Tag Archives: Soundtrack

Rocks In The Attic #639: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Christine’ (1983)

RITA#639Christine wins the award for the worst John Carpenter film with the best John Carpenter score. Well, it’s not a bad film – it just isn’t anything special, especially when it follows the John Carpenter high-water mark of Escape From New York and The Thing.

Perhaps it’s the source material – choosing to adapt a slice of Stephen King Americana, rather than focusing on an original screenplay. King adaptations can be a hard thing to get right – he’s the master at writing characters, which doesn’t always translate very well to the screen. The old saying goes that a picture paints a thousand words; this doesn’t apply when the words are coming from Stephen King’s typewriter.

The film is a little confused as to who the lead protagonist is. First we start with the varsity jacket-wearing jock, Dennis (John Stockwell) who is – inexplicably – best friends with Arnie (Keith Gordon, typecast as the same hopeless character as he portrayed in 1978’s Jaws 2). The two, despite Dennis’ jock status, are relentlessly bullied by the tough kids at school – a bunch of reprobates (including the naive gum-chewing subject of Venkman’s ESP test in 1984’s Ghostbusters) led by Buddy (William Ostrander), who appears to have been kept back at school for about 25 years, and looks like he’s just escaped from the local prison.

RITA#639aOnce Arnie buys a beat-up old car, the titular Christine, we then experience the film through his eyes, as he uses Christine’s unexplained magical powers to hunt down and seek revenge on his tormentors. The film then abandons Arnie – positioning him as the antagonist, under the influence of his car – and switches back to the viewpoint of Dennis, who defeats Christine and saves the film’s only lead female (this film does not pass the Bechdel test), Leigh (Alexandra Paul, who would later play the virgin Connie Swails in 1987’s Dragnet, before finding fame on TV’s Baywatch), from the murderous car.

Where Escape From New York and The Thing were high on concept, but followed through spectacularly on their respective promises, Christine stalls as soon as the key is turned. Its saving grace, of course, is the soundtrack; a slow-burning synth score by Carpenter and his composing partner Alan Howarth.

Hit: The Rape

Hidden Gem: Moochie’s Death

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Rocks In The Attic #633: Ramin Djawadi – ‘Westworld (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

RITA#633It’s a hard life being a soundtrack nut. Last week, I was waiting online to order a copy of the score to Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter [spoiler alert – as the fourth instalment of eleven films, it was far from being the final chapter] from the always excellent Waxwork Records. At 2am, when I found out that the record was going on sale in the USA at the equivalent of 5am NZ-time, I went to sleep for three short hours before waking up to place my order (a double LP in Tommy Jarvis blue & white swirl with green splatter), and then going back to sleep.

Last week I also received Waxwork’s repressing of John Harrison’s 1985 Day Of The Dead score in a lovely blood-smear double LP set; and earlier this morning, the postman brought me a trans-Pacific package from Newbury Comics, featuring John Carpenter and Allan Howarth’s score to Christine (1983), in a blue and gold split red splatter, and this, the soundtrack to HBO’s Westworld TV series, in blood red vinyl.

I have to admit, I was a little cautious when I heard that they were remaking Westworld into a television show. The 1973 sci-fi western is an old favourite of mine from when I would tape films off the TV in the middle of the night, and although a recent rewatch showed that it has dated quite a bit, you still don’t want TV companies from ruining something you hold in high regard.

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But it’s HBO we’re talking about – the company behind The Sopranos and The Wire, arguably the two best TV shows of the 21st century – so the subject matter would surely be in safe hands. Ultimately those hands belong to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, as creators of the show. Jonathan Nolan has been an integral part of his brother Christopher’s work, co-writing Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige and Interstellar, so I was sold on his involvement alone.

Supported by an intriguing all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright), the show was very good, although structurally it felt a little too unbalanced with its numerous narrative twists all taking place in the last couple of episodes. Nolan and Joy have suggested that the show will run to five seasons, so if anything, the groundwork has been laid for some more cerebral television.

My favourite aspect of the show however, was the music. Not only does Ramin Djawadi’s score give us a lovely bit of cello in the ominous title theme, but the real aural treat is the show’s diagetic music. Played on a pianola, the anachronistic soundtrack features honky-tonk piano renditions of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the Stones’ Paint It Black, the Animals’ arrangement of House Of The Rising Sun, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Cure’s A Forest, and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, No Surprises and Exit Music (For A Film).

Hit: Main Title Theme – Westworld

Hidden Gem: Black Hole Sun

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Rocks In The Attic #630: Krzysztof Komeda – ‘Rosemary’s Baby (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThere’s a moment in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where, during what we’re initially led to believe is a dream sequence, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is raped by an unseen person while the residents of her apartment complex look on, naked. As the camera pans across the small crowd, from left to right, we spot Rosemary’s husband, Guy.

‘She’s awake, she sees,’ he says to their neighbour Minnie.

‘She don’t see,’ Minnie replies.

‘THIS IS NO DREAM! THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!’ shouts Rosemary.

This small exchange is one of the most horrifying moments in American cinema. The prospect of being targeted by a Satanic cult is one thing; the realisation that your husband and protector might be part of the conspiracy is even more shocking.

RITA#630b.jpgIt provokes the same gut-wrenching sense of doom as the final moments of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982), in which Tom Atkins’ character screams down the phone to the television company, pleading with them to not play the commercial that is going to cause so much carnage.

This is when horror really connects; when it really matters. Hollywood loves jump-scare horror, because it sells tickets, but psychological horror is far more effective. The truly disturbing thing about Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) isn’t the shower scene, it’s the thought that one day you might stay at the seemingly benign Bates Motel; and no matter what precautions you take, that nice motel manager you just met always has a key to your room.

RITA#630aSpielberg’s Jaws (1975) – often derided when labelled as a horror film – is just as shocking as Polanski and Hitchcock’s work. What could be more horrific than the thought, just the lingering idea, that a killer shark might be circling in the gloomy darkness beneath you as you swim? It plants a seed, just like the prospect of Norman Bates making plans behind closed doors.

Released in June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby is an oddity for the horror genre. It’s an urban horror, taking part in a metropolitan area (New York) as opposed to the conventional rural- or suburban-set horror. The lighting of the film also goes against type. This isn’t a film of shadow and darkness; much of the picture takes place during the daytime, and in the scenes that do take place after the sun has set, most shots are well lit. This isn’t the kind of film where evil lurks in the shadows; instead it exists in plain sight where you’d least expect it.

Komeda’s score is the strongest indicator that the film rightfully belongs in the horror genre. The location, the cast and the script might all scream drama – or at most, thriller – but the music is right out of a haunted house. Most unnerving is Mia Farrow’s lullaby over the waltzing opening titles; an ominous foreboding of innocence corrupted.

The film left a sour taste in popular culture. Not only are there the obvious parallels with the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a year later at the hands of the satanic Manson cult, but the final shot foreshadows yet another tragedy.

RITA#630c.jpgThe film’s end credits roll over a high crane shot looking down at Rosemary’s apartment complex, the Bramford. In reality, the location is the Dakota complex in Manhattan, which was used for external shots only. Well-known as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1973 onwards, the Dakota’s architecture looks well-suited as the location of a film about devil worship in New York City. As the camera pans down, the final frame of the film shows two people walking into the building’s south entrance, the same archway through which Lennon was walking as he was gunned down by his assassin, Mark Chapman, in December 1980.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Furnishing The Apartment

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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 #622: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Gremlins (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#622.jpgGremlins is such a great film; one of those movies from my childhood that was a little bit scary but a whole lot of fun. I would have only been six years old when I first watched it, half laughing, half watching through my fingers. I re-watched it recently just to check whether it was as good as I remembered. Perhaps the special effects would have dated the film, or maybe I hadn’t noticed if the acting was hammy back when I was a kid.

Watching the film in 2017, it’s still a joy to watch. The special effects – made before the age of computer effects – hold up really well, and all of the performances are as good as you’d expect from what is essentially a B-movie picture. I couldn’t help but thinking that with Hollywood’s sometime lazy approach to filmmaking, surely a remake is on the cards at some point. A truly terrible thought as such a project would probably involve a lot of CGI and a cast of bland stars.

RITA#622aMost of the laughs in Gremlins comes from the creature effects, and you can tell that the team behind these had loads of fun coming up with disgusting ways for the little critters to behave. It almost feels like two projects on the screen at once – one, a film of a smalltown hero battling the odds to save the day, and a second project, led by the creations of special effects artist Chris Walas, ultimately aimed at innovating ways of showing the gremlins causing mayhem. At one point, the special effects crew had a list on the wall titled ‘Horrible Things To Do To Gizmo’.

RITA#622bAs well as the obvious nostalgia factor, a re-watch of the film also pays off to spot small parts from actors who went on to bigger things. Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop, Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Corey Feldman (Lost Boys, The Goonies) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Beverly Hills Cop) all put in appearances, but it is the film’s location that feels the most familiar. Filmed on the same Universal Studios backlot as the following year’s Back To The Future, the small town terrorised by the gremlins is essentially a modern-day Hill Valley. Even the cinema, where the gremlins gather to watch Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, is in the same location as the one showing The Atomic Kid in 1955 Hill Valley.

RITA#622cRe-released by Mondo Records in 2016, this double LP is an incredibly well thought out package with design elements by Phantom City Creative reflecting the events of the film. The records – one disc on brown and white swirl mogwai vinyl, and one on green swirl gremlin vinyl – come in a UV sensitive gatefold jacket; when exposed to daylight, the cover reveals additional artwork. The inner sleeves are water sensitive as well, revealing additional artwork when exposed to a damp cloth.

Hit: The Gremlin Rag

Hidden Gem: The Shop

Rocks In The Attic #621: Monty Python’s Flying Circus – ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus (O.S.T.)’ (1970)

RITA#621I recently watched Holy Flying Circus, the BBC’s dramatisation of the events surrounding the release of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian in 1979. Portrayed by a bunch of lookalikes and soundalikes, including an uncannily accurate impression of Eric Idle by the comedian Steve Punt, Holy Flying Circus is overloaded with Pythonesque references and absurdist humour. The film finds the Python team and their management in the middle of a backlash from Christian groups and local councils against Brian, culminating in the now infamous television debate between Michael Palin and John Cleese versus Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark.

RITA#621aAs much as I love Python, their television sketches have lost a lot of their edge over the years; what was once irreverent now seems fairly quaint. More interesting to me is the behind the scenes story of the Python team themselves, and their journey from television sketch comedians to ‘blasphemous’ film stars and beyond. Holy Flying Circus doesn’t really add anything new if one is already familiar with the team’s 2003 autobiography or Michael Palin’s diary concerning The Python Years (2006).

Still, I could watch an Eric Idle sketch like Nudge Nudge over and over without ever getting bored. Or the sight of Michael Palin having the courage to repair bicycles in a world full of Supermen. Or Terry Jones dealing out religious justice as The Bishop. Or The Meaning Of Life’s impending doom from glorious slow-motion topless pursuers.

Hit: Pet Shop

Hidden Gem: Nudge Nudge

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Rocks In The Attic #618: Hans Zimmer – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#618.jpgYou wait twenty-five years for a True Romance soundtrack to be released on vinyl, and then two turn up at once. Already this year, we’ve had the long-awaited pop soundtrack for the film seeing its debut on wax; now we have a release dedicated solely to Hans Zimmer’s score. Being a fan of all things Tarantino, I had to get this to complete my collection. I mean, the guy’s practically my best friend!

Do I need this score though? No, definitely not. The pop soundtrack captures a couple of tracks from Zimmer’s score and these serve as a pretty good representation. The full score actually gets a little tedious towards the end; the innocence of the main melody turns into something a little more serious. Out go the lovely xylophones and marimbas, and in come some really dated synth cues that feel a little out of place for what is an otherwise very cool film.

RITA#618aI’m starting to come around to Hans Zimmer. I’d previously written him off as a workaday composer, but I’m starting to appreciate the occasional hidden gem amongst his many scores (137 and counting). His soundtracks for Christopher Nolan (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) have been my favourite action scores this side of the turn of the century – perfectly blending digital sounds within a traditional orchestral score.

Hit: You’re So Cool (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Not My Clothes