Rocks In The Attic #693: John Barry – ‘A View To A Kill (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#693.jpgJames Bond, 007, British Secret Service, licensed to kill, fifty-seven years old.

Roger Moore is so old in this, his seventh and final outing as James Bond, that he was only prompted to give up the role due to an off-screen discussion with Bond girl Tanya Roberts. Moore discovered that he was the same age as the actress’ mother, and so finally realised that it was time to hang up his tuxedo for good. It’s was fortunate he did, as things were starting to get a little creepy. Before Bond finally seduces Stacy Sutton in the – ahem – climax of this film, he tucks her into bed during the film’s bloated second act. Ugh.

By the time of this, the fourteenth official Bond film, it had become very hard to take 007 seriously. Not only do we see Bond parading around with a girl old enough to be his daughter, but the writers take the character further and further away from Ian Fleming’s original secret agent. Prior to Bond tucking Sutton into bed, he bakes her a quiche. I swear I’m not making this up.

Christopher Walken does a nice turn as the villainous Max Zorin – a role originally turned down by both David Bowie and Sting. It’s actually a shame that Walken took the role, as it looks like the producers were offering it to every 1980s British rock star. Personally, I would have liked to see Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel battle Bond for world domination. Sledgehammer, in particular, would have made a great Bond theme – and a great film title.

Hit: A View To A Kill – Duran Duran

Hidden Gem: Snow Job

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Rocks In The Attic #692: Elton John – ‘Caribou’ (1974)

RITA#692One of the highlights of last weekend’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – aside from watching Idris Elba accompany Oprah Winfrey through the doors of the chapel – was Elton John’s fabulous pink glasses. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think he might be one of those homosexuals that we’ve been hearing so much about.

You can always rely on Elton to look fabulous. The pink spectacles reminded me of his portrait on the inner sleeve to this, his eighth studio album. Coming off the back of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a step down after such a big seller, but there’s still a lot to love here. Opener The Bitch Is Back sounds like the tag-team partner of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me would be a moderate hit (#16 UK, #2 US) before being recorded as a duet with George Michael in 1991, topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

I just love the outrageousness of Elton singing a love letter to Grimsby – Take me back you rustic town / I miss your magic charm / Just to smell your candy floss / Or drink in the Skinners Arms.

Hit: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

Hidden Gem: Grimsby

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Rocks In The Attic #691: Various Artists – ‘Barry Lyndon (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#691It happened purely by accident, but over the last five years I’ve become a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick.

I can’t remember the first Kubrick film I watched. An early fascination with both horror and sci-fi leads me to think it was either The Shining or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I would have seen both before I was a teenager, which might explain why every time I see a lift open I expect it to empty a river of blood into the lobby, or why I can spot a match cut from a mile away.

A subsequent interest in war films led me to Full Metal Jacket, his concession to the MTV generation, and a student friend showed me Dr. Strangelove at University. My favourite novel, Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, led me to Kubrick’s adaptation, and as soon as the director’s own censorship ban was lifted from A Clockwork Orange following his death in 1999, I hungrily ate it up, the last piece of the puzzle.

There was a problem though. I saw Eyes Wide Shut at the cinema in 1999, and it put me off Kubrick for a long time. What I initially saw as a huge turkey of a film was further supported by a half-hearted viewing of Barry Lyndon in my twenties. I missed the beginning, I was hungover, and I just wasn’t in the mood for an overlong period drama.

Thanks to the New Zealand International Film Festival, I’ve been able to see a number of Kubrick’s films on the huge screen at Auckland’s Civic theatre– first The Shining, and then a retrospective of the director, including Spartacus and 2001. A renewed interest led me back to Barry Lyndon – a masterpiece! – and a middle-of-the-night-on-an-aeroplane viewing of Jon Ronson’s documentary, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, prompted me to give Eyes Wide Shut another chance. It’s still a question mark, but an intriguing one which requires further viewing.

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The moment I was won over by Barry Lyndon was in one of the early scenes in which the titular character is almost seduced by his older cousin, Nora. The soundtrack to this encounter – The Chieftains’ Women Of Ireland – might just be one of the most bewitching pieces of music committed to celluloid. The scene skilfully portrays aching, forbidden love, something that was sadly missing from his toned-down adaptation of Lolita.

The one disappointing aspect of Kubrick’s work is that while his films are dense and rich fodder for cinephiles, there just aren’t too many of them (compared to a prolific director like Spielberg or Hitchcock). Five years between Barry Lyndon and The Shining. Another seven years to Full Metal Jacket, and then a whopping twelve years to Eyes Wide Shut (partly explained by the obsessiveness unearthed by the Jon Ronson documentary).

While he may have passed away almost twenty years ago, the director has still left a lot of clues lying around, if Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 documentary is anything to go by. Heard that conspiracy theory about Kubrick filming the moon landings? Prepare to believe it…

Hit: Sarabande (Main Title) – Georg Friedrich Handel

Hidden Gem: Women Of Ireland – The Chieftains

Rocks In The Attic #690: Acker Bilk – ‘Stranger On The Shore’ (1961)

RITA#690Playing the clarinet: the musical equivalent of smoking a pipe.

Rock star clarinettist Acker Bilk – or ACKER BILK ESQUIRE as this record credits him – came to become a household name with Stranger On The Shore, the best-selling UK single of 1962.

The song might just represent the last vestiges of a music industry dominated by adults. October of that year introduced the Beatles to the world, and spotty young people would ride the charts forever after.

Hit: Stranger On The Shore

Hidden Gem: Sentimental Journey

Rocks In The Attic #689: Percy Sledge – ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ (1966)

RITA#689If there was ever a song that was made to be played in a funeral parlour, it’s When A Man Loves A Woman by Percy Sledge. Not only does it feature a morbid – but beautiful – Farfisa organ intro played by Spooner Oldham, the mood of the song is one of heartbreak – the perfect fodder to soundtrack a casket advancing into the flames of the cremation chamber.

The rest of the record is of a similar theme, with Sledge’s lyrics recounting the loves he’s lost – all driven by that wonderful organ. Spooner’s organ that it, not Sledge’s problematic member.

Quite a few of these ‘60s soul albums by male artists feature a generic female model on the cover; a couple of Otis Redding’s spring to mind. I wonder how many children saw Sledge’s debut record in their parents’ collections and figured that this pretty white lady was called Percy, or that the blonde lady on the cover of Otis Blue / Otis Sings Soul was named Otis.

Not only did Percy Sledge live to the ripe old age of 74 (passing away just a few years ago in 2015), he had no less than twelve children – three of which went on to become singers in their own right.

Hit: When A Man Loves A Woman

Hidden Gem: Thief In The Night

Rocks In The Attic #688: Probot – ‘Probot’ (2004)

RITA#688.jpgAnybody who has written off Dave Grohl as a commercial sell-out really needs to listen to this, his metal side-project from 2004.

Alongside Lemmy, Max Cavalera, Kim Thayil, Jack Black and many others, Grohl plays almost all instrumentation on a record that is so heavy your neighbours will love it.

In fact, the record feels so right it makes you wonder where Grohl’s heart really lies – the doom and sheer oomph of this versus the mainstream watered-down Emo of his day job.

Hit: Centuries Of Sin

Hidden Gem: Dictatosaurus

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