody and monstrous impressionism makes for a rippingly exciting score for a genre a shark wrought, which 70’s specialist label Dragon’s Domain now unleashes on CD to make you think twice about going camping.
. THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS
Having teamed on such decidedly non-kid friendly horrors as “Hostel,” director Eli Roth and composer Nathan Barr might seem like razors in Halloween candy when it comes to PG-rated sorcerous scares decidedly aimed at the pre-Harry Potter crowd. But “The House with a Clock in its Walls” proves to be a spooky treat indeed, especially when it comes to raising the ghost of the kind of subversive visual, and scoring thrills that typified such fondly remembered Joe Dante-Jerry Goldsmith collaborations as “Gremlins” and “The Burbs.” That their “Clock” has a good, sentimental heart inside its sweetly malefic confines also says much for the child-like wonder and magic that Barr brings to the table. Much like the wide-eyed warlock-to-be gawking at his uncle’s hoarder-worthy collection of magical artifacts, the theme-filled score rejoices in plucky rhythms, spectral voices and gentle harps. But if the “House” starts out charmingly enough in musical G-land, Barr is soon unleashing scarier string movements and lurching, snarling brass, the orchestra growing in panic with the introduction of the film’s zombified answer to Voldemort. But even as the score races in panic between creepy dolls and fanged pumpkins, Barr keeps a twinkle in his eye. It’s music that’s out to spook, but not too much in keeping its fairy tale-sounding sense of reassurance the good will triumph amidst the hair-raising, borderline Dies Irae action and howling voices, with even the scariest, pounding music capturing a sense of warm, plucky heroism. As set in the early 50’s, Barr also brings in playful exotica as well as old country accordion, with Theremin-like ooo-wee-ooo vibrations capturing the horror movie sound of the era. But the undoubted highlight of “House” is the giant, mighty Wurlitzer studio organ that Barr has sandwiched into his studio from 20th Century Fox’s recording stage. A veteran of such productions as “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the rapturous, Bernard Herrmann-possessed instrument brings an epic, uncanny sound to its new “House” by virtue of the centuries-old antiquity of the instrument, its pipes long having connoted heaven and the unholy. Here the dynamic sound becomes that old black magic, as well as conjuring a carnival ride sense of fun, and the spirit of silent movie accompaniment at that. When so few scores these days take advantage of a keyboards born for the supernatural, this gigantic organ’s place is the biggest treat that you’ll find waiting inside this “House.”
. LA LEGENDE DES SCIENCES / TOURS DU MONDE, TOURS DU CIEL
In a country where science is under attack, it’s particularly nice to reach across the Atlantic to hear the marvels of the planet, and the stars beyond as extolled by two French composers with a sense of symphonic wonder in these stellar releases from Music Box Records. Georges Delerue did his stargazing with 1991’s “Tours du Monde, Tours du Ciel,” a documentary series whose director Robert Pansard-Besson would go from the history of astronomy to the planet itself with “Legende.” Composed a year before his untimely passing into the eternal firmament of musical legends, “Tours” finds Delerue at the height of his orchestral lyricism that had him in equal demand in both Hollywood and France. A composer who built his career with his poetic, often gorgeously melancholic scoring for the likes of “Jules and Jim” and “Compulsion,” Delerue captures the act of gazing into the cosmos with beyond-lush, swooning romance and harpsichord that particularly brings to mind his naturalistic sci-fi score to “The Day of the Dolphin,” a soundtrack that luxuriated in speaking to a mind far smarter than us. With “Tours” music at first heard with long, achingly poetic suites made of heavenly strings that are full of Delerue’s classically-themed grace, the album then breaks down into short motifs for the planets. The result is grace itself at pulling us into the pinpricks of light that have fascinated man for millennia. In impressionistic, stripped down contrast, the album also presents Delerue’s first string quartet from 1948, a four-movement work of modern classicism quite more demanding than the lulling sound the composer became best known for. As supervised by Delerue’s melodic descendant Alexandre Desplat, it’s a interesting presentation of a composer’s own, out-there explorations,
Besson next sought an even bigger cinematic approach with “La Legende Des Sciences” for which he recruited Eric Demarsan, a prolific composer who began his career with the acclaimed Jean-Pierre Melville films “Army of Shadows” and “Le Cercle Rouge.” Given the project’s expanse, Demarsan approached “Science” much like a latter-day Claude Debussy. Coming across as one gigantic, rapturous symphony dedicated to nature, “Science” sings with utterly gorgeous melody, with one section after the next striving to the heavens themselves. It’s epically lush, inspirational starstuff whose continuous crescendos play like it’s accompanying the craning shot of a Hollywood epic (“Gone with the Wind” comes to mind most often). Other passages are more lyrically gentle, and at times even waltzing. Demarsan’s tone has a warm radiance that brings emotion to what some might view as a cold, analytical field, and provides no end of grace as an inspirational tone poem as it thematically links selections from “Science’s” twelve episodes – an accomplishment all the more impressive given that Demarsan composed the score from the Besson’s descriptions alone. As splendidly performed by a Russian orchestra used to classically-inspired soundtracks, this release of Demarsan’s “symphonic suite in the shape of colors” is heard with the composer’s fully orchestral intent, as well the music that ended up on the show that showed Besson’s wish of stripping out every instrument but the strings. The result is music that hears the epic rapture, and passion of creation, a feeling of holiness in the service of the scientific facts, with both scores histories nicely captured in the via Florent Groult’s liner notes.
. LONDON FIELDS
Not since Laura Palmer walked into the Bang Bang Club has a man-eating femme fatale been given such an impressive, health warning level of smoky film noir scoring as composer Adam Barber (“Genius,” “Extremity”) brings to Amber Heard’s vamp for “London Fields.” This long-delayed movie from the salad days of her marriage to Johnny Depp is adapted from Martin Amis’ novel about a literary object of affection driving a horny rogues gallery to their psychological, and metaphysical doom. As erotically embodied by a sax theme to die for, “Fields” offers up the usual stylistic subjects with new, hypnotic vibrancy that straddles the classic world’s of old-school jazz and current electronica beats, with a drive for grinding torch rock seduction. Given the first person narration of Billy Bob’s besotted, writer’s blocked Yank author, Barber hears any number of beautifully hallucinatory, eclectic tones to conjure a dream object. The brush of tight-clinging satin cymbals drift over piano, while a melancholy electronic haze creates an ethereal, haunted atmosphere. As he assigning the main characters their own thematic instruments, Barber accents the movie’s absurdity just as smartly, from Swingle Singers-esque cooing voices to sly rhythm to one cue’s Klezmer and Wurlitzer organ groove. Debussy and Bach also figure into Barber’s erotic intoxication of the film’s satiric pseudo intellectualism, blending an orchestra with the score’s wicked intimacy, no more powerfully than as the strings build over his main theme. Grindingly nasty or possessed with doe-eyed innocence, Barber has it every which noir way in “London Fields”, capturing the spirit of such composers as “Twin Peak’s” Angelo Badalamenti and “Stormy Monday’s” Mike Figgis, but with his own cutting edge sense of invention that makes “London Fields” scoring to kill for – its utterly transfixing spell completed as Barber turns his theme to Laura Hughes’ haunting song “You Cover Me.” A maneater couldn’t ask for cooler meat than this.
. THE LONELY GUY
Though he was a composer who could master nearly any genre whether it was horror, romance, adventure or science fiction, full-out comedy seemed to mostly elude Jerry Goldsmith. While he certainly had fun with the absurdity in the midst of Joe Dante’s mayhem with “Innerspace,” the hoi-poloi subversiveness of “Six Degrees of Separation,” the nun hijinks of “The Trouble with Angels” and the way-out spy satire of the Derek Flint flicks, Goldsmith’s orchestral style could also be just a bit heavy-handed in such scores as “Mr. Baseball” and “Fierce Creatures” – which might explain why he took a mainly synthesized route for 1983’s “The Lonely Guy.” “The Out-of Towners” team of director Arthur Hiller and writer Neil Simon made a silly, sweet Steve Martin vehicle that was caught between outrightly wacky sight gags and a more heartfelt exploration of Manhattanites hard up for relationships in the dying days of disco. Goldsmith, then in the midst of scores like “Psycho II” and “Under Fire” (but jumping full-bore into synths with “Runaway”) seemed like a bit of an odd choice for this – much like some of his scoring compatriots who came across as trying too hard to be with-it, as much as Eastern European swingers at Studio 54. But maybe that was just fine for a film about over the hill guys in the NYC dating game. Goldsmith gives a wistful, exasperated workout for the main theme for “The Lonely Guy,” his pleasant tune given voice by the rock group America (“Tin Man”), You know that things are going to be a bit goofy right from Goldsmith’s Synclavier spin of “Also Spach Zarathustra” that jams into a string and shrill electronic montage that hits the sight gags of single guys from the dawn of man. Rock guitar and Casio-esque percussion become the source of the ever-pathetic meet-up parties these lonely hearts attend (complemented by the cheesy disco songs on deck at the album’s start). There’s also fun, chirping Oriental riffs that make the score a sort of runner-up for Goldsmith’s“Gremlins” the next year, and a peppily rhythmic synth and orchestral race to a wedding that would pave the way for the basketball court action of the composer’s “Hoosiers.” But in spite of its sometimes-ungainly musical humor, there’s a real sympathy that Goldsmith brings to the score, which shows off some quite beautiful string writing even if the electronics might be squelching, or chirping. Previously only available as a mini-LP, Intrada greatly expands “The Lonely Guy’s” score to nearly an hour, setting some new record for opening cue alternates in the process as Goldsmith tried to get a grip on Steve Martin’s bicycle, and potted plants at that. Though Goldsmith was way more at ease scoring men who had no problems getting ladies, “The Lonely Guy” has a retro charm that will undoubtedly please fans, while making others breath a sigh of relief that they are hopefully doing better now than they were in the 80’s in a score that’s all about dating.
. MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN
When tackling the Marvel Universe on Netflix, composer John Paesano has mainly taken a stealth approach for decidedly earthbound avengers like Daredevil and The Defenders. While he was especially good at superhero noir minimalism for the most part, Paesano’s truly symphonic powers could be heard in his scores for “The Maze Runner” franchise on the big screen. Now with the acclaimed videogame adventures of “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” the composer is really able to swing in the comic book domain with terrifically cinematic music. One can certainly hear the spirit of Danny Elfman’s approach to the web slinger’s very first movie with chorus and a swirling, triumphant theme, as expressed though Paesano’s own dynamic way with percussion and electronics. Breathless, cliffhanging action abounds with motifs that clearly differentiate the web head from such villains as The Kingpin and The Sinister Six. Heroic brass races full speed into danger in any number of dazzling action set pieces that are the stuff of button-mashing adrenalin that helps realize Spidey in the medium like never before. Even better is the emotional flesh and blood that Paesano brings to Peter Parker and his danger-fraught relationship with Mary Jane Watson. It’s the poignant definition of the Spidey adage that with great power comes great responsibility. But whatever the screen size, “Marvel’s Spider-Man” stands tale as quiet great thematic superhero scoring, given the palpable joy of a composer who finally gets to shout with joy while swinging over New York City as opposed to his stripped-down powers prowling on the metropolis’ nefarious Netflix streets.
THE OLD MAN & THE GUN
Where jazz is most commonly employed in scores these days as a veritable arsenal of fun, rhythmic weaponry, the vibes held by Daniel Hart for “The Old Man & the Gun” are positively genteel and subtly charming, much like the ladykilling politeness that’s wielded by Robert Redford’s bank robber for a crime drama of beguiling niceness. As set in the early 80’s, Hart’s use of his ensemble for guitar and percussion immediately evokes the soft jazz style of Dave Grusin. But as they say, if you’re going to steal, then steal from the best. That Hart does quite wonderfully in a way that tells the listener no one’s going to get really hurt here, despite the flash of said weapon. Instead, Hart’s music speaks for warm nostalgia while also bringing out our antihero’s sense of regret in the family he left behind. Once again teamed with director David Lowery after their stellar, often rural-themed work on “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “Pete’s Dragon” and “A Ghost Story,” Hart brings in a sense of the heartland his old man travels with the subtle use of the fiddle and guitar. There’s a lovely sense of tenderness to the score’s breeziness, the music growing just a bit more excited as Hart effortlessly tracks the crook’s reconnaissance, heists and escapes (with particular brilliance when turning the main motif into a hand-clapping chamber piece). Where many scores of this type bring on the whole band, Hart segues from his groove to string suspense in a way that keeps the steals interestingly suspenseful, and above all fun. Yet like movies about crooks in the sunset of their years, a string weight bears down with the melancholy of the slammer that awaits any thief of this sort. That this old man takes particular delight in escaping from the clink is brilliantly summed up with Jackson C. Frank’s wistful portrayal of a restless traveler with “Blues Run the Game,” one of this soundtrack’s exceptionally well-picked tunes that include The Kinks’ “Lola” and Scott Walker’s “30 Century Man.” All add to a groovily lovely, ultimately poignant musical portrayal of the saying that crime doesn’t pay, even as it can be fun for just a bit as a career choice,
. THE PAUL CHIHARA COLLECTION: THE DOCUMENTARIES
As the first Asian American composer to make his way in Hollywood with such diverse scores as “Death Race 2000,” “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan,” “Prince of the City” and “The Morning After,” Paul Chihara certainly deserves more CD releases that could encompass his trailblazing career. Paddling his way down the country’s greatest river with the world’s most famous ocean explorer is certainly a good place to start for Dragon’s Doman with their first (of hopefully many) volume of Chihara’s work for his 1977 documentary score for “The Cousteau Odyssey” episode of “The Mississippi.” It’s an uncommonly rich, and fun musical travelogue that evokes the breadth and history of the land the usually ocean-bound Frenchman and his crew behold. Chihara uses an energetic orchestra to propel his score through richly melodic waters, an approach honed in his counterpart classical career. His “Mississippi” music is the equivalent of someone enthusiastically pointing from a paddle boat, energetic shouts guiding us through quotes of the folk tunes “Shenandoah,” “Simple Gifts” and of course “Showboat’s” “Old Man River,” as well as the Confederate anthem “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Banjos, acoustic guitar and harmonicas evoke southern heritage, the Indians who used to live along the shores personified with pipes and drumming, all wrapped up with sweeping, Americana orchestrations as well as a bit of 70’s era keyboard southern funk. It’s a joyous spirit that conjures a sense of magical innocence, mystery and appreciation as Chihara impressively segues from one aural sight to the next. As expertly described by liner note tour guide Randall D. Larson, Chihara’s stirring voyage down “The Mississippi” is just a taste of the kind of rapturous, unsung waters that the composer’s career has taken us down for the beginning of a career that deserves far further exploration (which I can only hope will stop in NYC next for his contrastingly mournful score for “Prince of the City”).
. THE PREDATOR
Sci-fi horror, creepy ethnic atmosphere and military action scoring had a classic meeting of the minds in 1987 with Alan Silvestri’s score to “Predator.” While its cunning monster did its best to keep out of sight, Silvestri’s Schwarzenegger-strong themes made his music just as iconic as the movie. Silvestri would shift ethnic locations from South America to Africa with the savage land of near-future LA in “Predator 2,” the music next travelling to outer space as John Debney took on the composer’s thematic skin with “Predators.” And don’t forget the capable spins given to the aliens-versus-predator movies by Harald Klosser and Brian Tyler. But easily the most gonzo musical, and movie sequel of the bunch belongs to Henry Jackman and “The Predator.” Having last rumbled in the jungle with the far more successful “Jumanji” sequel, not to mention taking on such other beloved movie franchises as the X-Men and Captain America, Jackman is certainly a composer who can emerge with his skin intact. Much like a concert tour, he’s all about playing everyone’s favorite hits, while bringing something new to the table, in this case accompanying a unit of nutty soldiers as they duke it out with two predators for the planet, all with a heartwarming father-son twist. The result is a predator score on superhero roids. Large swathes of the soundtrack are nicely in Silvestri land, familiarly armed with growling, gladiatorial brass and military percussion, with Jackman putting the iconic themes through a work out of variations in a way that isn’t trodding old ground. But for the most part, Jackman absorbs Silvestri’s spirit and lets it blast in his own voice. The result is thrilling, as chorus joins with hero-on-a-mission excitement. Yet while the earth is at stake in the ultimate hunt, Jackman’s music has a twinkle in its eye that isn’t out to subvert the material (the studio did that job on the movie’s likely saner, original vision). As opposed to any real sense of invisible monster dread, “The Predator” has a brightness to its orchestrations that comes with an audience knowing fully well what these ugly motherf’ers have looked like for three decades. The experience in the “Jumanji” sequel’s perilous jungles certainly have helped out Jackman as well, even though the previous scores’ ethnic stylings have been dumped out the airlock here for this film’s mostly American setting. It’s all about the R-rated Saturday matinee thrills and speedy rhythmic spills that the score can muster, of course with a nicely melodic sense of derring-do and bugle-blowing sacrifice. More than doing right by past “Predator” scores, Jackman gives this sequel enough breathless comic book excitement to make you believe his music would have a chance against Thanos.
. THE PRISONER OF ZENDA
It might be said that Peter Sellers and Henry Mancini were linked at the hip, as their teaming on “The Pink Panther” propelled both men to comedic and scoring superstardom. Veering from classically humorous orchestrations to the hep pop of their “Party” together, Mancini knew how to capture all of Sellers’ eccentric identities. Told at just about the finale of the multiple-identity humorist’s sadly truncated career, 1979’s charming version of “The Prisoner of Zenda” saw Sellers playing the role of Ruritania’s King Rudolph and his lookalike English coachman Syd, a pauper-turned-prince when he’s Shanghai’d away for lethal court intrigue. As a master of “source” cues that could range from cocktail jazz too wacky shagadelia, Mancini provides a wealth of waltzing, off-kilter royal music, with snooty, off-kilter violins perfectly capturing an uncouth imposter trying to convince the European stuffed suits of his regal put-on. There’s also a jaunty theme that perfectly evokes a castle with its trumpeting brass and lush strings, melodically sparkling finery that decorates Mancini’s “Zenda.” Much as Inspector Clouseau snooped from one rhythmic pratfall to the next, Mancini delights in comedic skulking about, while also using his orchestra for more seriously suspenseful intent. As courtly music polkas amidst the musical equivalent of the vainglorious emperor’s new clothes and rousing, swashbuckling peril, Mancini’s take on “Zenda” nicely recalls his similar bit of playing conniving look-a-like shenanigans for Blake Edward’s “The Great Race” (also on La La Land Records), if minus a slapstick pie fight here. Funny and thrilling with satirical, Straus-ian snobbery to spare, the ample, 74-minute release of this fun, overlooked Sellers film proves to be a sparkling jewel in Mancini’s crown when it came to dressing Sellers in thematic finery for an actor who was the king of impersonation to the end.
. SAD HILL UNEARTHED
When film fandom has descended into a grave of toxicity, it’s nice to see a documentary celebrating the power of a near-universally celebrated classic to bring people together. In the case of the hundreds of tombstones that populate “Sad Hill,” it’s to unearth a burial ground that never was as a lasting tribute to “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” on the occasion of the movie’s 50th anniversary. Woe to the composer who’d even think of stepping into the shoes of interviewee Ennio Morricone for what’s likely the most iconic score he’s ever written in his storied career. Thankfully, Spaniard Zeltia Montes (“Fragile Equilibrium”) is out to capture the emotional sprit of the maestro as opposed to cloning an inevitably lesser knock-off of his work. Montes conjures a beautifully haunted score that’s evokes the sunbaked environment as much as it does the need for movie set restorationists to commune with their own familial spirits. Where Morricone used robust swooning strings, voices and blazing guitars for director Sergio Leone’s ode to the civil war dead amidst a trio’s gold plundering, Montes creates an impactful lesson in musical counterpoint, stripping down that score’s elegiac, emotional essence to such bare essentials as the trumpet, guitar and harmonica. It’s through Montes’ airy electronics that “Sad Hill” transforms into its own score with no name, its mesmerizing atmosphere’s ringing with the fatefulness of a duel on an empty, dusty road in the middle of town as much as it does a lonely patch of earth that the armies of dictator Francisco Franco worked their newfound set-building abilities on. From military drumbeats to snaking percussion, Montes’ score is full of lyrical spirits, dancing just this side of outright Morricone recognizability while also speaking for her singular talent. The music subtly builds with the majesty of an unlikely plan coming together, as given final benediction by Clint Eastwood himself in the film’s most touching scene. That “Sad Hill’s” soundtrack could easily accompany an emo western says much about how Montes has captured an cinematically mythic past that won’t stay dead, nostalgia that inspires new creativity from an eternal score that “Sad Hill” tips its sombrero to while going on its own, moving path.
. WUTHERING HEIGHTS
After years of bikers, mutants and costume dramas usually involving a pendulum, American International Pictures made its bid for artistic and critical prestige by going for the work of Emily Bronte (as opposed to Edgar Allen Poe) with 1970’s adaptation of “Wuthering Heights.” Given direction by Robert Feust (later to return AIP to horror form with his Dr. Phlbes films) and starring Bond-to-be Timothy Dalton, the company went for the most romantically musical Frenchman of the era with Michel Legrand – whose lyrical themes for “The Umbrella of Cherbourg” and the Oscar winning “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Summer of ‘42” remain swooningly eternal. Given the kind of raging, moor-set love destined for the tragedy of an impossible, class-beset couple, Legrand gave the budgetary-minded film company every penny’s worth of passion he’d been signed for. Notefornote Music now re-issues this utterly ravishing score on CD, as defined by a glorious main theme. Building from flute and harp to yearning brass and orchestra, Legrand’s work is the embodiment of tender impossibility. With harpsichord and strings setting up a bucolic setting in a way not far removed from “Thomas Crown’s” chess board warm-up, Legrand’s score starts out brightly enough for the youthful innocence of Heathcliff and Catherine. But soon enough, the symphonic skies darken with the intrusion of high society. The storm clouds are symphonically tumultuous as its lightning accompanies the most famous love / hate can’t-quit-you relationship in literature. Yet for all of the passionate fury that Legrand sumptuously unleashes, there’s a heart-ripping tenderness that runs through the score’s thematic blood, showing the utter, unabashed confidence of a composer who could spin out one eternally memorable melody after another as he varies here from symphonic rapture to heartbreaking intimacy. While “Wuthering’s” lower-key release wouldn’t give this score the notoriety of Legrand’s other classics, “Heights” is every bit as worthy to join their pantheon as its couple find ultimate togetherness in eternity, with no less than famed songwriting couple Marilyn and Alan Bergman turning Legrand’s melody to haunting lyrics for an eternal send-off that’s thankfully returned on CD.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes and Screen Archives Entertainment