Score Season #52
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Agnes of God (Georges Delerue, 1985) ** Can a score be too nice or pretty for its own good? That was the overwhelming impression I got listening to Agnes of God by Georges Delerue. The latter obviously felt passionate about many things and this sensation often worked itself into his music. However, it’s a slippery slope which the touchy feely must check lest discipline should ultimately flutter. Also, I am not fond of the dramatic parts which stain like a wasted beverage. Even the chorus cannot save it. As such, Agnes of God felt unbearably soulful, the type of project which smiles its way into oblivion. Crucially, there’s no grand crescendo because the melody floats continuously like a wave some surfer could not depart.
Dirty Harry (Lalo Schifrin, 1971) **** Slightly bested by Magnum Force with its superior main theme, Lalo Schifrin’s Dirty Harry continues to persist as a career milestone. We were first introduced to Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) via the coolest groove and tempo. As such, the latter’s dedication to police work comes across as hip and relatable. By extreme contrast, the music for Scorpio (Andrew Robinson), a sniper without conscience and a laugh that would shame the Joker felt eerie and otherworldly. A glass effect and wordless vocals underline the chilly precision by which Scorpio stakes out a target, peers through the telescopic sight and eliminates his prey. As an album, Dirty Harry was slightly weighed down by various source cues – music seen and heard in the film. While these can be important additions, the lasting impact comes from the score, a superlative achievement indeed.
Hell is for Heroes (Leonard Rosenman, 1962) ** Like Alex North’s minuscule score for Good Morning Vietnam, it’s a wonder Intrada went to such trouble pressing Leonard Rosenman’s Hell is for Heroes. There’s barely any thematic progression during this tone poem. The mood proves downcast, while any hope for contrast ends up squashed. If you’re already feeling blue, it’s best to give this one a miss.
Rage (Louis Febre, 1995) **** Glad I came across Rage composed by Louis Febre. Why? Because I had a good feeling prior to hearing the first note. You could say intuition guides the soundtracks which impact my life, major or minor. Indeed, the fast pace and carefully modulated thrills pack a similar punch as Graeme Coleman’s Crash. Now for some context. The 1990s featured a generational upgrade. This decade would witness career defining work from Basil Poledouris, Alan Silvestri, John Barry, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Regarding Louis Febre, this Mexican born composer was a trained pianist. In mammoth cues such as “Truck Chase” and “Lots of Action at the Warner Center,” he conveys sheer unadulterated peril. This is fight or flight music if I ever heard it. What might be a stumbling block for some doesn’t faze Febre. By overcoming all obstacles, the impact proved fleeting, yet seamless. The score begins with a sweet melody, while sensitive tones swim around “Mary and Alex.” Only “Rage End Credits” failed to generated interest with its conflicting presentation.
The River (John Williams, 1984) ** Where’s the “Raiders March”? I just had a bad feeling about The River. Emotionally, there's a disconnect regarding “Main Title (Rain Clouds Gather).” The darker and more dissonant Williams becomes, the more his efforts strangle any life or joy on the stave. Although “The Family” proved nice, the damage had been done. It soon dawned on me that the storm would return. Vengeance isn’t pretty. I have been caught in torrential rain, had a front tooth knocked out by a stone and been fired upon and struck by an air rifle twice... all those experiences were preferable to the life sapping apathy offered by The River. Oh Intrada, sometimes I wonder why you go to the trouble.
A Time to Die (Louis Febre, 1991) *** Another cool score from Louis Febre, A Time to Die makes the synthesizer a living tool rather than an artificial extension. Things turn ghostly during the seductively ambient “Firing Range Date.” However, Febre doesn’t coast on mood alone. He explores the beat while making groovy counterpoints. For example, the spiraling technique in the early part of “Tailing the Creep” would feel fashionable in a horror pantomime. Yet, he soon switches to cool saxophone and keyboards to lighten the storm. Like Fists of Iron and Rage, there’s a hint of something more upon return.
Destination Gobi (Sol Kaplan, 1953) **** A poem:
On the sand, a distant speck
As one on a trek.
Such highs and lows on the road
Sol Kaplan’s music a la mode.
The grooves in human interaction
Provide ultimate satisfaction.
Destination Gobi rustled a cheer
Like a friend so dear.
Sand can tire and deplete
Not something to repeat.
Whereas music shapes a given mood
The best kind of food.
The near perfection wrought
So desperately sought.
Destination Gobi was the winner,
A goal for nearby sinner.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Bernard Herrmann, 1959) **** Another poem:
Those sneaking woodwinds and brass
From Bernard Herrmann, a composer with class.
Into the unknown spaces of the sea
Where monsters swarm aplenty.
Fond of Citizen Kane?
The music hails from a similar lane.
In the mood for something broody?
This score was delightfully moody.
The calmness of acupuncture
Taking place at appropriate juncture.
A mystery to decipher
As a swimming viper.
Might be a piece without an ending
But only good vibes I am sending.
Little Women (Max Steiner, 1933) *** Time to rhyme:
Cut through the schmaltz,
and seek out a waltz.
Little Women was just dandy
Like strawberry flavored candy.
Something so quaint
Might not make you faint.
Still there’s quality assured
All semitones matured.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Eichmann (Richard Harvey, 2007) ***** Because my grandfather disarmed mines during World War Two and often spoke of the atrocities he witnessed, movies about the Holocaust hit closer to home. Therefore, cinema must walk a fine line lest exploitation be a careless by-product. Adding to which, my taste occasionally deviates from the classics. Most if not all soundtrack review sites on the internet praise John Williams’ Oscar winning score for Schindler’s List. Yet of all his achievements, it’s the one I struggle with the most. It’s a depressing experience which rarely inspires me to return. By contrast, Richard Harvey’s Eichmann was a score of profound beauty and sensitivity, a life enhancing journey. While sad yet sinister, the music rarely dampens the mood. Also, the composer's emotional knowledge allows him to convey such complexities on a human note. Additionally, I admired Harvey’s work on Animal Farm.