All posts by jonman492000

SOUNDTRACK SUPPLEMENT THIRTY.

As we start the so-called season to be cheerful, its time for Soundtrack Supplement number thirty. Again, a mixed bag of soundtracks are inside this edition, with a disaster movie that has provoked some negative comments opening the proceedings.  Remember the disaster movie? EARTHQUAKE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, SWARM, etc, well its back with a vengeance, in more ways than one in the form of SKYFIRE.

This is a Japanese movie, that was released in 2019 or at least it was made in 2019, it has, an American lead star and a Turkish composer. So an eclectic mix of talents or maybe not, this is something that you will have to decide after seeing it, the film itself is just stupid, after all who would build a luxury hotel on the side of a Volcano, but saying that its basically non stop action and mayhem from start to finish. Which is accompanied by some good special effects and a pulsating and commanding score by composer Pinar Toprak.

PINAR TOPRAK.

The film I suppose is a muddled and fast paced affair that has elements of every disaster film storyline, it is not only filled with disaster movie cliches, but contains a ridiculous plot and a weak script and also some pretty disastrous acting as well. The score however is excellent as far as disaster scores go, it has a contemporary sound, but also contains passages that evoke memories of past disaster film score highlights as in the already mentioned EARTHQUAKE etc. In fact, the music is probably the best thing about the film, but maybe I am being overly unkind, (ummmm no I’m not).

Pinar Toprak in her Studio

The composer wowed us with her score for CAPTAIN MARVEL and garnered a fair bit of attention with her music for the TV series STARGIRL. All I will say is film music fans will not be disappointed at all with this soundtrack, it is a fusion of synthetic and symphonic, the composer getting the balance just right and purveying urgent and tense interludes that almost always turn into high octane pieces that are overflowing with a powerful and also thematic air. The score does of course have its quieter sections with the composer creating rich and romantically laced compositions at various stages of the works development.

There is a powerful and driving persona to this soundtrack, with brass flourishes and booming percussive elements combining with strings to create a rich tapestry of action led tracks that remain thematic and interesting. Recommended.

Invariably at this time of year the Christmas movie raises its glittery and sweet little head. But its Christmas so we can allow that can’t we? As long as the soundtrack is good, I don’t mind at all. MY ADVENTURES WITH SANTA is a movie I don’t really know a lot about, but you can bet its not Oscar material and is filled with the normal Christmas feel good elements etc. The score by composer Damon Criswell is actually very good, the soundtrack itself is listed as a compilation so yes it also contains songs, but these are all original compositions.

Whether that is a good thing or not I am not certain. But at least we dont have to listen to Brenda Lee rocking around the Christmas tree on this one. But Criswell’s score for me is perfect Christmas themed fodder, it has to it a magical and mysterious air and contains enough warmth and melancholy to satisfy any Christmas Grotto Elf and bring a little bit of sparkle to the listener. I was reminded of the sound of James Horner at times with the composer combining, wistful and sweeping syrupy string led themes with choral effects and delicate little chimes and shimmering touches adding even more Christmas atmosphere as the work proceeds. Criswell also utilises a more grandiose sound that combines a traditional Christmas sound with dramatic symphonic styles. Its not an awful score, and being truthful I have to say I enjoyed it for the most part, even the numerous references to more traditional songs and carols which the composer integrates into the fabric of his original score. and I would say it is worth checking out.  

Remember two scores from last year, UNDONE and MAROONED by Amie Doherty, both of which were interesting to say the least, well the latest score from her is for another Christmas movie, which is the Hulu film HAPPIEST SEASON, I have to say although I did not enjoy this work as much as I did UNDONE it does have its moments, and is essentially a fairly good score. But there is not really a lot a composer do with a Christmas themed movie is there?  After all is pretty restricting and it also depends on the studio or the producers and director, who normally want Christmassy sounding music for their Christmas film. So, although HAPPIEST SEASON is not in my opinion the best of Doherty, it also cannot be said that it is the worst.  It is thankfully available on digital platforms so another case of try before you buy, my opinion is try it and then move on, or if you have not heard UNDONE buy that instead.

 Bear McCreary is a composer I have a lot of time for, it seems that he is able to turn his hand to scoring most types of movies and hops from genre to genre with ease.

He went through a period of scoring almost everything, and with each new TV show or film we saw his name featuring on the credits, FREAKY is one of his more recent assignments, and the composer has treated us to a score that is not only powerful and filled with inventive and innovative compositions but also is a delight to listen to, it is a horror film music fans dream come true with McCreary balancing the ominous and fearsome elements of his score with a scattering of lighter and melodic interludes.  Which come as a welcomed respite in a swirling Herrmann-esque sea of commanding and foreboding compositions. Recommended. From new releases to a recording or two you might have missed, the first is not actually a film score but is a compilation that does contain film themes alongside easy listening tracks.

THE LEGEND OF THE GLASS MOUNTAIN and ADVENTURE were originally released as separate albums on LP on the EMI Studio Two label. The artist was Ron Goodwin who released several LPs on this label during the late 1960’s through to the end of the 1970’s. All of which did have film music connections, because at the time Goodwin was himself a much in demand composer of movie scores. When the compact disc came into being many record labels decided to re-issue what were popular albums onto the new format, the good thing was that the collector would get great value for money sometimes because the Goodwin compilations were able to be re-issued as a buy one get one free kind of ting, so THE LEGEND OF THE GLASS MOUNTAIN and ADVENTURE were released onto one disc.

 I think for me personally ADVENTURE was the favourite, because of 633 SQUADRON, MISS MARPLE, VICTORY AT SEA, OF HUMAN BONDAGE, THE TRAP, OPERATION CROSSBOW, and items such as GIRL WITH A DREAM, THE GIRL FROM CORSICA, THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN (which was originally released on a 78rpm) and ELIZABETHAN SERENADE. Which although not film music were a perfect companion and a great listening experience, remember these compilations were released at a time when soundtrack albums were quite thin on the ground, mainly because there was no real interest in the actual scores only the themes, so Goodwin was providing music lovers and film music fans with an essential service and a way of hearing movie themes when the original recordings were not available.

THE LEGEND OF THE GLASS MOUNTAIN, contained what I look upon as classic film themes, from mainly British movies, DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, THE WAY TO THE STARS, MOULIN ROGUE, FIRST OF THE FEW, GONE WITH THE WIND, LIMELIGHT, ESCAPE TO HAPPINESS were all there and more. So, by having these two recordings on one disc we were treated to a smorgasbord of powerful, melodic, and haunting themes that are now all looked upon as being iconic. Today compilations such as these are no longer around, the variety of the music and also of the film genres was amazing and I for one lament the passing of these types of collections. But there again, there are very few artists like Goodwin or even Mancini who also produced so many compilations containing film themes around these days. They were able to be so adaptable and flexible, but today the crossover artist is non-existent which again is sad. The word Variety is under used and the entertainment and music industries should look at reviving it. THE LEGEND OF THE GLASS MOUNTAIN and ADVENTURE are available on digital platforms, so if you have never heard these why not check them out, or if you had the LP.s or even have the CD’S why not click online and go get nostalgic.

Let’s stay with the one that got away or one you may have overlooked. And in this case one that has never been released onto compact disc, MURDERERS ROW by Lalo Schifrin was originally issued on a Colgems long playing record in 1966 in the U.S.A. with the UK release being on the RCA Victor label with slightly different art work, the recording when it was released and available was quite hard to come by and nowadays has attained for itself something of a following simply because of the fact it was and still is so rare. The album occasionally appears on various online sites in an auction, but these are very few and far between. It is a mystery to me why the soundtrack has not received a compact disc release as so many Schifrin scores have been made available in recent years on the shiny little discs. When contacting Schifrin’s own record label, they told me that it was a score that they probably would never be able to issue because of copyright problems. So, this gem of a soundtrack will sadly probably remain unreleased or at least not on CD. Now I am lucky because I do have the album and I did an LP transfer to my pc to preserve it and I was also lucky because it is a stereo recording. The album opens with a full working of the main theme for the movie, this a thundering start with the composer employing big band sounding brass and an up-tempo background courtesy of percussion and organ that is joined by more brass most notably saxophones who carry the central theme forward and upwards, with more percussive elements being added as the piece progresses, the jazz big band sound dominates the composition and drives it onwards in a very similar fashion to that of THE LIQUIDATOR score also by Schifrin. MURDERERS ROW is a mix of light sounding groovy tracks, jazzy inspired sections and the odd instrumental of I.M NOT THE MARRYING KIND which would ordinarily be supporting the distinct vocalising of Dean Martin but due to contractual restrictions none of Mr Martins vocals were released on any of the Matt Helm soundtrack albums, and also due to same contractual restrictions Mr Martins image was not allowed on the covers either. There are also plenty of extremely dramatic and fast paced interludes which seem to spring from nowhere to entertain and add a certain beat and urgency to the whole score.

 Its right up there with BULLIT, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and THE LIQUIDATOR. Its bombastic hard hitting and truly theme laden, ok the central theme or variations of it run through the entire score but it is an infectious theme that is never boring and one that I know listeners will never tire of. Like the FLINT movies, the Matt Helm series was very tongue in cheek and the music often reflected this but at certain points the composers involved would often score the movie as a serious entity thus the music worked even better and because the scene was scored in this way the scenario on screen also worked better.

There are twelve tracks on the recording and every-one of them is wonderful, they are filled with an energy a vitality and just a good old fashion sound that we never seem to hear anymore. I love the way Schifrin’s music just seems to ooze a charismatic sophistication, with its light and airy sambas, its easy listening and laid back jazz tracks and of course it’s more powerful and commanding sections, Schifrin is a Master when it comes to relaying moods and atmospheres and in this score, he excels even more than usual, with the composer on piano and bass guitar (performed by Carol Kaye) who played on many Beach Boys hits, was the performer on LA BAMBA by Richie Valens as well as working with the likes of Quincy Jones, Phil Spector and Simon and Garfunkel to mention but a few bringing much to the work. There is also effective use of strings, percussion, harpsichord, woods, Hammond organ, cymbalom, brass and even at one point an accordion taking a turn. The highlight of the score apart from the great theme is track number 4, SUZIES THEME (LOVE THEME) which is haunting and alluring, with the composer employing a light dusting of brushed percussion with dreamy sounding strings acting as a background to a delightful and mesmerising harpsichord solo that performs the love theme, this is to be honest an absolute delight and in many ways reminded me of the work of Stelvio Cipriani on THE ANONYMOUS VENETIAN, it has that easy going but at the same time beautifully crafted style to it. I know this soundtrack is not available on Compact Disc, but it is now thankfully on platforms such as Spotify, it is essential listening, if you don’t believe me go find it and be amazed.

Ok heres one I missed from 2018, DURANTE LA TORMENTA is mysterious thriller which also wanders into the realms of fantasy.  There are two storms which are separated by the passing of a quarter of a century but happen on the same date, we see a woman murdered a daughter missing the Berlin wall falls and there is just seventy two hours to unravel the complicated truth. The strong, affecting and powerful musical score is by Spanish Movie Maestro Fernando Velazquez, who produced a score that does much to aid the flow and development of the storyline, underlining and punctuating the taught and nail biting scenarios as they are presented on screen.

FERNANDO VELAZQUEZ.

How I missed this I do not know, it is a wonderfully dark and tense sounding score, which is something that the composer does brilliantly, his music has audiences on the edge of their seats, and he always manages to support and elevate his projects without the music becoming too intrusive. The at times driving score in many ways evokes his brilliant soundtrack for DEVIL which is another must have release by this gifted and talented composer. Recommended.

That’s about it for now, back next time in soundtrack supplement thirty one, with more new releases, Christmas scores and those elusive scores that you missed out on.  And a little spaghetti.

HORROR FILMS FROM BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN.

ФИЛЬМЫ УЖАСОВ ИЗ-ЗА ЖЕЛЕЗНОГО ЗАНАВЕСА.

Many of you may remember the Iron Curtain, or at least heard of it. I remember as a kid thinking that’s a big curtain if it is between countries, and I wonder how they put that up. Of course, after a while I realised it was not an actual curtain made of iron, but a metaphor used by the west or America to describe the line that the USSR had basically drawn across Europe. In Russia for some reason Horror movies were not exactly welcomed by the powers in the Kremlin, but still they were produced and there were in fact a lot of fine examples of chillers, gothic horrors and tales of the macabre, witchery, magic and mystery. I recently scratched the surface of the RED western or the OSTERN/EASTERN as it was often referred to, which was a genre that had its only style and contained various storylines all of which were produced in Eastern European countries that were inside the Warsaw pact. I started at the same time to see examples of Horror movies, but these were not as well documented, so I decided to investigate these quirky but very scary tales that had been committed to celluloid further, not realising just how many there were and more to the point how interesting they are.  I suppose I should refer to the origin of these movies by saying they are Eastern bloc productions, which encompasses the nations under the protection and influence of the Soviet Union, in affect ruled by Moscow. Its not just the films I am interested in but also the musical scores for these tales of terror, mayhem, and chaos.

 However, to begin I would like to open with a production that was released long after the Iron Curtain had fallen, this fairly recent addition comes in the form of the disturbing but at the same time alluring 2017 production from Estonia, November , which has been described as containing elements of the Grimm fairly tales and stories from Eastern European folklore. One critic described it as being As, Beautiful as it is as weird as Fxxx”.

Directed by Rainer Sarnet, the focus of the movie is an Estonian village, which has at its core strong Pagan beliefs. It is a place where werewolves roam the countryside, there is plague and an abundance of spirits. The villagers main aim however is to survive the long freezing winter and the darkness, and bleakness that accompanies and surrounds it. To survive there seems to be nothing that they will not do, and there is nothing that is off-limits. The villagers care not for each other as they steal from one another not really having any thought for their fellow people, they also steal from their German Lords who oversee the countryside and are not frightened to also pilfer from the devil, who often frequents the countryside around the village, neither it seems do not feel guilty about taking from God himself.

Amongst all of this confusion and chaos a young farm girl falls in love with a boy from the village, but the boy is also desired by a visiting German Baroness, which complicates things greatly for the Farm girl. The movie features, Rea Lest, Jorgen Liik, Arvo Kukumagi, Katarina Unt, and Taavi Eelmaa.

Filmed in black and white, which makes the action and storyline seem more real, and adds a greater chill to the proceedings. November is an atmospheric and mesmerising movie, both in its appearance and its content, it is a beautiful but twisted tale, a tormented yet seductive piece and one that you will think of long after you have ceased to view it the storyline conjuring up nightmarish thoughts in ones sub-conscious, I am of the opinion that November, is as disturbing as movies such as The VVitch (2015). It is a story of intense love but also a story of survival, set in the 19th century, and also a film that seems to throw everything at the watching audience, making it believable and shocking. The highly creative and haunting musical score is by Polish born Michael Jacaszek, this composer, producer and sound artist has created an edgy and nightmarishly dreamlike sounding score, which is a mixture of thematic material and sound design, the layers of colours and varied textures fashion an attractive but at the same time apprehensive musical persona.

He is often credited as just Jacaszek and has also produced several recordings that could be labelled as being new age. His electrocoustic approach is well suited to the many harrowing, romantic and mysterious scenarios that one encounters within this dark and richly virulent movie. From 2017 we go back now to other decades, and even to the 1960’s  which was the time of the cold war, and the ever present threat and  ever-growing tensions between the Soviet Union and The United States of America. So, I start with the sixties, which was a time of Carnaby street, pop music and free love in the western world.

The next movie is a Polish produced horror, that deals with demonic possession. Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, who was also a politician, and had been a member of Polish United Workers’ Party from 1954 until its dissolution in 1990 and a deputy in Polish parliament from 1985 until 1989. It was supposedly based upon true events and based upon the Loundun Possessions, the movie Mother Joan of the Angels (1962), is set in a small village in Poland, it is the seventeenth century and a group of nuns are said to have been the subject of demonic possession. A priest portrayed by Mieczyslaw Voit, is sent to help them and to investigate the reported mass possession.  The worst affected nun is Mother Joan played by Lucyna Winnicka.

The priest arrives and soon has a frightening encounter with Mother Joan and the demon that possesses her. He is told in a rasping and guttural sounding voice that it will not be easy to banish the demon and make it leave the nun. This is a classic good vs evil encounter, a battle for the soul of a woman and a fight to the death if that be necessary. The movie itself is not that scary and compared with newer additions to the horror genre it is more cerebral rather than gory, which for me personally is not a bad thing.  The nuns at the convent are somewhat disturbing, I think it could be the way that they move or have been choreographed by the director, but there seems to be a coldness a blank and expressionless look to them that is unnerving and hugely unsettling.

The movie in my opinion has much going for it, as I have said it does not have to resort to gore and violence. It may not be as fast paced as other examples, but because it gives the audience something to think about it just works. I suppose one could draw comparisons with The Devils which hit our screens back in 1971, but in my humble opinion, Mother Joan of the Angels is a far better watch. The musical score by Polish born Adam Walacinski, is also an unsettling one. Walaciński, was not only a composer, but also taught music. He was born on September 18th1928, in Krokow Poland. The composer received private tuition in violin from Wactaw Niemczyk and then studied violin with Eugenia Uminska, plus trained in composition with Artur Malawski at the State Higher School of Music in Krakow.

He is better known as a composer of film and TV music and began his film scoring career in 1957 when he provided the musical score for Zimowv Zmierzch, which was a drama. His film scoring career seems to have ceased in 1981, when he worked on the TV short Na Meline.  He died in Krakow on August 4th, 2015 he was 86.

From Poland to the Soviet Union, or should I say Russia, because some of the films I will highlight were produced when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. But before I start with the movies and also look at the composers who scored them, it might be a good idea to explain the attitude of the Kremlin towards films in the horror genre that were being produced in Russia. It was basically a case of the powers that be suppressing the creative freedom of many filmmakers, The Soviet higher Archy viewed cinema as a tool for both propaganda and education and also looked to it to influence the masses. So, for them the horror movie served very-little purpose. Thus, they became outlawed, more or less.  Many movies that were produced in Russia at this time which was post WWll through to the fall of the Berlin wall would focus upon adventure or dramatic/romantic story lines.  But as was the way then, filmmakers would carry on producing the horror themed film, even if it was at the risk of the authorities stepping in.  Russian horror movies do not take the route of what we in the west see as tales of horror, Russian horror films are heavily influenced by the old ways and also the inclusion of creepy folklore alongside wierd well relationships with either technology, bureaucracy, power, and even romance. And this is why I think I personally find many of them fascinating, they rely more upon the story telling rather than the violence the shock and the gore. It is not a rampaging monster that one see’s or hears on screen that grips the audience with fear, but Russian films mostly focus more upon the unknown, the unseen and the eerie atmospheres alongside the paranoia, these elements make up the monsters in Russian/Eastern European horrors.  One movie I think that has a dual category or genre must be Solaris from 1972.

The movie, which was directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, is probably one of his best-known outside of Russia, but strangely the filmmaker has said many times that it his least favourite work.  The story is about a psychologist Kris Kelvin who has been sent to a space station which is orbiting the moon of a far-off planet. As soon as he arrives, he senses that all is not right, it is a sci-fi movie that has within it psychological disturbing scenes and terrifying themes, some of which I thought did have to them connections with vampires, in a roundabout way that is, but maybe that is just me.  The psychological element creates a greater emotional depth, but there are still horror references. The film like many others by the filmmaker is shall we say an acquired taste, the slow-moving action is not too the  liking of all,  the filmmaker creating a dense and almost tiring, lethargic  atmosphere with the style of direction he employs.

The music is by Euard Artemyev who was born in Novosibirsk  and studied at the Moscow Consevatory under Yuri Shaporin. The composer/musician’s interest in electronic music and the use of synthesisers began after his graduation from the conservatory, which was in 1960, but at this time electronic music was still in its early days of development. Artemyev wrote his first piece in 1967 and utilised one of the first synthesisers to be developed in Russia which had been designed by Evgeny Murzin, which made him one of the first composers to do so and also made him a pioneer and a champion of electronic music composition. His collaboration with the film director Andrei Tarkovsky in the 1970s made him well-known. He wrote the film scores of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Zerkalo, and Stalker.  

After this the composer became in demand and worked on films directed by Andrei Konchalovsky and Nikita Mikhalkov. His film soundtracks and also his other music has received many accolades from both critics, fans and contemporaries, and he has also garnered threeNika Awards . The composer actually licensed several excerpts from the Solaris soundtrack in order to use them in the later Spanish  production entitled The Cosmonaut.
  

We jump forward a couple of decades for the next movie, The Savage Hunt of King Stakh, was released in 1980, this drama-thriller which I suppose does also have to it enough horror content to also be categorised within the horror genre, was directed by Valeri Rubinchik, It is the story of  a young ethnographer, Andrej Bielarecki, who takes himself off to the dense woodland in Belarus in order to carry out research on the folk tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. Straight away because of the eerie location one’s mind goes into overdrive and starts to image all sorts of ghostly goings on.  The film which is based upon the writings of V.Korotkevich however does come across as being a little lack lustre in the special effects department and also was rather disappointing when it came to the score and the overall standard of acting. But, it is a wonderfully haunting movie and also has a real commitment to exploring the strange and gothic influences and content and this is probably why it does invariably make onto so many Best of lists, but in reality it is not that good when one sits and really focuses upon it and its storyline.  When the movie was released it was popular with audiences, who seemed to be impressed with its dark thrills.

The musical score which was largely forgettable, but maybe that is a good thing because one is not distracted from the scenarios unfolding on screen, was by composer Evegeny Glebov, the Maestro was classically trained and self-taught and focused mainly on music for the concert hall, Opera and Ballet, his music for the Ballet The Chosen One (1969) for me personally is akin to much of the music from movies that were released during the 1950’s and 1960’s in both Russia and the surrounding countries, of the Eastern Bloc, there is a sound and style within it that makes one wonder if it is actually from a movie score or indeed a ballet which of course it is.

Glebov excelled in the writing of what is normally referred to as serious music and was acclaimed by many for his achievements in composition, but his film scores were not as popular as his classical works. He was born in Roslavia on September 1929, and graduated in 1947 from the High School which at the time was named The Roslavi Railway College. After his graduation he took up employment as a car inspector in the town of Mogiev, but this was not a career he was destined to continue in. He had always been attracted to music right from his days as a young child, and under his own initiative decided to learn to play Mandolin, Guitar, and Balalaika. As a young man he began to compose a few works which were mainly songs, or music for romantic production in the theatre. He later returned to the Railway college where he undertook to learn the basics of composition, But was refused entry to Music School after the board of governors discovered that he had no real qualifications in music and was mostly self-taught, it was not until 1956 that he managed to complete his musical studies at the Belarusian Conservatory in Minsk. His film scoring career began in 1960, and during a period of forty years he provided the scores for approximately thirty-five projects, which were a mixture of TV series and films, feature films, shorts, and documentaries. He died on January 12th, 2000 in Minsk.

Mister Designer-aka- Gospodin Oformitel, (1987)is a somewhat surreal example of a horror movie that was directed by Oleg Teptsov, the plot concentrates upon a famous artist named Platon Andreevich who is attempting to discover the secret of eternal youth. He thinks that he may be able to achieve his goal via the stunningly attractive mannequins that he creates. This was Tepstov’s debut as a director and works well on many levels, purveying and relaying deep emotion and impacting philosophic moments, and successfully challenges established religious and cultural medians. It was one of the last important movies to be produced before the cinematic styles of the old Soviet Union began to alter and shift.  

The entertaining and inventive musical score was by Sergei Kuryokhin, it is a score that not only worked well within the movie but was hugely entertaining away from the images. Selections of the composers score for Mister Designer were performed in concert at the Moscow Conservatory in 2015.

The orchestration of the score too is varied and appealing, the composer enlisting soprano and solo saxophone as well as a  line-up of brass, strings, and woods thus keeping the music fresh and vibrant and contemporary throughout as well as being wonderfully supportive of the movie and its bizarre storyline. With cues such as The Roof having to them a subtle nod to Ennio Morricone.

I was not going to include VIY, as so much has been written about this movie, but it would be re-miss not to mention it even fleetingly, it is without a doubt one of if not the most popular Russian Horror film to be produced, it appealed to audiences around the world and not just its native Russian viewers. The story has been transferred to both the small screen and the silver screen on numerous occasions, but it is the 1967 cinematic version of this popular tale that is certainly the go to work. So briefly, Viy, (Spirit of Evil or Vii) was directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov.

The films screenplay was based on the story of the same name by author Nikolai Gogol, which was adapted for the screen by Yershov, Kropachyov and Aleksandr Ptushko.

The musical score was by Karen Khachaturian who was the nephew of the great Russian/Armenian classical composer Aram Khachaturian and the cousin of the famed conductor Emin Khachaturian. The music is mysterious, otherworldly, eerie, and suitably atmospheric, and underlines supports and gives greater momentum and depth to the story as it unfolds on screen. The music for VIY has to it a style and sound that is fully symphonic and the style employed by the composer is very much akin to the style of the composers music for the concert, as in his Symphony number one and various ballet’s such as Cipollino.

The film also contained highly effective special effects which were at the time ground-breaking, plus the camera work and use of both colour and black and white photography proved to be both harrowing and memorable. Gogol’s story has popped up in various guises and has also formed the foundation for many other stories and movies, most recently it was used as the basis for the Russian fantasy/adventure movie The Iron Mask which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan and Charles Dance.

The 1967 version is in my opinion however still the best version, and in case you are not familiar with the story, it involves a young priest who is ordered to preside over the wake of witch in an old wooden church that is situated in a remote village. He is instructed to stay in the church for three nights alone with the corpse of the Witch, with only his faith and trust in God to protect him.  

To a Polish production now and from 1973, The Hourglass Sanitorium, was directed by Wojiech Has. And contained an effective musical score by composer Jerzy Maksymiuk.  Maksymiuk, was born in 1936 in the Polish city of Grodno, which after World War II was placed inside the borders of Belarus. The composer’s family were farmers and had no musical connections or aspirations. They moved to Bialystok during world war ll to escape the oncoming Russian army. His parents divorced when he was fifteen. Maksymiuk began to study music in Bialystok and then later relocated to Warsaw, where he continued his musical education and graduated from the State Academy of Music. His musical training included   classes in playing the piano, composing, and conducting. Maksymiuk was introduced into the world of films by his cousin, director Czeslaw Petelski, who gave him his first job in the business.

For over thirty years Jerzy Maksymiuk was the composer and/or conductor of nearly one hundred Polish films. He is probably best known in Poland as well as abroad as an extremely gifted and hard-working conductor. He was responsible for creating and establishing the Polish Chamber Orchestra (Polska Orkiestra Kameralna).  But, after working as the orchestra’s conductor for some thirteen years, he was later appointed the conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra based in Glasgow. A post he held for a further thirteen years.  Józef visits his dying father at a remote mental institution, where time itself doesn’t seem to exist, and the line between dreams and memories becomes indistinguishable.

The film depicts its protagonist, Jozef (Jan Nowicki), traveling through a dream-like world, taking a dilapidated train to visit his dying father in a sanatorium. When he arrives at the hospital, he finds the entire facility has gone to ruin and there is no one there that is taking charge or overseeing things, many of the patients going uncared for. Time appears to behave in unpredictable ways at the sanitorium, and often brings back to life vivid memories of the past, which are at times hard to distinguish from real events.

Necrorealism, is often a word linked to the Horror genre, so what is the meaning of Necrorealism? Well it says, it means to focus on dark humour and the absurd, with specific attention on death, destruction, and transformation. Which is something that the 1990 Russian movie The Vampire Family or СЕМЬЯ ВУРДАЛАКОВ,does successfully. The films storyline concentrates on a young reporter who makes a journey into the Russian countryside, where he hopes to write about the fantastical stories that are so often linked to the area.

The film is based upon Leo Tolstoy’s The Family of the Vourdalak and filmmakers Gennadiy Klimov and Igor Shavlak do an excellent job directing and bringing to the screen a tale that is filled with tension and apprehension, the way in which they build the drama and also the suspense is uncomfortably  stunning and watching the movie one does I have to admit start to feel a little uneasy. The musical score was written by composer Vladimir Davydenko who is still writing today but focuses mainly on scores for TV shows and mini-series in Russia.

Lyumi is probably one of the most obscure horror movies made during the final days of the old Soviet Union.  It was directed by Vladimir Bragin, and is I suppose a Horror/comedy affair, a film which basically reworks the story of Little Red Riding Hood but maybe in a more macabre and contemporary fashion, this time the character of the big bad wolf is seen in the form of a half man half wolf character, who terrorises motorists who he stalks in the Russian countryside. Its probably a film that we should not take that seriously, it is simply good clean comic horror, if there is such a thing. It’s an interesting and entertaining movie however, and looks at not if werewolves exist, but instead examines the stories and also the way in which cinema and writers have portrayed them. It is I have to say eighty percent comedy and twenty percent horror, but this is I think mainly due to some of the hammy or wooden acting within the movie, Lyumi, is in essence a parody of cinemas portrayal of the wolfman.

The musical score is by Venyamin Basner who was born on January 1, 1925 in Yaroslavl, Yaroslavl Governorate, RSFSR, USSR as Veniamin Yefimovich Basner. He was a composer who began to write music for film and television in the mid 1950’s his first documented score being for the 1956 war drama The Immortal Garrison. He was also known for his scores to Leningrad Symphony in 1957, Miroven Paren from 1972, and The Arrows of Robin Hood in 1975. He died on September 3rd,1996 in St. Petersburg just after completing his score for the comedy film, Vozvrashchenie “Bronenostsa”.

Russian or Eastern European horror movies, may not be that well known outside of their respective countries of production, but, these are quality movies, and also films that examine subjects and ponder tales of horror or witchcraft, rather than slash and inflict gruesome gratuitous gore upon their audiences their audiences. So, the thinking man’s horror?  Maybe! which can only be a good thing.    

RICHARD HARTLEY: SCORING THE FABRIC OF CINEMA.

BY John Williams, (c)2020.

As someone who has listened to more film music than he cares to remember and written more words on the subject than is probably healthy, certain thoughts and opinions seem to surface very quickly.   Now I know my opinion is certainly  not any more worthy than yours, and music being the  very being it is,  a subjective  art,  one piece of music heard by say, one hundred people will have one hundred different reactions. That is the way it is.   

But conversely having listened to so such music,  and as to borrow  from  Stanley Myers memorable and masterly OTLEY score, ” The Good, The Bad and the Simply Disgusting”, certain, shall we say priorities , certainly comes to mind.    There are composers who’s, own musical personality shines through whatever they do.  That doesn’t mean they don’t do what they set out to do and are more often than not, well paid for, it is just that is the way they write and that is it.   You may say that John Barry falls into that category, and it is true, he has a distinctive musical voice, but he has been known to vary it every now and then.  I was thinking of Bernard Herrmann and Maurice Jarre,  Two more widely diverse composers you couldn’t think of,   Herrmann, a superb composer no-one could deny, yet wasn’t it Lionel Newman who once said, “Herrmann, he always sounds the same to me and he can’t write a tune!” somewhat harsh but containing a grain of truth.   Maurice Jarre, multiple Oscar Winner, most composers would love to have half his awards and honours, but you can tell his music a mile off, even before his name comes up on the credits.  They score the film well, of course they do, but to me they score it from the outside; they bring their undeniable talents to the movie, but what you hear is what you get.

The other side of the coin is the composer who subjugates his style, personality, his musical traits, to serve the film first, write as much or as little music they feel it needs.  No musical wallpaper here.  To these elite band of composers, serving the film  is paramount above all, even it means, at the end, if you asked someone watching the film, what did you think of the music, they might say what music?.  That is not to say they can’t write good themes, memorable themes, but that is a secondary consideration. These, to me are the true artists in the undeniable art of film music.

I don’t know enough to comment on the current crop of composers here and the Stats. From the little I have heard; some can’t even write music.  though I have heard some good music from France, and believe it not, Russia and the Eastern Europe, but in the UK. Film and Television music has vanished.

More so then to savour the composers that serve us well, and composers who put the needs of the film first. I think with genuine admiration of the music of  Nic Bicat, who’s collaborations with Clive Donner and Philip Ridley come to mind, but, to me  there is only one who epitomises all what I have been trying to say, and that composer is Richard Hartley.

I may be totally wrong here but I think the first film I saw scored by Richard was one of Rank’s attempts in the late 70s to enter the world of film production once more, a remake of THE LADY VANISHES  but this time in wide screen and in colour.   The principal theme used over the credits was composed by the wonderful Les Reed, and the theme was used a musical device later in the film, but, I am getting ahead of myself here. The obvious question most interviewers ask Film Composers , and I am no exception, for after all, unless you are  like Jerry Goldsmith and born in LA , most composers , don’t start their career writing for the Cinema, so how did it all start?

” In the early 1960s there was a film review programme on the radio and they played clips from new films, s one would hear dialogue but they were often underscored, that was my first introduction to the art of film music.  I started piano lessons at the age of 5 and studied music theory then later orchestration and composition when I lived in Paris in 1966. My first film was a documentary about Gerard Manley Hopkins followed by one about Achille Island, they were both student films directed by a friend of mine. In the early 1970s I did orchestrations for Chappell’s the publishers and overdubbed strings on Reggae Records for Trojan then met Jim Sharman who hired me to write music for a play written by Sam Shepard that he was directing at the Royal Court. He also directed “The Rocky Horror Show” and that is how it all began.”

I would have the thought the main breakthrough came with Joe Losey, though I suspect he had very firm ideas on the use of music in his films? 

“My first film with Joe was Brecht’s “Galileo” which Joe had directed on Broadway with Charles Laughton. It was part of a series of plays that were filmed for The American Film Theatre, I ‘d recently returned from Sydney where I had been the Musical Director for a production of The Threepenny Opera in the opening season at the Sydney Opera  House. I orchestrated Han’s Eisler’s songs and wrote the incidental music.  Joe was very happy with my work and hired me for his next film “The Romantic Englishwoman”. He told me the story of “The Go-Between”!   Joe hated the way Hollywood films were scored but mostly left the spotting and discussions about the music to me and his long time editor. Reggie Beck”

I think we must be near THE LADY VANISHES now.  I personally enjoyed   it far more than Hitchcock’s somewhat over-rated movie, and this had the advantages of a all star cast, and filmed on location.  The only thing that spoilt it for me was Cybill Shepherds well over the top heroine, but it is a flaw I can well overlook.   I wondered if there was ever a soundtrack LP envisaged, as one did appear for Ed Welch’s THE 39 STEPS.?

“My music contractor worked with Philip Martell on many Hammer films and he made the introduction. The Les Reed music was already in place but I fitted it to the film and Bob Stewart and I orchestrated it. A soundtrack was mentioned but never materialized”

There was feeling around that time that you didn’t do many movies, am I right?

” Yes that is right. I was producing records for a while and also a Musical at the Royal Court (Theatre) which I am afraid wasn’t a success.  During that period I scored THE LADY VANISHES for Hammer and the next film was BAD TIMING for Nic Roeg.  I knew Jeremy Thomas (the Producer) from years ago, when he was a Editor.   Nic always paid the most unbelievable attention to detail, even for the smallest things. He had heard a particular piece of music in a cutting room somewhere and asked me if I knew what it was. Funnily enough, I knew it was a French Bass player called Francois Rabat, who has a unusual style of playing the Double Bass, anyway we found him, recorded this piece that Nic had heard, and then it had to be remixed, etc. and eventually what had started out as a two-day job went on for months!

I think Nic was the first Director I worked with who really loved music and so was Bernardo Bertolucci.  They both held the view that it was part of the fabric of Cinema”  On BAD TIMING, the brief was to re-record the Pachelbel Canon and a Beethoven Overture, but it didn’t end there  and there and three months later I was still working on the film. I think we re-recorded one short cue 3 times before Nic was happy. On STEALING BEAUTY, there was contemporary soundtrack but Bernardo also wanted a composed film score so that was a much easier to film to work on.

Then I did a film called BAD BLOOD. It was originally intended for the Cinema and partly financed by Southern TV.   SHOCK TREATMENT at the time was going to be a sequel to THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW.   but it really ended up a mess!   The script was continually being changed and we had to adapt the songs to the new script as we went along.  The original was a total Hammer horror sequel, with Frankenstein rising from the grave and that sort of thing!  I don’t think Fox fully realized what movie genre it basically was. I think they wanted something else – something different”

I am not sure if we are in sequence here, but it doesn’t really matter.  Then there was SHEENA!

“Ah yes SHEENA !  I had been in France doing a film with Joe Losey – in fact, I had done two with him- one was DON GIOVANNI and I went to help him mix the music. It really needed a lot of technical work to sort it out and in fact I spent some three months on it.   Joe then did a film that didn’t come out here called LA TRUITE and the Producer was doing this SHEENA film with John Guillermin   The main theme for SHEENA was a demo I had written in the late 1970s for a music library company but they rejected it, then it was to be the B side of Torvill and Dean’s BOLERO single. 

John Guillermin  wanted to hear some of my music , so I gave him a cassette, but for some reason or other I had left on this Torvill and Dean B side.  They just loved it and got Columbia to buy it, and then John got me to do the rest.   First they flew me out to Kenya to play tunes on a piano, and then to Guinea to record Ballet African.  I very nearly ended up in jail as I had no visa – I just bluffed my way in – The film had to be finished by a certain date so they would dub two reels, I’d write the music and it went on like that. Sometimes I’d have only have 3 minutes of music and we would have a orchestra booked in all day!  There were long sequences, ten-minute cues, travelogues long shots of flamingoes – no plot!  I remember John sending me the script and saying, “You won’t understand it – this is being made for American audiences. The record sold well though! SHEENA, has endured because I think it’s referenced in the Best of the Worst Film category.  It was my first film using synthesizers. On some cues we had 23tracks of synths and 23 tracks of orchestra synched up using smpte code……. often a precarious venture”.

Richard has worked on many Films and Series for Television so it is difficult to know where to start, but how about the Mini Series KENNEDY with Martin Sheen and Blair Brown.

“I had a great time doing that. It was the first film I had worked with Jim Goddard. There were a number of gospel songs in the script and there were a lot of violent scenes in the fil , so instead of violins etc, we decided to play against it and we recorded Gospel Singers. It was too expensive to use Mahalia Jackson, but I had seen this Gospel picture called SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY and there was this woman in it with a absolutely incredible voice , not well known but we tracked her down. – she was a school teacher!  We went to this Baptist Church and in one weekend we recorded everything we required. I like doing things like that which need a lot of source music”   We also recorded the U.S. Marine Band playing Sousa Marches. KENNEDY was a joy and I worked on it for several months”

In 1985, Richard scored the Screen Two movie THE MACGUFFIN, obviously a tribute to Hitchcock, and as well as Charles Dance, there were marvellous cameos from Anna Massey and Ann Todd, both from earlier Hitchcock movies.   The principal theme I have never forgotten after all these years, and I am very curious about this one.   

“I borrowed from everybody for that one!  Jerry Goldsmith at the beginning with a bit of CHINATOWN and a bit of THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY in the middle. The Director was a Hitchcock devotee and there was a scene in a park with a dog, and there was a kind of comedy – thriller music that Herrmann was very good at writing. I am sure it wasn’t tongue in cheek but that was the way it came out, so that was the way he wanted it to come out.  Instead of borrowing the scene entirely, I took notes from it, and we had the sound of the dog as well. I think we mixed it down so it didn’t sound too obvious, we had  the two notes and the dog barking in the gap.. There was a bit of Rossini in the middle as well, and the Director also liked Pino Donaggio, a sort of over – the – top – Herrmann, so I think we had a bit of everyone in the film”   “There was one thing about THE MACGUFFIN when it was being dubbed. The Producer thought it was too loud, too long, too over the top. It was very popular, especially with younger people .It had that fast, almost American approach to film making”

Marvellous, marvellous movie which can still be viewed on You-tube.  Richard also worked for the same director again for HIGH TIDE.  this time going even further down the Hitchcock – and Herrmann route. Ian McShane comes out of Jail and travels down to the West Country to find out more about the people that got him into prison in the first place.  Here he encounters John Bird and Kika Markham. Very much a West Country noir!   If there was any downside, it was just the narration, just when all you wanted to hear was the music.

“Colin Bucksey (the Director) is a big fan of Hitchcock and I of Herrmann. We even recorded the score at Denham with Eric Tomlinson who had recorded several films with Herrmann. This was a piece of total self-indulgence but it worked with the film. I think Colin would have shot it in black and white if he had been allowed……….. and there was a lot of music”.

Back tracking somewhat, Richard worked on a major BBC series in the late 1970s that was extremely popular, so much so in fact that it is still available to watch on DVD, and that is PENMARRIC.

” I wrote the music for the first 4 episodes but had previous commitments, so I suggested Bob Stewart to the Producers, and he expanded my themes for the other episodes. The music budget was OK as it was the big Autumn costume drama for 1979. Given the time I would orchestrate myself but often that’s not possible.. I do however make very comprehensive sketches…… Bob Stewart in the early days and then John Bell, sadly both no longer with us”.  

There was also Patricia Hodge in JEMIMA SHORE INVESTIGATES somewhat later.

” I scored all the JEMINA SHORE episodes with al little re-imagining of Vivaldi for the Title music at the suggestion of producer Verity Lambert”

There was another Screen Two movie – amongst many – entitled THE IMPOSSIBLE SPY. 

 ” It was a very good film and very popular, winning the American Cable Award. It told the true story of a man who spied for Israel and at the same time was a member of the Syrian Cabinet.   Another film I did THE GOOD FATHER won the Italia Prize. There was no money on that one at all and we did it with just two guitars and a piano. That was with Mike Newell. Most of the films were low budget and on one I even subsidised the recording, but generally he lets me get on with it, play a few ideas, then finesse them in the studio…….if there was time!  .  On GREAT EXPECTATIONS, there was a reasonable budget but the Producers wanted to see/hear the score with the film so I had to supply orchestral simulations. I think he only asked me to change one cue”

TUMBLEDOWN with Colin Firth got Richard a nomination for his score,

 ” Richard Eyre is another director who loves music. He had used a piece of stirring music by William Walton over the titles to slightly ‘ape’ the war movies of the 1950s, two guys thrilled at the thought of going into battle, the film contrasts the brutalities of war with the equally callous treatment of British Solider’s who are injured serving their country and the way Robert Lawrence adjusted to his new disability. We couldn’t use the Walton music. Again, Richard wasn’t afraid of using music and we had a large orchestra by BBC standards”

If TUMBLEDOWN needed a English approach, so did CONSUMING PASSIONS and THE RECTOR’S WIFE. 

  “It was laid up with Holst. I love working with orchestras and on CONSUMING PASSIONS we had a very large orchestra. Both very English with quotations from Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Finzi. but all in the best possible taste!

It is only recently I came across a film Richard scored entitled VICTORY (1996) with William Defoe and based on a novel by Joseph Conrad.  I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but stuck with it for obvious reasons, and was well rewarded with an excellent film that passed me by all those years ago.  The score works so well, but not in an outwardly spectacular way. 

” This was a Miramax co-production so the heavy hand of Harvey Weinstein and his ‘interest’ in music meant I was the third composer for the film. We recorded over 60 minutes of fairly complicated orchestral music in 4 sessions thanks to brilliant musicians and impeccable engineering by Chris Dibble at CTS in Wembley.  Every single cue had to be tempted up using synthesisers, then mixed with the film and sent to Miramax before they would sign off on the score, we received  final approval on the Saturday before we recorded on the following Monday. It was an intense 5 weeks working fourteen hour days but I was very happy with the score and consider it to be amongst the best I have written”

Towards the end of the 1990s, you would have seen Richard’s name on a number of film from the Hallmark Organisation, mainly remakes of classic stories, DON QUIXOTE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and THE LION IN WINTER. It is a tribute to Richard’s scoring of the latter, that I never thought of the famed score for the earlier movie with the same name!  I wondered how these projects came about? 

  “They came through Dyson Lovell who approached me to score ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I’d never worked for him before but he said he’d looked at my credits and seen I had worked with many directors several times so he assumed I wouldn’t be a difficult person to work with!   Initially I had reservations about ALICE so they showed me around the Jim Henson workshop with all the different special effects they’d been working on, both Chris Thompson and Dyson were very committed to the project so I accepted”

DON QUIXOTE is just a wonderful film and score, and the middle of a very wet winter, it seems even more of a joy to watch. and whilst I have never been to Spain, just close your eyes and listen to the music and you would think you were there!   

 ” The Philharmonia Orchestra, Abbey Road Studio1 and a generous budget….. I was in heaven. Peter Yates the director pretty much left the music up to me, in fact he was on holiday when we recorded  but his son was the Editor and the only change we made was a triangle for a cymbal crash towards the end. Dyson Lovell was the producer and he trusted me, and I received an Emmy nominatio. It was a huge canvas to work with and a chance to compose a neo-romantic score”

Sadly a lot of BBC SCREEN TWO and BBC 1 equivalent remains unseen since their first showing, and many before the advent of VHS recorders. Thankfully there are many movies that Richard scored easily available on DVD and on occasion Blu Ray.  TALKING TO A STRANGER, HITLERS S.S.  ARMADILLO– the latter worth a look very strange and quirky later BBC production, the afore mentioned JEMINA SHORE, DON QUIXOTE, LION IN WINTER and superb USA Blu Ray of SHEENA which is a excellent print.   Another wonderful score can be heard in THE SECRET RAPTURE.  A very moving movie and the cast is just superb. The music is beyond belief. 

“It is a very sad story, originally a stage play. I worked very hard on this score , the music budget was minimal and the trumpet (the late great Derek Watkins)was recorded in the kitchen of my engineer friend Phil Chapman. There is a hint of the melodramatic scores of yester-year but underneath the orchestra are some very elaborate synthetic shapes. Thanks for the compliment”.

Oh yes, one more that I watched recently and shows so well how Richard merges his music into the, well, already mentioned the fabric of the film so it is almost another character. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS with a superb performance by Geoffrey Rush.   I thought it might be a difficult film to score?   

“It was although the Director had some firm ideas about what he wanted which always helps. The main difficulty was we were due to record in early January, I’d  tempted up all the cues and they had been synched up with the film but the head of HBO was on Christmas Holiday and no one wanted to sign off on the score before he did , so I had Abbey Road studio 2 and a orchestra on hold………..!  The score had one theme that is used in Seller’s relationship with his mother also quite a bit of  ‘source music’ that I composed and as his performance and personality continually changes from film to film , so does the music.”

To conclude I asked Richard about scoring here and abroad, and the current state of movie music?

“I like the European approach to a picture, and I suppose Morricone was the prime example of this. Some of the music is totally incongruous and may have nothing to do with what you are watching, but because he had a clever harmonic structure, it never quite moves when you think it is going to.  Jerry Goldsmith was one of the most consistent composers and he had a style all of his own.

Film music has evolved beyond recognition over the past 50 years. especially with the use of synthesizers and there is probably more music in films now than in the golden era of Hollywood. Some film composers are now deservedly celebrities and their scores are performed as concert pieces, there is a great interest in how they are composed and recorded and the list of musicians composing for film is ever expanding.   When you think back to Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ a score which to my mind was the first serious use of orchestral sound design, Goldsmith’s only electronic aid was the echoplex (which he used to great effect in ‘Patton’) but his atonal orchestral textures combined with a vast array of ethnic instruments and percussion can now be easily simulated in minutes using samples and synthesizers.

It only takes a second to get a good idea……….. It’s just getting that idea!     That good idea can take a while, I’d often sit at the piano and improvise. 

sometimes that nugget would emerge. If not, try, try again!”

I felt I must go back to my observations that Richard doesn’t like to make the music draw attention to itself, unless it needs to, perhaps over the Main Titles.  ” I’ve always tried to employ a minimalist approach to underscore even before it was fashionable and called ‘sound design’, some directors liked it, others wanted a more up front approach”

This then is Richard Hartley, a music man for all seasons.  A composer who scores what he sees, and perhaps more importantly, what you don’t see!

I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this article, and I hope you will investigate Richard’s music by listening to some of his recordings.  I most certainly recommend the following.

THE LION IN WINTER  Varese Sarabande  VSD-6571

ALICE IN WONDERLAND Varese Sarabande VSD-6021

AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE  Filmtracks TRXCD 2001

PRINCESS CARABOO   Varese Sarabande  VSD-554.

A THOUSAND ACRES   Varese Sarabande  VSD-5870

DON QUIXOTE Varese Sarabande VSD-6142

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Metropolis  8781017

SHEENA Varese Sarabande  Club  VCL 1104. (very rare)

With thanks to Richard Hartley, for his time, courtesy, friendship and most importantly, his patience.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Peter Kent who passed away a few years back, and loved Richard’s music as much as I still do now.  I hope he would have approved though I think he might have said it more eloquently  

© 2020 John Williams.

SOUNdtrack supplement twenty nine.

Ok here we go once again it’s time for another look at the latest soundtrack releases and there are quite a few this time, whether they are all interesting or not is another matter, quantity does not always mean quality does it?. I thought maybe I would fit in just another soundtrack supplement before Christmas, but the way things are going it looks like maybe another two or three will be on the cards before the big day. (if the big day happens that is as we know it) Christmas will we are informed by the powers that be somewhat different this year, no realy? So let’s start off with something that is seasonal and I say seasonal because after all it is the end of November and I have already heard THE FAIRY TALE OF NEW YORK about thirty times on the radio (the edited PC version of course) and also seen the crème eggs waiting in their thousands to be placed on shelves on Christmas eve.

I thought to begin maybe we should go back to happier times and look at a British movie from a while ago, (1970) and a film that was a musical setting of a tale penned by Charles Dickens. SCROOGE was an adaption of the authors famous tale from Christmas in Victorian times, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, I know the movie had a mixed reaction when it first went into theatres in the UK and the U.S.A. After all Albert Finney although being a fine actor, is certainly no singer, but I think it actually worked, after all Ebenezer Scrooge would not strike me as a person who would want to burst into song and make a pleasant job of it, Finney mainly spoke the lyrics, and I have to say for the most part it was rather effective and dare I say it endearing in a way. Released in 1970 SCROOGE was the work of Leslie Bricusse who wrote the book and lyrics and co-wrote the music with composer Ian Fraser.  music. The movie also starred Alec Guinness, Kenneth More, Edith Evans, Roy Kinnear and a number of familiar British actors.  Finney won Best Actor at the Golden Globes in 1971, for his portrayal of the irascible Scrooge. And the film became a firm favourite after its initial release, which is shown almost every year at Christmas time on TV all around the world. 

The soundtrack was issued at the time of the film’s release in a gatefold edition, on the Columbia label and contained the now familiar numbers such as I HATE PEOPLE, THANKYOU VERY MUCH, I LIKE LIFE, YOU, YOU, SEE THE PHANTOMS etc. Ok I must admit I like it and it is a bit of a tradition that in my house it is mandatory that we sit and watch this every year, normally Christmas Eve, no if’s, buts or whatever’s. It is I think a feel-good film because we all know that old Ebenezer will come good in the end. It’s a funny thing that SCROOGE was committed to film first and then was adapted for the stage, it opened in 1992 in Birmingham with Anthony Newley in the title role, and later moved to London’s West End, the supporting cast was strong in the form of Jon Pertwee, Stratford Johns, and Tom Watt.

The show was revived in 2012 with the legendary entertainer Tommy Steele taking the lead, bringing his own style and persona to the role of the bitter Ebenezer Scrooge. Like another Charles Dickens novel that was turned into a musical OLIVER. SCROOGE has taken its place in British film and musical stage show history. 

Ok from a musical we head back to the film scores that have been released recently, and as I hinted in the opening of this article we are spoilt for choice. THE BOY IN THE SNOW I think contains a highly atmospheric score, it maybe not the most grandiose work, but it has its moments, the composer Philip Eisenfeldt, has crafted a tense yet melodically affecting score, in which we are treated to mesmerising pieces and dark rich passages that work so well together, the differing styles complimenting and supporting each other throughout.  The composer utilises to maximum effect slight choral nuances that are underlined by woods and laced with subtle string performances, it is a score that one will sit and listen to and before one realises it it’s over, but this is because it is so effective, not only as a score but as music to be savoured and appreciated away from any storyline or imagery. It is one I recommend you take a listen to.

Like Philip Eisenfeldt composer Patrick Kirst is a new name for me. His latest work BREAKING SURFACE is an intensely apprehensive soundtrack. The music creating tension and foreboding and purveying a sense of claustrophobia and fear. But it is a score that also has its less edgy moments, and I would suggest the digital platforms to investigate these. 

THE DESCENDANTS is a TV movie from the Disney stable, with music by Canadian born Actor and composer David Lawrence, all I am going to say is WOW.. I love this soundtrack, the score is just crammed full of beautiful thematic material, and if I was asked to say who this composers style is similar to I would have to drop in names such as James Horner, John Williams and John Debney, there is so much rich melodious content within this fully symphonic wildly romantic and dramatic work. I have to comment and say this is at the top of my list of the late November releases, there is a plethora of musical notions within the soundtrack that are both fearsome and magical, it is overflowing with an abundance of haunting musical poems that are delicate, intricate and above all enriching, inspiring and entertaining. The story is set twenty years after Belle and the Beast have married, and have become King and Queen of the United States of AURADON, after they became King and Queen they banished all villains to the isle of the lost, which is a slum that has a barrier around it where all magic is forbidden.

Belle and The Beast  have a son Ben, who decides that he wants to allow four children from the isle of the lost to be given the chance to live in Auradon, and he chooses, the son of Cruella de Ville Carlos, Evie the daughter of the Evil Queen Mal the daughter of Maleficent and the son of Jafar Jay. Unbeknown to Ben and his parents, Maleficent has instructed the four offspring to steal the fairy Godmothers wand so that she can release the barrier on magic around the isle and take control of Aura. Lawrence’s powerful and romantically laced score aids the movie greatly and is an important and vital part of its storyline.

An animated feature next, DRAGON RIDER, in which we follow a young silver dragon who teams up with a mountain spirit and an orphaned boy on a journey through the Himalayas in search for the Rim of Heaven. The score is by composer Stefan Maria Schneider who worked on HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON as an orchestrator for John Powell. And one can certainly hear certain little quirks of orchestration within DRAGON RIDER that we also heard in the Powell score. This is a great little score, I say little mainly because many of the cues are rather brief as in less than a minute in duration, I think the longest cue is around three minutes, which is entitled TEMPLE OF THE DRAGON RIDER that has a content that ranges from apprehensive, dramatic and action led to downbeat and slightly martial, which is certainly no mean feat in a relatively short amount of time, The thing I like about this score is it never becomes boring, it is go, go, go, but also the composer infuses a mischievous air into the proceedings, that keeps it fresh, vibrant and robust. The score is as far as I can make out mainly symphonic, with maybe a few electronic passages which are mainly for enhancement and support. Strings and brass with underlying percussive support are the main stay of the work, plus the composer enlists chorale support at times. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (29 September 1864 – 31 December 1936) was a Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright, philosopher, professor of Greek and Classics, and later rector at the University of Salamanca. And it is he who is the subject of the documentary PALABRAS PARA UN FIN DEL MUNDO (WORDS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD).  His major philosophical essay was The Tragic Sense of Life (1912), and his most famous novel was Abel Sánchez: The History of a Passion (1917), a modern account of the Cain and Abel story. The music for the documentary is by accomplished composer Ivan Palomares, one only has to mention this Maestro’s name or see it on the credits of a movie etc, to know that this will be a work that will be innovative, inventive and affecting.

This is a subtle work, sparsely scored with delicate touches and fleeting sounds which at times drift into soundscape rather than what we as collectors refer to as musical score, although it is in no way un-musical or unmelodic. The work is a mix of both electronic and conventional instrumentation, with piano featuring throughout, the composer also utilises cello for solo performances which adds a touch of melancholy and deeper emotion to the work. Released on Movie Score Media. As I have already said the recent batch of releases have excelled in quantity, but maybe the quality is not as high as it could have been, it’s a sorry state when we get something in the region of thirty plus releases of soundtracks and more than half of these are quite flat in the quality and entertainment departments, but as I always say this is my own personal opinion, and I always recommend that you check out as many new releases as you are able to via digital platforms, it’s a good way to try before you buy, if that is a CD release is available. So that is why invariably I try and look for and include something that is vintage or has been issued before in the past decade that maybe collectors could have overlooked, and in these times of more and more records as in vinyl making a return some soundtracks are now being given an LP format release which for many is welcomed news.

The soundtrack for the Italian made western THE BOUNTY HUNTERS (INDIO BLACK/ADIOS SABATA) for example, this fantastically fun spaghetti score has long been a favourite of mine and many others, Bruno Nicolai penning a Morricone style soundtrack for the Yul Brynner gimmicky and quirky western tale. Brynner taking on the central role of Sabata and making it his own and a portrayal of an already established character that had originally hit the screens in the form of Lee Van Cleef, the score by Nicolai is I suppose and I hope that you will agree with me on this one Text book Italian western, the score was never released on vinyl, its first full release was on compact disc when Hillside/GDM records released it, at the same time the label also issued the SABATA and THE RETURN OF SABATA  soundtracks on another compact disc, since then the scores have all been re-issued some with extra tracks by other labels. Which has been the norm with Italian scores of all genres, we get what we think is the complete soundtrack released but then we get some months later an expanded version, and after this a definitive edition, and now we are getting vinyl releases of the same scores all over again.

So is this record companies just making collectors shell out again and again or are these really worth having, the latter I fear is not the answer in my opinion, but I suppose that if the record companies re-issue material again and again and the collectors buy them well it’s the collectors choice isn’t it.

I have always prescribed to the saying LESS IS MORE and I for one am happy with soundtracks that I have and have never seen the need to go out and get a copy of a score I already have because a label has re-issued it with two minutes of extra music or a suite or karaoke version of a track on it,  to be honest these karaoke versions or suites are a con, most of them being put together at the labels mastering stage by engineers or producers and none of them being used in the original soundtrack or having anything to do with the composer of the score.

However, I am pleased to see scores such as THE BOUNTY HUNTERS on vinyl, (Dagored records) in orange as well as being a two LP set. SABATA was of course originally issued on LP record at first on the Japanese UA label then later came an American release. It’s great to hold a new album again, there is just something about the feeling and the excitement of placing the record on the deck and lowering the stylus onto it. Maybe more will see the light of day very soon, although saying this the renewed interest in vinyl is surging forward and outstripping the sale of cd’s and downloads in recent months. Maybe its something to do with lockdown, because people need feel good things and vinyl is certainly that. It would be great if record companies did re-issue a lot of spaghetti westerns onto LP record, as long as they use the original art work that is, the Italian western soundtrack was renowned for its stunning art work, and I would be made up to see it all again in sealed releases.

So, to a few more recent titles, UNSEEN is an accomplished and strangely attractive score composed by Eloi Ragot. It is dark and chilling in places and has to it a fearsome and somewhat uneasy style that establishes an even more unsettling mood at times.  But there are a number of different atmospheres and musical colours and textures contained within the soundtrack, these range from the dark and unsure to the more romantic and even the melancholy and reassuring. The composer utilising piano, strings and cello in key points to purvey a sound that is either sad or hopeful. It is an enjoyable soundtrack, and one that is both varied and haunting.

 UNEARTH by Jane Saunders is too an interesting release, I would not say interesting for melodic reasons, but for the use of atmospherics and for also creating textured moods and for the fashioning of musical passages that are thickly compelling in a macabre kind of way, the score seems to convey to the listener a tormented persona, but also has to it in certain areas a subtle and even attractive sound. Both UNSEEN and UNEARTH are available on digital platforms.   

Other titles that are worth a listen include, GATHER by Michael A Levine, DEMONS SOULS (VG) by Shunsuke Kida, OUTBACK by Justin Bell, Mark Mothersbaugh’s quite epic but quirky sounding THE CROODS A NEW AGE proving that he is such an underatted composer once again, LA CINTA DE ALEX by Antonio Escobar and Martin Phipps’s excellent score for THE CROWN -SEASON FOUR. See you next time in soundtrack supplement thirty.

TALKING TO COMPOSER BENJAMIN SYMONS.

Composer, musician and songwriter from London, England. He has had great successes making a name for himself in the UK independent film and trailer music circuit. His reputation for quality, drive, enthusiasm and fast turn-around in seemingly impossible deadlines while always keeping to a brief and tapping into the emotional core of the scene ensures he is the go to composer for those who use him time and time again.

Composer Benjamin Symons will probably not be that familiar to collectors and film music fans, but it is probably true to say you may have heard his music in trailers etc. I would like to thank the composer for answering my questions, and I began the interview by asking about one of his recent works for feature film, HOSTS.

How did you become involved on the picture?

I’ve been very good friends with Richard Oakes and Adam Leader for a while and I actually scored Richards first short film Exit Plan. We had already been friends for years before we did Exit Plan together and we’ll be friends and hopefully work together for many years to come.

What size orchestra did you have for the movie and what was the percentage of conventional instruments in relation to synthetic elements?

This may come as a surprise (hopefully) but given the budget constraints on HOSTS – we made the whole film for under £20k there was no budget at all for recording of any kind so everything you hear on the HOSTS score has been created by using and manipulating sample libraries. 

Well that’s amazing because you fooled me totally I have to say. The movie is a Canadian production, was the film shot there and also did you record the score there?

It would seem I have indeed tricked you into believing my score is comprised of a real orchestra which pleases me greatly! But realistically I have no idea how big of an orchestra we would have required…but ideally a big one! The film was actually filmed entirely in the Oxfordshire countryside at the director Richards house that we redecorated for the film!

Was the movie temp tracked at all, or did the director have specific ideas regarding the music for the movie? 

The movie had no temp track at all but I actually worked on the set of the film all the way through production mostly as Script Supervisor and that gave me a huge deal of insight into what I wanted to achieve and watching the horrendous scene that takes place over a Christmas dinner inspired the track Skull Cracker Suite which I originally demoed during production. I actually wrote a lot of demos throughout the production which they used to roughly temp the film prior to me writing the score. Prior to shooting Richard and I would also talk a lot about the film and the music over pints at the pub.

The score is very thematic do you think that a theme is important to the development of a score?

I’m glad you feel that way. I think the use of themes works on a scale and not all films require the same level of thematic work. I put a lot of time into establishing the musical pallet of the film so the score its self in its entirely has a cohesive sound that uniquely identifies it’s self as being HOSTS and I think that is as important as writing actual musical themes. 

How does scoring a feature film for general release compare with working on independent productions and trailers? 

Scoring a film is great because for the most part I am being directly inspired by what I see and feel on screen whereas production music and trailers relies on you creating the world and emotions in your head and trying to convey them through music without any visual aid and I really enjoy both!

What are your first memories of any music and what composer’s artists etc would you say have influenced you?

My earliest memory of film music is JAWS. I broke my leg and was in hospital in a bed and it was on TV, I was terrified at 5 years old and it was back in the day so I had no remote so was forced to watch. But the moment I realised I wanted to start writing film music was Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator.

Do you conduct at all and do you work on your own orchestrations?

I am yet to have the opportunity to have any of my music recorded by an orchestra and so I am also yet to conduct. I think I would like to learn but I also feel like I’d probably rather be in the control room listening so I can be that annoying composer giving notes and feedback on what I’m looking for.

How many times did you watch HOSTS before deciding what style of music you would employ and where it would be placed to best serve the movie?

I actually had the sound 90% dialled in before I started scoring the film. I wrote 9-10 demo with different feelings and way of playing with the thematic ideas I had established. The last 10% came when I actually started scoring the film, I realised my demos were too big, too much going on, so I stripped them back a bit and I (and the directors) were happy.

The soundtrack is on digital platforms, will there be a CD release, and did you have any involvement in the compiling of the tracks for the release?

I honestly don’t know. If I were to do a physical CD or Vinyl release, I would have to do that off my own back as we don’t have big studio backing. I would also much prefer to release my first vinyl or CD when I have a score that has been recorded for real.

You have recently completed a score for the short film Eastern Front: Point of no Return and are involved on four more productions, is it difficult to juggle your time when working on more than one project at one time?

It can be. There was a gap in production on HOSTS where we shot 2/3rds of the film then had to wait for colder weather to shoot the outdoor scenes and in that gap, I scored POINT OF NO RETURN. It can be tough because you get into a distinct flow when you’re working on a project and to snap out of that and dive into something different only to then have to get back into the right mindset to finish HOSTS around six months later was tough but that’s the job!

How do you work out your musical ideas, do you sit at keyboard or use computer etc?

I have a midi keyboard that can play any of the instruments in my sample libraries. I have a rule where every new project I always build a brand-new template of sounds that I want to use otherwise if I use a pre-built template the temptation would be to repeat myself. The key thing that inspires me is I love to start writing with the sounds I want to use. So, if it’s going to be a piano driven score, I’ll start with piano for example.

Would you say it is more difficult to score a short than work on a feature film?

I do not think either of them are more or less difficult. Each come with their own unique set of challenges. Short films, in my experience tend to be more dialogue heavy and you have a lot less time and space to establish a musical identity for the film. The challenge with a feature is simply you need to write a lot more music than you do for a short!

What musical education dd you have, and did you focus upon any specific area of music at all?

After secondary school, I spent 1 year at The Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford and I studied guitar and achieved a National Diploma, at the time I was in a heavy metal band called Malefice and as far as I was concerned at 17 that was enough for me. Outside of that I am completely non-musically educated, I can’t read music and I don’t know my music theory, but I have good ears and I trust them to guide me.

My thanks to the composer for his time and for so many interesting answers to my questions, If you would like to hear another interview with the composer, listen out for news of one on Cinematic Sound radio, with Jason Drury, which will be hitting the airwaves soon.