The Soundtrack


By • Sep 1st, 2000 •

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Reel scary…

If there are any questions about how to re-record filmusic, go listen to Monstrous Movie Music CDs produced by David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne who record filmusic the reel way, not through the tinny funnels of some artificial concert hall. The music isn’t way back there, it’s right up front, on every side of you and the effect is so authentic that you’ll look around and ask, Where the hell is the movie?

Creature from the Black Lagoon (and other Jungle Pictures), which includes music from the MGM Tarzan movies and the Alligator People, is the newest entry in an ongoing series of Monstrous Movie Music. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle. Never has such loving care for detail been lavished on music from spooky Saturday matinees that used to scare the jujubes out of us and make softdrinks go down the wrong way. And kudos are truly earned by conductor Masatoshi Mitsumoto whose baton authentically curls this music into rhapsodies of childhood terror, and raises goosebumps on adults who have distinct memories — and a lot of respect — for monsters and Tarzan. The orchestral reconstructions by Mayne are dazzling.

Aside from the music, the release features a 40-page set of liner notes that are as much fun as the music. Schecter clearly is the last word on monster music and it’s obvious he enjoys his sense of authority. These aren’t liner notes but a sort of personal book about the films and the music. Schecter’s sense of detail in prose is matched only by his dogged intent in getting the music as perfect as possible. I especially enjoyed Schecter’s End Title notes from The Creature from the Black Lagoon: “Hans J. Salter’s `End Title’ blasts forth when the Creature rises from the Jacuzzi and finds David and Kay snuggling when they should be hightailing it out of there.” This isn’t prose– it’s pop art, marvelously capturing that moment when, as a kid, you saw that very scene and wondered whytheheck they weren’t hightailing it?

Another favorite is the cue, The Alligator Piano by Irving Gertz. Where except in classic monster scores can you get a concert-styled piano piece?

Creature from the Black Lagoon (and other Jungle Pictures) is an incredible listening experience and surely more fun than I’ve had in years listening to filmusic. It’s a classic entry in the annals of filmusic and a treasure of scares and smiles.

Too scary for words…

My friend Bruce Kimmel and his associate Taylor White have also produced a horror classic filmusic CD — The Haunted Palace and Premature Burial, composed and conducted by Ronald Stein (Percepto-002 LTD to 3,000). The original trax are flawless and oppressively ominous, the latter being imperative in any good scare-opera. Add a sense of lush, romantic danger and the rest falls into place. The music is complex, never tedious and the atmosphere that’s weaved here isn’t present in any contemporary scores (If only Goldsmith’s The Haunting had been as good as either of these two scores). A memorable release in horror filmusic.

Maximum Max Steiner….

What’s as good as a Max Steiner Western? A Max Steiner film noir. What’s better than both? A Max Steiner western noir score, a one-of-a-kind entry in a brilliant career when both genres converge in memorable filmusic by the maestro of orchestral narrative.

Pursued (Screen Archives Entertainment SAECSR002) is a western where the ebb and flow of shadows and darkness, under-the-table emotions and quick gunplay pose opportunities for Steiner that he hadn’t explored before. Listen closely and there’s elements of The Big Sleep and more. Then the composer’s page turns and that Steiner brand of western music comes forefront.

This new recording produced by the redoubtable team of Craig Spaulding and Ray Faiola, with mastering and liner notes by Faiola, is highly recommended.

Both Spaulding and Faiola also had a hand in Brigham Young’s new release of Steiner’s fabled music for The Adventures of Don Juan (FMA-MS106). This l score, so glitteringly good-humored and theatrically engaging especially illustrates the virtues and legendary symphonic quality of music composed during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Don Juan is rich in detail, orchestral color and drama. The score is as much a part of the cinematic experience as the film itself, a syncopation of sight and sound that creates an engaging emotional rhythm. Away from the film, it stands magnificently as a listening experience. The liner notes, as are all notes from Brigham Young, are virtual monographs of the film and its music. John Morgan’s musical notes are a delight, full of information and insightful whimsy, very much like himself. Rudy Behlmer’s background information about the production is sturdy and the production’s design, by Leslie Gunn, who also created the “look” of the Pursued release is first-rate, easily besting many commercial releases from Hollywood.

Brigham Young University’s Film Music Archives continues to follow all the rules and set new precedents with each release of classic scores.

* The Classic Filmusic of Georges Auric, Vol. 3: Lola Montes, Notre Dame de Paris Farandale & Esmeralda Dance Suite for Harps, Guitars and Cello conducted by Adriano (Marco Polo8.225070) Gorgeous works by one of the foremost composers of cinema and a collection long overdue of some of his more romantic epics, nimbly conducted by Adriano. The ominous, heavy chords that frame the main title of Nortre Dame wondrously captures Victor Hugo’s story of a hunchback and a gypsy princess; Lola Montes brings back so many memories of Max Ophuls’ visual feast and masterpiece. Perhaps Adriano will tackle Auric’s Moulin Rouge next, or Good-bye Again.

* Bless the Child composed & conducted by Chris Young (GNPD 8066) The most horrific music for a film that I have heard since The Omen. Over the years, I have listened to The Omen four times on the original soundtrack recording and once on a CDR that someone sent me from the old laserdisc which had isolated music trax. It’s not that The Omen isn’t brilliant, it is. And in the same way, Bless the Child is as chilling and dazzling. In fact, it teeters on the edge of being a brilliant score. But I can’t listen to this over and over again. And this is a matter of taste. I know countless filmusic fans who revel in scores like Bless the Child, which will spook the hell out of you and if this is what darkens your door, what can I say except good luck? I guess I’m not the devil I thought I was.

* Electra, composed & conducted by Mikis Theodorakis (INT33122) 3-CDs. From the composer of Zorba the Greek, Z and more comes this exciting opera based on the Sophocles tragedy. Sung in Greek, the voices take on a theatricality that merges beautifully with the score. Normally, I am not an opera or musicals kinda guy. But this is an exception. Theodorakis has always been an engaging composer of instantly recognizable style and drama. And this ambitious work reflects that rare sense of personality and authorship. Hearing this grand opera makes you realize why this man and his art were once a crime in fascist Greece. There is a wafting air of belligerence and independence that surely would unnerve authoritarians. Bravo.

* Marnie, by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Joel McNeely (Varese Sarabande). Universal Studios bigwigs and Hitchcock partly blamed Marnie‘s misfire at the box-office on what they called Herrmann’s “funeral music.” More than three decades later, we know better. If anything, Herrmann’s music helped this flawed romance. The composer was at the height of his creative powers but Marnie would never be released except in a limited mono LP & CD release to collectors (the studio stereo trax are pristine and still exist!) McNeely’s earlier Varese re-recording of Vertigo is priceless– Marnie sells for under $20, a bargain for those who value sound over performance. This re-recording solicits the same reaction from seeing actress Sharon Stone introduce classic Hitchcock films on American Movie Classics– you can dress her up for Hitchcock, but she’s still Sharon Stone. For some who don’t know any better, that’s a thrill. And with this new Marnie, it’s the same. You can dress up the recording in digital sound but it’s not Marnie. And it isn’t Bernard Herrmann.

* Into the Arms of Strangers composed & conducted by Lee Holdridge (Chapter III1006-2) When the world went mad and war engulfed everyone as Axis powers ravaged earth and human beings alike, the least of all of us– children — suffered most. This documentary about children and Nazi Germany is wistful and innocent. Holdridge’s music is sensitive and poignant, some of the most beautiful he’s ever composed. But I must confess, I am less happy with the Vienna Boys Choir which is, for me, intrusive. Sometimes children should be seen and not heard.

Danger ahead… collectors only…

You’ve been warned. Here they are, the dreaded under-the-table CDs available through mail-order outlets only, and highly recommended by Bertha’s Pretty Good American Filmusic Bootique, located in a strip mall near downtown Santa Monica.

* My Sister’s Keeper & USA Today composed and conducted by John Barry (MSK3686-2) and The Tamarind Seed also by Barry (TTS55200). Rare Barry and a must for Barry aficionados. The Tamarind Seed release here is far superior in sound and artwork than the previous bootique recording. Excellent sound.

* Body Double by Pino Donaggio (DBD4191-2) Romantic music for slashers that’s so much better than it should be. This is the complete score and the sound is virtually flawless. Many asked for it, now it’s out.

Some parting words…

“Why do you review bootleg CDs of filmusic? It’s immoral!” That’s what one Hollywood producer said to me recently in an e-mail. Ironically, the e-mail was posted in the wake of revelations that Hollywood, over the years, has actively marketed violent and sexual films and video games to children.

My first response is what morality are you talking about? There is as much morality in Hollywood today as there is art, and there ain’t much of either. If there was, kids wouldn’t be the target market for every violent and sexual perversion imaginable out of the Dream Factory — and filmusic wouldn’t rot into vinegary gunk because of neglect.

Secondly, I think a lot of people have forgotten what a critic is — and what a critic’s responsibilities are. Let me be clear in my intent. I am here only by the grace of Films in Review readers who seek me out as someone who honestly tells them what’s available in filmusic and its quality, both in sound and music value.

That’s it. Nothing else.

As a critic, I support no company, no producer, no artist per se. Nor am I in the business of public relations or marketing. Least of all, I’m hardly qualified — or inclined — to be the Pat Robertson of filmusic.

My only concerns — and these two elements fuse inseparably — are filmusic and readers. There is nothing else. If anything, you can rely on me for honesty, as much information as I can offer, and a totally opinionated point of view, colored by years of devotion to filmusic.

Anything else by me — or any other columnist or publication– would be a sell out. And I’m not for sale.

Recent releases of classic scores by Miklos Rozsa and others have also invited some criticism. Some legal experts at Turner flatly claim that these CDs are bootlegs. Tickertape says that the releases are legal.

Here’s what a Tickertape spokesman said recently about their releases:

“In the past European governments regarded all art — including music, film, paintings, photographs, operas — and film music — as property of the people. And in 1995, laws changed to strictly protect owners and artists rights for 25 years — a quarter of a century. Afterwards, all art is public domain. This was far reaching, especially for music. For instance, thousands and thousands of pop titles went into public domain. So did classical performances. And, in our case, film music became available for release. It’s quite simply a matter of public domain throughout Europe, and America’s definition of `permission’ doesn’t apply here,” according to producer Richard Kummerfeldt.

“Films that have been offered and showed to the general public and the music for those films falls within the public domain. European laws are very clear here,” he adds.

Kummerfeldt, who works in Luxembourg and Germany also contends that American copyright law does not supersede European copyright law.

“This is really an intellectual question. And I’m no lawyer. But I think every country in the world makes their own laws– and sometimes there are contradictions. Every country makes laws to protect their own territory and population. I personally think that no country has the right to claim that their own laws and systems are the only correct laws of the world and everybody must be judged by those laws. For example, Europeans could say that the death penalty is inhumane. But the US government disagrees and will do what it thinks is right within its own boundaries.”

Tickertape’s newest releases include Alfred Newman’s Captain from Castile and a suite from Newman’s The Snake Pit.

The issues of international law here are obviously complex. It’s certainly not for me to be some sort of arbiter. I do know this — if anyone — studio or independent producer alike — wants to compete with Kummerfelt or any other producer, all that has to be done is to release the music.

Why are there bootleg recordings of filmusic? First, the studios obviously don’t care about classic filmusic — otherwise more would be available. There’s simply not enough money in it. Secondly, the price tag for release is too high.

One independent producer wanted to release 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Paul Smith for the Disney classic.

Here’s the response that was received:

Thank you for your letter.

While we have no intention of releasing this material we would be glad to entertain any serious proposal from any label seeking to license the tracks for release. They would need to be willing to pay the union conversion re-use fees and all costs related to the legal paperwork in advance, plus all development and manufacturing costs for release of course. Probably somewhere between $80,000 to $100,000 dollars.

Interested parties can write to:

WALT DISNEY RECORDS, Product Development

I can safely say that no independent producer in Hollywood today could afford these fees, upfront, for a release that would sell no more than 1,000 copies, if that many.

Frankly, it is immoral to charge $80,000-100,000 to release 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Would I review a release of this classic Smith score if one crossed my desk? Yes, I would. With an open mind, knowing that there is no other way that this score will ever be released would you buy the release? You couldn’t answer that honestly if I didn’t review the score and tell you that it was available.

The problem lies not with the unauthorized or bootique recordings. These recordings are only symptomatic of an outdated corporate mindset and culturally oppressive system whose main purpose is to lock up great symphonic music and let it rot away. The studios and unions would do well to listen to Scott Sander, Sightsound president and chief executive officer who was recently quoted in an AP story by Gary Gentile, discussing bootlegs, in this case films, but the response is applicable to filmusic recordings.

“The copyright holder has only one defense (against bootlegs) — to release the copyrights… and fill the demand. We have to crowd out (pirated copies) with legitimate copies at affordable prices and then enforce the law.”

It’s simple, release the music — either on CDs or isolated music trax on DVDs and the market for unauthorized releases dries up. Anything less is just more whining. And whining about me reviewing what’s in the marketplace doesn’t help either.

If I could quote that lounge lizard, William Shatner, “Bust a move, baby…”

Next Time: John Morgan and William Stromberg are back from Moscow — and the new titles are from Bernard Herrmann and Adolphe Deutsch, all classic scores, all re-recorded in the authentic Morgan Stromberg style.

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