Category Archives: Soundtrack

Rocks In The Attic #812: Various Artists – ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (O.S.T.)’ (2019)

WARNING! SPOILERS!

RITA#812Half-way through Quentin Tarantino’s ninth picture, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Brad Pitt’s character, stuntman Cliff Booth, visits Spahn Ranch. Reminiscent of the ‘glass of milk’ scene in Inglourious Basterds, or that same film’s later bar scene, it’s a deliciously tense moment in an otherwise bloated film. Booth suspects that there’s something amiss about the group of hippies living at the ranch owned by his former colleague. Unlike the audience, he doesn’t have hindsight of the Manson family, but still feels that something isn’t quite right.

He insists of seeing his former colleague, George Spahn, to ensure he’s not being taken advantage of, or worse. After much obstruction by the Mansons, Booth finally speaks to a grouchy Spahn who insists that everything is okay. He might be being taken advantage of, but seems relatively content about it.

And so, a wonderfully tense fifteen-minute scene ends in an anti-climax; a metaphor for the film itself.

RITA#812aOnce Upon A Time In Hollywood isn’t a bad film, but it’s a huge disappointment. It’s up there with Ari Aster’s unapologetic ­Wicker Man­ rip-off, Midsommar, as the biggest let-down of 2019. To say that four years ago, I met Tarantino and practically begged him not to retire after his tenth film, I should have spent that precious time asking him to be more careful with #9 and #10.

People tend to forget that what originally made Tarantino’s films so interesting is that they normalised dialogue between henchman, bad guys and crooks. They did horrible things but they still had small, human problems. Thirty years after the 1-2-3 success of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and we’re faced with a picture that, despite its depiction of infamous events, is just dull. That throwaway book-reading scene between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and his 12-year old co-star is painfully dull.

In fact, the whole DiCaprio storyline is boring. Death Proof levels of boring.

My main issue with the film though, is its skirting with reality and its subsequent failure to end with the Sharon Tate murders. Tarantino has played with revisionist history before: a Jew murdering Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis in Basterds, and Jamie Foxx’s slave rising up to avenge his former slave-owners in Django Unchained. Here though, he kind of gets away with it because, as the film’s title suggest, it’s a fairytale. A happy ending. An allegory for Hollywood itself.

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My preferred ending to the picture would have kept the meeting of Dalton, Sebring and Tate on the driveway, but the crane shot would have swept back to the open gate to reveal another car full of Manson children, implying that fate cannot be stopped.

I’m probably more disappointed about what the film could have been rather than how it turned out. Tarantino directing a period film in 1960s Los Angeles sounds unbeatable. First, we get that classic period-era Columbia Pictures studio ident at the top of the film, to set the scene. Then things start to break down.

Five minutes in, we get a blast of narration from Kurt Russell’s Randy Miller: ‘That’s a fucking lie!’ Do we get any more? Yes, but much, much later in the film (following Dalton and Booth’s return from Italy). Cliff Booth has a clunky flashback as he fixes the aerial on Dalton’s roof. Do we get any more flashbacks? Nope. And those crazy cuts – hat on, hat off – in the first scene between Dalton and Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy? What the hell is going on with these half-hearted narrative devices?

The script across the film’s opening scenes – Booth explaining in the car who he is to Dalton, and Dalton explaining who Roman Polanski is – feels very clunky, like a first draft even. I did chuckle at the random line of dialogue: ‘Don’t cry in front of Mexicans’, which sounds like the oddest piece of racist advice from Brad Pitt’s character.

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And to expand on the issues with Pitt’s Cliff Booth, where do I start? The implication that he killed his wife, and the insinuation that she deserved it for being a nag, is just awful. As is the portrayal of Bruce Lee in the next scene. After two viewings, I still can’t understand why Bruce Lee is a character in this film. Is Tarantino making an example of him because he’s a mainstream kung-fu star, and Tarantino prefers more obscure films from that genre? What else could it be? I don’t think it’s particularly racist, but it’s definitely disrespectful, and more importantly, downright lazy.

I do love the soundtrack though, with the radio station framing – Boss Radio featuring Humble Harve and the Real Don Steele – harking back to Steve Wright’s radio announcements on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. It’s odd that the vinyl version of the soundtrack retains that compressed radio sound for the songs introduced by the Boss radio DJs, but the digital version I’ve heard on Spotify abandons this and plays the standard versions.

My only gripe with the soundtrack is the inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, a song that just feels too popular, too obvious, to be in a Tarantino picture. I did hear Tarantino explain in an interview with Edith Bowman, for her excellent Soundtracking podcast, that in fact the song choices were made for him. Looking for archival recordings of radio stations from the time, they found that somebody had recorded audio from Boss Radio in 1969 and he used this as the basis for sides A and C of the eventual soundtrack release. If songs weren’t played during this found recording, he didn’t put them on the soundtrack.

Overall, I expect better from Tarantino because he’s shown how strong a filmmaker he is. Man, I hope film number ten is a vast improvement on this let-down.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel

Hidden Gem: You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge

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Rocks In The Attic #768: Various Artists – ‘Ghostbusters II (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

RITA#7681989. 11-years old. Painful disappointment at the cinema. Thankfully, the same year also gave us Tim Burton’s Batman just two months later, so all was not lost. It still hurts to think about how disappointing Ghostbusters II was though.

It should have been a sure-fire hit. Five years after the runaway success of the first film, director Ivan Reitman had managed to reunite the original cast – a post-Aliens Sigourney Weaver, a post-Scrooged Bill Murray, and a post-Dragnet Dan Aykroyd. No mean feat in itself. Reitman also managed to secure a script by Aykroyd and fellow co-star Harold Ramis, much like the first film. The same cast, the same writers and the same director, working with a larger budget? What could go wrong?

I watch Ghostbusters II every five years or so. I always want it to be better than it is, but I’m always let down. It just doesn’t have the spark of their first film. The humour isn’t as subtle, the characters aren’t as likable as their 1984 versions, and the story doesn’t have the same David and Goliath / us versus them sensibility.

RITA#768aThe soundtrack itself is a disappointment too. It’s heavily dependant on New Jack Swing, a genre of music that lasted all of a fortnight at the end of the ‘80s. As a result, it sounds incredibly dated. Only Howard Huntsberry’s timeless cover of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher, used as diagetic music blasted out of a walking Statue Of Liberty in the film, can raise a smile.

Ghostbusters II, Hudson Hawk, Super Mario Bros. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, Hollywood went through a seemingly aimless phase of producing big-budget genre films and turning them into flops. Big expensive turkeys – dry and disappointing.

Those who defend Ghostbusters II are deluded. They’re the same misguided fools who defend Spielberg’s Hook. Nostalgia is not, and never will be, a substitute for quality filmmaking.

Hit: On Our Own – Bobby Brown

Hidden Gem: Higher And Higher – Howard Huntsberry

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Rocks In The Attic #747: Various Artists – ‘Sharky’s Machine (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#747Thank God I had a video recorder in my room, growing up. It might have been a top-loader – much to the amusement of anybody who saw it – but it did the job. It meant that I could tape films in the middle of the night, rather than staying up and propping my eyelids open. When a teacher asks you why you’re so tired in class, it’s never a good idea to say that you stayed up to watch The Eiger Sanction.

I would record anything that sounded exciting: anything starring Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis, Rutger Hauer, Harrison Ford, Chuck Norris, and so on. Thankfully, the action genre is a little more racially diverse these days; I essentially grew up on a diet of white dude action heroes.

An old favourite was always Sharky’s Machine, directed by and starring Burt Reynolds, very much at the top of his game. Reynolds plays Tom Sharky, a tough Atlanta cop who gets transferred to the vice department. There, he discovers a high-class prostitution ring, and slowly falls in love with one of the girls as he stakes out her apartment.

On a recent re-watch, I admit it’s not a great film. But there’s just something about American cop thrillers from the ‘70s and ‘80s that I adore: the cityscapes, the grittiness, and the endless banks of lit-up office blocks against the night sky. For me, a weak script and a few hammy acting performances can usually be overlooked, purely on the strength of the filming locations.

RITA#747bReynolds also oversaw the soundtrack, alongside producer Snuff Garrett. This move – with Reynolds directing and overseeing the soundtrack – almost makes him a proto-Tarantino character, with Reynold’s only real contribution to that universe being his appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Tarantino-esque Boogie Nights in 1997. The other connection, of course, being the inclusion of Randy Crawford’s Street Life on both the Sharky’s Machine soundtrack, and the soundtrack to Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

Originally the opening track on the Crusaders’ 1979 album of the same name, Street Life was originally a slower, 11-minute song featuring a guest vocal by Randy Crawford. The version recorded for the Sharky’s Machine soundtrack was recorded by Doc Severinson, who also composed the original score for the film, and is credited only to Randy Crawford. This shorter version of Street Life is far punchier and more direct than the Crusaders’ original, and is a stone-cold funk / soul gem.

The inner gatefold of the record shows a wonderful photo collage of the recording sessions, alongside publicity stills from the film. The liner notes read: For Sharky’s Machine, Burt Reynolds and Snuff Garrett have brought together some of the greatest jazz talents in history. This is followed by a detailed list of all the participants, most of which are unrecognisable to my uncultured eyes.

Hit: Street Life – Randy Crawford

Hidden Gem: Sexercise – Doc Severinsen

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Rocks In The Attic #653: Various Artists – ‘Trainspotting (O.S.T.)’ (1996)

RITA#653V/O:      Choose life. Choose scoring tickets to the New Zealand premiere of T2: TRAINSPOTTING, with Danny Boyle in attendance. Choose taking along your Trainspotting soundtrack in the hope that you *just might* get it signed. Choose being in the right fucking place at the right fucking time. Choose having a chat with Danny and telling him you’re so glad he didn’t film the second Trainspotting novel (‘Porno’). Choose Danny replying “Yeah, it’s not one of his best novels at the end of the day”. Choose mentioning that Hollywood has done that story since anyway. Choose him catching your drift and saying “Yeah, you’re right, a couple of years ago there was a glut of films with a similar premise, like ‘We Made A Porno'”. Choose a firm handshake. Choose walking away a very happy man. Choose it all!

My favourite moment of 2017 was meeting director Danny Boyle at the New Zealand premiere of T2: Trainspotting. I’ve come a long way in twenty or so years of record collecting, from having nothing autographed aside from a Clint Boon LP, to having a couple of early ZZ Top records fully signed by the band, the soundtrack to The Hateful Eight signed by Quentin Tarantino and Zoe Bell, the soundtrack to Death Proof also signed by Zoe Bell, and now this – the soundtrack to Boyle’s 1996 breakthrough, Trainspotting.

I’m not 100% sure how Newmarket’s Broadway cinema manages to attract these big-name Hollywood directors – it was the same venue at which I met Tarantino a year earlier – but I hope they continue the trend.

The Tarantino event was advertised as a meet and greet, so getting something signed was almost guaranteed, but the T2: Trainspotting event was only supposed to be a showing of the film introduced by Boyle. I took my copy of the soundtrack along, just in case.

When we arrived at the cinema, Boyle was being interviewed by the local TV station at the entrance to the foyer. The place was packed, with people making good use of the free drinks and food that were being offered by hospitality staff. Our small group – myself, my wife, my brother and a friend from work – found a spot among the crowd.

I glanced over at Boyle – now being interviewed by a different TV station – and thought that the chance of getting an autograph was slim. But then I saw him autographing something for somebody, and I took my chance.

I approached with my soundtrack and Sharpie in hand, expecting to be shooed away. A member of his team turned to greet me.

“Hi there, would you like Danny to sign that for you?”

This was going to be easier than expected.

“Yes, please!”

She tapped him on the shoulder just as he was wrapping up an interview with Kate Rodger, the TV3 film critic who pronounces Gal Godot as ‘Gal Gad-eau’ as though she’s French (Rodger is seemingly incapable of doing any basic research, let alone use the fucking internet).

RITA#653bDanny turns around.

“Hi there,” he says in his soft northern drawl.

We have our quick chat and he signs my record. The best thing about being with friends is that they all got their phones out and so I have a good photographic document of the moment.

Of course, in my nervousness, I forgot to tell Danny I was from Oldham, just a dozen miles away from his native Radciffe. I also forgot to tell him how much I appreciated him for reinventing the zombie genre with 28 Days Later, or how if you watch 127 Hours in reverse it turns into a lovely film about an amputee who finds his missing arm in the desert.

Most importantly, I didn’t tell him that his opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympics was one of the few things that has made my heart truly ache with homesickness.

Hit: Lust For Life – Iggy Pop

Hidden Gem: Deep Blue Day – Brian Eno

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Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #572: Various Artists – ‘Fletch (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita572Record collecting can be a rollercoaster of emotions. On the two vinyl collecting groups on Facebook that I hang around in, I regularly see posts from members who have bought something amazing, for next to nothing, from a charity shop / thrift store / op-shop (depending on where they are in the world).

These minor hauls are usually a random bunch of records, in perfect condition, that somebody has just donated to the store for reasons unknown. The accompanying photograph shows the records in all their pristine glory – first pressings of Beatles records, or a bunch of early Pink Floyd albums, or something unattainable like a plum Atlantic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut with turquoise lettering.

You want to be happy for the person posting their good news, but an overwhelming pang of jealousy kicks in and you want to kill the bastard instead. Why does this never happen to me, you ask yourself, as you recall the countless times you’ve sifted through the records at op-shops across New Zealand and found nothing better than the ingredients for a Nana Mouskouri / Harry Secombe  / James Last mash-up.

Recently my fortunes changed. I visited a new op-shop in my home town; a store that used to be a guitar shop until it closed down last year. I ventured into the shop cautiously and saw a bunch of records displayed on the racks that the previous shop used to display sheet music. There they were, the usual suspects; records that won’t sell in a million years. I picked up a Carly Simon compilation, and quickly put it down when I noticed the $12 price tag. Ouch! A cursory look told me that the pricing was wildly inconsistent – some were a dollar or two, some were over ten bucks.

Then I saw it, the soundtrack to one of my favourite ‘80s comedies – Fletch, starring Chevy Chase. And for the princely sum of two hundred New Zealand cents. It might not be a turquoise Led Zeppelin, but it was something I’d been looking for in the racks ever since I started purposefully collecting records in the late ‘90s.

Of course I could have easily found the record on Discogs, the global repository for record collecting, but there’s something about the thrill of finding a record in the wild. I really couldn’t believe my luck, although I’m sure nobody will share my enthusiasm for such a record.

Released a year after Beverly Hills Cop, the score to Fletch was also composed by Harold Faltermeyer – a very hot property around that mid-‘80s period. The soundtrack collects four songs performed by him, alongside a batch of typically nondescript ‘80s pop songs (a couple of which are produced by Faltermeyer). I even like these songs, by the likes of Stephanie Mills, Kim Wilde and John Farnham, as they’re just so linked to the film in my brain. Whenever I listen to Dan Hartman’s Fletch, Get Outta Town, I immediately think of Chevy Chase commandeering a sports car. Harold Faltermeyer’s Diggin’ In reminds me of Chase snooping around an office looking for clues just before being chased out of the property by a Doberman (if there were two dogs, would they be Dobermen?).

As a comedy of the 1980s, Fletch wasn’t by any means a commercial success. It isn’t Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers or Beverly Hills Cop, but I love it. For me, it symbolises the time when I would record films off the television, to re-watch endlessly, using the VCR in my bedroom. On a four hour tape, I would record Fletch and then wait for months for the 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, to be aired so I could record it straight after.

Hit: Bit By Bit (Theme From Fletch) – Stephanie Mills

Hidden Gem: Fletch Theme – Harold Faltermeyer

Rocks In The Attic #534: Various Artists – ‘Clerks (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

rita534After finding Aerosmith – and starting to unlock the rest of the music world – in 1993, the following year was the first year where I completely submerged myself into this weird new world from the first day of January to the last day of December. As such, 1994 has really ended up becoming Year Zero for me.

If I see an album listed with the year 1994 in brackets after it, it instantly raises my eyebrows like a Roger Moore double entendre. It might not be the most attractive year to have as a starting point – by this time grunge was in a nursing home, and the empty and vacuous Britpop genre was starting to snowball in my native England – but you have to take what you’re given, don’t you?

I can’t remember when I saw Clerks – or even how I saw it – but it instantly became a favourite of mine along with Dazed And Confused from the prior year. Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater really became the spokesmen for those post-grunge, slacker times. They’ve both creeped more and more into the mainstream with every release since, but both of these films were really regarded as the embodiment of the counterculture in the early- to mid-‘90s.
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Of the two, I feel the most let down by Kevin Smith. His output has been very patchy since, to such an extent that I gave up on him altogether after 2010’s Cop Out. Linklater, meanwhile, has taken the Steven Soderbergh route of just trying to do something different with every film (okay, let’s ignore Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, the Ocean’s Eleven sequels and a few other duffers). Anybody who goes to the effort of directing Boyhood, a film where the principal photography was spread out over eleven years, deserves major respect.

Of course, the magic in Clerks and Dazed And Confused is in the scripts, and both films stand up really well to the other well-scripted comedies I would watch endlessly around this time: This Is Spinal Tap and Withnail & I.

Hit: Clerks – Love Among Freaks

Hidden Gem: Chewbacca – Supernova

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