Category Archives: 1979

Rocks In The Attic #697: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Alien (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#697Is there a more immersive experience than a video game? Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been playing Alien: Isolation on the PS4, and generally shitting myself with fear as a result.

Set fifteen years after the events in the 1979 film – itself based in 2122 – Alien: Isolation follows Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she visits a spaceship to find out what happened to her mother. The game is designed to look like the 1979 film, with the events unfolding on the same class of mining ship as the Nostromo.

I started off playing the game in the middle of the night, wearing my gaming headphones, but this proved too scary – wandering around a dark spaceship full of blinking lights and music akin to Jerry Goldmsith’s original score. Subsequent plays have been made without headphones, and with my trusty Great Dane, Abbey, by my side.

If there’s one thing I love the most about the 1979 film, it’s the production design by concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss. The spaceship looks so grungy and atmospheric, and so far removed from the clean aesthetic of the Star Trek universe. H.R. Giger’s design of the alien itself is one thing, but the ship almost feels like another living and breathing character.

Duncan Jones’ Moon got close to a similar look, and other sci-fi films have tread a similar path since, but Alien feels like the first mainstream film to do this. Comparisons can be drawn with the production design of John Carpenter’s 1974 Dark Star – itself starring future Alien creator/writer Dan O’Bannon.

RITA#697aJerry Goldsmith’s score, presented here on acid-blood green vinyl, courtesy of Mondo Records, is a wonderfully creepy soundtrack. Although the score ends up sounding more like a traditional horror soundtrack towards the end – tense strings and booming brass, complimented by high-register plucked violins – it starts off a different beast altogether. Main Title, Hyper Sleep and the rest of the music throughout the first act just sounds otherworldly. Not particularly scary, just lonely and isolated; grim and despondent.

I have a very clear memory of being faced with my first images from the Alien film. I couldn’t have been older than a toddler, and I remember bring walked into a living room to say goodnight to people, and the film was playing on the television. For whatever reason, the film wasn’t turned off, probably because it looked like quite a benign, harmless scene – and I was probably only in the room for less than a minute. But I distinctly remember looking at the screen as the face-hugger emerged from the egg and launched itself at John Hurt’s face. Obviously at that age – three or four – I didn’t know what it was. For some reason I thought it was rope – perhaps the uncoiling of the face-hugger looked like a length of rope – and I presume the film was swiftly turned off and I was rushed to bed.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Hyper Sleep

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Rocks In The Attic #687: John Williams – ‘1941 (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#687You can sometimes find out more about a person’s failures as you can from their successes. Wunderkind director Steven Spielberg has had far more hits than misses, but the few occasions where he has missed the mark are very interesting.

His first failure came with 1941, his attempt at screwball comedy and a universally agreed thirty-five million dollar waste of time and effort. It’s difficult to put a finger on why it’s such a bad film – because there’s nothing redeemable about it. A weak link might be easy to spot, but when everything is egregiously bad, from the script to the performances to the music, it makes for a drastically awful film. Of course, all of this is amplified because it follows Spielberg’s huge mainstream successes, first with Jaws in 1975, and followed with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in 1977. If it hadn’t been bundled with such anticipation, and if they hadn’t spent the GDP of a small South American country on it, it might have stood a chance.

Looking back, it seems that Spielberg might be as ashamed of his portrayal of the Japanese in this film, as he is of the film’s critical and commercial failure. It’s widely been surmised that one of Spielberg’s motives for making Schindler’s List (1993) was in reparation for the way in which he had portrayed the Nazis as comedic fodder in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989). In 1941, we see the start of that light-hearted characterisation, with the invading Japanese armed forces played for laughs opposite Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

The musical score for 1941, composed by Spielberg alumni John Williams, is just as forgettable as the rest of the film, which is strange considering how the pairing usually produces gold. Spielberg, ever the amiable collaborator, has repeatedly stated in interviews that The March From 1941 is his favourite of Williams’ marches. This is extremely strange when you realise that the main title themes of Williams’ Superman: The Movie and Indiana Jones scores are both marches, and really there’s nothing better in all of cinema.

I recently saw the excellent HBO documentary Spielberg (2017) – a two and a half hour journey through the life and career of the director. Unsurprisingly, the film focuses on his successes and merely brushes over his failures. Of the latter, 1941 gets the most airtime for being his first disappointment, but later failures are mainly ignored.

RITA#687aHis first failure to me, long before I racked up the courage to watch 1941, was Always, an overly-sentimental (even for Spielberg’s standards) romantic drama from 1989 starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman. I saw this film at the cinema with my parents, at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square during our annual family trip to London. Coming straight after Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Empire Of The Sun – both of which I’d also seen at the cinema (I didn’t get to see The Color Purple until much later due to its adult nature), it really came as a shock. Everything I had seen by Spielberg up to that point had been a classic. What the hell was this schlocky mess?

Unsurprisingly, Susan Lacy’s Spielberg documentary doesn’t even mention Always. It also quickly skips over Hook – a later disappointment from 1991, which Spielberg has all but since disowned – and completely ignores The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), the sequel he said he would never make, and 2004’s The Terminal. In fact, The Terminal is such a bad film, that it’s a wonder he didn’t try to take his name off it.

The one interesting exclusion from the documentary is 2011’s The Adventures Of Tintin. While this may not have been the runaway commercial success it should have been, it’s still a great family film and a much stronger piece of work than 2016’s The BFG, itself a box-office disappointment yet referenced many times in Lacy’s film.

Hit: The March From 1941

Hidden Gem: The Invasion

Rocks In The Attic #672: Various Artists – ‘More Pennies From Heaven (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#672.jpgI think I might be reincarnated from some 1930’s Big Band musician or something; this kind of music really resonates with me for some reason. I always get the same feeling of intense familiarity when I hear Hang Out The Stars In Indiana from the Withnail & I soundtrack.

Either that, or I was asleep in my cot while my Mum & Dad watched this show after I was born in 1978. That sounds more believable I guess, with the old-timey music seeping into my DNA as they watched Bob Hoskins on the telly.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek – Lew Stone & His Band

Hidden Gem: Down Sunnyside Lane – Jack Payne & His BBC Dance Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #648: Rod Stewart – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1979)

RITA#648A couple of weekends ago, my wife left the house to go the supermarket. She phoned me five minutes later, with a degree of urgency in her voice. On her way to the supermarket, she spotted a car-boot sale in a church car-park. She had found a man selling three boxes of records. Her call was to see if I wanted any of the classic rock LPs he was selling at the princely sum of a dollar each.

“Have you got Green River by Creedence Clearwater?”

“No, get it.”

“Rod Stewart – Greatest Hits?”

“No, get it”

“The Travelling Wilburys?”

“Yes, but get it anyway.”

And so on. She eventually brought back a box of forty six records, which the seller only took thirty dollars for. Result. I would have paid close to that for the Creedence record alone.

Nine of the records are Rod Stewart albums, and a further four are Faces albums with Rod singing on them. That’s a twenty-eight per cent Stewart penetration rate. Maximum Rod.

Hit: Maggie May

Hidden Gem: Hot Legs

Rocks In The Attic #614: The Sex Pistols – ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#614.jpgI saw Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy recently. I’d avoided it all my life, not being a particular fan of either Alex Cox films or the Sex Pistols. I like Never Mind The Bollocks of course, I think it’s an essential rock and roll record for any collection, but to borrow a phrase of my Dad’s, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire. Which begs the question – if there was a fire at a Pistols gig, would the audience be able to summon up the required levels of spittle to extinguish it?

There’s an unwritten law that bands from lower socio-economic backgrounds can’t be intellectual. To be intelligent is to be phoney. As long as they’re wise to the fact that they’re downtrodden by society, that’s all that matters. So you get people like John Lydon – arguably a very bright individual – pulling retarded faces and generally acting like a buffoon to get attention.

That first wave of British punk – and especially the Pistols – seemed to cultivate this trope. They even fired original bass-player Glen Matlock for being ‘boring’ (read: intelligent and articulate). He also washed his feet constantly in the sink and liked the Beatles, two things forbidden in the punk handbook.

Matlock’s replacement, the oft-celebrated Sid Vicious, represents for me everything that’s wrong about punk. Brought into the band because he looked good and was a friend of Rotten’s, his short tenure in the band only served to fuel the band’s notoriety. To go back to the Beatles, Vicious was essentially the Stuart Sutcliffe of the Sex Pistols – terrible at playing his instrument, but a good comrade and one that looked appealing (even if he didn’t sound appealing). Even punk bands of today will use Sid Vicious as their archetype. Green Day, who like to think of themselves as a punk band, but are just as much of a corporate shill as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, have traded for decades on the sneer and attitude of Sid.

Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Sid & Nancy feels spot-on, when you compare it to interview footage from Sid’s few years in the limelight. He’s a junkie idiot, plain and simple, and the really cynical thing about the film is that it seems to celebrate Sid – holding him up as a hero and a martyr for punk.

I haven’t seen The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle – the Julien Temple mockumentary that this album soundtracks. I might get around to it one day, but I’ve had my fill of the Pistols for the time being. The record stands for itself though, and makes for a pretty interesting listen – a double-record with lots of archival live rehearsals, combined with some oddities. Sid croons through My Way and succeeds through some rock and roll covers, there’s an early, weightier version of Anarchy In The UK, and for a bit of levity some off the wall Pistols covers by a disco group, a trio of French street musicians and Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs backed by Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.

Hit: Anarchy In The UK – The Sex Pistols

Hidden Gem: Black Arabs – Black Arabs

Rocks In The Attic #592: George Gershwin – ‘Manhattan (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#592
I recently got to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan on the big screen – re-released and screened as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme.

Of the two most famous films of his ‘70s output – 1977’s Annie Hall and 1979’s Manhattan (the Rubber Soul / Revolver of Allen’s filmography) – I’ve always preferred Manhattan. While Annie Hall is undoubtedly a fantastic film, overshadowing Star Wars at the 1978 Academy Awards by winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton), it’s accolades also bring a lot of weight with it.

Manhattan, on the other hand, didn’t win a sausage at the 1980 Academy Awards – despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Brickman again). Where Annie Hall is the quintessential Woody Allen film, and the progenitor of the modern romantic-comedy, it also suffers from being the most obvious, the one chosen as a life template by dilettante faux-bohemian women due to the kooky allure of Diane Keaton’s character.

Manhattan is the Woody Allen fan’s Woody Allen film. It’s shot in 2.35:1 widescreen black-and-white, which avoids the risk of any low-brow audience seeing it, and it’s also a much more low-key affair. The nature of the relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters might be the narrative focus of Annie Hall, but in Manhattan this is merely a peripheral matter. Instead, the later film deals more with the threat of being alone in a city full of people. As a result, while the one-liners in Annie Hall may be funnier, the jokes in Manhattan have more weight.

While Annie Hall may serve as the template formula for the rom-coms of today’s cinema, it’s the overbearing melancholia of Manhattan that inspired perhaps the greatest film in the modern-day genre, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Hit: Rhapsody In Blue

Hidden Gem: Mine

Rocks In The Attic #579: Bob James & Earl Klugh – ‘One On One’ (1979)

RITA#579Whenever I see a Bob James record, I buy it. It’s one of my record store rules. Of course, I’m always chasing a better Bob James record than Touchdown, and I think I’ll always be chasing it as I’m not sure such a thing exists.

This record, which arrived in stores between James’ sixth (Touchdown) and seventh solo record (Lucky Seven), finds him collaborating with jazz guitarist Earl Klugh. It makes for a great combination as the two players compliment each other well. As with most of Bob James’ work, every song sounds like the theme-song for a late-‘70s / early-‘80s television show which you’ve never heard. Obviously that analogy doesn’t work for Touchdown’s Angela, the theme-song from Taxi, as that one you would have heard, but you get the point.

One of my favourite things about this record is the cover. I really wish designers would get a little more experimental in these sorts of things. Usually record covers are a photo of the band, or a pretty picture, but I really dig it when they’re designed to look like other things. The allure of the everyday. This matchbook design is great, and spoiled really only by the lettering of the artist and title (and on my copy, a big logo stating that it’s a half-speed mastered, audiophile pressing).

Hit: Kari

Hidden Gem: The Afterglow