Although we have been in a lockdown and also have and are still living through some very strange times, the release of film music does not seem to have slowed that much, collectors now even more turning to the internet and also to the digital platforms that offer us out favourite composers and their latest scores. This past month and the coming few weeks looks set to be a busy time for soundtracks, and even though cinemas are not yet open some of the big movies are being streamed so that we may partake in the adventures and the trials and tribulations of characters old and new. As with other soundtrack supplements I try and give you potted reviews of many new releases, plus I attempt to select three maybe four releases which did not get the coverage they deserved on release and also some that were sadly overlooked.
I am going to begin with two scores that are from documentaries, both of these films look at popular genres of film one detailing the rise and fall of the house of Hammer as in the British film studio that produced so many Gothic horrors that are now considered to be classics of the cinema and the second film which focuses upon the genre of the PEPLUM the Italian films that were produced at the same time as Hollywood was engaged in making so many Biblically slanted movies such as BEN HUR, KING OF KINGS and THE ROBE for example, The PEPLUM or the sword and sandal collective of movies also acted as a pre-cursor to the birth of the Italian or Spaghetti western.
But I begin with Maximilien Mathevon and his atmospheric homage to the musical sounds of the horror genre as realised originally by the likes of James Bernard, Harry Robinson and their like for the most beloved horror flicks from the Hammer films studio. In his score for the documentary TERREUR ET GLAMOR, MONTE ET DECLIN DU STUDIO HAMMER, the composer presents us with a score that is inventive and at the same time a little cliched, but not in a bad way. Yes, he does utilise a core sound or at least elements of the style and sound that we associate with Hammer films, but he takes this as a foundation or starting point and adapts and bends it to shape a familiar but at the same time fresh musical approach. I think I am correct when I say that this is a totally synthetic score, but because it is electronic does not alter the end product and take anything away from it in the quality, entertainment or indeed in how effective it is departments. The composer giving us at times slightly up-beat and contemporary sounding pieces that for me evoked the style of both GOBLIN the Italian band, composers Fabio Frizzi, Brad Fiedel and Jay Chattaway and also leans towards a kind of TANGERINE DREAM style in places. But even through the electronic sounds we still hear references that can be deemed as classic horror film music with shades of PROFUNDO ROSSO shining through in places. With chilling slightly off kilter chimes being underlined by organ and dark sounding interludes becoming the mainstay of the work. With a familiar brassy fanfare of sorts every so often entering the fray.
The second work by Mathevon is PEPLUM, a documentary that was released in 2019, again the composer hands us a score that is founded upon the sound of the Italian made movies within that genre, this time I think the music is slightly more interesting than the Hammer score, with choral effects being given more prominence. The sound that he achieves especially with the brass on the opening cue ARENA is certainly authentic to the style of scoring that was prominent on films such as THE TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS and MACISTE IN KING SOLOMONS MINES by composers Carlo Savina and Francesco De Masi respectively. This score for me is far more developed than the previous example, the composer evokes the style of the genre wonderfully and I think although cannot be totally sure that he on this occasion includes performances from conventional instruments alongside that of synthetic ones, but it is again electronic sounds and textures that make up the majority of this work. Well worth a listen. Both are available on digital platforms via Plaza Mayor.
From two documentaries about movies, to a score that we first heard fifty-four years ago in 1966. DJANGO was a film that was to say the least controversial, mainly because of the use of what was considered to be gratuitous violence and also a very high body count. Directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero in the title role, the musical score was by Argentinian born composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov. Now the title song is a familiar one and when heard for fans of the western genre and DJANGO specifically evokes images of the central character dragging a coffin through thick mud whilst the song plays and the films opening credits role. Of course, the film and to a degree the score gained something of a notorious reputation because the movie was banned in many countries. The song specifically has more recently been given new life via its use in Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED, where some of Bacalov’s score from the original film was also utilised. The soundtrack was available on LP originally and has subsequently been re-issued on various compact discs, each one more or less claiming to be the definitive edition, it was the composers first major scoring assignment, and he worked on it in a year that was a busy one for him, because in 1966 he also scored SUGAR COLT and QUIEN SABE, two more spaghetti westerns, the latter entitled A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL being a political western where his score was supervised by Ennio Morricone.
His score for DJANGO is to be honest nothing that is abundantly original, and the composer also used various tracks from it in other western scores such as A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. But it does have a certain amount of originality being a spaghetti western score, because it contains very few of the what are referred to as the stock sounds of the Italian western score, we hear no whistling, no choir, no cracking rifle butts or indeed grand near operatic gunfight duel music, instead the composer went for a more Mexican sounding score with a number of vocals sprinkled throughout and also included some dramatic and heart stopping set pieces that employed brass and percussion which were elevated and brought to new heights by the string section which at times were piercing and highly charged. So, although I say not that original. I suppose it was because it basically broke the mould as in it steered clear of the style and sound that was already fast becoming the innovative creative style of the spaghetti western. Bacalov did however make effective use of solo trumpet at times which is more prominent in the various arrangements of the cue, LA CORSA on the soundtrack release. The various releases of the soundtrack all contained different cues and a couple even have suites of music from the score, and all also have both the English and Italian vocal versions of the title song, my personal preference being the Italian recording by Roberto Fia. The English language version just does not hit the right spots. If you have missed this (I don’t know how) but if you have then it’s time that you put that right.
Moving on from a classic Spaghetti western score to four releases of the music of Barry Gray, UFO, FIREBALL XL5, SUPERCAR and THUNDERBIRDS. All familiar shows I would think for many of us, that were realised by Gerry Anderson from the early 1960’s onwards with SUPERCAR being the most senior of the four. SUPERCAR debuted on British TV in 1961, the vehicle which was a prototype was able to travel through the air as well as run on land and on and under the ocean. Mike Mercury was the central character and pilot of the car and along with his companion a young boy Jimmy Gibson who was an orphan travelled the globe in search of adventures. SUPERCAR was designed in the series by a Professor Popkiss and a Dr. Beaker who were always on hand to modify and improve it to suit whatever mission it was involved on. Gray’s music added much to the series and the title song became an instant hit with fans of the series young and old. For a series such as this aimed at children the scores were quite large with many of Gray’s soundtracks being performed by a medium to large orchestra, or at least it sounds that way.
Silva screen have released selections (20 tracks) from various scores onto compact disc and also digitally, as they have also done with THUNDERBIRDS in fact Silva have released a number of albums which feature music from the THUNDERBIRDS series, but soon (June 17th) they will issue a 40 track collection which contains a wide selection of music from the popular series.
The company have also released UFO which was again a series produced by Anderson but this time with live actors and not puppets purveying the imaginative storylines. Again the music is courtesy of Barry Gray and it is not until you look at just how many different shows the composer scored that it dawns on you just how much of a contribution he made to British TV and film music. The UFO release also contains 20 tracks and is well worth taking a listen to, there was always a little bit of snobbery amongst collectors of film music where TV music was concerned and even more of an aversion to admitting that they actually liked the music from a kids show. But the soundtracks as penned by Gray not only contained those hooks the audience opening themes but also had to them a great symphonic presence. UFO was a little more modern sounding with the composer utilising Hammond organ and up-beat percussion whilst having the central theme purveyed by a hip sounding electric guitar. In places having an easy listening sound, but nevertheless an entertaining listen as are the majority of the scores by Gray.
FIREBALL XL5 I remember well as a child, the first few episodes were in black and white, the title of the series was from the name of the space ship that was involved, it was part of the interplanetary space fleet that were ordered to patrol and protect sector 25 of the solar system from the threat of an alien invasion. Steve Zodiac was at the helm of XL5 and he and his trusty crew which comprised of Venus who was a doctor and very attractive for a puppet if I remember, Professor Matic, and Robert (as opposed to Robbie) the robot who acted as the ships co-pilot. Again the music by Gray was dramatic but all the time laced with a kind of pop sound, in fact the end titles of each episode was scored with a song at times, which became popular when the show was on regularly. The vocal by Don Spencer was released as a single with Charles Blackwell providing a John Barry seven-esque arrangement. This special release of music from the series has been released by Fanderson and contains a staggering thirty tracks in clean and clear sound quality. There is very little doubt that Barry Gray put his own musical stamp upon many of the Gerry Anderson shows, and with these releases that have been issued by Silva Screen and the Fanderson label, it will ensure that new collectors will get to appreciate the talent of this somewhat underatted composer and they will also be welcomed by those who have been fans for years who like me will recall many happy memories watching the shows and hearing the music.
Varese Sarabande has for many years been a record label that we as soundtrack fans associate with excellent film music releases and it is also a label that never seems to slow its re-release of soundtracks in expanded form, The Varese Sarabande club releases are items that we all look forward to. And this month we have two scores that I am sure will be welcomed by many, SEAQUEST DSV was a television series, which many thought was rather lack-lustre, in fact I myself would go as far as to say thet the music created for the series by John Debney was far superior to the series itself, it lacked substance in the writing department, and although it was quite hi tech for its time as in computer graphics etc, the episodes were rather weak as in storyline and dialogue. Whereas the music was superb, and I for one am pleased that Varese have released this two compact disc set. Disc one is dedicated to Debney’s score for the pilot episode which I think was feature length and entitled TO BE OR NOT TO BE.
The music is thrilling, exciting and filled with anthem like themes, that are overflowing with a rich and vibrant atmosphere, it is fully symphonic and for television score is grand and strident. Disc two contains highlights from season One of the series, and again the composer is Debney, who delivers what I think is a more developed and even grander musical affair. For any fan of the series and also any admirer of the music of John Debney this is a must have set.
As is the second Varese Club release THE RUNNING MAN by composer Harold Faltermeyer. Now this is a composer who has written some memorable themes for movies such as BEVERLY HILLS COP, TOP GUN, FLETCH, TANGO AND CASH and KUFFS. His music which is electro synth pop has to it a dramatic feel at times and is particularly effective in action led films such as those mentioned. THE RUNNING MAN was released in 1987, and for this release Varese have put together a deluxe edition, which comprises of 35 tracks. I will say that this is probably not one of my favourite soundtracks, but it served the picture well and when listening to it away from the movie it does have its moments including a memorable core theme which pops up here and there along the way. As you are aware I am more of a symphonic film music collector and at times when I hear scores such as this I do think I wonder what Goldsmith would have done here or what Williams might have done with this? But you can’t win them all.
ULZANA’S RAID, is a classic western from 1972 directed by the masterful filmmaker Robert Aldrich, a renegade Apache goes on a killing spree and is pursued by a posse cavalry who are under the command of an inexperienced officer, they enlist the help of a seasoned scout McIntosh played by Burt Lancaster, who is helped by his Indian friend KE-NI-TAY, it is a movie that does not hold back and certainly does not bow down to so called political correctness. It is filled with violent scenes and shows how horrific and hostile the Indian wars were. The film does not try to conceal links to the then raging Vietnam war as a small group of American troops struggle against the elements and also against an enemy that is more familiar with the terrain than they are. The movie has somewhat similar themes to other westerns that were produced around the same time as in VALDEZ IS COMING and THE STALKING MOON. The score is by composer Frank De Vol, and is too something of a classic, the composer fashioning a symphonic work that is rich in themes as well as supportive of the action on screen. At times the score being sparse and subdued which in many ways helped to create a greater sense of tension, again in a similar way that Fred Karlin scored THE STALKING MOON and Charles Gross supported VALDEZ IS COMING.
In many ways the music penned by De Vol has a similar sound and style to that of fellow American composer Jerry Fielding, but as always with his film scores De Vol managed to create something that was innovative and inventive, the soundtrack was not released at the time of the films release and its thanks to the ever industrious INTRADA records in the USA that we at last are able to savour and appreciate this wonderfully tense soundtrack. De Vol utilises a proud cavalry march theme as a foundation to the remainder of the work, but soon the score mirrors the tension and also the savagery that is being acted out on screen. The work is made up from two main themes, the first being the march to accompany the troopers and then there is another element which is very much linked to the Apaches which is at times a more relaxed and less aggressive style. The score is powerful, exciting and at times fast moving and unpredictable, it’s a soundtrack that is filled with vivid rhythmic structures and also percussive elements that are underlined and punctuated via the brass section. Its on the edge of your seat material and perfectly enhances the movie. Listen to the cues HIDE AND SEEK and FIRE POWER which display this action led and relentless musical persona. A great score for a great movie.
Let’s stay with a western for the next potted review, originally released on LP by Dot records back in 1968, I have always thought that this was a particularly interesting work by Greek composer Hadjidakis. BLUE, the movie, which starred Karl Malden and Terence Stamp, was made very much in the style of The Magnificent Seven and contained traces of the Spaghetti western genre. Hadjidakis is probably best known for his scores to Never on A Sunday and Topkapi which both enjoyed success at the cinema during the 1960s. He also composed a rousing score for 300 Spartans. (still the best version of this Historical tale).
The score for BLUE contains a particularly haunting central theme which is first heard in the opening cue, ‘The River’, and is reprised throughout the work in cues such as ‘Nocturne’, ‘Scherzo’ and ‘Blue And Joanne Near The River’. As well as the lighter interludes, the score also contains an equal amount of action and dramatic moments, as in the infectious and nerve jangling ‘The Mexicans In the Village’ and the driving and intense sounding ‘Preparation Of The Villagers’. Hadjidakis, utilises the guitar solos of Laurindo Almeida to great effect and the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra play their hearts out. I also think that the composers use of cimbalom on some of the cues is particularly effective and striking. In fact, the orchestration on the score is highly original throughout and the composer realizes great dramatic and romantic heights by combining instruments that are not ordinarily used on the scores for westerns. The soundtrack has only been re-issued on compact disc in Greece on the Sirius label which I know is hard to obtain. But surprisingly it is available on Apple music as a download, it is a score which you should at least listen to, inventive and original are the two best words to describe Hadjidakis’s foray into western scoring.
Patrick Doyle is a composer many have followed from his first forays into writing music for film, HENRY V for example and then later with more intimate scores such as INTO THE WEST and the excellent INDOCHINE. In recent years Doyle has written the music for some big box office hitters such as HARRY POTTER, PLANET OF THE APES and the wonderful CINDERELLA, his latest score which is again a collaboration with film maker Kenneth Branagh is ATREMIS FOWL a story of mystery and magic with lots of intrigue and action thrown in, the movie has in fact drawn many negative reviews, and these as well as the corona virus pandemic has led Disney to stream the movie on its Disney plus channel, a shame because the story I have always found engaging and attractive.
The score is as one would expect quite large scale with Doyle blending into his soundtrack the Gaelic sounds of Ireland, giving it a little more ethnicity, and adding much to the flow and enhancement of the movie. There is a homely or rich sound present throughout which has to it a Gaelic air and is pleasant for the most part. I am however not going to say to you this is the best of Doyle, because that is just not true, I found myself tiring of the score mid-way through, mainly because there is in my opinion very little variation and the music is repetitive. Yes, there are some affecting interludes FATHER AND SON, DEAR FRIEND and YOU’RE NOT GOING for example, But, these moments are I have to say few and far between. I am also not convinced that this is not totally symphonic as I detect the use of more than the normal amount of maybe samples and electronic support, (I am probably wrong) which for me deadens the impact and also the quality, so maybe a missed opportunity by the composer to create something that is special, but it serves the movie, and also does have a handful of emotive moments, I won’t say it is a must have score, or an essential purchase, but I will say maybe check it out on a digital platform and try before you buy, because everyone has different tastes.
From something that I personally can take or leave to a soundtrack that I want to tell everyone about. SIMONS GOT A GIFT, or to give the movie its original French title, LA DERNIERE VIE DE SIMON was released in the latter part of 2019, maybe because it was a French movie I missed it, and also missed the release of its enchanting score by Erwaan Chandon. The movie is a romantic/sci-fi film, The central character is Simon who is just eight years of age, he is an orphan who has it in his heart that he will find a family who will take him in and love him. But Simon is no ordinary child, he has a secret which is a power to take on the appearance of everyone he touches. The musical score is in a word charming, the composer provides the movie with some of the most elegant and alluring themes I have heard in a long while, the music is rich and luxuriously attractive, strings are the main stay of the score and the composer enlists the assistance of delicate chiming effects throughout to add to the work a sense of the fragile and also the magical and also enlists a female voice at certain points which hits all the emotive spots. It is one of those soundtracks that you sit and listen to and think WOW just WOW, the simplicity and the delicate persona of the music simply washes over the listener and it has to it a life of its own away from the movie. This is probably one of the most beautiful scores I have heard thus far this year.
I have to admit that I have listened to it over and over as it is such a haunting and pleasant work, its one that I would recommend in a heartbeat, so please find it and be amazed at the talent and the artistry of the composer and the sheer incredible melodic content of this score. It is like James Horner, John Williams and touches of Georges Delerue all fused into one. But there are also phrases and nuances that are certainly individual to this composer’s touching and affecting style. This is subtle but powerful, romantic but also has to it darker moments. It is eloquent and elegant but above all enriching. Check it out ASAP. Available digitally at the usual platforms.
Other releases that I have noticed this month are the subdued yet atmospheric score for the NETFLIX movie THE PLATFORM by Aranzazu Calleja, on the Plaza Mayor label, the music is edgy and apprehensive and certainly a score not to be listened to alone, the composer creating a highly effective soundtrack that supports and enhances the movie. Adding greater depth and even more of a tense and nervous level to its already perplexing atmosphere.
VEINTEANERA DIVORCIADA Y FANTSTICA by composer Dan Zlotnik is also worth a mention a varied score with some lovely light and romantic themes that are mixed in with a handful of up tempo Latin sounding tracks, an interesting score, simple but also one filled with differing styles, again released via Plaza Mayor and available on Spotify etc.
Finally, to the latest score by composer Christian Heschl, UNBEKANNTE HELDEN WIDERSTAND IM WESTEN . (Unknown heroes-resistance in the south west) is TV movie with the soundtrack just announced to be issued on Movie Score Media, the score is an accomplished one, the composer fashioning at times disturbing and dark sounding themes, that are complimented by fragile and highly sensitive sections and interludes. I found the work to be a poignant and also an affecting one and at times becoming quite harrowing and darkly tense and foreboding, the music purveys so many colours, senses and emotions it is hard not to become caught up with it as it is beguiling and haunting. A full review will be posted in the coming days on the MMI site, but until then I wanted to make you aware of this score, again available digitally, and certainly worth a listen.