Score Season #21
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
2 Days in the Valley (Jerry Goldsmith, 1996) *** The proud loneliness behind the main theme for Jerry Goldsmith’s 2 Days in the Valley could sit comfortably next to Chinatown or L.A. Confidential. Rejected or not, this music aches with the promise of forgotten summers. However, working against Goldsmith are the suspenseful tracks which lack charm or personality. Annoyingly, “Becky and Helga” descends into Basic Instinct mode. Another clichéd misstep can be heard during “We Are the Police/Alvin’s Badge.” In the final seconds, there’s a clear nod to Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver. This fall back betrays the original tone Goldsmith was seeking. Far more impactful, the trumpet gently supported by strings allows his theme to retain some identity without compromise. Reassuringly, “The Cemetery/Rapini” tip-toes into excellence. As a film, 2 Days in the Valley was fun, almost a cousin to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Coogan’s Bluff (Lalo Schifrin, 1968) *** Only a poem this time:
Composer Lalo Schifrin doesn’t waste time
He knows we have paid our dime.
Stylish and all that sand
Not above giving others a hand.
Able to decipher a rune
He waves a good tune.
Much we take from colour
Artists blessed by one another.
A Western in the big city
Finding it joyous and gritty.
Pacing set to max
With this, we forget tax.
Django (Luis Bacalov, 1966) About as impressive as an asteroid that never turns up, Django could never dance in the same saloon as Ennio Morricone’s Dollars trilogy. It’s like asking the maître d’ to bring you something not on the menu, only he returns with the least appetizing starter. At times, the percussion feels vaguely Japanese. In “Fango giallo,” composer Luis Bacalov soon got bored with that culture, so he returns to the Spaghetti western twang, immortalised by Morricone. If he were operating on a blank canvas, then the former might have a point to make. Otherwise, it’s third rate at best. Anyone considering a blind purchase on Django might be wise to hear a few samples first.
Love Story (Francis Lai, 1970) ** “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Oh dear, we have finally come to that movie. Look up the word ‘corn’ in any dictionary and it will probably say, “view Love Story with caution.” From this, you might believe that the musical treatment would be equally slushy. Not so. It’s a good love theme, short and memorable, the kind that Joe or Jane punter would easily recall. Aside from this heart aching motif, does Francis Lai have much to offer? Yes because “The Christmas Trees” left me feeling nostalgic. The only trouble might be: I never want to hear a single note again.
Priest (Christopher Young, 2011) **** One of the most dastardly scores by composer Christopher Young, Priest left me exhilarated. Some composers don’t even consider challenging themselves so late in the day. Enter “The Vampire Train.” This comes across as a cathartic exhibition of excellence. In a class by itself, these are not simply wall smashing cues because he captures the degradation of mankind on a stave. With ammunition unlimited, he’s a genius whose loyal fans appreciate such complexity, purity and honesty. Only a creative being with a yearning for the unknown can boast such a track record. But don’t take my word for it. Simply press play.
A poem of validation:
Priest pulled off a miracle
Signs symbolic and empirical.
From the mind of Christopher Young
Came a story beautifully sung.
I took my seat
Waited for the magic beat.
It was crystal and pure
Worth a return for sure.
Romeo and Juliet (Nino Rota, 1968) *** For some the pleasures behind William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet remain incalculable. The greatest love story ever told? Many believe so. Personally, it has never been my go-to fix in matters of the Bard. But we’re here to talk about the music. Emotional, innocent, dramatic and always touching, Nino Rota hit the sweet spot. There’s no denying such power as he remains true to a romantic spirit. That’s an idea Shakespeare understood and expressed perhaps better than any living writer. Therefore, a theme was called for. Not just something sweet or nostalgically earthy, but one from the heart. So, look no further than “What is a Youth?” It melts the heart, while bringing it together in a new shape.
Tomb Raider (Tom Holkenborg, 2018) Heavy sigh. I was looking forward to the latest Tomb Raider. Looks like that arrow through the title carried some irony. There are times when the music appears to be genuine. A cue such as “Path of Paternal Secrets” certainly warms an otherwise frosty atmosphere. Essentially, Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL hasn’t paid any attention to the franchise, namely Jason Graves’ fabulous videogame score. There’s a techno heartbeat that feels culled from a million blockbusters. While it can work, such bluntness becomes its own infernal nemesis. Also, the busy acoustics in “Let Yamatai Have Her” should captivate. However, the percussion undercut by distortion and irregular textures defies joy. What Tomb Raider needed was something closer to Green Lantern: The Animated Series. That entails progressive emotional themes. The latter was composed by Frederik Wiedmann, and he could have lent something edgy or distinctive to Lara Croft’s journey. In Holkenborg, we have a composer whose saving grace remains Mad Max: Fury Road.
Wild Geese II (Roy Budd, 1985) *** You know, there’s not an original note laced into Roy Budd’s Wild Geese II. Yet that doesn’t count when I’m having this much fun. It’s permissible to cite all the varying influences ticking underneath, but that’s beside the point. Why? Because Budd rallies the orchestral spirit to evoke a thoroughly enjoyable trek. The chaos dances along comfortably, there’s a sense of scale (even intimacy) and the theme carries a nostalgic core. Check out the piano as “The Romance Begins” and tell me you don’t love it.
A Wrinkle in Time (Ramin Djawadi, 2018) * With A Wrinkle in Time, has composer Ramin Djawadi fallen back on old tropes or has he embraced the second phase in his evolution? Sadly the former. It’s a mixed bag of broken secrets. Ultimately, he reveals neither the flair nor dash of The Great Wall. Although there are moments of sweetness (“Is This a Dream?”) they require fuller expression. Overall, cues seem either too airy or agitated, an uneasy alliance that upsets the listening experience.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Cheyenne Autumn (Alex North, 1964) ***** Chancing upon a driftwood song, Alex North calms the strings and woodwind colours so they might relax in relative maze. He records inside cavernous, grey oceans where top or bottom can be synchronized as a swimmer’s dive. He boldly leaps back in order to pave the future glance; his sense for texture makes the drums reverberate eardrum intimate for a beat. A master of his craft, North can get carried away. Experiments tend to fly minus a left wing (listen to Viva Zapata! and Cleopatra). However for Cheyenne Autumn, he fashions an emotional groove which proves irresistible. Hardly a second rolls by where he’s not trying to impress us; every idea landing gracefully. As the flutist stood mouth agape, his heavenly charge a token for remembrance… a claxon joyfully disturbs the reader’s muse, and saucers blur revealing sunny spot of pine.