ATONE.

 

AT

ATONE is a high octane fast paced thriller that was released in 2019, it focuses upon an ex-special operations officer called Laura Bishop, who has to become involved with the neutralising a group of hijacker’s when they take her daughter hostage in a church. The music for this thriller is the work of composer Sid de la Cruz, who seems to have thrown everything he possibly could into creating this exciting and powerful score. The music accompanies the action perfectly, and the composer underlines the tense and nervous scenario as it unfolds and develops. The composer establishes the sound and style of the score immediately within the opening track HIJAKING, which is a taught and robust composition, brass, strings, percussion and synths take to the stage and let loose an unrelenting piece that is a perfect introduction for the majority of what is to follow, tense musical stabs punctuate the proceedings adding to the mix an apprehensive air. This is a work that is a fusion of both symphonic and synthetic elements, each complimenting and supporting each other throughout, both mediums of instrumentation bouncing off each other to create some interesting and vibrant combinations. But, just because this is an action thriller film and also a driving score in most cases, does not mean that the composers goes simply for the action or atonal sound, there are also a number of cues that can be described as lighter or maybe even melancholy at times, as in RUN OUT OF BUILDING and MOMMY. Within the harder action cues, I did become reminded of the style which Jerry Goldsmith would employ in his later assignments as far back as TOTAL RECALL, and I was also reminded somewhat of Joel Goldsmith’s MOON 44 and Mark Mancina’s SPEED. ATONE has that commanding yet thematic persona to it. Many of the cues are short lived, but this maybe is a bonus as it makes one want to move ahead and listen to more of the same, the composer employs inventive orchestration and balances the mix of sounds perfectly. Certainly, check this one out. Worth a listen or three.

ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS/HEARTBOUND.

Music in documentaries has become stronger and more prevalent in recent years, probably because of the rise of TV channels etc that constantly commission and air such grand films nowadays. There has I think always been a kind of snobbery within the ranks of film music collectors when it comes to TV music and documentary film scores. And it was not until more recently that these soundtracks have become more accepted and included under the same umbrella as music for motion pictures. Just before Christmas in 2019 we saw the release of a 5 CD set entitled ART FILM MUSIC, which was a collection of music for documentaries that were all about art as in Monet, Gauguin, Picasso, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. I think that this was the first time that such a set has been issued, showcasing the work of one composer, Remo Anzovino, and his music for documentaries. Amongst the new releases this January from Movie Score Media are the scores for two documentaries, ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS and HEARTBOUND, which both have music by Swedish born composer Uno Helmersson, who’s other works for cinema include the affecting soundtrack for THE LION WOMAN, BOBBI JENE and MAGNUS. The composer has an evident gift for creating lingering melodies, but also is able to turn his hand to writing and developing passages of music that maybe are not entirely melodic, but are filled with textures and colours that the composer cleverly weaves into the more melodious section of the scores. Thus, elevating and underlining darker or more dramatic scenarios of the movie but at the same time allowing the thematic qualities of the score to shine through. Listening to ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS, is an entertaining experience, as we hear the composer introduce fragments of themes that at times do not fully develop yet remain haunting. The opening cue THE UNDERTAKER’S WALTZ is a bittersweet affair, performed by strings and solo violin, this combination of instrumentation introducing the cue and slowly carrying it forward, purveying an understated but effective apprehensive atmosphere. The score is a mix of electronics and symphonic, the symphonic however seems to be restricted to various solo performances, with the electronic section having the biggest share of the work. The composer makes effective use of the synthetic elements within the score, shaping and fashioning a tense and at times unsettling and sinister sounding work. He also utilises well percussive elements and fuses these with various sounds and a kind of jagged and biting style, which is brooding and dark. Its certainly a score that has various levels of darkness and unsettling factors, but the music is affecting and strangely alluring in places.

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The second score for a documentary film by Helmersson is HEARTBOUND which is completely different stylistically from ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS, in fact it’s a good thing that we have two scores released at the same time by the same composer, because this just reinforces what I and others have already said about Helmersson, and that is he is a talented and interesting composer who is able to easily adapt and work on all subject matters. As dark and foreboding as ON THE PRESIDENTS ORDERS is, so HEARTBOUND is in my opinion light and engaging, yes there are a few cues that are more robust in places, but overall HEARTBOUND is an enchanting work, the composer again introducing hints of themes which in many cases do not fully develop, but this is not a criticism in fact it is a ingenious way to use thematic material, tantalising and tempting the listener, grabbing their attention and inviting them in to savour what is on offer, the delicacy and fragility of this score are its qualities. The track DOG DYING is heartfelt and wonderfully emotive, the composer achieving this via a meandering piano solo that repeats the same combination of notes but creates a lasting and highly emotive composition, that tugs at the heart strings, the same can be said for the cue THE FUNERAL, which features solo violin and I have to say reminded me somewhat of the qualities of THE LARK ASCENDING, by Vaughn Williams, it gets right to the soul and is a stunning piece. These two scores are so different, that if you were to listen to them one would probably not realise, they were both the work of the same composer. Both are most definitely worth a listen.

FOUR FACES OF THE 60’s FILM SCORE. PART 1 THE WESTERN.

 

Its often been said that when you hear a film score that has been written in the decade of the 1960’s you don’t even have to check the date of when it was released, because the film music of the 1960’s had a very distinct and unique sound, often it was symphonic as in played by an orchestra with strings, brass, percussion etc but also in the 1960’s composers were beginning to experiment with instrumentation that had started to become popular in the popular music of that era, guitars, drums, double bass, etc all went into the mix, with composers such as John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein. Jerry Fielding, Quincy Jones and Ennio Morricone creating a unique mix and fusion of styles and sounds. I thought that I would look back on just a handful of scores from that decade and remind us of just how innovative and creative that the 1960’s were. I started to collect soundtracks in the early 1960’s so I suppose it’s easier for me to remember or maybe sometimes forget the music of sixties cinema. It was a fertile period and not just for film music, there were vibrant and catchy pop songs arriving every day and also the instrumental track was still something that was popular amongst listeners when played on the radio It was a time of discovery in film music, as in composers working on scores and pushing boundaries and breaking down barriers of what type of music should be or could be written for a genre. Let’s start with most people’s favourite genre THE WESTERN. There are so many western movies and western scores that are now regarded as iconic which first made their appearance in the 1960.s. So it is with some difficulty that I selected just four scores to open this article, one is a score which at the time of its release was hailed as ground breaking and revolutionary, another is a work that I am sure you will agree is a classic and also a film that was to spawn so many sequels and spin offs. The third is something of the odd one out as it was released in the latter part of 1969, so arguably could be and is often thought as being a part of the era of the 1970’s, and the fourth, well it’s certainly different as is its score, and is probably not even thought of by many as a true western.

 

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THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD, THOSE WITH GUNS AND THOSE WHO DIG. YOU DIG!
The first score I am going to talk about is probably one of the best known western soundtracks of all time and its theme has certainly attained a cult following, the theme itself stands out but it was not just this that audiences became attracted too, the remainder of the score too was an important and moreover an integral part of the movie it was written for, in fact a number of the cues were composed before the cameras had started to roll on many of the scenes within the film, and the director would play the music to the actors on set to inspire them.

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The director even extended certain scenes, so that the music could run its full course allowing it to develop and then he would cut the scene or extend it to accommodate the music. To say this score and this move are iconic is certainly a great understatement, the film is of course THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY with a classic score by supreme composer Ennio Morricone. It was with this movie and also this score that the Spaghetti western genre was truly born, of course there were two movies made by director Sergio Leone which contained music by Morricone that had been released prior to THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE these too had a hand in shaping the phenomena that was to become the violent yet quirky Italian western, and also they helped in the creation of the raw and at times savage sounding soundtracks that the films within the genre required. Many say that ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, but in my opinion, it is THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY that most remember him for and relate to Morricone through. The movie is a sprawling American Civil War epic, but that is just a background to the main story of three men that are all aiming to become richer by the way of a grave full of dollars.

 

 

As the tag line says, FOR THREE MEN THE CIVIL WAR WASN’T HELL, IT WAS PRACTICE. The score by Morricone, matched the violence and the grandiose and epic battle scenes and the relentless tension that was whipped up via the unsteady relationship between the three central characters underlining these three figures and giving them a musical identity all of their own.

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The score not only purveyed a rawness and a harshness and enhanced the elements when they manifested on screen, but there were too a number of more subdued and lighter moments. This is most certainly a score that changed the way in which western soundtracks were perceived and written, gone were the Copelandish wide open range melodies, and the rodeo infused sounds that we had all associated with the western movie, as in THE BIG COUNTRY and GONE WITH THE WIND, instead of the normal HOME HOME ON THE RANGE and crooning cowboys, we were served up Shrieks, Screams and Grunts, Electric guitar passages were the mainstay of the score and subsequent soundtracks within the genre, choral performances, soprano solos, racing percussion and martial sounding brass, and of course the flawless whistling of Alessandro Alessandroni who not only featured in this Epic but in hundreds of sagebrush tale soundtracks that were to follow from Italy. Now, whistling had always been something associated with cowboys, but with Morricone in the driving seat the whistle took on a more integral role at times becoming sinister and apprehensive at times and also as within the dollar movies it became the trademark of the central protagonist THE MAN WITH NO NAME. This was a masterful move from the composer, he took a standard sound which the audiences had already identified and associated with westerns and utilised it in a revolutionary fashion.

Alongside the shouts, grunts and shrieks Morricone employed the calming sound of the classical guitar within cues such as THE SUNDOWN and FATHER RAMIREZ, the latter purveying a sense of the melancholy, whereas the former had to it menacing connotations and introduced the unmerciful character of Angel Eyes to the audience. So again, the composer took an instrument associated with the western and transformed it. Of course, he had already experimented with the use of a musical sound in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, with the sound of the chiming watch, which again was a key factor into understanding the films storyline and he would do this again in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and to a more integral degree, using harmonica as a focal point that is pivotal to bringing the story to its conclusion and making things more translucent to the watching audience. In the GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY we also hear the mournful yet poignant STORY OF A SOLDIER, which is one of the gentler paths to the score, at first we hear sweet song but then when you listen closer and hear the lyrics, it is in fact an anti-war ballad.


THE STORY OF A SOLDIER. LYRICS.
Bugles are calling from prairie to shore
“Sign up” and “Fall In” and march off to war
Blue grass and cotton, burnt and forgotten
All hope seems gone so soldier march on to die

Bugles are calling from prairie to shore
“Sign up” and “Fall In” and march off to war

There in the distance a flag I can see
Scorched and in ribbons but whose can it be
How ends the story, whose is the glory
Ask if we dare, our comrades out there who sleep.

The composer also wrote a tense and literally sizzling piece entitled THE DESERT, which underscored the sequence when Blondie (Clint Eastwood) is left to wander in the desert with no water or shade whilst being watched by Tuco (Eli Wallach) Morricone’s music gave this sequence a greater impact and relentlessly followed the action purveying a feeling of heat and thirst. The searing sounds being performed by strings, percussion, woodwind and piano, with horns being added to the mix to relay the vastness and immenseness of the dry hot desert. Then segueing into the desert sequence we have a piece entitled THE CARRIAGE OF THE SPIRITS, bugles open the cue with the soprano of Edda dell Orso, combining with them to create an almost celestial moment, as a carriage of dead and dying soldiers is seen hurtling along the sand throwing up a dust cloud, it comes to a halt as Tuco manages to stop the horses, and this I suppose is where the story of the movie really begins, because it is here that Tuco and Blondie find out about the gold but Blondie has a vital piece of information from one of the dying occupants of the carriage, and now Tuco has to do everything to keep him alive after nearly killing him in the desert. Morricones music is key to this scene and elevates the sight of the racing wagon and horses being both enthralling and melancholy. Tuco decides to take Blondie to San Antonio mission, where the monks care for him and nurse him back to health. One of these holy men is Father Ramirez, Tuco’s Brother.

As the movie nears its conclusion we are treated to stand out tracks such as,THE ECSTACY OF GOLD, what can you say about this composition that has not already been said? During the last 20 minutes or so of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, there is very little dialogue, in fact most of the interaction between the actors is done via stares and close ups on the eyes, sweating brows and hands hovering over guns in holsters. But it all begins with the poignant cue DEATH OF A SOLDIER which is a version of THE STORY OF A SOLDIER, but we hear no lyrics being sung, just a choral version of the lilting and emotive melody, as Clint Eastwood’s character, takes time to comfort a dying boy soldier watching him die Eastwood picks up the blanket that is covering the soldier and this is where, the final sequence begins. Tuco stumbles into the graveyard that he has been looking for and realises the mammoth task he has in front of him, to find a specific grave amongst thousands of others.

It is at this point that Morricone takes the helm and the film becomes awash with wonderful and exciting music that is THE ECSTACY OF GOLD, choir, brass, percussion, strings, piano and the unique vocalising of Edda Dell Orso, take the scene by the throat as Tuco goes into a frenzied and almost mad search for the gravestone. In a western this type of scoring had never been seen before, it was and still is gloriously effective and totally mesmerising. Morricone and Leone entered the motion picture history books when they collaborated on this film, Leone creating a movie that was not just a western but in fact was a historical account of the American Civil War and a pretty accurate one too. Morricone became the supreme Maestro via his crafting of music that did so much more than support the action on screen, because he also had a hand in the creation of a genre. A genre that would take the traditional American made cowboy movies and turn them on their head and inside out, using them as a blueprint but all the time altering and adding to the basic outline to produce not just great movies that entertained, but also westerns that outshone many of their American made predecessors.

 

The crowning glory of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY,(and numerous other Italian westerns) is the showdown, the gunfight, the settling of grievances and to the victor goes the spoils. Or in this case the gold. The showdown was to become the trademark of Sergio Leone and also the scene where Morricone would come into his own, again Leone often allowing Morricone to compose the music first and then filming the final gunfight around the score, thus these duels would often take some time, but when you watch the final showdown in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, it is for me definitely the music that builds the tension.

 


It is not background in any way, it is the driving force and also seems to become another character in the stand-off, a character that is not taking part but watching, orchestrating and pushing the protagonists into a fight where there can be only one winner. The apex of any spaghetti western is the showdown at the end of the movie where the good guy (or anti-hero) sometimes ends up dispatching the villain, but the Italians do it with style and also with a nervous tension that all the time is enhanced by the musical score, in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, the end gunfight was fashioned around Ennio Morricone’s near eight minute composition that we now all know as IL TRIO, this is where the final solution will be reached and as I have said already the settling of accounts and grievances will at last be done. Normally in American westerns this was carried out without the aid of any music two rivals meet in the street or saloon, they stand looking at each other whilst townsfolk head for the hills, the men maybe say a few words and then comes the draw and two shots ring out and one of the opponents falls to the ground. In an Italian western it is much more involved, and in the GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY we have three figures standing facing each other. So, anything could happen, Morricone’s dark yet at the same time exciting showdown music is central to the scene, solo trumpet soars, percussive elements punctuate, solo piano meanders in and out creating a menacing sound and adds tension to the proceedings, whilst a strumming guitar gently sounds the death nell for one or maybe two of the trio involved. Punctuating castanets give the piece more tension and Morricones use of electronic sound within the track also adds to the taught atmosphere, bring choir and also a chiming effect into the equation and what is building here is a tumultuous and immensely dramatic and intense composition that is a bolero of death which builds to a crashing and powerful operatic crescendo.

 

 

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IF THEY MOVE KILL EM!

 

Sam Peckinpah is probably best known for his take on the western in the 1969 production THE WILD BUNCH, it was an edgy and polished production, and in my opinion the director re-invented the western after the Italian western had almost run its course. The uber violent movie set a precedent for many other film makers and also showed the real damage that a pump action rifle was able to do, which movies up until then had not displayed, it was no longer a case of bang, bang and the victim falls to the ground with a small bloodstain on his shirt or trousers, no with Peckinpah’s WILD BUNCH we got the full treatment, exploding bullet wounds that spurted blood and spattered the streets and dusty ground with a crimson shower. Peckinpah had been the subject of the censor four years previous when he directed another western MAJOR DUNDEE, which had its opening scene edited in the UK because it was deemed to be too graphic. He again would fall foul of censorship on THE WILD BUNCH.

THE WILD BUNCH was a movie that made many in the audience cringe but also was a film that gained a following because of its notoriety for the use of violence throughout. It was the first X rated movie I went to see, even though I was under age, I managed to get in and I have to admit seeing the X Certificate come up on the screen, made me feel a little apprehensive, but it’s a western I thought, what could possibly warrant an X cert for the movie. How wrong I was. The opening sequence which runs whilst the films credits display on the screen, is masterfully done by the director, and assisted magnificently by Jerry Fielding’s atmospheric and slightly martial sounding but downbeat score. THE WILD BUNCH or at least part of the gang ride into a small town, dressed in US army uniforms, other members of the gang are already in the town waiting for the signal. The target of the gang is the bank, the opening sequence is wonderfully atmospheric and dark the images and the music build a tension which reaches almost a crescendo of a breaking point at its conclusion. The scene is also an important one for setting the scene for what is to follow in the movie and introduces us to several of the central characters on both sides of the fence within the storyline, as in William Holden (Pike Bishop), Robert Ryan (Deke Thornton), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch), Warren Oates and Ben Johnson (The Gorch Brothers).

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The music is I think so important within this sequence, it brings all the elements together, and Fielding in a way is acting as another character that is both a member of the Bunch and also as an on looker. The music laces its way through the action in a subtle but also in a foreboding and apprehensive fashion, it builds upon an already tense mood and enhances and elevates this via its sinewy but martial rhythms and beats. The composer would also employ this style of scoring in the end sequence of the movie, with snare drums accompanying four members of the Bunch as they walk through the streets to negotiate with the Mexican leader for the life of their friend Angel. The tension is underlying and present already, thanks to Peckinpah’s knife edge direction and the superb acting of the leading players, but again it is the score that increases that tense and nervous atmosphere, the Bunch walk through the dusty streets as they are watched by the hundreds of soldiers that are camped around them.

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We just know that this will not end well, mostly because of the musical score, which is already preparing us for more moments of violence. Fielding also provided the film with some beautiful lilting Mexican melodies and entertaining mariachi style passages, which he wove into the fabric of the score giving it a more authentic sound and style. Which when you think about it was what Bernstein achieved in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, in the cues entitled on the soundtrack, PETRA’S DECLARATION and MARIACHIS DE MEXICO.

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THE SONG FROM THE WILD BUNCH is a emotive and touching piece for guitar, strings and subdued brass that are underlined by scattering of subtle woods with the string section giving it a luxurious and lush sound, the composer delivering a superbly melodic composition amidst a majority of action fuelled piece’s. It is like the proverbial island of calm amidst a sea of fast paced and pulsating compositions and does evoke memories of Bernstein’s score for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Fielding also works into his score LA GOLONDRIA which in English is THE SWALLOW a song written in the early eighteen sixties by Mexican doctor Narciso Serradell Sevilla and over the years was recorded by numerous artists, including Solomon King in the 1960’s under the title of SHE WEARS MY RING before Fielding incorporated into his soundtrack.

 

jerryfielding

 

The song which is heard as the Bunch leave Angels village is particularly poignant and relevant as it tells of the longing for a home land or place where one belongs, it was at one time used as a signature song for many exiled Mexicans who fled their country when the French intervened in its affairs.

The violent scenes purveyed with THE WILD BUNCH became the trademark of many westerns that were to follow, and although the Spaghetti westerns that had ruled previously were violent, they did not really contain such graphic examples of the true devastation and damage that can be caused by the shooting of a person, yes they did include scenes that were on occasion even cut by the censors outside of the country of their production, as in Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO, which was banned in the UK for many years. Also, Corbucci’s THE GREAT SILENCE was edited heavily by censors before getting a theatrical release.

Peckinpah however, was probably the first to show the full horror of a bullet entering and exiting a body on screen. The end scene from the movie is a testament to that. And consider the end sequence which was carnage personified, with hails of bullets and slow motion sequences, showing falling bodies, arcs of blood and explosions etc, which was not scored, The filmmaker letting the action be the focus for the audience, so another masterful move by both director and composer. It is only after Borgnine and Holden are eventually gunned down and lay dying that the DIRGE AND FINAL commences, the fighting has stopped and there are what seems like hundreds of bodies lying around the music underscoring and bringing home the extent of the devastation and loss of life. These images and the sight of gathering vultures underlined by Fielding’s subtle and sombre score was stunningly effective and highly emotive and sobering.

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I SHALL CALL YOU MARAH, BECAUSE YOU ARE BITTER LIKE WATER.

The next movie is a 1969/1970 production, but I felt that I had to include it because I often wonder what I have just sat through when I do at times return to it. I only saw the movie EL TOPO once, and it was a movie that at the time I did not fully appreciate or understand, it was screened at the BFI which was in Brighton, a cinema that is sadly no longer there although he screen is still in place showing MTV to customers of a well-known fast food chain, who have their restaurant on the site of the cinema. EL TOPO has been referred to as the first Mid-Night movie, a movie that was never shown before midnight in cinemas, why, Well I think it is because it is such a complex movie that not everyone would appreciate the storyline or the images on screen.

 

As I said I saw the movie just once and came away confused and somewhat dazed, was it a western, was it a religious movie or a fusion of the two, it certainly had the violence of the Spaghetti Western, and the camera angles and way in which it was filmed were very evocative of the Italian made western.

 

EL TOPO is a figure dressed in black, who carries his naked son on his horse behind him, at times carrying an umbrella to shield him from the sun, (shades of A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN). EL TOPO played by the director of the movie, Alejandro Jodorowsky who also composed the score, has superhuman shooting ability and he is persuaded to put this to use avenging the slaughtered inhabitants of a village. He is persuaded by a woman to ride deep into the desert to confront and fight four mystical gunfighters, he leaves his son with a group of monks and rides off to face the gun men. EL TOPO kills all four of them but is then betrayed and wounded finally being dragged into a cave that is inhabited by a community of deformed people, these ask EL TOPO to help them too, they want to escape from the religious fanatics that inhabit the town, so they ask him to help them build a tunnel. Weird, yes, it is, thought provoking, I am still not sure, entertaining, well I don’t think I could say it was really, violent yes, sexual scenes yes, filled with religious references yes to that also, note the dead bodies with Bee hives inside them, as a reference to stories in the old testament. The movie was given much credence and attained the cult status largely because of John Lennon who was a big fan of the movie and its director. But, because of certain disagreements between the director and the producer EL TOPO was withdrawn from circulation for some 30 years, and if you were lucky enough to see it after the first initial screenings, it was probably via a bootleg video tape. It was partly also due to its withdrawal that the movie attained the status it has. As already touched upon this also happened with DJANGO the Franco Nero spaghetti western, which was banned for many years, before being screened on BBC tv in the 1990’s. Like DJANGO, EL TOPO ‘S reputation preceded it. And it became notorious or infamous before many had even seen it. Thus, giving it an iconic or legendary status. Finally, the movie was given an official release on DVD in 2005 and then was screened in cinemas late in 2007.

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The musical score by the director was in many ways just as bizarre as the movie, although there are certain similarities within the score to certain Italian western scores, the use of solo trumpet for example and the utilisation of choir. However there are some interesting cues within the score, that at times have to be given credit for being original and innovative, the composer creates a number of haunting melodies which are performed by conventional film music instrumentation and would not be out of place in any genre of film, there is even the token trumpet track, UNDER THE EARTH track number 2, is typically spaghetti sounding, with cantering timpani acting as a background to the central theme being performed on trumpet and accompanied further by French horn.

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The soundtrack also contains several quirky up-beat tracks that sound very similar to either burlesque or circus music, something that was used in certain spaghetti westerns by the likes of composer Carlo Rustichelli, whether these were effective or popular is another matter. I have to say one track does bare an uncanny resemblance to the music of WALLACE AND GROMIT, but as this was written in 1970, I suppose WALLACE AND GROMIT sounds like EL TOPO. The composer also uses organ at certain points within the score, and his use of choir in cues such as DEATH IS BIRTH displays an uncanny resemblance to the style of both Morricone and Nicolai. Jodorowsky, combining the vocals with warm sounding strings and underlining proceedings with brass. The composer also makes effective use of woodwind and solo guitar. There is no doubt that this is an interesting soundtrack, and even at times breaks into jazz orientated cues, which maybe cold be a nod in the direction of composer Piero Piccioni who incorporated jazz influenced cues into his western scores. The movie maybe a little confusing, and I am still not sure if this is a western or an art house movie or a religious vehicle. Whatever it is I still believe the score is an entertaining one and also one that served the picture well, penned by an imaginative and innovative composer who also just happened to be a gifted film maker.

 

ONLY THE FARMERS WON, WE LOST, WE ALWAYS LOSE.

The next score is from what many would probably refer to as a traditional western. Released in 1960, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN not only became a classic movie but spawned a number of sequels, the majority of which never really shone as brightly as the original, what all of the movies had in common was the score or at least the opening theme and the music that accompanied the seven gunmen or mercenaries that were the focus of each instalment. Composer Elmer Bernstein penned the opening theme and it was not long before the music became popular not only within the movie but also as just a piece of music that stood alone.

 

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Don’t forget in the 1960’s it was not unusual for radio stations to play film themes and Bernstein’s MAGNIFICENT SEVEN got a lot of airplay, it was also a piece of music that was covered by many artists, from The John Barry Seven to The Fifty Guitars of Tommy Garret and Henry Mancini. Each artist putting their own stamp upon it. But it was the expansiveness and the melodic content of this evergreen theme that attracted people to it and it is still today associated with the western, as soon as the opening bars are heard people think horses and cowboys. But it was not only the theme that stood out, Bernstein’s score was also expansive, expressive and vibrant and contained a plethora of rich and colourful themes, these ranged from the driving and dramatic as in CALVERA, with its tense brass, urgent guitars, dark and driving strings and wild percussion which accompanied the bandits as they entered the village.

 

 

A theme that the composer adapted and utilised in THE RETURN OF THE SEVEN in the form of BANDIDOS. The central theme for Bernstein’s score was repeated throughout the movie as in THE JOURNEY, but we also heard snippets of the melody within other cues and even within the more robust battle music when the Bandits attack the village, the SEVEN theme accompanying individual members of the band of mercenaries when they were involved in being shot or doing the shooting etc. Bernstein’s score also contained numerous pieces that were of a Mexican Mariachi style, and added a authentic musical flavour to the production. One of the stand out cues was for me TORO, which is a stunning composition that combines a rich melodic content with a soaring and tantalising trumpet solo that is accompanied and punctuated by strong strumming guitars, giving it a wonderfully exuberant Hispanic feel, the trumpet heralds a tense and highly dramatic orchestral piece which is powerful and commanding in its make up and performance, strings, brass, and booming percussion combine to play out a robust and a the same time thematic passage.


The next piece that is key to the film and the score is PETRA’S DECLARATION, which I have already referred to in the section on THE WILD BUNCH this lilting melody is one of the most beautifully haunting written, guitar and strings work together passing the subtle theme from one to another. The music that Bernstein composed for the action scenes of the movie, added much to these, rumbling brass, raw brass flourishes and tense driving strings, combined with the images creating what I think is a perfect combination, because although one is aware that there is music there, it does not distract one from what is taking place on screen, but at the same time if you were to watch these without the music, would they be as exciting or affecting? It was style and sound that we would hear again in scores such as THE RETURN OF THE SEVEN, THE KINGS OF THE SUN and THE GREAT ESCAPE. Directed by John Sturges, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a classic movie, and one which contains an iconic soundtrack.

 

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TO BE CONTINUED…………………………………………

 

SHORT CUTS 2019.

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After the festivities of Christmas and new year which seem to have faded even swifter than they normally do, I think we need something to give us a little lift and prepare us for the long month of January, I am glad to say that Movie Score Media have done exactly that with four new releases so far, but it is one in particular that I am drawn to and after listening to it a number of times I can say whole-heartedly that it sounds good and it does you good to listen to it and savour its many differing styles and sounds. SHORT CUTS 2019, is a wonderful compilation of cues taken from short films and these are written by an array of composers who we all have at one point encountered via their film scores, plus maybe a few who we may not be familiar with but I am confident will be if their contributions to this excellent compilation is anything to go by. Pantawit Kiangsiri for example who wowed many of at the end of last year with his score for THE SECRET OF IMMORTAL CODE makes an appearance with music from, WINTER OLYMPIC DREAM, which is a proud and vibrant piece that evokes memories of Jerry Goldsmith, the eight minute cue is not just action led and dramatic but also contains a more melancholy and gentle side, which perfectly complements the more robust opening and conclusion. We also as I have said have familiar names from the world of film scoring in the form of Christopher Young who, s offbeat music for FANBOY is aired here, Rachel Portman too is included in the more than impressive line-up with her music for ARCHIE, which has a somewhat quirky opening that leads into those trademark Portman melodious strings and woodwinds posses a Gaelic spirit and sound. Frederick Wiedmann too is in the line up with his music for BURNING BRIGHT, initially this has a mysterious atmosphere and even for me evoked slightly a James Bond mood, but this soon alters and has a change of direction with the composer building a tense and tense atmosphere via strings and brass that is supported by percussion, the piece builds then reverts back to a quieter but still tense atmosphere, strings being the main stay of the composition. But then the tempo is picked up and we are back to a more sinister and apprehensive configuration, with an almost Herrmann-esque style glinting through.

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Composer Kevin Smithers is represented on three separate occasions within the compilation, each section being different from the other and showcasing perfectly the composers talent and versatility, these sections being from BRUISED, DON’T CROAK and KNITCROMANCER, the latter I think being my own personal favourite of the three, but saying this they are all well written pieces. Joe Kraemer, Bear McCreary, Rob Simonen, Joan Vila, Chad Cannon, Laura Rossi, Michael Nielson and Daniel Alcheh all make an appearance. Each cue is a shining example of great film music, and how talented each of these composers are. I am confident that with composers such as this film music is in safe hands. This is a wonderful compilation, put together with much thought and enthusiasm, it contains fifteen cues which are all entertaining in their own very special way. Certainly, one to add to your collection and because of the variety here there is no danger whatsoever of becoming bored, it’s a collection of themes that will wash over the listener and engage them from start to finish. Soon to be available on Quartet records compact disc.

CAPED CRUSADERS AND OTHER SUPERHEROES. PART 1.

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The age of the superhero is definitely with us, with each year the films that focus on the antics of crime fighters and doers of good increase dramatically and with each instalment or new storyline that is committed to celluloid we are given a new sound or a new theme. These themes in the beginning were quite simple, the composers draft was give the audience something that they can latch onto each time the hero is around or is about to do some magnificent feat of daring do and wipe out yet another dastardly villain. But things change and movies, storylines and also film scores evolve and alter in style and approach. Superheroes now come in collectives as in X MEN, AVENGERS, etc etc, and even superheroes have disagreements and we see our favourite good guys battling against each other as in BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. I suppose the most iconic superhero theme has got to be BAT (my wings are like a shield of steel) FINK, closely followed by DANGER MOUSE, was he a superhero? and then of course who could forget BANANA MAN, COURAGEOUS CAT AND MINUTE MOUSE, SPACE STARS, etc the list is FROM HERE TO INFINITY.

 

No, not really, although some of the music for these characters was pretty good. I was actually thinking more of SUPERMAN as penned by film music royalty John Williams, as soon as one hears that opening note it is instant, you are back in front of the TV at Christmas watching Christopher Reeve flying to rescue another damsel in distress, or kick the butt of Lex Luther. And yes, we did believe a man could really fly. The first two Superman movies I thought were pretty good, then like most series the franchise kind of dipped into a silly and nonsensical pile of unwatchable space waste. With bad storylines, awful direction and music that was basically other composers adapting and using the Williams theme and building unforgettable scores around it. Same thing happened with BATMAN, Tim Burton did ok with the first two then the series was given over to second rate filmmakers who played it for laughs which were not that funny.


This of course is just a personal opinion, but after Danny Elfman departed the BATMAN series, things looked safe in the hands of Elliot Goldenthal, who I thought was a ground breaking musical innovator, however although Goldenthal contributed two interesting scores to the series about the caped crusader, BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN AND ROBIN, in truth I do not think that all things musical were never to be the same again. The third and fourth instalments lacked the quirkiness of Tim Burton and his dark but entertaining style, and director Joel Schumacher did not seem to have the same creative flair as his predecessor.

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The darkness in BATMAN movies would not return until 2005, when filmmaker Christopher Nolan took the directorial helm for, BATMAN BEGINS, which contained a score by two of Hollywood’s A list composers, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. The darkness was reflected within the score, with both composers utilising symphonic and synthetic components to realise a score that was driving and relentless, the sparse melodies being overwhelmed by music or musical sounds that were more soundscape than score. But saying this, within the movie the score was highly effective and served the picture well creating some spectacular moments where image and music worked together so well it would be difficult to watch the movie without this score. The at times dronelike sounds on the soundtrack lifting the action and creating tense and dramatic personas which not only enhanced and elevated the action but became part of that action. The deep and pulsating use of percussive elements complimented by fierce and ominous brass were truly wonderful and can be heard in a more developed example in tracks such as MOLOSSIUS, which for me is 100 percent Zimmer who would develop this style of scoring further in other movies including further instalments of Nolan’s BATMAN series. Also within the score there is a subdued melodic side, in which we hear emotion and to a degree poignancy, CORYNORHINUS, is for the most part a cue that leans towards the melancholy with a deep emotional sound, but also a track that has to it a fragility and a delicate air. The Zimmer/Newton Howard BATMAN score continued three years later in THE DARK KNIGHT, again a fusion of symphonic and electronic, and there were themes, not as we used to have them but there were fleeting glimpses of themes even within the action scenes of which there were many.

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Like BATMAN BEGINS the dark and thickly foreboding style purveyed on the soundtrack sent the movie and its storyline to new heights, pounding percussive combining with driving strings and proud sounding brass to achieve a totally engrossing style, a style and a sound that was perfect for our caped crusader who now was darker than the villains he pursued. The score which was for me chaotic and menacing fitted the movie like the proverbial glove and again to see the film without this score would be unthinkable. I am not a great fan of Zimmer as you have probably gathered from previous articles and reviews I have written but with the BATMAN movies there is just something that is totally consuming about his music and yes I know Newton Howard had a hand in creating this sound too, but if you listen to the score intently it is obvious it is the work of Zimmer, or could it be Wallfisch, Balfe and co? LIKE A DOG CHASING CARS is probably the standout cue and we hear the undeniable Zimmer sound here, slow beginnings, layer upon layer of a repeated theme or a succession of repeated notes, which grow in stature and volume as the piece progresses. With its richly dark driving strings being overshadowed by the inspiring brass flourishes that grow and become more powerful as the composition develops and builds to a crescendo of sorts. For the third film in the Christopher Nolan directed BATMAN trilogy, the writing credit on the score is Zimmer alone. And although the score was in tune with the movie I am not convinced that it is the best of the bunch as it were.

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I suppose credit where credit is due and Zimmer did do a good job on DARK KNIGHT RISES, but is the thematic element as strong with this score, maybe it was the input of Newton Howard that made the previous two soundtracks more appealing? Who knows? As I write this article, I have seen that Zimmer is to score the new Bond movie, replacing American composer Dan Romer, for Daniel Craigs final outing as 007 in NO TIME TO DIE. Well I am not impressed I cannot disguise that, but on taking a listen to THE FIRE RISES from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, maybe just maybe he could pull it off. From BATMAN we go to another fighter for good and justice SPIDERMAN, this is a series of films that has like BATMAN gone through various stages and had many lead actors donning the spidey persona. And likewise, there have been a few composers involved, DANNY ELFMAN, CHRISTOPHER YOUNG, JAMES HORNER, HANS ZIMMER, JUNKIE XL, MICHAEL GIACCHINO, DANIEL PEMBERTON etc. The first movie in the series was released in 2002 and directed by Sid Raimi, with a great pulsating and highly rhythmic score from Danny Elfman, which contained so many familiar nuances and quirks that we associate with Elfman it could have been another BATMAN score or even a revamp of the music Elfman penned for DARKMAN.

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But whatever your thoughts on the score it worked for the film and we as collectors were wowed by Elfman’s obvious ability as a film music composer. The score was certainly filled with offbeat quirks and off the wall musical experiments, the track COSTUME MONTAGE sounding somewhat spaghetti western in places. The score was not all action led as Elfman displayed in the track ALONE which was filled with a quiet sadness purveyed by strings and subdued woodwind. But in the main SPIDERMAN contained a full-on action score, filled to overflowing with over the top themes and some inventive orchestration and innovative writing and familiar Elfman trademarks. The composer returned to the scoring stage for SPIDERMAN 2, and the music he created again was high flying and sweeping with just as many if not more of the familiar Elfman musical trademarks, but on this occasion the sound seemed even more grandiose with the composer utilising a greater brass section, lavish strings, booming percussion and creating more choral moments. The tense and dramatic sound that he achieved underlined and supported the crime web hurling crime fighter and also made for a good listening experience away from the images on screen.

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SPIDERMAN 3, again starred Toby Maguire as Spidey, and was also again helmed by filmmaker Sid Raimi, the music however was composed by renowned film music Maestro, Christopher Young, but it did also contain some of the themes that had been written by Danny Elfman for the first two moves in the franchise. Now Young had created iconic soundtracks for films such as HELLRAISER 1 and 2,and had been active in the writing of film music within the horror genre for a number of years. His SPIDERMAN 3 score which was revered by collectors was at times condemned by certain critics, and because the movie was not as successful as it was anticipated at the box office, the music that Young penned was never to see the light of day as a CD release. Instead a song album was released and presented as the original soundtrack, the film company hoping to re-coup some revenue from the sales of the album. The composer issued a private pressing of his score, which contained 15 cues and had a running time of just over an hour. Young’s atmospheric music is in my opinion probably the best SPIDERMAN score written, grand and imposing, fearsome, dynamic and dramatic. In the main it is a symphonic score but does contain some electronic or synthesised elements that act as support. Young combined powerful symphonic moments with choral performances and wildly relentless thematic material, which although scored for action scenes still contained an engaging and strong melodic content.

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It’s a funny thing every time I hear Young’s score for SPIDERMAN 3, it evokes memories of Jerry Goldsmith, Chris Young kind of composes in a similar way, with big brass and driving strings for the action sequences, but he scores the quieter or more intimate scenes with poignant strings and woods, and has the ability to fashion beautifully haunting melodies as did Goldsmith. His music from SPIDERMAN 3 is like his many other soundtracks inventive and inspired, and within it one can hear glimpses of past Young scores and also sounds and styles that the composer would employ in future projects, SPIDERMAN 3 the score is an underatted work and one that so deserves an official soundtrack release. Next in the series was THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN (2012) which had a change in the lead role actor, and a new director. Andrew Garfield became Spiderman and the directorial role was taken on by Marc Webb, with the musical score duties falling to James Horner. As one would have expected, Horner created a large scale score for the movie, but although it underlined, punctuated and supported throughout, for me it still did not have to it the presence or indeed the inventiveness that we had experienced with both Elfman and Young. In many ways this was a conventional sounding superhero score, if there is such a thing. But it was still bristling and bursting with that superhero sound, bold, sweeping and energetic. Horner also brought melody to the proceedings which manifests itself in a more developed form in the track I CANT SEE YOU ANYMORE, the composer utilises heart breaking piano solo that is enhanced by strings to purvey an emotional and affecting composition. Horner did a good job, as he always seemed to and for THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN he did create an original sounding score that was removed from the previous three movies, as in little reference to these and also we cannot hear any of the composers trademarks that he always seemed to include in other soundtracks, yes we know instinctively its Horner, but it’s different and is possibly one of his better works in the latter part of his career. The END TITLES-PROMISES is highly emotive and one of the composers most gracious and uplifting pieces that ends in a wonderfully lush way. THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2, was possibly when the franchise hit rock bottom, musically speaking that is, with Zimmer, and Pharrell Williams having a hand in writing the score, as well as contributions from Junkie XL and the Magnificent six ? this is the problem with Zimmer he never seems to create a score by himself, is this because he can’t or is it because if it’s bad he can blame someone else? This is a hotch potch of styles, that contains fuzzy and crashing elements that are grating and to be honest annoying, no wonder it is such a mix of unsuitable sounds and styles when you have more than 9 people working on it.

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I won’t even go any further because this score was ,well is rubbish, it’s a work that should be forgotten as soon as possible, it makes me laugh, that Chris Young’s excellent SPIDERMAN 3, was denied a release but this uninspired excuse for a soundtrack got more than one release with the various 4 million re mixes getting out there to the poor unsuspecting members of the public. Then in 2017 we got SPIDERMAN THE HOMECOMING, music by Michael Giacchino, an ok movie with a relatively good score, Giacchino being no stranger to sci fi movies via his work on the reboot of the STAR TREK films, the score for HOMECOMING was a symphonic one although did contain electronic support in certain cues, Giacchino fashioned and appealing and also a serviceable score that incorporated the original theme as used for the TV series many years before.

A year later an animated version of the SPIDERMAN story hit the cinema screens, SPIDER-MAN; INTO THE SPIDER VERSE, was an interesting take on the story and character. British composer Daniel Pemberton provided the score for the film, and like many of his other scores was a fusion of styles, he is a composer who is difficult to categorise as his style never remains the same and he is always evolving and developing his musical sound and style. I enjoyed his efforts on this movie, some of the pieces were very quirky, but I think that is the attraction of this composer, his undeniable talent and also his unconventional approach to scoring movies and TV projects, for SPIDER-MAN; INTO THE SPIDER VERSE, his outlandish and unpredictable style paid off and it is undoubtably a score that people will return to many times once savoured. In 2019 Michael Giacchino returned to scoring duties on SPIDERMAN FAR FROM HOME, again the composer created a grand sounding score, filled with urgent and frantic action led cues, a good soundtrack but not as entertaining as the composers SPIDERMAN HOMECOMING score. I felt that the composer conformed a little to the way in which other superhero movies were being scored, and it had hints of the likes of Silvestri, Williams and even Ottman within it, where as it would have been nice to hear a little more of Giacchino as I know he is in there somewhere.

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From the web obsessed hero SPIDERMAN, we head off to the antics of a superhero of sorts, maybe not a superhero in the true sense, but someone who battles evil, an anti-hero or even a hero with tendencies for revenge, DARKMAN. Directed by Sam Raimi and released in 1990.the musical score was by Danny Elfman, which we know straight away from the familiar style the composer employed on the MAIN TITLES. This is a film that I saw just once and it was not the movie that entertained but the music on its soundtrack, the film itself I suppose was entertaining but the plot a little OTT, the special effects on the film were also lacking but maybe this was the look the director was looking for? And all the time Elfman underlined and enhanced drove the action forward and supported throughout with a musical score that was outstanding.
The dark and brooding brass that is interspersed with jagged trumpet and underlined by threatening percussion and fearful strings, sets the scene straight away, we know from this introduction that our hero is one to be reckoned with. The composer at this point in his career had just fashioned the score for BATMAN and was also known for amongst other things BEETLEJUICE and THE SIMPSONS, his use of imposing church organ was kind of his trademark already and it was not long before this was brought into the equation on DARKMAN, there is just something about the sound of a great church organ that tells the listener or the cinema audience that this is going to be grandiose, epic and maybe a little scary.

 

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Elfman had the knack of creating daunting sounds that he formed into vibrant themes and built on these to realise the remainder of his score, DARKMAN is a score that I would say at times verges upon the operatic, it has to it a dark and sinister persona but also contains a sinewy and bittersweet sound which raises its head from time to time, making the audience aware that DARKMAN is not all bad and he too has a certain amount of vulnerability. Elfman of course went on to score films and TV series that focused upon, THE HULK, THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, THE FLASH and the two sequels to DARKMAN which utilised his thematic material. I think Elfman also surprised many collectors and critics alike with his non superhero/action scores as many were highly innovative and melodic as in his haunting score for SOMMERSBEY and his touching and delicate work on GOOD WILL HUNTING and his lumbering and foreboding music for THE WOLFMAN. From the ELFMAN we go back to SUPERMAN or at least later incarnations of the hero who is probably the original superhero. Christopher Reeve made the part of the man of steel his own, and after his death it was hard to imagine the franchise being able to continue without him in the lead role but continue it did. And we will explore these movies and other such crime fighters and villains in the next part of this article. See you in the phone box soon.

 

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