The Soundtrack


By • Dec 15th, 2004 •

Share This:

This is not meant to be my ‘Top Ten’ of the year’s soundtracks, nor are they particularly festive, but I’d like to recommend them to you because they’re either intriguing, rare, a long time coming, must-haves or simply well priced. Although the genres and styles are all quite diverse, the one thing they do have in common is fabulous music and any or all would make a great gift for a true Filmusic lover. They are not presented in any kind of order of favouritism but in roughly the production order of the movies or shows themselves. I hope you will enjoy.

Label: Chandos

The BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba.

Despite my introduction I must admit that this first choice is a personal favourite (darn it, fell at the first fence) but if Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart or any of the greats were alive today, they’d be writing film scores. In fact many of their compositions are simply that, except without the films to accompany them. They wrote music to accompany their own personal visions, but you can’t help, on listening to them, to close your eyes and create visions of your own. British classical composer Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) was another of these greats, but in his autumnal years was tempted into the realm of filmmaking, so what we have here is a true crossover, and a rare glimpse of what can happen when a previously totally focused classical composer is given a shot at writing a film score – and it is breath-taking. Volume one features music from COASTAL COMMAND, a 1942 documentary about the flying boats which were patrolling the North Sea and Icelandic waters around the British Isles during WWII, and (THE) PEOPLE’S LAND, a short film made in 1943 about Britain’s National Trust organisation, the former conveying some wonderfully dramatic seascapes and the latter more pastoral evocations of the British countryside based on English folk songs. But, beautiful as these are, the real highlight is the first complete recording of VW’s score for SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC, the 1948 film chronicling Scott’s ill-fated 1912 expedition to the Antarctic which starred British stalwarts John Mills, Kenneth More, James Robertson Justice, Derek Bond and John Gregson. Although the film is a little downbeat owing to the inevitable conclusion, the score, comprising over 40 minutes of music, less then half of which actually made it into the finished film, remains one of the masterpieces of film score composition, capturing perfectly both the majesty and menace of glaciers, blizzards and vast expanses of ice. One can almost see those British stiff upper lips freezing over…

Volume 2 again contains music from two short films. (THE) ENGLAND OF ELIZABETH, a short (26 mins) made in 1955 looking back at the era of Shakespeare, Drake, Raleigh, Elizabeth 1st and Tudor England, and DIM LITTLE ISLAND, an 11-minute film made in 1949 by the Central Office of Information pondering on the past, present and future of Britain.

Of chief interest on this album though the is 40 minutes (16 tracks) of music from VW’s score for 49TH PARALLEL (US title THE INVADERS), a 1941 propaganda piece made to encourage the Americans to come into the war. With an Academy Award winning story by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Michael Powell, the same duo who five years later would write, produce and direct A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (US: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN), and featuring star performances by Eric Portman, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Anton Walbrook, Niall MacGinnis, Glynis Johns and Raymond Massey, the film told the story of 5 members of a German U-Boat crew stranded in Canada and trying to escape across the 49th Parallel into the then neutral United States. This was, at the age of 69, VW’s first film score and again he wonderfully captures both the beauty and the ruggedness of the Canadian scenery and the various character traits and dynamics of those who populate the film.

All magnificent stuff evoking an entire era of British filmmaking, much emulated since and a great introduction to the wonderful music of Vaughan Williams for those to whom it is unfamiliar.

Label: Film Score Monthly

Music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.

A much overlooked 1952 film noir produced by John Houseman and directed by Nicholas Ray in which tough, withdrawn and increasingly violent, big city cop Robert Ryan finds himself dispatched to a remote and snowbound community in upstate New York, partly to get him out of his environment to ‘chill out’, but also to help the local lawmen in search of a murderous psychopath. There he meets and begins to fall in love with a blind woman (Ida Lupino), which complicates matters when it transpires that she is the suspect’s sister.

Best known for his scores for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, CITIZEN KANE, PSYCHO and other Hitchcock works and the later Ray Harryhausen Dynamation extravaganzas, this stunning yet neglected work is actually one of Bernard Herrmann’s finest scores. Here he skilfully captures the bleakness of the subject and the surroundings, Ryan’s tough and relentless persona, the contrasting calmness of and sympathy for Lupino’s blind character, the strained romance between them and finally the tension and drama of the climax. The score is presented in its entirety and in chronological order.

The recordings have been mastered from acetate discs in the Herrmann collection at the University of California, these unfortunately being the only recordings in existence, and consequently have some surface noise though this has been minimised as much as technically possible without distorting the music itself, and certainly does not detract from the quality of the composition.

As with all FSM releases the album comes with extensive and informed liner notes.

Label: Film Score Monthly.

Music composed by Alfred Newman.

Victorian playboy Rudolph Rassendyll is called upon to impersonate the king of a middle European country who has been kidnapped and to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance.

A famous story filmed many times, most notably, and some would say definitively, in 1937 with virtually faultless performances by Ronald Coleman, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. and a young David Niven. Subsequently remade frame-by-frame in 1952, but now in colour, with Stewart Granger, James Mason and Deborah Kerr, it did not garner the accolades of it’s predecessor, but it was still an enthusiastic, enjoyable and well-received movie. James Mason was particularly watchable as Rupert of Hentzau, playing the role more subtly and with more villainy than Fairbanks, yet was as equally vigorous and wickedly charming.

The flamboyant, romantic, lusty and heroic swashbuckling score from the prolific Alfred Newman (ALL ABOUT EVE, PANIC IN THE STREETS, PRINCE OF FOXES, HOW THE WEST WAS WON, and probably his best known (and certainly most played!) piece, the 20TH CENTURY FOX FANFARE) was originally written for the 1937 version of the film and, again in an effort to emulate the success of the earlier movie, rerecorded for the 1952 remake. It is the complete 1952 recording that is presented here and it is still one of the finest examples of the genre.

Label: Film Score Monthly
2 disc set.

Composed and conducted by Gerald Fried.

Another prolific composer, Gerald Fried has contributed to some of the best-known classic TV series, particularly THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., STAR TREK and ROOTS, but he is not limited to the small screen to which the features PATHS OF GLORY, TOO LATE THE HERO and THE KILLING are a testament. Fried’s music is distinctive in it’s use of strident dischords, driving, almost tribal, rhythms, balanced with apparently simplistic yet haunting melodies, all of which could be achieved with a relatively small orchestra. This made him an ideal choice when it came to scoring for TV series and low budget horror flicks, four of which, from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, are presented here.

With over two hours of music and a 24-page booklet containing photos and essays on the movies, this is a great compilation for horror buffs, and STAR TREK and U.N.C.L.E. fans will spot many passages that are similar to those used in Fried’s later scores for those series.

Label: EMI

Composers John Barry, George Martin.

Although EMI have re-released all of their Bond soundtracks from DR. NO to LICENCE TO KILL, the majority contain the same tracks as on previous recordings, albeit digitally remastered. These six however all contain previously unreleased bonus material, ranging from six to ten tracks, sometimes almost doubling the original album’s length, hence their selection. I’m particularly delighted with the addition of the pre-credits ‘gun barrel’ sequences and subsequent introductory music – these are a trademark of every Bond film and should never be left off a Bond soundtrack – it’s like leaving the STAR WARS theme off a STAR WARS soundtrack because everyone’s heard it before. It was already on OHMSS under the title ‘This Never Happened to the Other Fella’ and it has now been reintroduced in its relative incarnations on the other five albums. You can read my review of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS in our soundtrack column – the other five albums are equally satisfying and nicely illustrate the evolution of Bond music through two decades and four different actors, though I do have to say that, whilst George (Beatles) Martin’s LIVE AND LET DIE soundtrack stands up very well as the first ‘official’ non-Barry Bond score (with the exception of DR. NO), and you have to admit, they were big footsteps in which to follow, his arrangement of the James Bond Theme is sloppy and unsubtle and ranks with some of the worst I’ve heard. This however is an acceptable minus in an otherwise excellent Bondfest.

They’re also excellently priced.

Put all six in your multi-player, select random play, sit back and immerse yourself in Bond-dom.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. VOLS. 1, 2 & 3
Label: Film Score Monthly

Original Television Soundtrack.
Composers: Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried, Walter Scharf, Morton Stevens, Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Dave Grusin, Nelson Riddle.

Keeping with the spy theme, U.N.C.L.E. was of course the small screen’s attempt to emulate the success of Bond, and even had Bond creator Ian Fleming involved in it’s early development until he was reminded by Bond movie producers Broccoli and Saltzman where his bread was buttered. Volumes 1 & 2 are reviewed in our soundtrack column, and now, along with the very welcome Vol. 3, these limited edition (3000 worldwide) two-disc sets bring you not only the opening and closing title themes for all four seasons, the late Jerry Goldsmith’s militaristic and moody first season thriller themes, Lalo Schifrin’s and Gerald Fried’s lighter and jazzier music for the second and third seasons, the slightly more serious Robert Drasnin and Richard Shores themes for the final season and specially commissioned additional music for the U.N.C.L.E. movies, but also Dave Grusin’s arrangement of the U.N.C.L.E. theme and his music for the spin-off series THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. To top it all the albums are accompanied by sumptuous 20-plus page, full colour booklets featuring stills, poster art and comprehensive notes on the series, the music and the composers by Jon Burligame (Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety).

I could repeat the comment above about putting all six in your multi-player. But I won’t.

‘Nuff said.

Label: Silva Screen

Original Television Soundtrack
Various artists. Theme composed by Ron Grainer.

Patrick McGoohan’s enigmatic and allegorical ‘60s series that pushed the bounds of TV drama some would say too far (though I’m not one of them) and which has now, quite rightly, become a cult. These three discs contain music from 15 of the 17 episodes of the series including three varying versions of the opening and closing themes, an unused title theme plus very well selected dialogue tracks from the series’ soundtracks (e.g., from the episode FREE FOR ALL, No.6 (McGoohan) learns from No.2 (Eric Portman) that the Village elections are about to take place and is asked if he is going to run, to which he replies ‘Like blazes, the first chance I get.’).

The music, like the series, is bizarre, mostly being selected from the Chappell library by series sound editors Eric Mival and Bob Dearberg, the rest being original incidental music composed by Albert Elms. Ranging from brass band marches, pastoral orchestral pieces, funky jazz, exciting chase themes, to menacingly banal lift musak, it perfectly captures the essence of the series in sound form. They will certainly cause a stir when played at your Christmas party.

With between 30 and 39 tracks on each disc they’re also great value for money.

Label: Sony
6 disc set.

Composed and conducted by John Williams.

John Williams’ famous music from the original STAR WARS trilogy has been released many times in various compilations since the first film’s original release way back in 1976. Frustratingly, and of course deliberately, no sooner had you bought one package when another one would turn up with extra material. Here however I believe is the ultimate compilation of music from A NEW HOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. With two packed CDs devoted to each film, including some archived alternative themes, it’s hard to believe they could find any extra material to tempt us with in the future. The selection from each film is also introduced by the Fox Fanfare (see THE PRISONER OF ZENDA).

The whole lot has been upgraded using Direct Stream Digital remastering and the clarity and depth of sound is a great improvement of previous releases. The lenticular 3D cover is designed to compliment the simultaneous DVD release of the movies.

Shop around – when I last checked it was going for around $54.00 on Amazon US, but only $38.00 on Amazon UK which is an absolute bargain and which I find a bit curious.

A great gift item for the appreciative recipient.

Label: WEA

Various artists

As I said in my review of Vol. 1, this is less of a soundtrack and more a complimentary album, this time featuring artists like Ennio Morricone, Charlie Feathers, Malcolm McLaren and the late Johnny Cash. Also this time it’s darker, the music and sound bytes reflecting the tone of the film, i.e. one of cold-blooded retribution.

As I’ve also previously said I normally shy away from these compilation so called soundtrack albums that usually are full of tracks you may hear two bars of over the closing titles, but with Tarantino I can make an exception, as he does use the selected music to great effect in the body of his films.

Not a light-hearted listen but riveting none the less and the necessary companion to Vol.1.

Label: Warner
3 disc set.

Composed by Howard Shore.

My final offering is another, probably predictable yet truly deserving, boxed set.

Howard Shore has undeniably excelled himself with his compositions for this ‘epic that could never be brought to the screen’. His blend of gorgeously rich vista themes; the contrasting simplicity of the Hobbit’s way of life; fierce Wagnerian battle anthems; his encapsulation of not only the wonders but also the terrible repercussions of great power, depending upon who is wielding it (in this case it is sorcery, though the ‘corrupting absolutely’ rule is clearly illustrated); the villainy and pathos of Gollum and many other touching and romantic melodies, even amidst such Middle-Earth-changing goings on, and more. All this, coupled with his clever use of Celtic style songs and lilts, help convey us to this mystical realm and contribute to a soundtrack truly on the scale of grandeur, perfectly complimenting, if not even surpassing, director Peter Jackson’s long held vision of Tolkien’s magical world of Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Ring-Wraiths. Even ‘star’ performances by such artists as Enya, Annie Lennox, Ben Del Maestro, Renee Fleming, flautist Sir James Galway and vocal performances by LOTR stars Billy Boyd and Viggo Mortensen are dwarfed (forgive the pun) by the overall splendour of the score, and quite rightly so – the one thing you don’t need when trying to suspend your disbelief whilst watching such a film is to suddenly realise ‘hey – that’s Rod Stewart crooning in the background’.

I did say at the beginning of this column that this wasn’t meant to be my ‘Top Ten’ of the year’s soundtracks, but Shore’s LOTR scores are up there, and a definite one for any filmusic aficionado’s collection.

LOTR is a terrific suite of music that stands up by itself, which is exactly where we came in, 60 years ago, with Ralph Vaughan Williams, which nicely dovetails this column.

Keep watching, keep listening and have a very merry Christmas. I’m off now to listen to SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC again – oh… and I might be some time…

Tagged as: ,
Share This Article: Digg it | | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)