Category Archives: 1984

Rocks In The Attic #801: Stevie Wonder – ‘The Woman In Red (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#801Crikey, I’m not sure this film would get made these days. It wouldn’t fare well in the #metoo era.

A remake of the French film, Pardon Mon Affaire Gene Wilder writes and directs himself in a male super-fantasy where he attempts to start an extra-marital affair with a model at the advertising agency he works at. It’s a super-fantasy because he’s Gene Wilder and she’s Kelly LeBrock. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but it just comes off tasting bad.

Gene Wilder is one of my favourite comedic actors. He’s easily the best thing about Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, fantastic in the early Mel Brooks films, and his partnership with Richard Pryor is wonderful from Silver Streak (featuring a pre-The Spy Who Loved Me Richard Kiel playing a besuited henchman with steel teeth) to Stir Crazy (“I can’t feel my legs!”) and See No Evil Hear No Evil (“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a woman?”). This film feels like a bit of a mis-step though. I’m sure it was very amusing back in 1984, and I certainly enjoyed it in my youth when I didn’t know any better, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It has its moments – mainly from the supporting cast of Gilda Radner and Charles Grodin – but the whole thing just feels awful. Somehow, I always remember that collection of inner-city vignettes (including a man copping a feel of a woman whose shoe gets stuck in a grate) to be from the opening section of this film, but that’s from Stir Crazy. I must mix up Gene Wilder films in my mind.

RITA#801aThe music is brilliant though; the film’s saving grace. Essentially a Stevie Wonder album (it comes four years after the brilliant Hotter Than July), all but one song was written by him. He shares vocal duties with Dionne Warwick on two songs, and Warwick sings lead on one track. Officially, I’m not sure if it would be credited to ‘Various Artists’, or to Stevie Wonder & Dionne Warwick, but I like to see it as a Stevie Wonder album, with a guest singer.

Like Hotter Than July, the album has its moments of pure synth gold – from the funky title song, to Love Light In Flight to Don’t Drive Drunk. The last song ended up being used in an educational video for the Department of Transportation’s drunk-driving prevention PSA. I’m not sure if Stevie Wonder is the kind of person to take driving advice from, but I appreciate any promotion for such a great cause.

But like Hotter Than July, The Woman In Red also has its one startling moment of pure cheese. Mega-hit I Just Called To Say I Love You echoes the horrible feel of the previous album’s Happy Birthday, not to mention 1982’s clanger with Paul McCartney, Ebony And Ivory. These songs feel like the technology starting to detract from the songwriting, and the trouble is that the synths Stevie was using in the early ‘80s were starting to become widely available. As a result, these songs sound like everything bad about ‘80s music that followed after.

Hit: I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder

Hidden Gem: The Woman In Red – Stevie Wonder

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Rocks In The Attic #792: David Shire – ‘2010 – The Year We Make Contact (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#792“My God, it’s full of stars!”

With Doctor Sleep, the long-rumoured sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s This Shining, about to eventually open in cinemas, it feels like a good time to revisit that other sequel in the Kubrickiverse: 2010 – The Year We Make Contact, Peter Hyams’ 1984 sequel to Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001 – A Space Odyssey.

Despite the strength of acting talent in front of the camera – Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Bob Balaban – and a great visionary team behind it, it seems like the film has been unfairly forgotten over time. Auteur theory is alive and well, with director Hyams also writing the script, producing the film and operating behind the camera as the cinematographer, leaving no doubt that this is his vision on screen (by way of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, of course).

RITA#792bThe music score, by David (brother of Talia) Shire is sublime, and the liner notes on the soundtrack LP go to great lengths to explain that it was recorded using the Synclavier II, the Yamaha DX-1 and the Roland Jupiter-8. It doesn’t sound too far from Matt Morton’s recent score to the fantastic Apollo 11 documentary; itself recorded entirely using synths only available in 1969.

We open in an extremely exposition-heavy (read: ‘talky’) first act of the film, with Roy Scheider still in his Aviators and short shorts from Jaws 2. Taking over the role from William Sylvester in 2001, Scheider plays Dr. Heywood Floyd, the head of the National Council for Astronautics, blamed for the failure of the Discovery One mission to Jupiter.

The Americans are in a race with the Russians to get a mission up to the abandoned Discovery spaceship, and Floyd is presented with the opportunity to get there first, onboard the Russian shuttle alongside two other Americans (played by Lithgow and Balaban). Scheider’s got such a great face, he should be immortalised on the side of Mount Rushmore.

RITA#792aThe production design on the film is superb, and it looks more like a sci-fi film from the latter end of the 1980s, or possibly the very early 1990s. Thankfully we don’t see much of Earth in the opening act – only a field of telescopes in the desert, a ridiculous clandestine meeting in front of the White House, and the gloomy interior of Floyd’s house (complete with pet dolphins – tut tut).

The rainbow-light design of the Russian spaceship is refreshing – after the used-future of Alien and the Star Wars films – and surprisingly doesn’t look as much like Super Mario’s Rainbow Road as you might expect. The only really hokey segments of the film are the voice messages to and from the mission. They might serve a narrative purpose, of course, but the treatment of the voices, processed with a warm reverb, doesn’t sound right – and in retrospect should have been handled differently.

The return of Dave Bowman, the missing astronaut from the first film, who turns up on his wife’s TV set back on Earth, is deliciously creepy, and starts a chain of events that take us all the way through to the finale of the film. Once we hear HAL-9000 again, it feels like the old team are back. By the way, when Amazon figures out how to program the voice of the Alexa home assistant with HAL’s passive tones, count me in. ‘Open the garage doors, HAL…’.

Unlike a lot of modern-day sci-fi, the film doesn’t get bogged down in explaining the technology of the future it presents, and instead it successfully jettisons many of the usual problems and anxieties about space. The astronauts go from ship to ship with ease, and aside from one white-knuckle moment when their ship enters Jupiter’s orbit, everything else works like clockwork.

2001 – A Space Odyssey raised a lot of questions about humanity, mankind, our past and our future. 2010  doesn’t go out of its way to answer those questions, but it does give us a sense of closure with the film’s final moments serving as a fitting bookend to the story.

Hit: Nova / New Worlds / Also Sprach Zarathustra

Hidden Gem: Earth / Space

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Original Cinema Lobby Card

 

Rocks In The Attic #780: Elmer Bernstein – ‘Ghostbusters (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#780Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, spectre or ghost? If the answer is ‘yes’ then don’t wait another minute. Pick up the phone and call the professionals…

After a pre-order three months ago, and eight subsequent status-update emails from Amazon, it’s great to finally hold this in my hands. Thirty-five years after its original release in cinemas, the soundtrack score to Ghostbusters by Elmer Bernstein is finally available on vinyl.

From that first electronic flutter (played on a Yamaha DX7 synth) heard over the grainy Columbia Pictures logo, this score is part of my musical DNA. It’s as seminal to my upbringing as John Williams’ big-five (Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and E.T.), Alan Silvestri’s Back To The Future, Dave Grusin’s Goonies and John Barry’s landmark Bond scores.

Just like those soundtracks, it’s easy to visualise the film when listening to Bernstein’s Ghostbusters score. Not only are the image and music melded together perfectly, it also helps when you’ve seen the film hundreds of times. There are a couple of unused cues on the soundtrack that are a little jarring (and perhaps should have been collected towards the end of the release), and I would have liked the first track to have been Library, as per the film (rather than the main Ghostbusters Theme, which again could have been collected at the end), but these are just superficial gripes about a superb release.

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My favourite of many musical moments is the end of the track News, which segues into the beginning of Judgement Day. In the film, this is used to soundtrack the conversation between Ray and Winston as they drive through the night after a busy day ghostbusting. It’s a rare moment of quiet, of serious reflection, in an otherwise comical film, and I’ve always liked that Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the scene for Ernie Hudson’s character – the ‘everyman’ archetype of the piece.

In terms of the package itself, the score is presented by Sony Classical as a double LP, on clear discs with slime green centres. The sleeve is a really nice, squidgy card-stock, similar to the type used by Brookvale Records on their From Dusk Till Dawn release from 2016.

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There’s been a fair bit of criticism online around the imagery used for the sleeve – the cover is the classic Ghostbusters logo (with the white ghost inverted from the version used on the original 1984 pop soundtrack), and the images on the gatefold and rear cover are straightforward stills from the film. Boutique soundtrack labels like Waxwork and Mondo have raised the game in terms of design, so this release feels a tad undercooked in this department.

The 4-panel photo booklet contained within the set features more images from the film, and includes liner notes from Elmer Bernstein’s son Peter, alongside full orchestra credits – something I always like to see on soundtrack releases.

Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we’ve been so busy lately is ’cause the dead HAVE been rising from the grave? ……….How ’bout a little music?

Hit: Ghostbusters Theme

Hidden Gem: News

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Rocks In The Attic #777: Charles Bernstein – ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#777Facebook recently reminded me of something great that happened a couple of years ago. One day, my wife – who is about as far from a horror fan as somebody could be – came home with a new purchase from one of our local second-hand stores.

She walked into the house in a red and green sweater, without any awareness of who’s famous for wearing such an item of clothing, and said ‘What do you think?’.

“Looks great, Freddy,’ I told her, prompting a ‘Huh?’ in response.

To be fair, she took it in good humour. She even staged her own photo, using stainless steel knives as a makeshift claw, so I could send it into the humour column of New Zealand’s daily newspaper. She never wore the sweater again, and took it back the next day (which I really regret as I should have kept it for fancy dress, particularly if I ever had a really bad acne attack).

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The Nightmare On Elm Street series feels like such a wasted opportunity to me. The original film from 1984 is very creepy and genuinely scary in parts – from the girl sliding around the ceiling of her room, falling onto a bed of blood, to Johnny Depp and his TV set being sucked into his bed, and his bed spewing a fountain of blood. But then the sequels started, and the films got less and less scary, focusing more on the humour of Freddy Krueger’s character. It went from scary to ridiculous in just a couple of films.

This soundtrack to the first film, reissued here by Mondo in a lovely red and green ‘Freddy’s sweater’ vinyl, is a nice piece of work too. Turning away from the traditionally orchestral scores of slasher films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Charles Bernstein opts for a suite of electronic music on the soundtrack. The main theme plays with lullabies and nursery rhymes, echoing the danger of the child-killer antagonist who kills teenagers in their sleep.

I was hoping that the 2010 remake would have put the films back on course, but it was thrillingly mediocre and Jackie Earl Hayley, that nice young boy from The Love Boat, missed an opportunity to really inhabit such a famous horror character. Apparently, another remake / reboot is on the cards. Let’s hope it gets back to the thrill of the 1984 original.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Laying The Traps

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Rocks In The Attic #751: Eurythmics – ‘1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother) (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#751Nineteen Eighty-Four is my favourite George Orwell novel, and probably one of my top five books of the twentieth century. It means so much to me, that I consciously avoided the film for a very long time. Adaptations can be a strange thing, and I wasn’t willing to let my memory of the book be tainted by cinema like so many of my other favourite books have been – Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to name but two.

In fact, for most of my life, I’ve known a John Hurt quote from the film more than anything else associated with the adaptation. Used as a sample in the intro to the Manic Street Preacher’s Faster, from 1995’s The Holy Bible, Hurt says ‘I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt.’ Wonderful.

I finally watched the film a year or so ago. It’s okay. Not fantastic, but not terrible either. More than anything, I found it unmemorable. This, I guess, is a blessing. It neither adds nor subtracts anything from my love for the novel.

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The soundtrack however, by Eurythmics, is strangely alluring. On paper, pairing the duo with a fantastically dystopian novel doesn’t sound like a great combination, almost like Pet Shop Boys composing the score to Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), but it works. Part synth-pop, part ominous moody score, it really flows well and stands up well with the synth-wave revival of the last decade.

Hit: Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Hidden Gem: I Did It Just The Same

Rocks In The Attic #740: The Radio Orchestra – ’50 Academy Award Winners’ (1984)

RITA#740As we’re well into award season, I thought I’d pull this one out of the racks.

Coming after the dreadful Themes record I posted about earlier this week, this is another LP that doesn’t contain the original versions. It’s an easy-listening orchestra doing the business this time though, not some over-eager chap with a Yamaha keyboard.

I do like this record though, for its completeness. Every song that won the Best Song Oscar since the awards category was established is covered here, from 1934’s The Continental (from the film Gay Divorcee), all the way up to 1983’s Flashdance.

Just hearing fifty years’ worth of film music is interesting, as the orchestral themes of the first half of the century start to drift into more popular musical styles in the latter half. I would have liked to have been in the studio when the Radio Orchestra recorded their funk-lite version of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, the winning song from 1971.

There are plenty of hits here, from Over The Rainbow to Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera), and Moon River to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, but for a hidden gem I just had to select Three Coins In The Fountain. Not because I like the song – I’ve never seen the film, and I doubt I ever will – but it’s the song that Steve Martin starts singing to a bewildered audience on a coach in Planes, Trains & Automobiles before John Candy saves him by launching into the theme from The Flinstones.

Hit: White Christmas

Hidden Gem: Three Coins In The Fountain

Rocks In The Attic #739: Various Artists – ‘Themes’ (1984)

RITA#739I love a good television theme; but only the original versions. None of this cheaply, re-recorded shit (like this joke of an LP) that captures the melody of the theme but little of anything else.

I used to have a cassette of TV themes when I was growing up; recorded off an LP from the library, no doubt. The A-Team and Magnum P.I. were on there, as well as some other themes that I hadn’t seen by that point, like Hill St. Blues and The Rockford Files. It even had Dallas on there, a show I hated but would always watch the beginning of, for that glimpse of the Cowboy’s stadium in the split-screen opening credits. I can’t remember if my cassette included the original versions or not; it’s too long ago now, but I like to think they did.

Maybe it speaks to my poor knowledge of licensing rights, but surely it would be cheaper to hunt down the rights to the original versions rather than go to the trouble of re-recording them. Or maybe not, who knows? Re-recorded TV themes seem to be ten a penny; it feels like finding a needle in a haystack when you stumble across an original version.

I was scouring Spotify the other day for original TV themes. I found a decent number, but the vast majority were those horrible re-recorded versions that all sound like they were recorded on one keyboard with a dozen different settings. The trouble is that most great TV themes are intertwined with one’s memories of the show, so when you hear Terry Keyboard’s version, it just sounds insulting.

RITA#739aA particular favourite I’ve recently rediscovered is Stewart Copeland’s instrumental theme for The Equalizer, the late ‘80s vigilante show starring Edward Woodward (cue joke about why he has so many ‘d’s in his name). The Equalizer was always one of those shows that I wasn’t allowed to watch when it was originally aired. It was on too late and deemed by my parents to be too adult for me, too violent, and the action wasn’t cartoonish enough like Airwolf or the Roger Moore Bond films. The Professionals was another one I never got to watch.  I always got to watch the opening credits to The Equalizer though, and those were scary enough.

Hit: Magnum P.I.

Hidden Gem: Chi Mai