Category Archives: film reviews

ZARDOZ, SUCCESFUL SCI-FI OR NONSENSICAL FAILURE?

There are a few movies that I have seen which at initially, I just did not get, and did not understand fully, and whilst watching even had the thought in my head “Why have they made this, what is the point”? Which is a feeling I know constantly get when viewing anything on ITV especially if it involves Simon Cowell or Ant and Dec. There are a handful of movies that I still really do not understand totally, and without wanting to sound dumb don’t really want to, because if I did finally understand them, I would probably think that they were not worth watching in the first place. I am sceptical about the brilliance that is always mentioned when discussing movies such as 2001 a Space Odyssey, and I often have to say to myself well that’s your opinion when people hail the magnificence of things such as El Topo, and still to this day am confounded somewhat by the John Boorman movie Zardoz.

The latter is the focus of this article, the film, its director, its stars, and the composer, and of course Sean Connery’s costume (or lack of it). John Boorman started to toy with the idea of creating a futuristic world when he was working on adapting Lord of the Rings for United Artist’s, a project which we all know did not come to fruition, because the studio was not convinced that it could be filmed at that time. So, when United Artist’s cancelled the project, Boorman continued working on his idea for this futuristic world, which was inspired by the writings of Tolkien and eventually would become the rather warped, brutal, and fantastical world that was Zardoz.

So, lets look at the development of Zardoz, Boorman collaborated with William Stair, on the story whom he had worked with before. Boorman was said to comment at the time that he “Wanted to make a film about the problems of us hurtling at such a rate into the future that our emotions are lagging behind.” The original idea for the movie was it was set just five years in the future, (so late 1970’s early 1980’s) and it focused upon a University lecturer who was obsessed with a girl who disappeared and the lecturer went on a mission to find her, searching communes where he was told she had lived previously. Boorman did his research and visited a few communes but after a while decided to change the timeline of the story and set it far into the future, where he envisaged a society that had totally fallen apart.

Boorman’s end script was inspired not just by Tolkien, but he also credited the influences of T.S Eliot, Frank L. Baum and said that the Arthurian quests also inspired him. Zardoz was in effect a sci-fi movie which was about inner space rather than being set in the depths of outer space. The storyline is complex to say the least and although it is science fiction, it is a more abstract view rather than what was expected even during that time of men in space suits running around. When the script was finished, no one as in no studio was interested, many not understanding what it was all about. Warner Brothers turned it down, but Boorman’s agent managed to convince 20th Century Fox to take a look and eventually they decided to make the movie.

In the early part of 1973, Boorman announced that the movie would star Charlotte Rampling and Burt Reynolds, but Reynolds who had worked with Boorman on Deliverance had to pull out of filming because of illness, Boorman approached Sean Connery, who had stopped making the lucrative Bond movies and was finding it hard to get work and Connery agreed to do the movie. Whether Connery fully understood what it was all about only he would have know. Charlotte Rampling however was enthusiastic about the picture, and Boorman himself had a cameo role alongside his three daughters, in fact the movie was a bit of a family affair with Boorman’s wife at the time Christel Kruse, designing the costumes for the film. She decided that one set of characters The Eternals lives were purely hypothetical and colourless, this should be incorporated in their costumes.

As for the other characters The Brutals, these were a lower form of life and primitive beings, Christel decided therefore that they would not care much about what they were wearing, only what was functional and comfortable. To be honest I am not entirely sure if their attire was either comfortable or functional, and Connery’s costume was quite revealing, with his thigh high leather boots, Mexican style moustache, ponytail hair do, crossed bandolero’s across the torso and red bandages for want of a better description were more revealing and distracting than Borat’s infamous green mankini.

Yes, they were eye catching, and did put over the brutality and the raw masculinity of the Brutals to a certain extent, but often sparked giggles and laughter in the cinema. Connery joined the production in the May of 1973 and shooting started in August of that year in Ireland. It was rumoured that Stanley Kubrick was involved on the movie, but this has not been confirmed.

DAVID MUNROW.

Boorman was known for being something of a maverick filmmaker, and this was confirmed when the director became totally in control of all aspects of the movie including the soundtrack, with Boorman asking composer David Munrow to write the score. Munrow was an early music specialist, so it was thought to be an odd choice for a movie set far in the future in the twenty third century, but it worked and Munrow provided the movie with a score that was in many ways more outstanding than the picture itself. The composer also worked on The Devils and The Six Wives of Henry Vlll. Boorman said on many occasions that he believed although Zardoz was a futuristic tale that even that far into the future that music and instruments from the old world would have survived and still been utilised. The composer incorporated a plethora of medieval instruments within his score, most notably the notch flute, Gemshorns, and medieval bells. (The Gemshorn is an instrument that was made from the horn of a chamois goat and is a wind instrument with a distinct sound). It was said in the 1970’s that “David Munrow did not just emerge into the field of medieval and renaissance music, he quite literally exploded into it. He was credited and applauded for establishing a standard that can now never be ignored, and the stimulating shockwaves from his music will carry far into the future”. Munrow’s score for Zardoz, was supported by sections of the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony number 7.

A soundtrack album was not released, but this is probably because the movie was not as popular with audiences as the director thought it was going to be. Zardoz was released in cinemas on February 6, 1974, having premieres in both Los Angeles and New York. When the film was released more widely, it was immediately given dire reviews and along with these awful reviews the film was also rejected by the public, who it seemed according to Boorman did not understand the world of Zardoz. (not alone there then). Some members of the public were said to leave screenings of the film and go into the lobby of the cinema and tell waiting patrons not to bother buying tickets. I saw the movie in a specialist cinema in 1975, the Brighton Film Theatre would show mainly art house/world cinema movies or films such as Battle of Algiers, Queimada, Z, El Topo, and others that did not have that mass appeal. But even when the BFT showed Zardoz, the place was half full, and I did notice a few people leaving before the movie had even got halfway through, obviously struggling with Boorman’s analogies.

The film was officially declared a commercial failure by 20th Century Fox, and soon began to be shown on local TV stations in the States and also in late night slots elsewhere throughout the world, the movie was not issued on video until 1984, and had to wait till 2015 for a dvd/blu ray release. Reviewers did have mixed thoughts on the movie some commenting, “Zardoz is more confusing than exciting even with a frenetic, shoot-em-up climax” and others not being so condemning  “Direction, good; script is a brilliant premise which unfortunately washes out in climactic sound and fury; and production, outstanding, particularly special visual effects which are among the best in recent years and belie the film’s modest cost”. With a more recent review in 2013 by Empire Magazine saying, “You have to hand it to John Boorman. When he’s brilliant, he’s brilliant (Point Blank, Deliverance) but when he’s terrible, he’s really terrible. A fascinating reminder of what cinematic science fiction used to be like before Star Wars, this risible hodge-podge of literary allusions, highbrow porn, sci-fi staples, half-baked intellectualism, and a real desire to do something revelatory misses the mark by a hundred miles but has elements – its badness being one of them – that make it strangely compelling”.  

But in recent years critics and fans alike have come to the aid of Boorman and Zardoz, calling it “Boorman’s most Underrated film”, and “John Boorman’s finest Movie”.  Which have catapulted it to cult status. So conflicting views, some positive others negative, which I think sums up Zardoz very well.

MAD MACBETH.

 

MAC.jpg

 

 

 

The exceptionally talented Italian born film director Domiziano Cristopharo , created his own personal a version of MACBETH in 2017. The aptly titled MAD MACBETH was set in a futuristic timeline, with its appearance being more like films such as to MAD MAX and SALUTE TO THE JUGGER than the original vision of the great English play-write. The film which was shot in KOSOVO in locations such as half decaying buildings, deprived areas, refuse tips and scrap yards, has a rawness to it that is uncomfortable at times, its industrial and desolate appearance purveys an atmosphere that depicts an uneasy and tense mood. I think we are all familiar with MACBETH which is a story that is already dark and apprehensive. MAD MACBETH succeeds in retaining the darkness and also the violent and mysterious persona of the original play, but the director puts his own original spin upon proceedings, and although Cristopharo sticks to the plot or at least fragments of it and uses these as a foundation to his screenplay the film maker is successful in bringing the story into a post apocalyptic and uncertain time period whilst at the same time giving it a more Lovecraftian feel.

MAC1

 

Cristopharo, again turns to the impressive acting talents of Merita Budakova and Hailil Budakova who both give entertaining performances that are also believable. The movie contains a number of scenes which are violent but I have to say this is far from gratuitous or over done or violence for the sake of it. It also has to it a mysterious and shadowy air which keeps the audience on its guard at all times. Maybe not one of the easiest movies to sit and watch but one that will leave any audience with lingering memories. For a movie made on a relatively minimal budget the production values are of a high standard with the costumes and also the make up being of an above average standard, exemplary cinematography and an outstanding musical score.

SAL1

 
The music for MAD MACBETH is dark and brooding and thickly laced with atmospheric and mysterious musical passages, the score is the work of the highly talented composing duo Salvatore Sangiovanni and Susan DiBona. Although they work as a collaborative each has their own particular unique musical voice and together are responsible for penning numerous film scores and television soundtracks. The music for MAD MACBETH is powerful but in a low key fashion, the composers marking and enhancing the many moods of the movie, creating a rich and colourful support for its compulsive storyline. The soundtrack will be released very soon on KRONOS RECORDS who also released the composers excellent score for THE TRANSPARENT WOMAN which was a homage to the musical world of Italian Giallo and also saluted the likes of Morricone, Cipriani, Nicolai etc

 

.

 

SUSAN.png

 

Susan DiBona.

Born 18 February 1974 in New Haven, CT.
Composer for film and television, conductor, pianist, educator.
Winner, Global Music Awards 2015 Silver Medals for Composition/Composer and Original Soundtrack Film&Television. Study of Piano and Theory with Leopold Godowsky III, nephew of George Gershwin, piano with Thomas A. Martin. Study of European Languages (Italian, German, Spanish, Swedish, French, ancient Greek) and Literature at Barnard College/Columbia University, New York. Study of cello, viola bassoon, organ, flute. Participated in NYU/ASCAP Buddy Baker Film Scoring Workshop, New York University. Study of Latin American Literature at Connecticut College. Susan has conducted the Berliner Symphoniker, Studio Ensemble of New York Philharmonic, various studio recording ensembles in Berlin and Italy, Choir The Art of Contrast (Berlin), Neuma/Ensemble for Medieval Music (Berlin), and various church and studio choirs. Has toured as assistant musical director and orchestrator for musicals in USA and across Europe. Vocal coach for Star Search television show, Germany.
Performances in venues such as Berliner Philharmonie, ICC Berlin, Woolsey Hall, Lincoln Center, Goodpeed-at-Chester, Theater of St. George’s College, Buenos Aires, Nikolaisaal, Potsdam (Germany). Performed private Gershwin recital at the Godowsky Estate in New England. Has written many scores for popular primetime television series and movies broadcast in Europe and the Americas. Her feature films have been shown in international cinemas and at festivals such as Comiccon, Cannes, Berlinale, Fantasia Film Festival, Filmfest Hamburg and Filmfest Oldenburg. Currently producing and composing for film projects in her own music production studios in southern Italy. Member of the Faculty of Classical Piano, Accademia Musicale Cameristi di Laos, Santa Maria del Cedro, Italy.

 

SAL2.png

Salvatore Sangiovanni.
born 14 August 1980 in Praia a Mare, Italy.
Concert pianist, jazz pianist, composer, educator.
Winner, Global Music Awards 2015 Silver Medals for Composition/Composer and Original Soundtrack Film&Television. Education: The Royal School of London, Diploma in Piano Performance, as well as private study of piano performance with Maestro José Lepore, following the pianistic school of Claudio Arrau. Currently working towards Doctorate in Concert Piano Performance and historical performance techniques with Gianmaria Bonino at the Conservatorio di Alessandria, Italy.
Master class in jazz piano performance with Michael Camilo (Juilliard).
Winner of 15 international piano competitions. Participated in master classes in orchestration, Russian piano technique, film music composition, and orchestration. Composed 4 original operas which have toured in Italy and Czech Republic. Jazz performances in concerts and festivals across Italy. 2015 USA concert premiere performing Liszt Sonata in B-minor and compositions of Susan DiBona in Gagnon Auditorium, Clinton, CT, USA. Performed private Gershwin recital at the Godowsky Estate in New England. Has conducted Orchestra Cameristi di Laos, Italy; Chamber Orchestra of Ostrava, Czech Republic; Chamber Orchestra Città di Priverno, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Calabria.Besides performing virtuoso classical piano repertoire and jazz, he currently works as a film composer for various documentaries, shorts, and features for Italian independent productions and national TV. Founder and Artistic Director of the state-accredited Accademia Musicale Cameristi di Laos, Santa Maria del Cedro, Italy, associated with Conservatory of Music of Alessandria.
I spoke to the composers about MAD MACBETH.

How did you become involved with MAD MACBETH?
Domiziano de Cristopharo, with whom we have worked on various projects (including Mad Macbeth, Pieces of Me, etc), called us and asked if we were interesting in scoring this film.
Kronos - Copy

 
Your score is very dark in its sound and style, were you given any specific instructions by the Director as to what route you should take musically? –

He gave us some references to 80s and 90s films, but for the most part, we were allowed lots of creative space. We see the score as an homage to those action movies done by composers such as Basil Poledouris, Cannon Films productions, Vangelis, hairspray heavy metal, plus old action and crime shows we used to watch on TV. There’s a lot of irony in it.
There is also the use of guitar within the score, did you and Susan perform on the soundtrack and What size orchestra did you utilise and what percentage of the score was performed by synths?
SALL

 

 

We performed every bit ourselves. The only actual instruments are flute and voice, the rest are samples and synths.

How much time did you have to complete the score? –
We finished the score in 10 days, plus 2 days of mixing. The film is about 90 minutes long, and our actual score contains over 80 minutes of music! The harmonic structure was improvised to the film in real time, all first takes from start to finish, then we went back over it, taking turns like a game, and added more layers of instrumentation as we saw fit. It was probably the most fun we’ve ever had in the studio.

 

 

mad-macbeth3.jpg

THE HAMMER COLLECTION.

8557755-1335976591-163324

The Hammer DVD collection is a box set that consists of 21 movies many of which are arguably the best of Hammer films during their highly productive period from the late 1950,s through to the mid 1970,s. The set is split into volumes or books, of which there are four. Book one opens with SHE which was based upon H.Rider Haggards novel from the 19th Century, the movie which starred Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and also Bernard Cribbins was one of Hammer’s most lavish and attractive looking productions the interior shots being carried out at Elstree studios in England but the exterior filming was done on location in Israel which was something of a departure for Hammer. The result was an epic production which although popular at the box office did not result in a repeat performance of Andress in the sequel. The music was by Hammer’s almost resident composer James Bernard who wrote a magnificently epic score and also provided the film with a haunting and lush sounding theme that was filled with romantic and emotive content.

29_header

Disc two in book one is the Bette Davies movie THE NANNY, which was released in the October of 1965, the film which was to be Hammer’s final black and white movie, was certainly a chilling and disturbing one, with an excellent performance by Miss Davies and also wonderful performances by child actors Pamela Franklin and William Dix the movie was directed by Seth Holt who brought the adaptation of Evelyn Pipers novel to the screen giving it life and realism. Disc number three in the first volume of films is the 1966 production DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, Christopher Lee returned as the infamous Vampire Count for the first time after making the role his own some seven years previous in the studios adaptation of DRACULA. Filmed at Hammer’s Bray studios with Terence Fisher helming the production, however the films storyline replaced Van Helsing who had been portrayed so convincingly in the previous movie and substituted his character with Father Sandor played by stalwart British actor Andrew Keir. In fact the only reference to Van Helsing as played by Cushing is seen in the opening footage of the movie where we see him engaged in a life or death fight with Dracula which was in fact the end scene of the previous movie. Music is courtesy of James Bernard who re-invented his famous and foreboding three note motif DRA-CU-LA within the score.
th (69)

Disc number four is from the 1966 production THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, this was screened as a double bill with DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS and in later years was considered as being the better of the two productions, it was Hammer’s one and only foray into the mysterious and evil world of the Zombie but is a superior production which is considered by many fans and critics alike as one of the house of horror’s finest moments. Music again was by James Bernard who produced a driving and highly percussive score.
th (71)

Disc number five, RASTPUTIN THE MAD MONK, was released in the March of 1966, although a historical epic the movie was filmed on a meagre budget but Christopher Lee’s performance as the central character shone through the actor researching his part extensively to ensure he got it right, this research certainly paid off as Lee is more than convincing in the role. The movie contained a vibrant score by Australian born composer Don Banks who also wrote the music for THE REPTILE which is disc number one in book two of the set, THE REPTILE was filmed just after THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and the studio utilised many of the sets that had appeared in Plague, THE REPTILE proved to be one of Hammer’s most difficult productions, they had various problems with the reptile make up and in the end had to rely on dim lit sets and shady scenes to disguise these. The film was shown as a support feature for RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK.

th (73)

Also released in 1966 was THE WITCHES, The film was an adaptation of the novel THE DEVILS OWN by Peter Curtis and starred Joan Fontaine who also owned the rights to the book. Directed by Cyril Frankel with a screenplay by Nigel Kneale the movie although totally convincing and entertaining failed to achieve success at the box office and has only in more recent years established itself as a classic. Disc number three in this second volume was promoted as Hammer’s 100th movie, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was filmed on location in the Canary Islands, with Don Chaffey directing, it catapulted its female lead Rachel Welch into the public gaze and gave us the iconic of her in an animal skin bikini. The film contained some convincing stop go action in the form of Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs; and an atmospheric score by Italian Maestro Mario Nascimbene, it was Hammer’s biggest box office earner.

th (70)

Because of the success of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. Don Chaffey was given Hammer’s next historical project, THE VIKING QUEEN was released in 1967, and starred the Finish actress/model Carita Jarvinen in the central role of Queen Salina who was apparently based upon the Queen of the Iceni Boadicea who led her people in a revolt against the Romans in the first century AD. Both the leading lady in the film and her co-star Don Murray were unconvincing in their roles and the critics were also sceptical about the films historical accuracy, thus the film failed to gain much attention at the box office. The musical score was by Gary Hughes, who also wrote the music for Hammer’s English civil war drama THE CRIMSON BLADE as well as providing rousing soundtracks to THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, DEVIL SHIP PIRATES and A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD. Hughes who died in 1978 is sadly under represented on recordings of film music.

th (68)

The last disc in book two is FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which was an interesting take on the original FRANKENSTEIN story. Released in 1967 the movie starred Peter Cushing and was to be one of the last to be filmed at Bray studios. Directed by the studios ace film maker Terence Fisher with Austrian born actress Susan Denberg taking the lead female role, the cast also included the inimitable Thorley Walters in the role of Frankenstein’s awkward assistant. The musical score which had at its centre a romantic and fragile theme was written by James Bernard whose subdued and melodic score lulled audiences into a false sense of security in a movie that contained a number of vicious and bloody scenes. Book number three opens with QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, which premiered in the November of 1967, the script which was the work of Nigel Kneale was commissioned by Hammer in 1961, but due to production problems and also financial difficulties the movie was postponed. Directed by Roy Ward Baker the film was shot at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Borehamwood studio, the movie was well received and is still regarded as one of Hammers most accomplished productions. Composer Tristram Carey provided the film with a score that was partly symphonic and partly electronic which added greater atmosphere and depth to the story unfolding on screen. Up next is THE VENGEANCE OF SHE unfortunately this sequel to SHE never lived up to its predecessors success and was to be honest a major box office failure for Hammer. Disc number three in book three is a film that many regard as Hammer’s best production, and I have to say I agree with all who are of this opinion, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is a masterpiece of horror. At the time of its release the film was not well received by American audiences, it was thought to be too old fashioned in its approach with a typical British appearance including rather lack lustre special effects, directed by Terence Fisher, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is now seen as a classic and also a movie that actor Christopher Lee regards as his favourite Hammer movie. The powerful and malevolent musical score is by James Bernard his music simply oozing evil and foreboding.

Disc four in book three is PREHISTORIC WOMEN I think the less said about this movie the better, let us just say Hammer’s finest hour it certainly was not. Composer Carlo Martelli who wrote the score for the movie told me in interview that he was more or less tricked into writing the music and preferred not to be associated with it. Disc number five in book three is SCARS OF DRACULA. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, this was the fifth movie with Christopher Lee as the evil Count and took Hammer into the 1970,s and was shown alongside THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN in cinemas which was also released in 1970, and is disc number one in book four of this magnificent DVD collection.

th (75)

Ralph Bates took over the role of Baron Frankenstein for this particular outing and the monster was portrayed by David Prowse who would come to be known as Darth Vader in later years. The music for THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was written by Australian born composer Malcolm Williamson, who was at one time Master of the Queens music and had also worked on Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) and CRESCENDO (1970). Williamson thought that his use of tuba within the score made the monster seem clumsy and farcical at the time of the films release, but this was an opinion he altered in later years.

th (72)

Book four also contains BLOOD FROM THE MUMMYS TOMB (1971), STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (1972), FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) and the underrated DEMONS OF THE MIND or BLOOD WILL HAVE BLOOD (1972) the final movie in book four is TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, which was a new breed of horror movie to be produced by Hammer and sadly the studios last. Loosely based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley this was far removed from previous productions such as THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and DRACULA it was an intensely more realistic production and owed much of its success to the performance given by Christopher Lee, directed by Peter Sykes this final horror movie from the Hammer studio’s now stands as a beacon in style and direction and inspired many productions that were to follow by other studios and film makers. Each disc in this set contains extras these are either in the form of trailers, stills galleries or interviews plus many of the discs have commentary by principal actors and directors/producers who were involved with the films, eg; Rachel Welch, Jimmy Sangster, Ray Harryhausen, Roy Ward Baker, Veronica Carlson, Valerie Leon, Rita Tushingham and Peter Sykes. DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS for example contains a 57 minute documentary THE MANY FACES OF CHRISTOPHER LEE. This is a highly desirable set and one that will delight Hammer aficionados. With informative notes by Hammer expert Marcus Hearne and a lavish booklet filled with info and stills. Highly recommended.

th (74)