The Soundtrack

THE SOUNDTRACK: JULY 2007

By • Jul 15th, 2007 •

Share This:

It’s time I had a rant. I haven’t had one for ages, not since I reviewed that appalling ‘ADDICTED TO MOVIES’ CD, and now it’s time.

Will somebody please tell me what is so damned difficult about differentiating between what is a soundtrack and what is a score? Listen up everyone and get those Spock-like ears pinned back right now, unless you want to remain as dim-witted as someone who’s named after a very expensive hotel in the French capital and recently (back) in prison: A movie or TV soundtrack is that which is heard in the movie or TV program itself. By that I mean the very same recording that is heard while you’re watching the movie or TV program. That is why they call it T-H-E S-O-U-N-D-T-R-A-C-K. Any other subsequent rendition, rearrangement, re-recording or whatever, should thereafter be referred to as the score.

It’s simple.

So then why do so many people get it wrong? Especially those people in the industry who should bloody well know better.

I recently reviewed for FIR ‘MUSIC FOR THE MOVIES: THE HOLLYWOOD SOUND’. On this otherwise excellent DVD the eminently qualified John Mauceri actually tells the orchestra that they are going to play some soundtrack music. Sorry John, but the only way you can play some soundtrack music is to get it on a CD, stick it in a player and press ‘go’. Apart from that, all you and your orchestra can do is play the score. ‘X MEN III: THE LAST STAND – THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK’… erm… no, it isn’t. Great music, but the opening title theme in the movie is a totally different arrangement than that on the so-called ‘soundtrack’ CD. And there are scores more (if you will forgive the pun).

I know that for various reasons the music for a movie is sometimes rearranged and re-recorded for CD release and I have no objection to that, but do not tell me that it’s a soundtrack when it plainly isn’t. That’s misrepresentation. It’s a lie, and it’s probably also illegal. I want to trust what it says on the can and if I’m misled again I’m going to be calling my lawyer…

Also, while I’m in a belligerent mood, can somebody tell me why the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is so sloppy, yet so popular? This orchestra features on many re-releases of film scores (scores, got it?) from Silva Screen Records, and whilst most of their prolific output is reasonably adequate, many of their performances are atrocious and should never have seen the light of disc. They particularly have trouble with light, fast pieces. They can’t do ‘light’ or ‘fast’, they’re just not tight, or light, enough, and I don’t know if this is the orchestra or the leader, but ultimately it’s the conductor who is to blame and whoever listened to it and decided it was okay to release upon the unsuspecting general public whom Silva Screen Records obviously assume to be moronic, unmusical imbeciles. In fact it’s a downright insult. Listen to their rendition of ET: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL on the SCIENCE FICTION ALBUM (FILMXCD 359). I listened to it alongside John Williams’ own release conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and whereas Williams produces a feather light soufflé, the City of Prague Phil comes up with gloopy custard. Stodgy just isn’t the word. Their version of Williams’ pacey LOST IN SPACE TV theme (season three) is also equally inept with one half of the orchestra unable to keep up with the other and ending on a terrible dischord. Don’t these people listen to the originals so that they at least have an idea of what they’re meant to sound like? An equally bad recording, if not in fact worse, is their version of Barry Gray’s great UFO TV theme, made all the more surprising as it’s conducted by Derek Wadsworth, who took over the musical reins after Gray for SPACE 1999 season two. Both the arrangement and performance is abysmal. One bizarre key change follows another and again the whole ends with blaring flutes hitting different, and wrong, notes! You’re just left thinking ‘What?!’ If you don’t believe me, both these recordings can be found on THE CULT FILES: RE-OPENED (FILMXCD 191). Sorry guys and gals of the City of Prague Philharmonic, I’m sure you’re very nice people, but simply get someone to listen to the playbacks before you release this second-rate dross, and I’m also reminded of the great and irascible Sir Malcolm Sergeant who once reputedly addressed a female cellist in his orchestra: “Madam,” he said, “you have between your legs an instrument that can bring pleasure to thousands, and yet all you can do is sit there and scratch it!”

One company who never lets me down on the soundtrack front is Film Score Monthly. No exception to this is their release of COMA, WESTWORLD and THE CAREY TREATMENT. The soundtracks (yes, soundtracks) to all three of these movies are presented on a double disc album being composed by Jerry Goldsmith, Fred Karlin and Roy Budd respectively and amounting to over 145 minutes of true musical class.

Jerry Goldsmith also features on another recent FSM release THE SATAN BUG, a biological warfare related science fiction adventure made in 1965. This oft thought long lost score has been gleaned from two sources: Film memorabilia collector Bob Burns in Burbank California acquired two original tapes of music via his wife, who worked for the Mirisch Company around about 1969-70, though it wasn’t until around thirty years later that he realised what they actually were as they had remained sealed in a box in his garage since that time. He offered them to Jerry Goldsmith who told him to send them to the MGM tape archivist who gratefully accepted them, but with so much music missing, no album release seemed possible. However, the missing parts of the score were recovered from the isolated music and effects track to MGM/UA’s 1996 laserdisc release of the movie, and this is how this painstakingly produced release came about. The end result is over fifty-five minutes of Goldsmith at his most formative (bear in mind this was around the same time as his work on THE MAN FROM UNCLE), with about half of the tracks featuring sound effects (gunshots, fights, glass breaking, helicopters etc.) which really capture the spirit of the movie. This is a must have.
One of the latest releases from FSM is WAIT UNTIL DARK, a classic score from Henry Mancini for the 1969 movie featuring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman being terrorised in her apartment by villains Richard Crenna, Jack Weston and Alan Arkin. Mancini was personally asked by Hepburn to score the movie following their successful collaborations on BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and CHARADE. I have to admit, though I remembered the movie I could not remember the score, and when I first played it I was immediately reminded of music from the old NBC Mystery Movies (the generic theme to which Mancini composed) and which started two years after this movie, especially the COLUMBO segments. I believe that Mancini did not write music for any of the individual movies of that series, but the roots are here, and Billy Goldenberg (COLUMBO’s main composer) certainly owes a debt as regards an influence on his musical style. Being a Mancini score, piano is heavily featured, but here it is two pianos, one a quarter tone out from the other, creating a very disconcerting sound. There are also discordant ascending glissandos (which I myself used to produce on a piano and title them ‘Columbo finds a clue’). There are also of course the lush romantic and melodic themes we’ve come to expect from Mancini, but here they are tempered with a darker menace, which he apparently enjoyed, and the whole album captures an era in movie making and film scoring style.

I’m always astounded by the meticulous detail that goes go into producing Film Score Monthly’s albums; the bonus tracks, the unused cues, the source music, the original album score tracks and the always excellent sleeve notes. They provide you with every piece of music and information from, for and about the movie that they can get their hands on and I can’t praise them highly enough (you see, I can be nice). I will say no more than that except to say that this is the way filmusic is meant to be presented and everyone take note (except La-La Land Records and Monstrous Movie Music – you’re excellent too).
FSM’s albums are available from www.screenarchives.com
Also visit Film Score Monthly’s website at www.filmscoremonthly.com

Another conscientious and meticulous label is Lalo Schifrin’s own Aleph Records who have recently released, for the first time, the score to the third DIRTY HARRY movie, and the only one in the canon not to be composed by Lalo himself, THE ENFORCER, composed by Sam Peckinpah’s one time composer of choice Jerry Fielding. Released as a companion volume to their previous offerings DIRTY HARRY and MAGNUM FORCE (which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on FIR) the only info I could get from the Schifrin camp as to why Lalo didn’t score this one was that ‘Mr. Schifrin was not available to write the music for “The Enforcer” because he had to go to London to work on the score of “The Voyage of the Damned.”Mr. Schifrin has been a good friend of Jerry Fielding and a great admirer of his music. Despite the fact that Fielding did not embrace the stylistic approach of the “Dirty Harry” series, nevertheless his contribution to “The Enforcer” was magnificent, because of his individual approach and his conviction. The way he uses the percussion instruments is very strong and the score as a whole has an intense integrity.’ I would have personally enjoyed a little more information from Aleph or Lalo himself and maybe that will be forthcoming in the future, but the album has nonetheless been released by Aleph, who thus far have exclusively released only Lalo Schifrin’s music, so that counts for a lot. Humble as my opinion may be, I am a great champion of Jerry Fielding’s music and he ranks up there with Goldsmith, Bernstein, Schifrin and Herrmann as far as I’m concerned, having worked his way through, as they did, early television with great panache. Consider THE BIONIC WOMAN and McMILLAN & WIFE, before he moved on to THE WILD BUNCH, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, STRAW DOGS, SEMI-TOUGH, THE OUTFIT, DEMON SEED, BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE KILLER ELITE, GREY LADY DOWN, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, THE GAUNTLET, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (the latter three again with Eastwood), hell, the man even wrote music for HOGAN’S HEROES, KOLCHACK: THE NIGHT STALKER and a seminal episode of STAR TREK: THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES. What more can you ask?

Also in my mailbox recently was the ‘soundtrack’ to PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: AT WORLD’S END (Walt Disney Records). I haven’t studied the movie well enough yet to determine whether this is the actual soundtrack (which it purports to be) or not, so I look forward to your mail. I was amused at one track’s title ‘At Wit’s End’, which is probably a reference to the scriptwriters’ dilemma, but the ever resourceful Hans Zimmer does a valiant and sterling job, capturing the mysterious scenarios, exotic oriental locations and swashbuckling action. For those of you who don’t know, a buckler was a small type of wood and metal shield, and the swash was the sound that the blade of a sword made against it, and a swashbuckler was the kind of person who could do just that; he could swash a buckler. Then it became adopted as meaning the sound of the waves on a ship’s hull. Swords on shields, waves on hulls…Yup, it took me a few years to discover that too. See the time and effort I’ve saved you? The opening track is very innovative as Zimmer uses percussion to emulate the rolling waves on a shingle beach and there’s also a great track (track 8: Parlay) which pays homage to Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST in particular), similar to that in Lalo Schifrin’s tribute in KELLY’S HEROES when Clint and his compadres face-off the Tiger Tank. It’s great to see and hear movie history being perpetuated and poked fun at. Stirring and fun stuff, and probably far superior to the film itself (see Victoria’s review).

Finally we have the score for OCEAN’S 13 (Warner Bros/Sunset). The movie is ridiculous and disappointing (having said that, I didn’t like the previous two either.) the score from relative newcomer David Holmes, who scored the previous two movies, however is hip and sassy and entirely appropriate for a glossy high-rolling, fast moving movie such as this. There are also tracks by Sinatra (of course), The Motherhood, Puccio Rolens and even Isao Tomita’s rendition of Debussy’s Claire de Lune. It’s all lightweight, finger-snapping stuff reflecting the glitzy, hi tech and stylish environs of the movie, but sadly a bit 70s, unless you like that kind of thing of course.

That’s all for now folks, and as ever, keep listening.

Tagged as:
Share This Article: Digg it | del.icio.us | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

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