Score Season #16
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (Jerry Fielding, 1979) **** Hollywood loves to resurrect, even if that doesn’t always inspire the music. Around the time “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen delivered Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, we were a short spell away from Raise the Titanic. Fill in the blanks. It’s reasonable to assume that a veteran composer, one whose past work has earned Oscar nominations, might look upon this as a golden opportunity. Whether the film works or not, the music must conquer. Frankly, I was looking forward to hearing Jerry Fielding’s take. He’s a terrific composer and this assignment came during the twilight of his life. Only a year later he would create his final film score Funeral Home. With Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, the second half elevates the material. It’s rare for a comeback like this. Sure enough, he maintains the morose tone, yet matters pick up during “Hannah Kroax.” Overall, this delay in shifting temperatures might interrupt someone like Michael Giacchino or Marco Beltrami. Not Jerry Fielding. Regarding “Great Escape,” wait for the drum roll at 4:23. It’s worth it.
Chinatown (Phillip Lambro, 1974) ** During “Main Titles,” a clash of styles can be heard: old timey jazz saxophone and windswept dissonance. It’s nauseating at best. From this and several early cues it’s little wonder that Paramount Pictures were twitching their thumbs, thinking “what are we gonna do?” Even on a good day for a horror film, Lambro’s stilted and lumbering drones irritate as nails on a very long blackboard. By far, “Orchard Chase” offers the most enticing release from such headaches. For percussion enthusiasts, this track cannot be missed. Getting over the initial hurdle, I found a delicate score. Actually, it’s extremely condensed. The addition of Music for Wind, Brass and Percussion and Structures for String Orchestra expands the agony, though I can easily dismiss it. While Lambro’s effort contains a few highlights, Jerry Goldsmith proved the definitive choice. Ending on a positive, I’d recommend purchasing this soundtrack for the liner notes, which are beautifully sketched and informative.
City Heat (Lennie Niehaus, 1984) *** Beyond the songs, Lennie Niehaus’s jazz score for City Heat evokes the smoke-filled, lusty ambience behind the 1930s. Neither inoffensive nor intolerable, the playing throughout feels accomplished. Praise to record label Varese Sarabande for making this one available. It’s guaranteed to have a devoted following.
Ready to dance?
Always the off-chance.
Music that’s light and cool
like chilling by the pool.
I liked “A Cold Night”
A remedy for nerves or fright.
Smooth lines as warm silk.
Melody safe from bilk.
Comes a Horseman (Michael Small, 1978) **** Getting past the horrible title, Comes a Horseman encapsulates the Americana sound inspired by Aaron Copland. A feeling of open space pervades “Ramuda.” Once in a while, composer Michael Small got the chance to flex otherwise dormant creative muscles. Thankfully, Comes a Horseman was an opportunity he took seriously. The orchestra sounds large and enthusiastic with reverb adding the requisite punch. Of special note, I enjoyed the momentum throughout “Ella at Eventide; Round Up.” This nicely foreshadows what Small would accomplish on Wagons East. If you reserve a soft spot for 1940s and 1950s Western scoring, both titles come highly recommended.
The Fourth War (Bill Conti, 1990) An altogether drab Bill Conti number (my favourite score from his résumé remains Wrongfully Accused), The Fourth War features repetition ad nauseam. Not enough to establish the basic melody then perhaps move on, he pounds it into our skulls via the eardrum. No wonder I felt like checking out early.
The Long Ships (Dusan Radic, 1964) **** A rousing start only gets better. Verily, Serbian composer Dusan Radic wrote some stupendous film music during the 1960s. He was also responsible for the impressive Genghis Khan. With The Long Ships, he contributes a theme that was milked rather frequently during the film, yet tastefully distributed throughout the soundtrack. Thus, a glorious adventure unfolds. We remain enriched by Radic’s wisdom, experience and emotional leadership.
Mudbound (Tamar-Kali, 2017) Only a poem this time:
A season when Oscar is the bloodhound
sights set on Mudbound.
A film of black and white,
overcoming racial slight.
Does Tamar-Kali conjure a fine tune?
Only misery at noon.
I love the blues.
But he wore lamentable shoes.
Let it be over as things start.
No need for horse and cart.
Meandering would be the word,
if music followed the bird.
There seems to be magic missing
as soul mates refrain from kissing.
The end couldn’t come soon enough.
Boy, did I have it tough.
Powder (Jerry Goldsmith, 1995) *** Few composers made innovations with the synthesizer quite like Jerry Goldsmith. As such, online message boards carry poignant memories and recommendations from fans. Among them: the 1995 movie Powder. I remember seeing this on television. A boy with extraordinary powers and knowledge discovers his destiny. Crucially, the mood contains numerous science-fiction elements that recall Goldsmith’s Star Trek scores. At heart, he was a romantic whose ability to express otherworldly beings made his work adventurous. To a certain extent, Powder nods in the direction taken by Jack Nitzsche’s Starman. That score included a recurring idea that stays with the listener. To be honest, Goldsmith barely scratches new territory for Powder. However, it remains a joy to hear such love via the stave.
Sabotage (David Sardy, 2014) I was tempted by David Sardy’s Sabotage because Film Score Monthly gave the score such a high rating. The lesson here? Ratings are subjective. Don’t take them seriously. Believe me, I wanted to enjoy Sardy’s work because the film was explosive and unusual; a rare peak at Arnold Schwarzenegger the actor. Sadly, I felt weighed down by the pulsating electronics. The degree to which keyboards provoke or irritate depends on the composer. Even the best occasionally falter. Regarding Sardy, this ends up being the poor man’s substitute for Elliot Goldenthal’s S.W.A.T.
Marked by a poem:
Although you may feel cheated,
no reason to get heated.
Such ponderous, predictable pap
does not carry inspiration on tap.
Like a kettle about to boil
and other sounds that spoil,
sabotage left to fade
as a lonely spade.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Khartoum (Frank Cordell, 1966) ***** There are some themes you just like. Others melt your heart and lift it to the heavens. As such, Frank Cordell’s Khartoum might be the most accomplished score for a Charlton Heston epic. Of course, that’s only my view. Various critics will champion everything from Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur and El Cid to Elmer Bernstein’s The Ten Commandments. Fine soundtracks all, yet none of them carried Cordell’s currency. In terms of pacing, Khartoum glides as the hawk comfortable inside the wind’s embrace.
A poem reflecting the magic:
When listening to Khartoum
no sign from the Horn of Doom.
Frank Cordell devoted time and love.
His craft measuring above.
Want highlights? Everything clicks.
Rarity to discover absence of ticks.
Majestic, moving and monumental
Could be why film music proves instrumental.