Score Season #15
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
The 5th Musketeer (Riz Ortolani, 1979) **** According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary, homage refers to “deep respect and often praise shown for a person.” Many times throughout film music history, composers have felt the need to repeat, directly or indirectly, what others have done. Occasionally, it can be irritating. Then there’s the rare category where even blatant mimicry feels joyous. Consider The 5th Musketeer by Riz Ortolani. The first theme we hear includes some of Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven. Does this affect my enjoyment? Not one bit. It’s merely a departure zone for Ortolani. The latter takes the initiative by formulating the most compelling and fun arrangements. Check out the opening bars in “The Fifth Musketeer (seq.4)” Before he strikes up that rousing fanfare, there’s a brief and intense backdrop. So it goes throughout this remarkable score. The argument for stylistic repetition could be something as simple as parody. For Ortolani, he’s having fun but not at our expense. Adding to which, there’s an exquisite love theme.
The Amazing Spider-Man (James Horner, 2012) With the exception of Christopher Young’s Spider-Man 3, the musical identity for this superhero has eluded even the best Hollywood composers. For example, Danny Elfman tried twice, yet his music went sideways. Regarding Young, he succeeded in building a soundscape around this character. Notably, his ideas for Sandman have tested durability greater. However, everything about “Main Title – Young Peter” in James Horner’s The Amazing Spider-Man proves unremarkable. There’s a half-hearted theme and the rhythmic progressions seem lazy at best. Moving right along, “Becoming Spider-Man” fares even worse. The electronics feel more mystifying than hypnotising. So what has caused this sterling composer to falter? Creating a good theme involves finding a moment, then transcending the needs of that moment. Beyond the horizon, greatness only comes to the chosen few as talent, experience and inspiration collide. Sadly, that doesn’t happen for Horner on this occasion. Cool cover though.
A poem of lament:
Timeout for Spidey.
He seems lethargic and untidy.
The music could lift
although we get short shrift.
James Horner had to consider his roots
before wearing these muddy boots.
A habit he had of repeating.
Little need for early seating.
In a sequence hardly amazing
webs shatter, all guns blazing.
Left with cobwebs, not much cheer.
Time to play The Rocketeer.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Carmen Dragon, 1956) **** Strikingly, Carmen Dragon’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers offers a compelling narrative; one where mood swings indicate happiness and despair. In two minutes, Dragon’s “Main Title” spins mercilessly, ensnaring the unsuspecting ear. It’s a dazzling collision of ideas, simultaneously chase music and optimistic arrival. Another amazing feature includes “Wilma/The Devils Workshop/Get Help/Yell for Help.” The contrapuntal writing sways between relative harmony and dizzying tension. At 3:50, all bets are off. It’s among the greatest set-pieces ever composed. As a record label, Monstrous Movie Music have milked the science fiction canon from the 1950s. Regarding Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it fell to La La Land Records in making Dragon’s effort available on compact disc and vinyl. It’s a strong effort that defies easy comparison with genre favourite Bernard Herrmann. There’s something fresh, even architectural to Dragon’s final film score. What a swan song!
The Journey of Natty Gann (Elmer Bernstein, 1985) *** I love venturing into the unknown. What might you hear from Elmer Bernstein and The Journey of Natty Gann? Not necessarily much we haven’t heard from him before. For example, there are romantic mannerisms that recall True Grit. By contemporary standards, he remains a great melodist. To touch people’s hearts with a theme represents a lasting gift. There’s even a spot of Slipstream too. You can find The Journey of Natty Gann on Elmer Bernstein: The Unused Scores.
Mother and Child (Edward Shearmur, 2009) * Ever wondered what a drama might sound like if it included Thomas Newman techniques but wasn’t written by that composer? Enter Edward Shearmur’s Mother and Child. This maudlin effort feels so utterly clichéd moaning “I’ve heard this before” just doesn’t sell it. During “Nora Takes a Turn,” I sensed déjà vu because Newman scored “Angela Undress” in American Beauty exactly the same way. Overall, Mother and Child comes across as ponderous, even pointless. Nevertheless, Shearmur will always have Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, an all-time favourite of mine.
Obsession (Bernard Herrmann, 1976) *** As a rerecording, Bernard Herrmann’s Obsession emerges as a crystal clear, monotonous, totally incendiary chamber piece. There’s neither love nor hatred in my heart for this effort. In short, it feels like I’ve been here before. The melodramatic swells recall Vertigo while the low-register movements tip-toe near Citizen Kane. Anything new to add? Well, the woodwinds during “The Newsboy/The Tape” are finely wrought. It’s a pleasure to hear quality players keeping pace with Herrmann’s easy, if menacing rhythms. Likewise “The Ferry/Ransom” features a virtuoso ensemble. Any fan that prefers Herrmann unleashed should have a blast here. What’s crafty and ingenious on his part involves the level of imagery inspired by his music. For example, “The Hideout/The Breakout” bears a hellish crucifix. It’s full of satanic foreshadowing. By contrast, “Sandra Again/First Meeting/The Church/Bryn Mawr/Bryn Mawr Walk” features a cool change of pace. Such tender music prompts an exciting opportunity. Ditto “New Orleans.” Overall, it’s always nice to hear music so refined.
Thirteen Ghosts (John Frizzell, 2001) *** Although the framework for liking or disliking John Frizzell’s Thirteen Ghosts can be volatile, my immediate feeling embraces the positive. Somehow, this turned out to be the great Godzilla soundtrack that landed in another movie. Those orchestrations enhanced by timpani, horns and fearlessness prove formidable indeed. To Frizzell’s credit, he doesn’t rely on their constant presence. As a bonus, the electronics remain sophisticated and confident. Stack this alongside his wonderful score to Alien: Resurrection.
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (Laurent Eyquem, 2016) *** French composer Laurent Eyquem, no stranger to personal tragedy, pours his heart into USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. Although I dismissed his music when watching the film, it operates successfully as a solo experience. Several impressive tracks open the album, especially “The Hero’s Walk.” This noble cue carries enough flair to make the point concisely. Meanwhile, the first third of Eyquem’s score contains several jazz pieces – “San Francisco’s Nights,” “The Flirt,” “The Strip Club” and “A Jazzy Night.” These add levity to a serious tone. Regarding highlights, “Under Attack” booms as a cracking good whirlwind. As such, Eyquem achieves a happy medium between his music and the story. Even more powerful, “Abandon Ship” escalates matters convincingly. The horn blasts alone sell this experience. Nearby, the emotion behind “Losing Our Sons” affected me the same way as Angelo Badalamenti’s A Very Long Engagement. Only one drawback: the shark music. Eyquem misses the chance to craft something original. Those familiar with a certain two-note ostinato from 1975 (yes, I’m quizzing you dear reader) may roll their eyes at “Morning of Terror.” Nevertheless, the melodies are heartfelt, and I immediately contemplated a return.
War Goddess (Riz Ortolani, 1973) **** Flutes, drums and brass for starters… what’s in the main course? A theme that spells separation, yet it’s refined and deeply resonant. Meanwhile, composer Riz Ortolani adds some elemental spice to War Goddess, conjuring images relative to nature. During these early stages, I pictured a lake affected by lonely raindrops. Crucially, female voices underline the vulnerability as this story of Amazonian supremacy gets underway. Of special note, the battle music comes across as both source and underscore. One can imagine helmeted warriors pounding the war drums on-screen, only to be answered by a crisp, invisible orchestra. This sounds blooming good, and the woodwinds are lush.
Time for a poem:
The sensitive soul doesn’t ask for praise
even when he or she deserves a raise.
Riz Ortolani – a name you should know,
scoring friend and foe.
All hail the queen.
Music apt not to preen.
War Goddess, what a moniker.
With this, who needs electronica?
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Superman (John Williams, 1978) ***** Pretty unbeatable as a soundtrack experience, John Williams’ Superman has to be considered a masterpiece. That’s a word I don’t use lightly because very few actually fit the bill, and applying such lofty status to something new feels presumptuous. If anything, the passage of time has allowed Superman to shine incandescently. While Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World remain classics, Superman has to be my all-time favourite Williams score. A short summary of highlights: “Prelude and Main Title,” “Helicopter Sequence,” “The Planet Krypton” and “The Flying Sequence.” In my view, “Helicopter Sequence” deserves consideration as the greatest action cue ever written and performed. Overall, Williams' effort transcends cinema.
A poem for this opus:
Names fly before our eyes,
amazing views with open cries.
John Williams went into space
scoring hope for the human race.
Superman remains unbeaten
alongside Batman with Michael Keaton.
Remember the themes we do.
How it all sounds so new.
Love as the beating core,
Lois watched her hero soar.
Such good villains and impeccable timing
make it worth rhyming.