Tag Archives: Howard Shore

Rocks In The Attic #841: Maurice Jarre – ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990)

RITA#841The first thing that jumps out when revisiting Adrian Lyne’s 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder is just how disgusting New York City looks. Set mostly in 1975, the city looks unrecognisable; more Pelham 1-2-3 than the tourist-friendly city of the 21st century. Tenement buildings are grimy, subway cars are strewn with litter and the streets are as uninviting as the sewers beneath them.

Tim Robbins, just before being recognised as a national treasure, plays Jacob Singer, a US infrantryman in Vietnam. In the film’s opening sequence, his platoon is ambushed by an unseen enemy while many of his comrades suffer unexplained convulsions and seizures. The sequence ends with Jacob himself receiving a bayonet to the chest.

He wakes up (WINK!) years later in New York City, having just fallen asleep on a late-night subway train. Slowly, over the course of the next ninety minutes, his life begins to unravel as he sees disturbing visions and phenomena. The special effects are great; low-key and minimal, but brilliantly effective. Being made in 1990, it manages to avoid the over-reliance on computer-generated effects that burdened Hollywood later in the decade.

Not only do we get Tri-Star and Carolco studio idents at the top of the film, but what a great ensemble cast: Tim Robbins, Ving Rhames, Macauley Culkin, Danny Aiello, Eriq La Salle, Jason Alexander (with hair) and Brian Tarantina.

The film has a really nice, slow build-up. You can’t imagine a modern-day horror taking this amount of time (aside from Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man).

Maurice Jarre’s score fits the film perfectly. The delicate, lilting piano lines of the soundtrack’s main title reminds me of Michael Andrews’ work on Donnie Darko, and it’s clear that this must have been a key text for Andrews when composing that score. To add to this, the crescendo of Jarre’s final cue, The Ladder, feels like it might have had some influence on Howard Shore’s sublime score to The Silence Of The Lambs a year later in 1991. There’s even a couple of nice needle-drops, particularly in the party scene. A mental freak-out over James Brown’s My Thang? Yes please!

I first watched the film during my first foray into horror – most probably when it was first broadcast on Sky TV in the UK – but it didn’t do much for me at the time. I’ve really enjoyed a revisit 30 years later. In light of the coronavirus pandemic reaching fever pitch last week, it’s a ripe reflection of the panic and hysteria that’s happening around the world. Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.

And not a Huey Lewis & The News song in sight…

Hit: Jacob’s Ladder

Hidden Gem: The Ladder

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Rocks In The Attic #709: John Williams – ‘Jurassic Park (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#709What does William’s score to 1993’s Jurassic Park have to do with Dies Irae, a latin hymn from the thirteenth century?

After watching the latest disappointing Jurassic Park sequel, it’s refreshing to wash my brain out with the score to Spielberg’s original film. At this point in his career, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Williams would be washed-up. Surely the composer of Jaws, Superman, the Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters, the Indiana Jones trilogy – and many, many more – would have nothing left. Somebody that prolific can’t keep on being prolific, can they?

The answer seems to be a resounding Yes. Not only does Jurassic Park contain two distinctly memorable main themes – Theme From Jurassic Park and Journey To The Island – but the rest of the score is just as strong as his ‘70s and ‘80s output. But what’s all this about Gregorian Chant?

The answer is in a descending motif in the ancient hymn. For centuries, this doom-laden melody has been used as short-hand for evil or foreboding – Dies Irae itself translates to Day Of Wrath. A host of great composers have used the motif in their works – Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Holst, Liszt, Mahler and Rachmaninoff, to name but a few – but it’s its use in modern film soundtracks that interests me the most.

The tune is easiest to spot in the first few notes of The Shining’s opening Main Title, played by Wendy Carlos on the Moog Synthesiser. Here, the melody isn’t even disguised, it’s as clear as the day in which it’s used to soundtrack, as the Torrances drive up the mountain approaching the Overlook Hotel.

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Williams uses it to great effect in Jurassic Park, throughout the cues entitled Incident At Isla Nublar (from 3:32), and High Wire Stunts (from 0:00). But this isn’t the first time he’s referenced it. It can be found a couple of times in his iconic score to 1977’s Star Wars. Here it plays as the accompaniment immediately before Luke’s Force Theme rises up in The Burning Homestead (from 1:28), and is echoed in the doom-laden brass line (from 1:43) as Luke’s fate realigns.

And it’s not just John Williams sliding it into his scores, the musical equivalent of directors inserting the Wilhelm Scream into their sound mix. Other famous composers have “borrowed” the melody too. In 2001’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, Howard Shore uses it as the bassline thoughout the cue entitled Weathertop (from 0:18), as the Ringwraiths attack the Hobbits. Jerry Goldsmith utilises it in his 1982 score for Poltergeist, Hans Zimmer uses it briefly in 1994’s The Lion King, and Bernard Herrmann used it back in 1963 for Jason And The Argonauts. Unsurprisingly the tune also makes for good horror music fodder.

RITA#709aEven back in 1927, Gottfried Huppertz inserted the motif into his Dance Of Death cue for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (from 1:17) – confirming that the appropriation of Dies Irae in cinema is as old as cinema itself.

Interestingly, John Williams does something sneaky with Dies Irae in Jurassic Park. Usually the sequence of the first four notes in the motif is enough to suggest doom and despair, but Williams takes just the first three notes and does something unexpected with them. They serve as the starting point for the Jurassic Park’s main theme – as positive and upbeat a film theme as could be, even when played on a Melodica.

Hit: Theme From Jurassic Park

Hidden Gem: Dennis Steals The Embryo

Rocks In The Attic #624: Howard Shore – ‘The Silence Of The Lambs (O.S.T.)’ (1991)

RITA#624.jpgPop quiz, people: what’s the link between this Jonathan Demme film and Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest from 1975?

Clue – it isn’t that they’re both set in mental asylums, although of course that is undoubtedly true; the answer is something more specific. Just like the magazine quiz in the Sunday papers, you can find the answer at the bottom of the page!

“Starling! Starling! Crawford wants to see you in his office.”

So begins one of the best films of the 1990’s, and arguably the best Thomas Harris adaptation. Hipsters will try and claim Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) – the first film adaptation of Harris’ Red Dragon ­– but that feels very dated now, compared to the later, admittedly duller, remake, Red Dragon (2002). Manhunter isn’t even the best Michael Mann film – surely that accolade would sit with Thief (1981) or Heat (1995).

While Manhunter introduced the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter to the silver screen, Lambs stands head and shoulders apart from the earlier film and Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal is so different to Brian Cox’s version that it feels like a different character altogether.

Fresh off her Best Actress winning role in 1998’s The Accused, Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, a trainee FBI agent tasked with interviewing an incarcerate Lecter on the current serial killer at large, Buffalo Bill. Like all great films and television shows, the naive Starling acts as our guide into this world for which she isn’t ready.

RITA#624aAnother clue for the pop quiz at the top of the page – the third film that links The Silence Of The Lambs and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is Frank Capra’s 1934 proto-romantic comedy It Happened One Night.

Even if you take away Lambs most thrilling scene – the sequence involving Lecter’s escape from a heavily locked-down Tennessee courthouse – and the film’s many, many contributions to ‘90s popular culture, there’s still a lot to love. Howard Score’s musical score is very highly strung, with a recurring theme that resonates with Starling’s unease into Lecter and Buffalo Bill’s territory, every performance from the principals down to the support roles and bit-parts feels just right, and the film’s final switcheroo when Starling knocks on the door of a lead, while the FBI storm the house of their main suspect, is just wonderful – a cinematic device I’ve seen imitated many times since but never bettered.

The only aspect of the film now that doesn’t work as well as it might have done upon release is Demme’s use of extreme close-up. While this works with the voyeuristic theme of the film, in practice it feels a little too jarring, particularly when used in relatively benign scenes like, for example, the scene where Starling and her FBI colleagues watch the TV news press conference by the parents of Buffalo Bill’s latest victim.

“I do wish we could chat longer, but… I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Cellar

RITA#624bANSWER: All three films – It Happened One Night, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence Of The Lambs – won the ‘big five’ academy awards in their respective years: Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster) and either of the two screenplay awards, in this case Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally).

Now, while this is one of my tried and tested trivia facts, and something I’ve bored countless people with over the years, what I find even more interesting are the films which were nominated for the ‘big five’, but didn’t pull off a clean sweep like these three films did. As of the latest Academy Awards in February 2017, a total of forty three films have been nominated for the ‘big five’. The following list ranks each of the forty three by their number of wins in the ‘big five’ categories:

Four
Gone With The Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942)
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Three
From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
Coming Home
(Hal Ashby, 1978)
On Golden Pond
(Mark Rydell, 1981)
Million Dollar Baby
(Clint Eastwood, 2004)

Two
Cimarron (Wesley Ruggles, 1931)
The Philadelphia Story
(George Cukor, 1940)
Gentleman’s Agreement
(Elia Kazan, 1947)
A Place In The Sun
(George Stevens, 1951)
The Country Girl
(George Seaton, 1954)
Room At The Top
(Jack Clayton, 1959)
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
(Stanley Kramer, 1967)
The Lion In The Winter
(Anthony Harvey, 1968)
Rocky
(John G. Avildsen, 1976)
The English Patient
(Anthony Minghella, 1996)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

One
A Star Is Born (William A. Wellman, 1937)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
(Sam Woodm 1939)
Rebecca
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)
Johnny Belinda
(Jean Negulesco, 1948)
Sunset Boulevard
(Billy Wilder, 1950)
A Streetcar Named Desire
(Elia Kazan, 1951(
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
(Mike Nichols, 1967)
The Graduate
(Mike Nicols, 1967)
Reds
(Warren Beatty, 1981)
Silver Linings Playbook
(David O. Russell, 2012)

Zero
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958)
The Hustler
(Robert Rossen, 1961)
Bonnie And Clyde
(Arthur Penn, 1967)
Love Story
(Arthur Hiller, 1970)
Lenny
(Bob Fosse, 1974)
Atlantic City
(Louis Malle, 1981)
The Remains Of The Day
(James Ivory, 1993)
American Hustle
(David O. Russell, 2013)

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Rocks In The Attic #576: Howard Shore – ‘The Fly (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#576I’ve got to admit, I love a good soundtrack, and I love a good coloured vinyl release. So when I saw that Howard Shore’s score to David Cronenberg’s 1986 reimagining of The Fly was being released, I jumped at the chance.

These boutique vinyl releases seem to be getting more and more popular, and it’s with soundtracks that labels tend to be focusing on. That’s good news for me, but very bad news for my bank balance.

This particular release has a less than impressive 3D lenticular cover, but the best thing is that the vinyl itself is a lovely green / black “haze”. They really could have done something a little better with the lenticular cover. The eventual vinyl release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan for 2015’s Record Store Day showed how well a lenticular cover can work. Here, the artwork flips between a smoky shot of the infamous teleporter, and a similarly smoky shot of the same teleporter with a human arm and a giant fly’s leg reaching out. The two images are not different enough – or clear enough – to give a sense of a moving image.

Still, it’s a lovely package and the record looks and sounds awesome – Brundlefly would approve!

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Plasma Pool
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