We often associate the late composer John Morris with the films of Mel Brooks, and why not he did after all score BLAZING SADDLES, THEPRODUCERS, SPACEBALLS, YOUNGFRANKENSTEIN and SILENT MOVIE, as well as the Brooks films production of the David Lynch directed, THE ELEPHANT MAN. There is little doubt that Morris was an exceptionally talented composer, but sadly was at times underatted by both critics and film music collectors alike. Morris scored several movies and TV productions that often do not get mentioned, maybe this is because the said productions were not that popular with audiences of both the big and small screens. However, the music that the composer penned for them was as always excellent. Take THE SCARLET LETTER for example and also SCARLETT, both I am sure were TV movies, but both contained highly thematic scores and had a luxurious and dramatic musical persona.
The latter starred Timothy Dalton who took on the role of Rhett Butler, which of course is a role we all associate with Clark Gable in the epic drama and romance movie GONE WITH THE WIND. Morris certainly took his cue from composer Max Steiner for this sequel to the classic tale of the American civil war, with lush and melodious themes adorning the production, Morris utilising to maximum effect strings and brass that are supported by delicate and subtle woods, which come into their own conveying a sense of melancholy and romance. The composer also includes proud sounding brass at times that gives the score a golden age sound. The cue THIS WAS TARA being particularly poignant and inspiring. The compact disc was a round for quite a while in many retail outlets but has since become a little more difficult to obtain. However, I would recommend that you attempt to take a listen to the score, which is available on various digital platforms.
THE SCARLET LETTER is another lush sounding work from the composer, again an American TV movie, it is not to be confused with the Demi Moore, Gary Oldman feature film of the same name, which was eventually scored by John Barry. Morris fashioned a lilting and thematic work for the production, again as in SCARLETT the composer created highly melodic sounding compositions written for woods, brass, percussion and led by the string section. The core theme is a sombre but at the same time rich one, and the composer reinvents this as he utilises it throughout the score, this central thematic property becoming the foundation or backbone of the work. So two John Morris scores both for TV movies, that are filled with an abundance of themes and purvey a sense of the romantic, check them both out.
I have always been attracted to the music of composer Zbigniew Preisner, his scores for FAIRYTALE A TRUE STORY, WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN attributes of Ennio Morricone, I think it was THE SECRET GARDEN that was the first score of his I ever heard by the composer, it was a film that was shown on channel 4 in the UK and was introduced by David Puttnam, who did refer to the composer as the new Morricone. THE SECRET GARDEN for me at times evoke the fragility and the melodic artistry of Morricone in places, but then we hear a style and a sound that can only be that of Preisner. It is a distinct an alluring sound that the Maestro weaves and also one that after listening to lingers long within your sub-conscious.
Caldera records are about to release the composers score for the 2015 movie ANGELICA, as we many of his other scores we can hear a lightness and also a overwhelming sense of emotion and poignancy, but this is tale that is dark and chilling, and the composer brings into play a suitably ominous sound that creates foreboding and unsettling atmospheres. Directed by Michael Lichtenstein, ANGELICA is based upon the novel by author Arthur Phillips which was first published in 2007. The story is set in Victorian England and conveys the tale of a young woman Constance who falls in love with a successful scientist. After they marry and eventually have a baby girl, who they name Angelica. During the birth Constance comes close to death and is told by her doctor that she can no longer have sex and risk having another child because she would most certainly die and leave her daughter without a Mother. Constance becomes depressed and falls into darkness and despondency. As she becomes more and more on a downward path with this depression Constance becomes even more protective of her daughter, attempting to shield her from a sinister ghostly predator that begins to make its way through the house late at night. ANGELICA is a mesmerising ghost story which deals with, desire, repression and all the consequences that both entails. Preisner’s, score is not filled with themes for each individual character, instead the composer charts the story and supports the unfolding drama and underscores it with various themes that are effective and affecting.
The score has to within it’s make up dark sounding passages, which although melodic are chilling and unnerving, there is also a tense but melodic mood that lingers throughout, the music is at times sophisticated and graceful underlining and supporting the period in which the story is set. There is a simple and delicate sound to this score, which is attractive, mysterious and beguiling. The compact disc is the 38th Caldera release, and it is a release that you should own.
THE LAST FULL MEASURE is a movie that is based on true events and tells the story of American serviceman that was forgotten. William H. Pitsenbarger was a United States Air Force Pararescue Jumper who served as a medic in the Vietnam War. In the April of 1966, he entered a battle area and stayed with injured men, tending to them and awaiting their evacuation from the area by helicopter. After a furious onslaught from the Viet Cong the last helicopter was forced to leave for fear of it being hit. Airman Pitsenbarger chose to stay with the wounded infantrymen and continued to help fight off overwhelming Viet Cong troops. He stood steadfast even after being wounded several times himself, he continued to treat others in any way he could as well as distributing ammunition to those who could still resist before ultimately losing his life. The battle was one of the fiercest of the war with American forces taking heavy losses, but because of the actions Pitsenbarger took and his courageous acts at least 9 men were able to return home alive.
For his bravery and selfless initiative, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross. The film follows the efforts of the men he saved, his parents, andan initially reluctant Department of Defence staff member Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) to see him recognized with the Medal of Honour. The movie is a moving and emotional watch and contains a score by composer Philip Klein. There is a sound and style to the opening track that can be likened to composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Richard Stone when he scored the movie MEDAL OF HONOUR back in the 1990’s. The opening cue, is filled with a proud and highly emotive air, and evoked for me shades of both SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, the composer utilises a slightly subdued trumpet solo, which sets the scene perfectly for much of the score that follows, although this is not your normal martial sounding march totting war movie score, there is far more depth and emotion to Klein’s music. It actually takes on the persona of the American troops and enhances their story and also gives the storyline a greater atmosphere and poignancy. There are some touching and fragile sounding moments within the work, where Klein utilises both piano, solo violin and sombre and melancholy sounding woods, which manifest within the cue I KNEW WHAT HE WAS THINKING, the violin and piano returning in HE NEVER SAYS ANYTHING and re-kindling the emotions to a greater degree. The composer also employs a rich and vibrant sound in cues such as THESE THINGS WE DO SO OTHERS MAY LIVE, which is the end credits for the movie, strings, brass and shimmering percussive elements are joined by choir to create a highly emotive and affecting sound. The same instrumentation being used in the track THE LAST FULL MEASURE, which is a proud and triumphant sounding piece. This is a score I recommend, seek it out but make sure you have some tissues.
The emergence of channels such as Apple TV, Netflix, Disney plus, and other such places to watch new and old shows, films and documentaries, has shaken up the entertainment world a little. The resistance to Netflix in particular was evident when it first began to produce its own movies, but in the past three years or so these productions whether they be feature films or mini-series etc, have become in my opinion essential viewing, and along with these productions inevitably comes the scores and the soundtracks that accompany them.
So, it probably fitting that this soundtrack supplement contains a mention of one or two. With the corona virus still rampaging through the world I wonder if we will really actually return to anything like things were before the pandemic, we cannot seem to put a stop to this vile disease and the way in which we have turned to streaming and things like the aforementioned channels has been swift and now seems like a normal way of watching anything. NETFLIX I have to commend for the top quality shows and films that they have produced recently, and also I have to say that the composers and the scores and soundtracks that they have produced are also in many cases outstanding. One production which I have found compelling is THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, which is a two hour feature, I have to say that most of the attraction of this movie has been because of (1) the brilliant performance of Robert Pattinson and (2) the atmospheric musical score. The music is the work of two composers, Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi, who together create a malevolent and chilling musical landscape that works wonderfully for the production.
The soundtrack also contains a fair amount of songs which are mainly vintage tracks, from the 1950’s or maybe 1960’s. But it’s the score I am concerned with and although the original music cues are outnumbered by songs, there are so many beautifully crafted and suitably apprehensive and melancholy music cues on the release to make it worthwhile having a listen. The music is mostly downbeat and the film is sparsely but at the same time powerfully scored, the saying less is more certainly applying to this work, I personally love scores such as this that underline the scenarios on screen subtly but effectively. The score however is not all darkness and brooding, the composers fashion so delicate and touching pieces in the form of the cue UP UP UP, for example which opens initially as a lullaby slanted piece, but after a while sinewy strings are added which bring uncertainty and a sinister air to the proceedings, the cue DELUSIONS too begins with something that the listener may identify as being lighter fare, but the atmosphere of the cue soon alters bringing a more pronounced sound of menace to it.
The opening track KNOCKEMSTIFF.OHIO, has to it a style and mood that sets the scene for much of what is to follow, there is a melodic persona within this cue but all the time the composers are feeding in a more threatening or foreboding musical aura, which is unsettling and alluring at the same time. I think at times the music evokes the style of Christopher Young as it is melodic and attractive but also has to it a rippling and reoccurring sense of the unknown and malevolent.
Certainly, worth a listen. Another series that caught my eyes and ears is FORT SALEM music courtesy of Brandon Roberts whos music for the movie UNBROKEN-PATH TO REDEMTION I thought was amazingly good. Roberts has collaborated with the likes of Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders recently on THE WAY I SEE IT, the composers music for FORT SALEM is edgy and dramatic, it is also atonal in places but still purveys a thematic persona throughout. Again, at times subtle and minimal but also affecting and commanding because of this approach. I am not ging to say that this is a fully symphonic score because it is obvious right from the off that the composer enlists the support of electronic or synthetic instrumentation, but he fuses these with conventional elements to fashion a score that is effective within the series and also entertaining to listen too. I think inventive is the phrasing that best suits the score, with cues such as BALOONS being a mix of the dramatic and driving but still retaining hints of themes. The composer employing frantic percussive elements alongside drone like sounds and searing punctuation to fashion an affecting and forceful sound. Then we have the track MOTHER AND DAUGHTER which is just the opposite, being more emotive and poignant. Worth checking out.
HOMECOMING was an interesting first season that aired in 2018/2019, with season two now becoming just as irresistible, the music is in my opinion wonderful, composer Emile Mosseri has penned a set of themes and beautiful delicate pieces that are more than pleasing to listen to as just music, the score also supporting and assisting the series greatly, this is a soundtrack that boasts a plethora of rich and lyrical music, beautifully crafted to enhance and adorn each scenario where it is employed.
The composer has also recently scored the film KAJILLIONAIRE, again this is a superbly romantic and thematic work, with piano taking the lead in the majority of cues, it is I know a new score but posses a sound and style that I associate with the golden age of film music as in it has a classical and concerto like persona. The themes are ravishingly attractive, the composer adding his music to the film as an artist adds colour to a canvas. The use of wordless female voice within the work is striking and evokes the romantic sounds of Italian film scores from the 1960’s, which is dominant in cues such as INFINITE LOVE and LOVE THEME, the composer also utilises voices or synth voices as I cannot be sure which they are within the score to great effect.
I really love this soundtrack, its one that took me by surprise, it is also one that I have listened to over and over in less than a week. It is dark in places, but these moments are short lived, most of the scores running time being filled with an abundance of melodies that are hauntingly alluring. The score also contains two songs MR LONELY which I think was originally recorded by Bobby Vincent, is performed by Angel Olsen and is a particularly attractive and interesting arrangement of the song. The composer also provided the score for THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANSICO in 2019. So, take a minute or three to check out his music.
Back to a NETFLIX series for the next score, AWAY is a series that stars Hilary Swank, who plays an American astronaut who struggles with leaving her husband and daughter behind to embark on a dangerous mission with an international space crew. The music for the series is by composer Will Bates, the score or scores for this series are serviceable and work in the show very well, its part symphonic, art synthetic samples etc, but to be fair the composer seamlessly combines both mediums and produces a work that is suitably dramatic and emotive.
I enjoyed the music a lot, with the inventive and creative sounds that Bates brings to the show. The composer at times layering hints of themes and then building these into a crescendo like finish, building and building the momentum until it finally reaches a climax. Another one to check out, like all the other scores mentioned here so far it is available on digital platforms.
Also, on Spotify you will find, DEPRAVED which Bates scored in 2019, the movie which is an update of sorts of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, contains a largely electronic score, and as one would imagine is dark, mostly atonal and foreboding.
Its also good to see the score for ELOISE AT THE PLAZA by Bruce Broughton on digital platforms as well as, BLACKBIRD by Peter Gregson, and WILDFLOWER by Dara Taylor.
There are many film music composers that I feel do not get the full attention of collectors, in many cases these are composers that work steadily and more often prolifically within the area of music for film. But maybe because they are not from the United States or even the UK they don’t seem to get the full recognition that they so richly deserve. Philippe Sarde, I feel is one such composer, yes, we as film music collectors all know his name and I for one love his varied and innovative sounding soundtracks. Sarde, is a composer who cannot be letterboxed or type cast, because his styles are many-fold and he always will rise to the occasion creating interestingly original and highly melodic soundtracks. His music is melodic, beautiful, affecting, at times up-beat and contains a richness that extends and develops into becoming epic, exhilarating, and grandeur.
The composer is also well known for his use of a more contemporary style within his film scores, utilising jazz and a pop orientated sound for example. Maybe we should examine or look at a handful of his scores, I thought I should select four or five, but this remember does not even scratch the musical surface of this eloquent, talented, and original composer. He is considered as being one of the most versatile Maestro’s working on film scores within his generation and also is revered by younger generations of composers who also write for the cinema and television. The composer has worked on well over two hundred projects, these include feature films, shorts, television programmes as in miniseries, and has on numerous occasions been nominated for as well as receiving an array of awards for his unrelenting and highly unique approach to scoring these.
His beautiful score for Roman Polanski’s TESS for me still stands out as one of his best, as well as his music for THE JUDGE AND THE ASSASSIN and BAROCCO.
Born in France on June 21st, 1948, his Mother was a singer at the Paris Opera, and it was because of her encouragement that he became interested in music. At the age of just four years old, Sarde conducted a short piece from the opera CARMEN which was being performed at the Opera house in Paris, Sarde was drawn towards both film and music and at the age of five began to experiment with sound and producing his own short films. So, when it came to choosing a career path the composer was torn between the two mediums that he loved, thankfully for us he chose music. During his illustrious career the composer has collaborated with filmmakers such as Bertrand Tavernier, Pierre Granier-Deferre, Georges Lautner, André Téchiné, and Jacques Doillon, to name but a few. However, it was director and screenwriter Claude Sautet, who asked Sarde to write the music for his film THE THINGS OF LIFE in 1969. That was the beginning of the composers’ career as a film music Maestro, with this first collaboration leading to a life-long partnership that spanned nearly three decades and involved eleven movies.
The composer has also worked with many renowned recording artists, at times often composing pieces of music for a film with a particular performer/artist in mind to perform it. On the recording of PRINCESSES and UN FRERE for example, we hear the artistry of musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Raphael Pidoux, and Ron Carter. Sarde is a gifted musical tour de force, and a composer who never fails to deliver, mesmerising via his lilting melodies his up-tempo compositions and his grand and powerful musical statements that are at times neo-classical in their sound and construction. I think if I were asked to select my favourite, Phillippe Sarde film score, I would be hard pressed to select a solitary title, as there are so many that I have discovered grown with and savoured.
So maybe I could choose four, FORT SAGANNE, QUEST FOR FIRE, LORD OF THE FLIES, and LA FILLE DE D’ARTAGNAN. But there are so many others, all of which contain something that is memorable or has had an impression upon me.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECT and GHOST STORY for example. The endless list of credits is impressive to say the least, with QUEST FOR FIRE in my opinion being one of many masterpieces that the composer has penned. The music for QUEST FOR FIRE created essential atmospheric moods for the movie which aid its development and support the storyline and images, giving them more weight and substance. The central theme is magnificent and emotive, the composer fashioning an apprehensive but at the same time wonderfully lyrical piece, that is filled with a rich thematic persona and has to it a haunting aura. It is moody and poignant and possesses an eloquent and enriching quality.
The score is overflowing with varying distinctive pieces, again the composer enhancing, supporting and underlining the events on screen, the music in QUEST FOR FIRE is more of an integral component of the movie, rather than just a film score, it conveys fear, uncertainty, sadness, solitude, despondency and romance, plus a multitude of emotions that are being felt by the main characters within the film. The composer utilises choral performances within the score, which also bring forth a style that is at times foreboding, and evoked the music of composer Gyorgy Ligeti, Sarde bringing to fruition a mixture of raw emotions and creating sounds and music that befit the harsh and unknown landscapes in which the film is set. He combines the vocal performances at times with music that could be referred to as atonal, but even in the most dramatic sections there are still fragments of themes that shine through.
As a new language was invented for the actors to speak in the movie, Sarde constructed a sound and a style that complimented and gave life to the storyline, his use of pan pipes, inventive percussive elements, subtle woods, solo trumpet, faraway sounding horns and other brass combined with the soaring and surging strings is genius.
I remember buying the gatefold LP record which was on the Phillips label in the UK, and playing it over and over, it is a score that I never tire of and the theme is something that has to be listened to regularly, because of its sheer brilliance and grandness. Thankfully, Universal France released the score onto Compact disc, in their LISTEN TO THE CINEMA series, which is something that they should be congratulated for. This is a gem and treasure, a pleasurable listening experience, and a brilliant score in the context of the movie and a resounding and accomplished work. From one beautiful and affecting score to another in the form of FORT SAGANNE.
This is another Sarde classic in my opinion, it is overflowing with a richness and totally absorbing air, the opening theme itself is gracious and consuming, the composers use of cello bringing an overwhelming sense of both romance and melancholy to the proceedings, I am of the opinion that the music is so touching and so beautiful it is very difficult to put into words the emotions and the feelings it conveys and creates. It is a score I never ever tire of because there is so much melodic content and poignancy within it. I do not think that I use the word Masterpiece lightly when describing the musical stature and the prolific output of Philippe Sarde, he touches peoples emotions and fashions delicate and fragile musical nuances that are effective within the films they are employed in, but when listened to as just music are also highly affecting. FORT SAGANNE is an outstanding work, with the compositions, MADELINE, FANTASIA, ROMANESQUE, L’ERG CHECH, JULIET, and the principal theme (FORT SAGANNE) that opens the recording of the score, being particularly effectual. The composer weaves this haunting theme throughout the remainder of the score and presents it in various guises by arranging and orchestrating it differently, thus keeping it fresh and maintaining its effectiveness.
LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) is yet another example of intelligent and precise scoring from the composer, the music compliments and supports aswell as enhancing the story unfolding on the screen. The cue THE ISLAND is grand and impressive, the composer employing choristers andfaraway sounding horns to open the cue, which are then joined by strings and crashing timpani, setting the scene for most of the score.
Sarde, utilises a jaunty and at times scratchy sounding violin or fiddle solo, which is also highly affecting creating tantalisingly mischievous sounding passages. As with QUEST OF FIRE the composer presents us with a daunting and overwhelmingly powerful work, performed to perfection by the London Symphony Orchestra, the score oozes apprehension, uncertainty and also is filled with a mood of hope and mystery both at the same time as the story unfolds, and the group of schoolboys that are marooned on an island revert to being savages. Sarde’s musical score perfectly underlines and punctuates the storyline, with rasping brass flourishes, choir and expressive driving strings that are bolstered by timpani throughout.
LA FILLE DE D’ARTAGNAN. Is a score that I have to admit I did not add to my collection until about two years ago, I had always seen it in shops and online but would always side step it for some reason, finally I purchased it and am so glad I did. Again, the composer displays a unique talent and an adept connection with the subject matter. The score is classical as in renaissance sounding, with the composer employing a string ensemble or chamber orchestra, or at least it sounds as if this is who is performing. I love the use of solo trumpet in certain places and the added inclusion of organ, authentic period woodwinds and choir with subtle but effective and inventive percussion. There are also performances from guitar, or maybe it is a lute, either way it perfectly suits the movie, its storyline and the period in which it is set. An enjoyable listen.
Philippe Sarde, has fashioned, created and brought to fruition, scores for movies that have become a part of cinema history, his intricate tone poems lacing and ingratiating scenes and passages from films, making them more memorable because of the placing and the impact of his music. He is a specialist, a Maestro and a music-smith of immense talent.
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