It was 1996, and the STAR WARS trilogy was still that a trilogy, as in STAR WARS-A NEWHOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE RETURN OF THE JEDI. Enter then the excellent score as composed by Joel Mc Neely for SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE, which I am pleased to say was re-issued onto vinyl on My 4th this year. Not a film or a video game as it has been advertised or spoken of by many as being, but instead music written for a book, yes that is right a novel which was written by Steve Perry and Mc Neely fashioned a musical score which revolved around it.
But before we discuss the score for this STAR WARS spin off, I would like to go back a few years, to the 1980.s when two films which were indeed the first STAR WARS spin offs were released. CARAVAN OF COURAGE (1984) and THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR (1985) involved those feisty and adorable Ewok’s that we first encountered in THE RETURN OF THE JEDI in 1983.
The music for both the Ewok adventures was penned by composer Peter Bernstein, the LP containing both soundtracks being issued by Varese Sarabande. Both Ewok adventures were made for TV films, but in the UK were shown in cinemas before going to video. CARAVAN OF COURAGE, which when shown on TV was entitled AN EWOK ADVENTURE is set on the moon of Endor and takes place at a time between the events of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE RETURN OF THE JEDI. The plot involves the Ewok’s and two young children who are searching for their parents. It is an entertaining movie and one which obviously has become linked to the STAR WARS series and looked upon affectionately by some STAR WARS fans.
Because it was well received a sequel was released swiftly and THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR came to fruition. This time the plot revolves around Cindel Towani who is the young girl from the previous movie, who after being orphaned stays with the Ewok’s in their battle to save their village and fighting the evil raiders that have taken control of the Endor Moon. Both stories were written by George Lucas the first movie being directed by John Korty and its sequel being helmed by Jim and Ken Wheat. Both films were scored by Peter Bernstein, who resisted the temptation to include any direct reference to the STAR WARS music of John Williams as in openly using the iconic theme or references in musical terms to the trilogy of scores, which in many ways was a good thing, the composer thus creating an original sounding work that supported both adventures magnificently.
The scores were both dramatic and had action led cues but also contained some lush sounding and romantically slanted themes. Bernstein’s score for CARAVAN OF COURAGE opens with a rousing march like piece entitled THE TREK which is filled with brass flourishes and strident strings supported and embellished by martial sounding percussion. A simple but effective composition that sets the musical mood for much of what is to follow.
The second cue from the score which is THE INTRODUCTION/MAIN TITLE is a more lavish and romantically led piece, with strings again having the lions share of the performance with subtle woods and restrained brass combining with the string section to deliver a luxurious sounding theme, that at times is very reminiscent of the STAR TREK television series theme as composed by Alexandre Courage, but given a more sumptuous arrangement. CARAVAN OF COURAGE contains many varying styles, and is I have to say a score that can be listened to from start to finish without thinking I will just skip this track. Cue number three NOA AND TERAK is initially a rich and melodic piece, but soon alters and changes its mood purveying an apprehensive air and tone, the composer alters the sound and style again for track number four TEEK, which is a theme composed for one of the movies quirky but lovable characters and is a little madcap and comedy led.
I am not sure if all pressings contained the same track line up because there seems to be at least three versions as far as I can make out, what I also noticed is that there are definite references to the scores of Elmer Bernstein within the score, most noticeable when we hear a KINGS OF THE SUN influenced section. But this does not detract from the quality and the entertainment value of the scores, in fact it probably adds much to both. All the music on the recording is good and is a worthy addition to the STAR WARS musical canon.
I think I correct, but do not shoot me if I am not, but the scores never received an official CD release, instead there was a bit of mish mash bootleg on FORCE RECORDS who are based supposedly in Singapore. Which contained two cues that are not on the original LP and although STAR WARS themed are nothing to do with the Bernstein scores at all. If there was no official release maybe this is something that Varese might want to consider soon.
Back now to SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE, Joe Mc Neely is a composer who always delivers, he may not be high profile in the eyes of many, but he has the ability and the talent to provide music for every genre of film and in this case compose an epic sounding score for a story rather than a TV show, video game or motion picture. SHADOWS OF THE EMPIRE has an affiliation with the two Ewok movies as it is a story that is set between EMPIRE and JEDI in the STAR WARS series. It was a multimedia project that was an idea of Lucasfilm, who created the story and wanted to explore the notion of the commercial possibilities of a motion picture release in the series without making a film. It was mildly successful and played a big part in re-igniting interest in the series before the re-release of the original trilogy in cinemas with special features and outtakes in 1997.
The score by McNeely is superb, and although it was said that the composer set out on the project with the idea of creating a sound and style all of his own it opens with the familiar STAR WARS theme, and the composer employs a Williams-esqe style throughout, introducing instantly recognisable themes which were fashioned by Williams for the central characters of all three movies.
He fuses these with new and vibrant compositions, thundering percussive elements and fast paced string and brass compositions that add depth and excitement to the proceedings. The familiar musical moments include THE MAIN TITLE, THE IMPERIAL MARCH or at least shades of it, LEIA’S THEME, with fragments of CARBON FREEZE from EMPIRE, the action cues too are typical STAR WARS led pieces, and also have to them Mc Neely’s own stamp upon them. Performed by a near 100-piece orchestra in the form of the ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRAwith a substantial choir. This 50-minute score is well worth investigating the original CD also contained CD-ROM features which are also well worth checking out.
So many soundtracks still being released even though we are in midst of this global pandemic, which is a good thing , well it is for soundtrack collectors at least, the good thing too is that the majority are released on digital platforms such as Spotify and Apple (other platforms are available) etc, so collectors do have access to most of them at least. I often find scores by accident and in 99 percent of cases these are happy accidents that are scores I would have not given a second look if browsing in a record store. I must admit to discovering new composers as well as re-discovering composer I was already aware of but had somewhat neglected them, and that is the focus of soundtrack supplement number six. Vintage composers re-discovered on digital platforms. In recent days or is it weeks I lose track of time now and also am not quite sure sometimes what day it is, but it’s a day, another one to cross off the calendar, it must be day because the suns up which can only be a good thing.
Ok, so two composers that I decided to take another good listen to were Ronald Stein and Albert Glasser, both of these Hollywood legends were responsible for scoring a lot of what we refer to as B movies, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that, after all the likes of Bernstein and Goldsmith started out scoring B movies and the same can be said for James Horner and Chris Young, both composers debuting their musical talents on low budget pictures before hitting the big time. Stein and Glasser however did not seem to get the breaks that the likes of Bernstein and others did and sadly for us never graduated to A features or big Hollywood productions, apart from Stein providing the music for GETTING STRAIGHT(1970) and also working on Francis Ford Coppola’s THE RAIN PEOPLE (1969).
Nevertheless both of these composers musical scores are worthy of more than just a fleeting mention. I first encountered the music of Ronald Stein in the Roger Corman horror picture THE TERROR, it was the music more than anything that attracted me to the production, it was at times so over the top that one could not notice it was there, but there was a quality and also a distinct sound to it that I just loved, the rest of Stein’s work for the silver screen is much the same, bold, lush in places and wonderfully overblown and dramatic. Stein was born in St Louis Missouri on April 12th, 1930.
He worked on over 200 movie scores and concentrated predominantly upon writing music for the low budget market that was highly industrious in Hollywood, but saying this it did not mean that his music was low budget in its sound or construction, Stein produced some of the most innovative sounding film scores from the 1950’s and through to the 1980’s, and even today his music is being utilised as samples within popular music and contemporary works for both TV and film. Stein also taught composition in California and Colorado during the mid to late 1980.s. He passed away in 1988, after a long fight with cancer.
One movie or at least movie score that stands out in Stein’s extensive canon is ATLAS, It was rare that the composer stepped into the Epic genre and I think I am correct when I say that ATLAS was in fact the only time he worked on this genre of film. Stein is probably better known for his work scoring SCI-FI or even horror movies, such as THE ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, THE INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, THE UNDEAD, NOT OF THIS EARTH, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD,THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES and westerns such as APACHE WOMAN, THE NAKED SPUR, REQUIEM FOR A GUNFIGHTER and THE OKLAHOMA WOMAN.
Stein’s score for ATLAS is a grand and brassy affair with the composer creating a rich thematic tapestry that is coloured and textured with a varying assortment of compositions that are cleverly orchestrated and arranged, this is a work that can be likened more to the glory days of Hollywood as in Quo Vadis and Ben Hur and probably more akin to the style of Rozsa, Newman and their like rather than the sound and styles created by composers such as Gianni Ferrio, Armando Trovajoli, A.F.Lavagnino and others who worked on the plethora of sword and sandal mini epics that were abundantly released via the Cinecitta studios during the 1960’s. Ronald Stein, fashioned placid and romantic sounding tone poems that compliment and act as a respite from the more action led cues, with fanfares a plenty this is probably one of the best Peplum soundtracks that I personally have heard. To say that it is an imposing and entertaining work would be an understatement, likewise it would also be re-miss to say that this is not an important work from the composer.
FEARED BY EVERY MAN, LOVED BY EVERY WOMAN.
BEHOLD THE MIGHTIEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED.
Released in 1961 ATLAS was I suppose from its appearance looked upon initially as another addition to the ever growing examples of the Italian made peplum movie, but on looking closer one can see that this is although a peplum or at least having all the ingredients and look of this genre is in fact something a little different. Filmed in Greece amongst the ruins of that ancient civilisation, it was directed by the King of the B movie Roger Corman. I think and this is just my own personal opinion that maybe Corman had seen the success of the Italian made Sword and Sandal epics and decided that he could maybe produce something that resembled these and generate at least some of the box office attraction that they had amongst audiences worldwide.
The film maker ceasing the opportunity to imitate and attempt to do it better than the Italians or at least put a different slant upon things, in a very similar way that the Italians would do a few years later when they took the American western and transformed it into something fresh and vibrant in the form of the Spaghetti western as it was nick-named. Corman even played the part of a Greek soldier in the picture but was un-credited, as did the screen writer on the movie Charles B. Griffith. The film featured Michael Forest in the title role of ATLAS, Forest was and still remains a busy actor, he is better known for his work behind the microphone as opposed to in front of the camera, providing English voices for a variety of Italian and European movies, but he also featured in small parts within numerous films that were successful at the box office, these included, THE VIKING WOMEN AND THEIR VOYAGE TO THE WATERS OF THE GREAT SEA SERPENT, THE LAST REBEL, DEATH PLAYED A FLUTE, HECTOR THE MIGHTYamongst them, Forest also made appearances on TV throughout the 1950.s and 1960’s being featured in small roles in popular series such as BONANZA, THE RIFLEMAN, LASSIE, IT TAKES A THIEF,GARRISONS GORILLAS and IRONSIDE. One of his early roles was as Highway patrol man Crain in the 1956 TV series HIGHWAY PATROL. ATLAS also contained an excellent performance by actor Frank Wolff in the role of Proximates an evil and tyrannical King. Wolff’s portrayal of the virulent monarch is outstanding and for me has to be the highlight of the movie, his performance showing glints of brilliance that are comparable with Peter Ustinov’s Nero in the epic blockbuster Quo Vadis(1951) and on a par with Christopher Plummer’s believable performance as the insane Emperor Commodus in the later released THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964). Wolff enjoyed a long and productive association with Corman and worked with the film maker from the latter part of 1957 through until 1962, a period in which he appeared in five movies helmed by Corman. The actor became a regular in various Italian produced films and featured in some of the key pictures within the Italian western genre, these included, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, THE GREAT SILENCE, SARTANA THE GRAVEDIGGER and A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN to mention but a few.
Corman’s choice of location was always thought to be rather odd, with most of the action taking place amongst the ruins of Athens which for a movie that was supposedly set in a period when the ruins would have been buildings. In fact, Corman and Griffiths cleverly wrote into the script references to the ruins, with characters remarking that they had been at war so long that the ancient temples and cities had been destroyed. This may not have been a film that was Oscar material in any way, shape or form, but it was a movie that was entertaining, which I suppose is the whole point of making movies and the action on screen was aided greatly by Stein’s sweeping and robust soundtrack. ATLAS or at least sections of it are included in a series entitled THE FILM MUSIC OF RONALD STEIN which on digital platforms comprises of ten albums, these are filled to busting with Stein’s affecting music and it is a series that I recommend you take a look at. But ATLAS is just one movie in a whole lot of titles that benefitted from the ample talents of composer Ronald Stein. He was a composer who I have already said was underatted and is probably appreciated more now than he was when the films he was scoring were being screened at the cinema. Stein was not typecast musically really, it just maybe seemed that way when so many SCI FI movies are within his filmography, but listen to his scores for VIOLENT EVIL, DIALL 111 and RUNAWAY DAUGHTER, these three examples sounding more like the big band sound of the late 1940’s and 1950.s. Stein employing a jazz orientated style for all three.
A hugely different style from films such as REQUIEM FOR A GUNFIGHTER and DEMENTIA 13 which were dramatic and powerful. There are around 200 movies in the composers filmography which I think also include his forays into TV scoring as well, not all are worth a second glance, but no matter what the films were like, Stein always seemed to be able to provide them with a score that was vibrant, energetic and above all supportive, even examples such as FRANKENSTEIN’S AUNT TILLIE.
One of his western scores THE BOUNTY HUNTER for the majority of its duration for me sums up the style of music that was being utilised in Hollywood in the mid 1960’s, bold and brassy filled with dramatic and action led compositions, the movie was released in 1965 and starred veteran actor Dan Duryea, it’s an interesting fact that Duryea would star in THE HILLS RUN RED a year later, interesting because many said that Duryea was too old to be the central character in THE BOUNTY HUNTER, but just twelve months later took on an important role in an early spaghetti western and did a pretty good job too. The films were quite different and so were the scores for the movies, THE HILLS RUN REDbeing scored by Ennio Morricone under the alias of Leo Nichols but its funny thing THE BOUNTY HUNTER had a handful of cues that for me anyway possessed a fresher sound musically to what we had been used to on the soundtracks of American made westerns, Stein incorporating a Mexican sound at one point and adopting a jazz slanted style for the cue entitled KILLING MONTAGE a sound that at times in later years would creep into the scored for a number of spaghetti westerns. Selections from THE BOUNTY HUNTER are included on the FILM MUSIC OF RONALD STEIN VOLUME FIVE, which also has cues from ATLAS, THE YOUNG AND THE BRAVE and WAR IS HELL
Albert Glasser was born in Chicago on January 25th 1916. Like Stein he was primarily known for his work on B features, the movies that accompanied the main feature in the 1950’s through to the late 1970’s. Like Stein Glasser worked on approximately 200 movies, and also composed scores for the American International Pictures stable. The composer also collaborated many times with filmmaker Bert I Gordon as well as writing music for the U.S War Department. Glasser worked for the special services unit and for the Office of War Information radio shows, the former being helmed by none other than Frank Capra. One of his early TV scores was for the western THE CISCO KID and he wrote for the radio shows of HOPALONG CASSIDY and TARZAN. Glasser began his career as a copyist for the Warner Brothers studio in the latter part of the 1930’s. He worked with composers such as Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold and began to learn his craft to become a film music composer whilst doing this. It was not long before Glasser was orchestrating the music of the two Hollywood giants and began composing, arranging and conducting his own film scores.
During the mid-1940’s Glasser began his association with the B movie and was in demand due to his ability to write fast and get the music scored to a movie in breakneck speed. Between 1944 and 1962 the composer worked on an unbelievable 130 films, plus at least another 30 for which he received no credit. His musical output was prolific and as well as scoring movies the composer wrote for TV and Radio at the same time notching up an incredible 300 TV projects and over 400 radio shows. Glasser passed away on May 4th, 1988 in Los Angeles.
As with Robert Stein there is a series of Glasser film music available on digital platforms, Spotify is where I discovered them initially, there are also scores that are available in their own right, and are not part of the FILM MUSIC OF series, such as HUK, which was a 1951 action adventure, starring George Montgomery and Mona Freeman, the movie directed by John Barnwell was a fairly well made picture which was based upon a novel by Sterling Silliphant who also provided the screenplay. Glasser’s score is certainly action packed but also has to it a rich romantic sound, which is noticeably akin to the style of Steiner. The film focuses upon an American planter Greg Dickson who on returning to the Philippines has to defend his plantation and home against the local guerrillas or HUK and must find their leader who has killed his Father. Glasser’s score added much to the atmosphere of the movie giving it greater depth and a heightened sense of tension.
In the same year Glasser scored TOKYO FILE 212, again another highly melodic and robust sounding score that is presented in full on Spotify which also had affiliations with the sound that had been created by Steiner and bared some resemblance to sections of Steiner’s work on CASABLANCA, it had a dramatic foundation but also manifested romantic interludes as well as dance tracks. The movie was a Japanese/American co-production, and starred Florence Marly and Robert Peyton in the main roles whilst featuring actor Tetsu Nakamura as the villain of the piece. The films plot was about an American spy or intelligence agent, who had been sent to Japan to find a former college friend who was suspected of being a communist.
Again, a fairly solid plot and well-made movie that entertained. To one last score which is available in full amongst others THE BOY AND THE PIRATES is a fantastic romp and Glasser certainly stepped p to the mark on this one with a main title that came straight of the Korngold SEA HAWK songbook, it is a score filled with wonderful brass infused fanfares and cheeky string performances, that are overflowing with action and comedic qualities, I whole heartedly recommend that you check this one out, it’s just a fun filled score. Brass, percussion, flyaway woods and some truly lush string passages that engage and enchant.
This is also the score that features on the FILM MUSIC OF ALBERT GLASSER VOL 4, because each collection in the FILM MUSIC OF series in this case features just one full score by the composer and has suites from others included alongside this, a suite from THE BUCKSKING GIRL and also THE CISCO KID are also featured on Vol 4. Volume 1 has for its main feature INVASION USA and includes suites from TOP OF THE WORLD (1955) in which again we hear the style of Steiner and BIG TOWN (1950) which was a TV series.
Volume 2 is EARTH VS THE SPIDER which has to it a typical 1950’s sci fi music score sound, crashing cymbals dark brass and searing strings with that weird Theremin sound in the background. The style is pure urgency and total tension, and it’s wonderful, this Volume also includes suites from THE AMAZING COLLOSSAL MAN and BEGINNING OF THE END.
Volume 3 contains the score from THE CYCLOPS but also has a suite of around six minutes from THE ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (aka-SIX INCHES TALL) which is truly brilliant, it has the Steiner richness and also contains a sound that we associate with those B sci fi features, over the top but at the same time entertaining and also consistently good and fully supportive of the picture.
THE CYCLOPS is a fusion of styles, with pounding percussive elements throughout and rampant brass passages that are interspersed with a rich and romantic sound, a score of many styles that jumps right out at the listener, creating jazz rhythms as well as dramatic and action led pieces. So, two great composers that you are able to hear via a digital platform, the compilations are well worth sitting down and listening to, remember these were the work horse composers of Hollywood, and should not in any way be underestimated or underatted, both talented and both highly versatile.
There are a number of other composers that made their name and also learnt their musical craft in scoring movies via writing music for B movies during the 1950’s and the 1960’s. Leith Stevens for example created some fine soundtracks for numerous fantastical tales of sci-fi and adventure as well as writing for thrillers. Then there is Paul Sawtell and his collaborator from the early 1950’s onwards, Bert Shefter who together were responsible for fashioning effective scores for movies such as KRONOS, THE COSMIC MAN, PAWNEE, THE FLY, THE RETURN OF THE FLY,VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (both the movie and TV series), IT and A DOG OF FLANDERS.
Sawtell also worked on many TV shows from the 1950’s and 1960’s one of which being the popular western series BRONCO LAYNE and so many more creations for both TV and Cinema. Paul Sawtell and collaborator Bert Shefter worked on several movies together, and although many of these were popular amongst cinema goers, Sawtell and Shefter in my opinion never truly achieved the recognition they so richly deserved.
I suppose one could refer to Sawtell as a workaholic composer and this is certainly not intended to be in any way derogatory to the composer at all. Like Hans J Salter, Sawtell worked on B movies initially for RKO pictures, with some of his music becoming stock or library material, thus it would appear in other movies of varying genres in the late 1930.s. He later joined Universal Pictures where the composer continued to write predominantly for the B features, which most studios operating in this period produced on what seemed like a daily basis.
He also worked on movies such as THE SCARLET CLAW and THE PEARL OF DEATH which were incarnations of Sherlock Holmes tales. During the 1940.s Sawtell decided to return to RKO, and during this period also worked on a handful of independent pictures for the likes of Eagle-Lion Films.
T-MEN being one such assignment in 1947. It was in the 1950’s that Sawtell met Shefter and the two composers formed a successful collaboration producing many scores for the cinema. I thought rather than feature one of their many sci-fi scores or westerns I would focus on something a little more family friendly.
Because of the period in which the film was produced, A DOG OF FLANDERS has to it a style which is evident both visually and musically, a style that we associate with the cinema of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Its appearance and the way in which the movie was produced and photographed has a certain richness and wholesome look to it, with the movie also purveying a sense of innocence within its narrative which was a style that was prevalent in the early part of the 1960’s with films that were aimed at the family viewing market. The musical style employed is reminiscent to that of movie scores that were produced during the 1930’s through to the 1940’s as in Hollywood’s so rightly dubbed Golden Age where music began to become more of an integral component within the film making process. Released in 1960, the film contains a musical score by renowned composers Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. The score possess a style that we commonly associate or link to the 1960’s as in being fully symphonic and at times verging upon the dramatic with romantically laced undertones, but there is present a definite nod of acknowledgement to the astute craftmanship that we had become acquainted with previously within the works of composers such as Hugo Friedhofer, Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and their like.
These multi-talented film music Maestro’s were responsible for establishing the foundations of the symphonic film score, fashioning highly melodic musical cues that had the ability to not only enhance and elevate the content of films that are now looked upon as cinema classics, but also had the quality and the melodious auras to stand alone as music that could be savoured and enjoyed away from the movies and at the same time being a link between certain scenes and scenarios allowing the audiences to maybe relive or remember those scenes when they hear the music. The score for A DOG OF FLANDERS was released on LP record when the movie was in cinemas and has become a rare item which is much sought after by collectors. The original vinyl recording contained some seventeen cues, with a slightly better sound quality version of the LP tracks appearing on digital platforms in 2016. Sawtell and Shefter are represented quite poorly on platforms such as Apple music and Spotify compared with the likes of Stevens, Glasser and Stein that is. But what scores are available are wonderfully entertaining and shine like hidden gems from an age of cinema that is now almost forgotten and is also one the like of which we will never see again.
Leith Stevens is a composer who worked in TV and film and is probably best known for his work on the Marlon Brando movie THE WILD ONE and for TV his scores for some of the episodes of LOST IN SPACE. Stevens also provided atmospheric scores for DESTINATION MOON, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, THE ATOMIC CITY, THE JAMES DEAN STORY and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS to name but a few. His music for THE INTERNS too was well thought of, being a fusion of big band, jazz themed tracks and sixties vibes. The album of the soundtrack having the tag line “THE WILDEST MUSIC FROM THE WILDEST PARTY EVER FILMED”.
Born in Mount Moriah Missouri USA, Stevens was a child prodigy pianist, and at a young age was proficient enough performing that he was invited to accompany the Opera singer Madame Schumann-Heink on early audio recordings. In WW ll Stevens worked as a musical director for the War Production Board series entitled THREE THIRDS OF A NATION as well as being the director for the Southwest Pacific Area for the US OFFICE OF WAR IMFORMATION.
Stevens was actively involved In broadcasting on the radio as early as 1934, he also worked at CBS as an arranger and was involved with many radio shows over the decades, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO, ARCH OBOLER’S PLAYS and ACADEMY AWARD THEATRE, among them and in later years contributed much to the Columbia Workshop which was originally called THE CBS RADIO WORKSHOP where he wrote and acted as musical director on shows such as THE JUDGE, LIGHTS OUT, THE BURNS AND ALLEN SHOW,NO HELP WANTED and many more.
The composers first film scoring foray came in 1947, when his piano concerto in C minor was utilised for the movie NIGHT SONG, which was performed by Arthur Rubinstein with the New York Philharmonic. In 1957 Stevens wrote the music for THE JAMES DEAN STORY, which was an unusual movie, the score by Stevens too broke new ground with is varying styles at times being melancholy and intimate, and then turning into a jazz infused work with wild bongos and laid back piano, brass and a robust big band sound mixed into the proceedings, this I have to admit is one of my favourite scores by the composer, with DESTINATION MOON coming a very close second.
To compare the style achieved by Stevens is I think difficult because it possesses a sound and style which are its own. His score for DESTINATION MOON or OPERATION MOON as it was also known, was filled with atmospheric and dramatic musical themes, the composer subtly underlining the action within each scene and creating a greater depth and tension to many of them. The composer was said to have carried out research via talking to scientists to get an idea what it was like to travel in space, so that he might understand it and thus be able to add the correct mood to the movie.
The score for DESTINATION MOON was issued in 1950 on a ten-inch record which was in mono on the Columbia record label. Later in that decade the soundtrack received a release on a twelve-inch LP again in Mono on Omega Disk records who in 1960 decided to re-issue it but in stereo. Twenty years after this Varese Sarabande released an edition of the soundtrack, and then five years on from this Citadel issued the score again on record. Then in 2012 Monstrous Movie Music released the soundtrack onto compact disc, complete with the music for the Woody Woodpecker cartoon in the movie which was written by composer Clarence Wheeler. The movie was produced by George Pal and directed by Actor/Filmmaker Irving Pichel. Leith Stevens died on July 23rd, 1970.
The first release in soundtrack supplement five is from a TV series. THIEVES OF THE WOOD contains a musical soundtrack that I have to say is not great as in being lush or grandiose, but what it lacks in those departments it makes up for with its inventiveness and innovative content. It also has to it a rich atmospheric quality and an air of romantic yearning. Music is by Michelino Bisceglia & Hans Mullens or SVINHUNDER as they are known as a duo. The composers achieve the style and sound that they have perfected via the use of samples, which they blend with string compositions and self- performed sounds that are given further depth by soundscapes.
But for THIEVES OF THE WOOD the composers decided that the approach would be slightly more conventional as in they researched the sounds and the instrumentation of the 18th Century, but then utilised these instruments in a less than conventional fashion. The musical line up included Hurdy Gurdy, Grand Piano, Dulcimer, Percussive elements some of which hailed from ancient times all of which were sampled and then were utilised in varied ways creating many colours and musical textures. The result is a score that is made up from ancient and vintage instruments but has to it a more contemporary sound and style. The music being not only perfect for the production but also entertaining. It is a work that I have to say I enjoyed discovering, simply because it was different and had to it a freshness and vitality. The score boasts a twenty-four-piece string section which adds much to the emotional mood of the work.
THE THIEVES OF THE WOOD is a ten-part TV series, that is set in the Flemish region of Aaist which is under the occupation of both Austria and France. The story focuses upon a gang leader Jan de Lichte who fights against these oppressors.
The hero or anti hero of the story is driven by the poverty that the Flemish people are experiencing, and he and his assembled comrades begin to carry out robberies and even eventually murder for the cause. Based on the 1957 novel by Louis Paul Boon entitled DE BENDE VAN JAN DE LICHTE, it is a kind of take on Robin Hood.
The score is at times downbeat and it has a melancholy persona, but also contains some beautiful themes and interludes which are compelling and haunting mainly because of their simplicity and fragility as in ACT OF MERCY and THIS IS GOLD and the excellent DOWNFALL which includes a heartfelt viola solo that brings poignancy and emotion to the proceedings. But this is a score of many styles and variants, so one that is entertaining, top marks for its inventive and original sound. Available on Provo records via Sony Music.
The next release is from Italian composer Andrea Farri, and is taken from the TV series VIVI E LASCIA VIVERE, and this I have to tell you is superb, the music is for the most part understated with subtle nuances occupying the majority of the works duration. The composer relying upon the piano and creating a Thomas Newman like sound via strings and woodwind with the occasional assistance from synthetic instrumentation. I say Thomas Newman but saying that there is more substance to Farri’s music, it seems to be more developed and flowing and does evoke memories of a handful of Morricone soundtracks. The composer building the score around two central themes from what I can hear but presenting them and giving them a fresh and new lease of life upon each outing by arranging and orchestrating them differently. The music is I suppose minimalistic, but also it is affecting and haunting, at times fleeting glimpses of a solo violin or a phrase from a woodwind instrument seeping through and making an impression upon the listener.
The cue SARTU DI RISO for example begins slowly with subdued piano and strings, which then begin to increase in volume and tempo, the theme is then handed to violins underlined by meandering piano and lush but unassuming strings that rise slightly and then fall away bringing the cue to its all too soon conclusion. LAURA A TONI too is a beautiful cue, strings again and a lilting solo viola, which is accompanied delicately by solo violin and a scattering of piano. Although essentially romantic, it does as it reaches its climax hint at an atmosphere of apprehension and eventually tension. Another good score for your collection, and I would also like to recommend three other scores by Farri which are. 18 REGALI (2020), ROSY ABATE SEASON 2 (2019) and II PRIMO RE (2019).
Next, we are off to get a BAD EDUCATION at least that’s the name of the movie that composer Michael Abels has scored recently. Abels is in my opinion a talented composer that should really get more assignments, his score for the horror movie US from last year and the chiller GET OUT from 2017 are both stunningly original. BAD EDUCATION is however a little different stylistically, do not get me wrong it’s a good score, but maybe not as inventive as the composers two previous assignments.
On listening I thought the score was interesting no doubt of that, but certainly a different style here is employed, but in a way I suppose this is the sign of a talented film music composer, being able to alter and tailor styles to suit each and every project. BAD EDUCATION has to it a more conventional sound, neo classical even, the composer creating what are maybe Handel inspired pieces at certain points within the score. However, although interesting BAD EDUCATION really failed to make that much of a lasting impression upon me and I have to say after listening I could not recall any of its themes, so maybe they were not stand out enough.
It was for me personally a little disappointing, it must have been because I straight away returned to his music for the film US. Which is a score I never tire of and on each outing find something new and fresh, if you not heard it then you should check it out ASAP along with GET OUT, but a word of caution do not listen to it at night or through headphones, you have been warned.
Next is ALIEN TRESPASS by composer Louis Febre. Released by Dragons Domain records, this is a fantastic score, written in a style that we associate with the vintage sci films of the 1950’s with the style and sound being most definitely Herrmann-esque. It is I suppose the composers own personal homage to Herrmann and specifically to his score to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL(1951). We have everything here, urgent strings, Theremin or Ondes Martenot, rasping brass’s and powerful percussion, supported by swirling string sections and muted brass performances that act as a punctuation, this is a classy score, and I love it. I think it is because it is so reminiscent of the 1950’s and 1960’s that it is so appealing. The composer has fashioned an interesting and also a totally absorbing work that entertains on every level possible.
The movie too is I think a sincere homage to the B movies of the 1950’s, and includes deadly rays, bug eyed aliens and desert settings. Its always a thing or at least it was that the Sci Fi Alien movies of the 1950’s were always set in a desert location, I suppose the Aliens thought we will land here because there quite away from any big cities and that lowers the risk of getting blown to kingdom come but over zealous army commanders who always seem to want to annihilate anything that is different. The only difference between ALIEN TRESPASS and those vintage Sci Fi yarns is that ALIEN TRESPASS is in full colour, which is unusual for a homage to the films of the fifties which the majority of which were in good old black and white.
But it kind of ticks all the boxes as in Alien from another planet, who is searching for an escaped monster that has made its getaway when the Alien space craft crashes, then there are links to INVASION OF BODY SNATHCHERS when the Alien takes control of a human body, in fat the best thing you can do is get the film out on DVD and watch it, I promise you it won’t fail to keep you entertained.
Composer Febre has put together a score that is in the main better than the movie it was written for, but the thing to do with movies such as this is not to take them too seriously, I think if you have this attitude you will enjoy them more and also actual find that you like them a lot. The score is certainly not hard to like, it is a smorgasbord of affecting and vibrant themes that although may not be melodic or harmonious in each case are wonderfully luxurious and have the ability to immerse the listener in the sounds of a bygone age that maybe we miss more than we like to admit. Definitely one to add to the collection, as in DVD and soundtrack.
Next to one of the latest releases from PLAZA MAYOR,QUEEN MARIE OF ROMANIA. Music is by Italian born composer Giancarlo Russo, who has created a varied but in the main symphonic work, performed by the BULGARIAN NATIONAL RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA this is a striking soundtrack. The composer relying predominantly upon strings and brass with percussive and wind elements to support. But there are also a handful of pieces performed by piano either as solo or supported by strings or synthetic instrumentation. The score is a pleasing one and has a subtle fusion of the symphonic with the electronic, but it is a flawless and seamless collaboration of the two mediums that not only complement each other but also support and embellish one another as the score opens up and progresses. The composer also introduces a jazzy or lazy sounding trumpet in cues such as KAROL THE ANGRY SON which is haunting and affecting. I for one am grateful that it is for the most part symphonic and contains a rich and full sound. I have the feeling that people will be returning to this many on many occasions after the initial listen. I was impressed by the maturity of the work especially displayed in the cue A LOVE GONE WRONG, which has to it a beautiful and haunting aura, mostly due to the lilting melody purveyed by piano underlines with Morricone sounding strings. Another one to add to your lists of wants. Available on most digital platforms including Spotify.
From a luxurious and more conventional sounding score to one that combines harsh sounds with just fleeting moments of tranquillity which are rare also. Again released by Plaza Mayor and available digitally composer Ben Worley’s soundtrack for APPARITION literally bursts onto the scene, if you are one for romantically laced works that contain a lushness and a rich thematic quality then maybe this one is not for you. As the title suggests this is not a rom com or a love story, Horror is the genre we are in for this and by the looks of it a pretty heart stopping horror too. The score is spiky and jagged, I would also say relentless and unforgiving, urgent and frantic with an underlying virulence that makes its presence felt right from the start. The opening cue 1993, is sinewy and sharp, with intense strings setting the scene by announcing the cue almost hissing and grating their presence, the composer more or less calms proceedings down after the initial opening, but it is not a calm that is in any way reassuring, but more like the calm often gets before an eruption or a storm. It is an uneasy sound that the composer creates, with threatening percussive beats underlined by sounds that are industrial yet at the same time strangely attractive. Like most scores for horror movies most of the work is atonal and can descend into a dark chaotic work, there are no sweeping or overinflated romantic interludes here, no lilting nuances, this is proper guttural, frenzied and drone like. In fact, the closest we get to a developing theme for the score is in track number three BETA but even here it is not long before any trace of an actual theme is allowed to take hold. APPARITION is a great horror score and I think on a par with the work of Joseph Bishara, it has that sort of vibrancy, inventiveness and sound. Check it out on Spotify.
FILM AND TELEVISION MUSIC FROM AROUND THE WORLD AND MOVIE REVIEWS AND NEWS.