All posts by jonman492000

CAPED CRUSADERS AND OTHER SUPERHEROES. PART 1.

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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AN OVERLOOKED GENIUS, COMPOSER JOHN MORRIS.

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John Morris was in my opinion such an underrated and undervalued composer of film scores. We all and rightly so associate him with the works of film maker Mel Brooks, but because the Brooks films were invariably comedy many seemed to dismiss Morris as a composer who could only work on comedies or satires as produced by Brooks, these being THE PRODUCERS, SILENT MOVIE, BLAZING SADDLES and also YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. But I was always told by various composers that the hardest genre of film to work on was comedy, because the composer had to get the timing exact and also dare not go over the top musically for fear of stealing the verbal and visual punchlines.

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But Morris to coin a cliché was chameleon like when it came to writing for film and I am of the opinion that YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a perfect example of his scoring prowess, his innovative talent and his obvious gift for melody and also his precise and accurate execution of placing music in exactly the right place to either highlight a moment of drama or more often than not to underline and add weight to a punchline within the storyline or in a particular scene. Sadly, the actual score for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN has never received an official release, yes there was the version which included excerpts of the composers score but this release focused mainly on the dialogue from the movie itself. I could never understand why the score was not issued as it is probably one of the composers most accomplished works for cinema and stands alongside more serious efforts such as THE ELEPHANT MAN and THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS.

 

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There was so much more to this composer than the scores he produced for filmmaker Brooks, Born John Leonard Morris on October 18th 1926 in Elizabeth New Jersey, it was evident that Morris would be involved with music because as a three year old he began to take interest in all things musical and also started to learn how to play the piano. His family re-located to Kansas where Morris continued to take an interest in piano, but in the 1940.s Morris moved back to New York City where he studied music at Julliard School and at The New School for social research. From the early 1950’s through till the 1970’s Morris began to work composing incidental music and writing musical numbers for various Broadway shows. In 1966 he wrote his own musical entitled A TIME FOR SINGING, but also worked on other shows which included HAMLET, MACK AND MABEL, DEAR WORLD and BAKER STREET. It was whilst working on Broadway that Morris met Mel Brooks and they collaborated on two shows, SHINBONE ALLEY in 1957 and ALL AMERICAN in 1962.

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It was these early collaborations that led to Morris working with Brooks on THE PRODUCERS when he penned the number SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER and created the underscore for the production. This was the beginning of a collaboration that was to last many years and include twenty movies. Many people in the world of film and film music mention great composer director collaborations such as Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, Spielberg and Williams and Herrmann and Hitchcock, but maybe they should focus upon the Brooks, Morris partnership also. It is a partnership that has produced numerous moments of excellence within cinema history, where music and film just come together to create stunning and memorable combinations. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is one of those movies where the composer and the director are in tune with each other, Brooks creating his own take on a classic horror film, and Morris scoring the comedy led movie with music that at times is less than comedic, but is melodic and haunting.

 

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Brooks filmed YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in black and white, which of course was a direct acknowledgement to those Universal horrors of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Morris too paid his own homage to the Universal years with a score that had many nods to composers such as Hans J Salter and Roy Webb who worked on these monster movies and others. This romantic and melodic approach can be heard within the composition which has become known as THE TRANSYLVANIAN LULLABY, a composition that became the core theme for Morris’s score, the composer introducing the theme within the opening track which played over the films main title credits. It is maybe also the pre-cursor to the theme that John Williams penned for SHCINDLERS LIST.

 

Morris utilised the lilting and melancholy sounding theme performed by a fragile and heartfelt solo violin as the theme for the Monster, which was a masterful way of accompanying Frankenstein’s creation, and gave it heart and actually made the watching audience feel empathy for it. The theme is central to the films storyline and the composer s affecting and beautiful composition becomes not just a background to the story but an important and integral piece of the film and the foundation on which the composer builds the remainder of his score. Morris also scored films for actors such as Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman who had starred in a few Brooks movies, these included THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOMES SMARTER BROTHER, THE LAST RE-MAKE OF BUE GESTE, and THE WORLDS GREATEST LOVER among them.


Morris dd not score two Brooks films because he was committed elsewhere according to the filmmaker, these were ROBIN HOOD MEN IN TIGHTS and DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT, both of which had scores by composer Hummie Mann. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was released in 1974, and although on reflection on the occasion of the films 40th Anniversary Brooks said he considered it his finest work, but probably not his funniest.

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The score for this gothic laced spoof of the classic Mary Shelly story, starred Gene Wilder as Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Marty Feldman as Igor, Peter Boyle as the Monster, Terri Garr as Inga, Madeline Kahn as Elizabeth and Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher (thunder and lightning effects with a horse neighing wildly). The film also featured Gene Hackman as Harold the Blind man. I think the movie is something of an acquired taste, but then if you have seen anything by Brooks I am sure you know what I mean, and yes I have to agree with the film maker when he said it was not his funniest move, but it is still a good one and also a movie that itself influenced other productions. Considering the film was in essence a comedy or a satire on a classic tale, composer Morris played it straight when it came to the music, and although there were a handful of punchline musical moments, for example when Frankenstein meets Igor and when Wilder declares he is indeed a Frankenstein.

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For the most part the composer scored away from the comedic content, the score becoming the straight man to the director’s funny man approach which came across wonderfully when the music and image fused and became one as it were. We felt the anguish and the confusion of the Monster within the score, the music purveying a sense of not belonging and also at the same time it underlined the comedy element and probably made that even more prominent because the music was serious and at times over the top dramatically. It is without a doubt the composers Masterpiece, or at least one of them, because we have to consider the brilliance of his score for THE ELEPHANT MAN for example, and also his split second timing on the score for SILENT MOVIE which was key to the gags that were being acted out on screen. And then there is his dark, chilling and atmospheric music for THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, all very different but all superb examples of movie music. Watching the movie YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and focusing upon the actual score is a difficult task as one invariably becomes involved and caught up with the images and the films storyline, but when you do kind of manage to isolate the score and take a listen it is a work of impeccable quality, the composer fashioning this homage to films from days gone by with romantic and dramatic compositions complimenting each other and eloquently underlining and punctuating the proceedings on screen.

There is a romanticism to the work but also an underlying element that suggests madness and unpredictability, the sound and style employed being a million miles away from that of say, SPACEBALLS, BLAZING SADDLES and THE PRODUCERS. The composers central theme becoming mesmerising and strangely attractive. The score was a short one and runs for approximately thirty minutes, but the impact it made was immense. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN without the music of John Morris would be like watching PYSCHO without Herrmann’s shrieking strings and James Bond without his theme.

 

The score itself was made up of a number of relatively short cues, but it was where these brief musical encounters were placed that was so beguiling and affecting. The composer at times providing literally seconds of music to create an atmosphere or add impact to a scene or underline a punchline. One track in particular I think is effective and that is the scene in the graveyard, Frankenstein (Wilder) and Igor (Feldman) go to the graveyard to get a body as they dig up a coffin from its resting place, Frankenstein says, “What a filthy job” spitting the earth from his mouth. “Could be worse” replies Igor. “How”? enquires the doctor. “Could be raining“. says Igor in a matter of fact way, And at that moment there is a flash of lightning and thunder rumbles as the heavens open upon our hap hazard grave robbers. Morris scored the seconds leading up to this moment with a sombre sounding low brass led composition, which created an eerie atmosphere, but as soon as we see who the grave robbers are the music stops and that’s when the gag or the scene takes over. So, Morris sets up the gag and at the last-minute pulls back allowing it to have centre stage.  Let us also not forget the composers work for TV, as in SCARLET, THE SCARLET LETTER etc and his score for DIRTY DANCING. John Morris was an accomplished and highly talented musician, composer and arranger, the like of which we will be hard pressed to discover again. He died on January 25th 2018.

 

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FRIDA VIVA LA VIDA.

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Released as part of the five CD set, ART FILM MUSIC, FRIDA VIVA LA VIDA is a documentary film directed by Giovanni Troilo and produced by Ballandi Arts and Nexo Digital. And produced in collaboration with the SKY ARTS channel. The musical score is by the highly talented Remo Anzovino, who has in recent times also written to a number of documentaries that focus upon art and the artists who create it. It is quite amazing when listening to the music of Maestro Anzovino just how varied it is, as a composer for film he seems to be able to alter and tailor his style or his sound to each individual project with ease. For FRIDA his music adds a tantalising and enthralling persona to the engrossing film about the life of this Mexican born painter. The music like the artist and her creations is innovative and haunting. Frida Kahlo is probably discussed more now than she was when she was alive, her paintings have made an everlasting impact upon all generations and have also been instrumental in the influencing of many artists that followed her. She has become a figure head or a symbol that stands for freedom and also for emancipation and many say she is entering into the realms of becoming a legend. Remo Anzovino has written a varied score for the documentary, and one which includes vocals as well as instrumental score. There is a presence within the score and an aura that surrounds it that makes it attractive and alluring, the music is delightfully haunting and at times becomes mesmerising and highly emotive. There are darker sections to the score, which are in keeping with the life and experiences of FRIDA, But again the composer has fashioned a soundtrack that not only ingratiates and enhances the film for which it was written, but it also has a life that extends past being film music, it is also a collection of musical themes and passages that will entertain and interest many without seeing the film, such is the style and overall sound that has been realised here by the composer. As I said, the soundtrack is available as part of a five CD set ART FILM MUSIC, but it can also be heard via digital platforms as a stand alone film score, but my advice would be to check out the ART FILM MUSIC compilation, and savour more of the composers elegant and poignant music.

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POP BLACK POSTA, L’UOMO DEL LABIRINTO, OLIMPIA and LANDSCAPE OF LIES.

 

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Marco Werba is a composer who I have followed over the years, and what strikes one straight away about his music is that it is a fusion of styles, it encompasses the melodic and at times quirky and experimental style that has been employed in numerous Italian made movies by the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and Francesco de Masi to name but a trio of Maestro’s and it also has to it a solid dramatic and intensely affecting persona which I for one associate with composers from both the Golden age and the Silver age of film music in Hollywood. One can identify little nods of acknowledgement to Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann for example, Werba, being able to fashion tense and dark sounding compositions which still have a glint of a melody or at least a hint of a theme or leitmotiv within them. He also evokes a sound and style that I for one associate with the Golden age of tinsel town as in a sound that references the style of Rozsa and Tiomkin and certainly has to it a film noir aura. One of his latest scores POP BLACK POSTA is a perfect example of the vivid talent and innovative style that this Maestro is capable of. It is an ominous and shadowy sounding work, but as I have already stated the composers at times Herrmann-esque melodies and unsettling compositions still hold the listeners attention simply because they so cleverly written and there is lingering and lurking underneath the darkness a fragment of a melody which manages to shine through the atonal or action fuelled pieces. Listening to Werba’s score for POP BLACK POSTA one can hear all of the different elements that have gone into its creation, the slightly menacing but beautiful piano theme that settles and puts the audience or listener at ease, the swirling sinewy strings that seem to creep up upon you and engulf you in a mist of icy nuances that do I think manage to purvey an air of dread and uncertainty. Then there is the inventive use of percussive elements, that are present within the majority of the cues on the score, the composer combines these with strings that are edgy and driving, and also from time to time hiss and stab. It is a score I will recommend to you, it has so many atmospheres and layers of textures and musical colours, and I have to say probably one of the composers most accomplished works. Piano solos are the work of Rea Bisha and the cello performances are courtesy of Christo Tanev.
Available from Plaza Mayor on all digital platforms.

LUOMO
Staying with more releases from Plaza Mayor that are all available on digital sites such as I Tunes, Apple, Spotify etc. We move to L’UOMO DEL LABIRINTO which has a great score from composer Vito Lo Re. Performed by the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra, this is a tense and a lush theme laden work, with delicate thematic statements and musical interludes that are romantic and fragile. The composer utilises synthetic support to bolster and augment the romantic sound and dramatic atmospheres created by the orchestra and these electronic elements fuse well and seamlessly with the conventional instrumentation to create a score that is filled with an abundance of varied and rich musical moments. There is obviously a dark side to the score, and this is purveyed via both electronic performances and symphonic means, at times the composer utilising a threatening sound created via wood instruments and supported by chilling strings and synthetic sounds. I cannot say that Italian composer LO RE has a style that is akin to any other film music Maestro, because the style and sounds that the composer has fashioned here are all his own, they are inventive and original. I love the way that he employs solo piano, as it creates an uncomfortable mood but weirdly retains a romantic style yet is uneasy and apprehensive at the same time. His score is a perfect fit for the movie and is as unpredictable and as entertaining as the movie it was written for. There is also fleeting but effective use of Soprano which we first encounter in the track BUNNY and later hear it in a more emotive and poignant performance on the track LINDA DIES. This is a score you should own and one you will I am confident return to many times, it is a dramatic work that has to it underlying romantic and at times melancholy sub themes, recommended.

The film which is directed by Donato Corrisi, stars Dustin Hoffman and Tony Servillo and tells the story of Samantha (Valentina Belle) who is abducted on the way to school by a giant rabbit. Some fifteen years later, she awakes in hospital, alive but in a state of shock. A Doctor Green sits with her and attempts to help her remember, to unlock her mind to many things that she seems to have blocked out. Together, they negotiate Samantha’s memories of a labyrinth, which was an underground prison, that seems to have no way out. Where the girl was forced to play games and solve riddles and puzzles. She was rewarded if she was successful but punished if she failed. Also, taking an interest and eager to solve the mystery is Bruno Genko, a private investigator with a surprising talent. He doesn’t have long to live and, as such, Samantha’s mystery could be the last case Bruno work on. A tantalising mystery/horror.

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Onto another PLAZA MAYOR release, OLIMPIA, which tells us how, among the books in his house, an eight-year-old boy browses La noche de Tlatelolco by Elena Poniatowska. The emblematic book of the Student Movement of 1968 presents in some pages images that were recorded in his memory and forged the social vocation of José Manuel Cravioto, who directs the first fictional film produced by UNAM about such an event. The musical score is composed and also performed by Andres Sanchez – Juan Andres Vergara & Francisco Cravioto, Mexican made movies and also the scores from them have in the past five years or so begun to make their mark and resonate with film music collectors and critics alike. The music for OLIMPIA is no exception, it is a quality soundtrack, well written and orchestrated and contains some stand out cues which are on a parallel with anything that is coming out of the major studios in Hollywood at this time. It is in no way a grandiose sounding work, but the composers make good use of percussion and a sprinkling of varied instrumentation to create a haunting work an d also one that contains so many themes, which is a pleasant change from the drone like soundscapes that we are being served up elsewhere. It purveys tension, hope and has to it an air of comedic attributes, there is a rhythmic and tantalising side to the score also, but in the main it does seem to be drama led and also has an certain amount of intimacy within its overall sound. Another one for your collection. Again, available on most digital platforms.

LIES

 

Composer Lance Warlock is next with the first of three scores he has had released on the PLAZA MAYOR banner. A LANDSCAPE OF LIES is a score that I have to say I liked a lot, for me personally I could hear within it gentle nods of acknowledgement to composer John Barry. Breathy sounding woods or maybe computer-generated woods, that create a tense and slightly nervous mood. The composer also employing a re-occurring theme which is performed on piano, the short piece, which is basically a brief succession of notes, never really seems to develop, thus it remains mysterious and elusive. Warlock underlines this motif with rumbling sounds that also adds a sense of drama to the proceedings. There is a dark and virulent aura within the score, which never erupts or overpowers anything, but it is there in the background, underlining, supporting and punctuating. It is a highly atmospheric work; at times the composer employing just percussive elements and sounds to create an uneasy atmosphere or to establish a mood that is filled with dread and foreboding. However, the composer also manages to lay down some more melodic moments, not in the operatic or grandiose way, but fleetingly there are little gaps within the darkness where the light of a theme or at least a hint of one manages to emerge. Again, I have to say I enjoyed this score and I also would like to recommend his soundtracks from, 24 LITTLE HOURS and THE EVIL both released last year as was A LANDSCAPE OF LIES.

 

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ELECTRIC THEMES.

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As a film music collector, I am aware that this underatted and often neglected art form comes in all shapes, sizes and consists of numerous sounds. We have the symphonic styles as employed by composers such as John Williams and his illustrious predecessors such as Korngold, Steiner, Newman etc, and many others both in the past and in recent years. But movie music has evolved and at times like every other medium has hit its low points and then climbed again to the heady heights of excellence. I think the low for me must have been at the end of the 1970’s and through to the mid-1990.s I say low point, well that’s not exactly true because also during this period we did get wonderful symphonic and lush sounding soundtracks, but it was during this period also that the song score began to take hold, and the age of the music supervisor also came into play. Why they call them music supervisors is beyond me, because most of them cannot read a note of music and to coin a phrase from a good friend THEY WOULD NOT KNOW A SEMI QUAVER FROM A CROTCHET LET ALONE A CHEESE QUAVER. So, a music supervisor (and we will use this title loosely) was basically someone who found songs and got the rights of the songs cleared so that the film company could use them on a soundtrack to a movie, thus cutting out the composer and also the original score. Many of the songs had very little connection with what was going on in the movie, in fact they were at times (well all the time) selected to create more revenue for the film studio, who invariably would release a soundtrack album filled with them, at times it was like, NOW this is what I call bleeding the fans of the film dry vol 1, etc. And these supervisors actually got paid to do this and got a credit on the big screen too. Many films included both original score and songs too, and even in very rare cases original songs as well. In the 1990’s a soundtrack would often be released as being the original soundtrack, and it did not contain one scrap of the films score, it was all songs that were , wait for either in the movie,,,, or,,, are you ready for this inspired by the movie? Then we got a token track at times from the score tacked onto the end of the album or CD, five mins if you were very lucky. But of course, there are also scores for films which are not symphonic and are not song scores. The electronic or synthesised score, was a way of the film company saving money, after all if they had one guy and a synth machine, that’s got to be cheaper than the LSO right? Well not according to award winning composer Maurice Jarre. Who produced some epic sounding soundtracks that were brimming with themes as in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO etc. Jarre told me in an informal chat backstage at the Barbican that an electronic sore sometimes would cost more to produce than a fully symphonic work.


At the time I think he had just scored WITNESS, and when you think about it the amount of work that must go into creating an electronic score as in time etc must be high. When I think of a synthesised or electronic score, BLADE RUNNER by Vangelis comes to mind as does the composer/performers soundtracks to CHARIOTS OF FIRE and THE APOCALYPSE OF THE ANIMALS, then there are movies such as BEVERLY HILLS COP, and TOP GUN both of which were scored by Harold Faltermeyer, and lets not also forget that composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri went down the electronic route on a number of occasions. HOOSIERS, BASIC INSTINCT, GREMLINS and RUNAWAY for example by Goldsmith and DELTA FORCE by Silvestri were entirely synthesised scores.

Composers such as James Newton Howard and James Horner utilised the electronic path too, Horner’s WHERE THE RIVER RUNS BLACK for example and Newton Howards RUSSKIES were completely synthesised. And there are the likes of Jay Chattaway, Brad Fiedel, Craig Safan and their like all of whom, experimented with synths and electronics to achieve some stunning results. Did this make the scores that these composers created any less enjoyable, not for me they didn’t.

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ELMER BERNSTEIN WITH CYNTHIA MILLER.

 

Even Elmer Bernstein who is well known for creating iconic theme laden scores for the cinema turned to non-conventional means when it came to scoring GHOSTBUSTERS and BLACK CAULDRON in fact Bernstein in the latter part of his career employed the Ondes Martenot many times, but does it mean a score is any less thematic because of the way in which it is realised? In fact, the Ondes Martenot,s presence within a score or a section of a score is mesmerising and attractive. Also let’s not forget Miklos Rosza with his PARANOIA theme for SPELLBOUND, so electronics have been around for a little while and have made some stunning impacts within film soundtracks, and coming up to date, (well the 1970’s).

 

Giorgio Moroder, was active in the area of scoring movies, his first film work was MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, for which he won an Oscar. Moroder’s disco based synth lines pulsated and meandered around the movie, but they worked and they also enhanced and supported the storyline in the same way that a fully symphonic score would have done, in fact I think that an orchestral score for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS probably would not have been so effective, the composer/producer manged to employ electronic sounds but at the same time purveyed an emotive and dramatic aura throughout, electronic soundtrack can be cold and non-emotional, but Moroder fashioned an effective LOVE THEME for the movie, which although a little more up-tempo than one would expect, is still filled with a delicate and fragile sound the composer utilising keyboard, choral effects and percussion.


Moroder of course had been active on the 1970’s disco scene and had produced massive hits for the likes of Donna Summer (I FEEL LOVE, LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY, BAD GIRLS, and the re-working of McARTHUR PARK etc) and there is little doubt because of his popularity at that time was seen by the producers of MIDNGHT EXPRESS as an already established artist that was not only capable of providing a score that would be serviceable for the film but also his name would generate sales of the soundtrack album, which it actually did. The soundtracks opening track CHASE become a floor filler in many clubs and discos even at the lengthy 9 min duration that it was, it is a track that is still played today and has been sampled by top Dj.s and music producers popping up here there and everywhere. The beat and the recurring 11 note motive creating a haunting and rhythmic musical persona on which Moroder built his hypnotic composition adding sounds and snippets of sub themes to it as it progressed and grew, the composer developing the theme and repeating it to make sure it became fixed in the memory of the watching audience or listeners and dancers in the clubs. Moroder also composed a secondary theme for the movie, which was a slower variation of his CHASE piece, but he added to this a more exotic sound which was perfect for setting the scene and accompanying the location in which the movie was set Turkey.

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Combining simple musical lines with percussive elements and adding strings or synth strings to lift the entire passage.

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This style of electronica or electronic music spawned many sound a-like tunes such as MAGIC FLY by Space, which is more or less the CHASE theme, with a few minor variations but more commercially viable for being played on the radio. I think it too heavily influenced bands such as TANGERINE DREAM, with Italian born Moroder himself picking up on the creativity of German band KRAFTWERK when he set out to establish his own style and musical identity and of course Jean Michel Jarre’s OXYGENE which was probably one of the most successful sythn inspired works from the early to mid-seventies, alongside TUBULAR BELLS by Mike Oldfield, which was mainly instrumental as in conventional but did contain some electronic support.. It is also worth mentioning that Moroder probably had a hand in influencing numerous other bands, DAFT PUNK for example, who are now active in the film scoring arena.


The sound that Moroder achieved for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS was at the time nothing out of the ordinary, but in later years many have come to not only respect the direction he went in but also revere the sound he managed to create as being something of a milestone in modern film scoring, a game-changer or an innovative and important change in direction and the beginning of what many call the hybrid score. I am surprised that Moroder did not compose more for movies and TV shows, but I was pleased to hear his score for THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH last year, which evoked so many of the themes from MIDNIGHT EXPRESS for me personally. The composer also worked on movies such as THE NEVER ENDING STORY collaborating with singer Limahl on the opening song and composer Klaus Doldinger on the score; I have to admit I preferred Doldinger’s score as it contained more symphonic elements, but the electronic style of Moroder and the symphonic sound of Doldinger complimented each other well. Moroder also was involved on the soundtracks for FLASHDANCE and ELECTRIC DREAMS both of which attained a kind of cult status with songs from both movies entering the pop charts. And let’s not forget he was also composer or a contributor on AMERICAN GIGILO, SUPERMAN lll and SCARFACE and wrote a new score for METROPOLIS the silent classic.

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The electronic score existed many years before Moroder, Faltermeyer, Vangelis and their like. Cast your mind back to THE FORBIDDEN PLANET a futuristic MGM movie, that starred Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and a youthful looking Leslie Nielsen, the music or at least the musical or electronic tonalities and sounds heard on the soundtrack were the work of Bebe and Louis Barron, the score was more of a soundscape when you think about it, as there were few thematic properties present. I remember having the MGM 78 rpm record, which I am sure still resides in my house loft, it contained two tracks from the soundtrack, which I have to say were somewhat difficult to listen to but worked so well in the movie. The strange sounds on the soundtrack were almost continuous, and not only under-scored the storyline but became the sounds of the planet and its inhabitants both human and alien.

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THE FORBIDDEN PLANET is credited as being the first fully electronic score. The composers responsible created a sound and also a style that was to influence many other artists which was not restricted to just film composers. Its sound and its presence perfectly enhanced the production, and its influences were also far reaching. It is probably true to say that without this score being conceived and created then other film scores such as those mentioned as in CHARIOTS OF FIRE and BLADE RUNNER might not have come into being.

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But even before FORBIDDEN PLANET electronics were utilised within film scores, not as the sole instrumentation but often to create otherworldly sounds and atmospheres as in the 1951 move THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL which was scored by Bernard Herrmann. The eerie sounds as realised by Herrmann brought much to the production and were an important part of the movie as they created a sound and a persona that was associated with the visitors that came from outer space, Herrmann’s talent at adapting and creating sounds to suit movies was already apparent, but his use of electronic sounds that acted as support to symphonic compositions and vice versa was and still is mind blowingly unique.

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This was a fusion of electronic sounds and symphonic music and a combination that worked wonderfully, and a combination that the composer returned to most notably in scores for films such as JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH Herrmann’s dark and powerful work containing growling and foreboding sounds that were intermingled with symphonic parts and an ominous organ performance to create fearful, daunting and uneasy atmospheres which were perfect for the movie and also added another dimension to the unchartered territories of the underworld these rich and unsettling atmospheres created the perfect otherworldly moods that the film required. MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is another great score by Herrmann and although I initially thought that the composer had utilised some form of electronic support I have since re-thought this and listened intently, to discover that this is symphonic, with instruments creating sounds that are jagged and harsh, maybe giving the impression that there are electronic aids included, so maybe in this case we have conventional instruments setting out to imitate electronics rather than the other way around? The combination style of symphonic and synthetic was also employed by composer Franz Waxman within his renowned and ground-breaking score for THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

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It is probably true to say that the majority of film music collectors would prefer it if electronics were not used within film soundtracks, but today the electronic hardware that is at hand to composers is so sophisticated at times it is difficult to decipher if it is electronic or symphonic and I for one have been fooled many times. Some argue that because of this that a number of scores sound similar to one another, maybe because the composers involved all use the same samples or sounds?

Certain composers do tend to place a drone sound over a sequence or scenes, which is basically a noise rather than actual music, a noise which to be honest has no melody or direction and is at times just a tone which does not alter or deviate at all. But nowadays and because of composers such as Hans Zimmer (sorry I know it’s that name again) this has become something of a regular occurrence within film and TV scores and at times it seems that the art of writing actual original music for film has departed the arena as it were. But, (yes it’s that But word again,) there have been times when you just know if a movie had been scored by any other medium of music or at least the music had been performed by symphonic means it would not have sounded right and certainly would not have worked as well in the context of the movie. BLADE RUNNER for example and also THE APOCALYPSE OF THE ANIMALS both by Vangelis had about them an originality and a creativeness that was rare with synthetic scores, the composer fashioning effective and affecting thematic properties that are innovative and iconic.

 

 

So, electronics have been around for longer than we probably realise and the assumption that it is a new component or for the film music composer is not correct. Composers such as Francis Lai, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Jarre etc are all associated with the silver age of film music, each have their own undeniable style and individual musical identity an identity that was the produced not by symphonic means alone, A MAN AND A WOMEN, WITNESS, ENEMY MINE, THE WORKING CLASS GO TO HEAVEN, are a handful of examples that we look upon as classic film music scores, but all have some elements that are electronically realised.

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Sadly there is a down side to the use of electronics and samples within film scoring, and that is in this modern age it becomes quite easy for someone who is competent on a computer to come along and put together a score or a collection of themes or beats that can be expanded upon which might be suitable for a movie, I have always thought that the real talent of scoring a movie is when a composer sits and watches the film and whilst doing so is taking into account the timings the best place for any music to be placed to create maximum affect and also to support the action on screen, and I am also sure that whilst a real composer sits and watches a movie for the first time he or she is hearing the music they will create for it inside their head, which I am told happens every moment of the day for a composer.

 

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Randy Edelman.

The computer age has made it easier for one to hit a button, lay down a backing track and then add sounds and repeat these until something that resembles a theme eventually takes shape. But that is another story, synthetics, electronics, samples etc whatever you want to call them are here to stay and have become an everyday occurrence not just in film music but in all genres of music. Popular music too employs synthetics much more openly and widely, artists even having electronic aids to make them sound better when singing. So, are electronics a good thing a bad thing or maybe an ugly thing? Does it depend on the way in which they are used or in the way that a composer writes? That is the question. Listen to GETTYSBURG by Randy Edelman, it is a good score and contains some rousing and epic sounding themes, but is it symphonic, NO, not at all it is an example of electronics or synthetic sounds being formed into inspiring and imposing compositions, and because it is not symphonic is it a lesser work from this composer? Again, No not at all. Let’s, compare two random romantic movie themes, THE ANONYMOUS VENITIAN by Stelvio Cipriani now this is so lush and lavish filled with strings piano and woodwind that are brought together by percussion to create a lilting and haunting piece, orchestral through and through.

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Now to BILITIS by Francis Lai, fully synthetic, but because it is, does it make this piece of elegant music any less effective or indeed affecting, do you see what I am saying? It still does the job it is destined to carry out, but returning to something I mentioned before in this article, if the theme from BILITIS was played by a one-hundred-piece orchestra with the accent on strings would it be as affecting? Probably not, and the same I suppose could be said if ANONYMOUS VENITIAN was performed at a synthesiser, would it sound right? Other composers I should mention that have utilised electronic sounds within their work for the cinema include, Francois De Roubaix, Michel Magne on various scores and Bob Crewe and Charles Fox on BARBARELLA, and that is as they say the tip of the iceberg and for the composers I have forgot to mention and I know there are many, I apologise.

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Electronics and samples are not going anywhere, and the film composer as we now know him or her will utilise them as another tool in their musical armoury, and why not, if it works then use it, if it leads to a more creative and innovative film score, it can only be a good thing.