Tag Archives: Soundtrack

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 #746: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Prince Of Darkness (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#746It’s a sad state of affairs when a horror film provokes not terror, but boredom. The first hour of this film easily qualifies as the worst of John Carpenter’s work up to that point. The audience is just as confused as the students in the film, as they try to understand who the central protagonist is (answer: there isn’t one), and why they’re setting up equipment in a creepy old church (answer: nobody knows, not even Carpenter).

Sandwiched between the director’s mainstream hit (Big Trouble In Little China) and his – in retrospect – return to form (They Live), Prince Of Darkness is an odd film. It’s clear that Carpenter is trying to revisit themes that have worked for him before – a band of individuals in a locked-off location (Assault On Precinct 13) slowly get picked off one by one (The Thing) – but this time, it just doesn’t work.

I admit that things do start to pick up in the second half of the film with some rip-roaring special effects, as the students are finally confronted by their possessed classmates (essentially zombies without the makeup), but by that point any emotional investment in the characters has dried out. Even a cameo appearance by the Godfather of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper, can’t make it right.

As always, the score by Carpenter himself, working alongside his now-regular collaborator Alan Howarth, is the film’s saving grace. A slow-burning synth workout.

Hit: Opening Titles

Hidden Gem: Hell Breaks Loose

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Rocks In The Attic #743: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘L.A. Confidential (O.S.T.)’ (1997)

RITA#743Last week the Academy Awards were heading to a disappointing conclusion. As much as it seemed possible that Roma could be awarded Best Picture, Hollywood likes to congratulate itself too much to admit that it could be bettered by a film outside of its remit. That’s what Cannes and Venice are for, right? It seemed implausible that Best Picture would to go to any film other than Bohemian Rhapsody.

The Favourite was one of the strongest contenders, but perhaps too off-kilter (and also too un-American). A Star Is Born was the other contender, but you have to wonder what proportion of the Academy is comprised of menopausal women. BlacKkKlansman? Too left-wing. Vice? Too real-life.

The other strong possibility of course was Black Panther, the Marvel film that nobody was looking forward to. Upon its release, everybody slowly realised it wasn’t the snoozefest they were expecting – thanks partly to a great turn by Andy Serkis, as the most threatening villain the MCU has ever seen. But Oscar worthy? Surely not. If you’re going to award Best Picture to a superhero / sci-fi film, at least choose a good one.

It’s probably not even worth discussing Green Book. Surely a film with such broad strokes on racism wouldn’t show up on the Academy’s radar…

No, I hate to say it but it had to be Bohemian Rhapsody (or Bo-Rhap, as annoying Queen fanboys call the song). The film may have taken too many liberties with timelines – “Freddie, you’ve got AIDS, now go and perform at Live Aid. You’re on stage in an hour!” – but it also seemed to remind everybody how good Queen were. Then Rami Malek defied all odds – acting ability, charm, charisma, presence – and won Best Actor. Surely this would lead to the film winning Best Picture.

What? Green Book? Are you mad? Are Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway giving out awards again? How is this possible? Mahershala Ali might have won Best Supporting Actor for it, but I thought that was a sympathy vote. He looked so bored in the film, working with such a paint-by-numbers script, which even more unbelievably also won an Oscar. I thought he was doing that thing when hostage victims come to the door and try to signal to Police with their eyes that somebody’s pointing a gun at them. “No officer, everything…is…fine!”

Film Title: Green Book

The film was so on-the-nose, I’m surprised Viggo Mortenson wasn’t asked to record a painfully inane narration over the establishing scenes: “Hey, I’m Tony Lip, and I’m a racist. Gee, I sure wish I could meet one of those negro fellas. He could really help me out. It’d be real swell and maybe I could help him out with his problems too.”

No, The Favourite should have won. It was truly original, it had humour, suspense, three great acting performances and it transcended its usually stuffy, stale genre.

But it’s not the first time a truly great film has been overlooked for Best Picture in favour of a piece of dross, and it won’t be the last. At the 1998 awards, James Cameron’s Titanic tied with Ben-Hur for the most Oscar wins: eleven, including Best Picture.

It was a strong field – As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting would have won in any other year, but the academy decided to recognise Cameron for preventing the largest flop in Hollywood’s history. After what seemed like a doomed production, the film was eventually released, costing approximately a million dollars per minute of screen time.

Film and Television

Cameron won Best Director for his efforts, and despite all other wins being awarded for technical categories, Titanic bizarrely also won Best Picture. Yes, a film with no wins in any of the acting or writing categories was considered to be the best overall film of the year.

I don’t know about you, but I really question the ethics of a film that uses a real-life major maritime disaster as the background for a soppy romance. Where’s the line between good and bad taste? What’s next, a rom-com starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson set in Auschwitz? Tagline: ‘This summer, even their love couldn’t keep them together.’ Or maybe one set in the World Trade Centre? Tagline: ‘Aviation fuel could melt steel beams, but could Jack melt Sandy’s heart?’

Maybe I’m just sore. But the film that really should have won Best Picture that year was L.A. Confidential, co-written and directed by the late Curtis Hanson.

I persuaded some friends to go and see it with me, on a tip from Barry Norman (remember those days?). At first, like most audience members, I regretted the decision. A relatively slow start made the film seem like it was going to be a bit of a chore. My friends would blame me for the bad choice. Thoughts immediately turned to how much I could hold Barry Norman accountable.

But then something unexpected happened. A seemingly innocuous housecall by Guy Pearce’s inexperienced detective turns into a tense shotgun chase through the neighbourhood. One of my friends literally moved to the edge of his seat, leaning on the row in front. I was saved. Thank you, Barry.

RITA#743cWhat follows is a work of art. Two opposing archetypal detectives, played by the then-unknown Guy Pearce (the brain) and Russell Crowe (the brawn), join forces to fight the corruption at the very heart of the city’s police department. Kevin Spacey, fresh from his Swimming With Sharks / The Usual Suspects / Outbreak / Seven breakthrough of ’94 / ‘95, turns in a great understated performance as the charismatic Sgt. Vincennes, leading to one of the most unexpected – but poetic – on-screen deaths of the decade.

Of course, any film noir set in old-timey Los Angeles will always draw comparisons to Chinatown. It almost seems a little forced that Hanson would employ the services of Chinatown’s composer, Jerry Goldsmith, to score his film. As always, the workhorse Goldsmith knocks it out of the park, basing his soundtrack on a motif from Leonard Bernstein’s score for On The Waterfront (perhaps in an attempt to avoid the Chinatown comparisons). The exciting, uptempo sections remind me of the pulsating parts of Morricone’s Untouchables score.

Despite nine Academy Award nominations, the film only went home with two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson). It almost seems like a fool’s errand, but I wonder what might have happened had Titanic not been released in 1997. That hypothetical game could be played every year – what would the Best Picture have been in the absence of the actual winner? Or, perhaps more relevant these days, if the nominated films were pared back to a choice of just five in the category?

Hit: Bloody Christmas

Hidden Gem: Rollo Tomasi

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Rocks In The Attic #730: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter & Daniel Davies – ‘Halloween (O.S.T.)’ (2018)

RITA#730.jpg2018 was the year that boutique soundtrack LP retailers started to take the piss. A growth genre, within a growth industry, the last five years has been furtile ground for record companies like Mondo, Waxwork, Enjoy The Ride and Real Gone. Releases are often first-time-on-vinyl, in weird and wonderful coloured vinyl and usually in limited numbers.

Take the recent release of the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, by Enjoy The Ride Records. This is the first time that Harold Faltermeyer’s full score has been available in its entirety on vinyl (only Axel F was included in the original soundtrack release in 1984). Fantastic! Yet before buying it, you now have to decide which of the four variants you want to pick up: red / black swirl, cop car splatter, banana swirl or palm tree splatter. Can you buy it in plain, good ol’ black vinyl? No. No, you can not.

Coloured vinyl used to sound terrible – not as bad as picture-discs – but bad enough. Thankfully, manufacturing techniques have improved alongside the vinyl revival, and for the most part, they sound just as good as a standard, black vinyl disc.

RITA#730bThe increase in such releases – mainly involving cult film soundtracks – has given rise to a new breed of record collectors who seem to be more interested in the colour of the variant than the music itself. These collectors, comprised of entitled millenials or older, emotionally-stunted manchild horror fans, spend most of their time showing off their collections on Facebook and, in some groups, getting salty with each other.

In 2017, there was an outcry from certain sections of this community, when Waxwork Records released a soundtrack variant of the 1990 It TV-miniseries that was only available at the WonderCon convention in California. Waxwork already offered the release online – a triple LP set in red, blue and yellow coloured vinyl – but the exclusive WonderCon variant was in a different colour. The release looked and sounded exactly the same, only the discs were a different colour. Most collectors couldn’t attend the convention, nor pay the inflated prices offered by ‘flippers’ on eBay and Discogs, and so they took to Facebook to complain. You’ve never heard twenty-first century entitlement quite like it:

How could Waxwork do this to me? I’ve bought every single variant so far of everything they’ve released! My collection will be worthless without it! They’ve sold out, man. I hate them. They owe me!

The resulting fall-out led to many collectors either selling their Waxwork collections, or downsizing it, as though the inability to own 100% of their output was a fate worse than death. This level of manchild immaturity is on a par with the ‘It’s my ball; I’m going home’ schoolboy mentality.

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Earlier this year, things got even worse for the completionists when the soundtrack to the 2018 Halloween reboot / sequel was announced. No fewer than eleven different variants were released as exclusives from different retailers: Waxwork, Sacred Bones, Books-a-Million, FYE, Newbury Comics, etc. It’s only a surprise that there wasn’t an exclusive Bed, Bath & Beyond variant.

Sadly, some collectors just couldn’t say no, and scooped them all up. At $30-$40 a pop, it makes for an expensive hobby. Still, if the gullibility of these unfortunate souls is somehow keeping the vinyl revival going, then good luck to the morons with more money than sense.

It would be one thing if the 2018 version of Halloween was actually any good, but it’s not. It’s dull, repetitive, and derivative. Upon its release, it was praised for not sucking as badly as its predecessors, but in a year that gave us the awesome horror film Hereditary, the latest Halloween instalment still sucked.

The horror nerds were taken in by the fact that it was the first Halloween sequel since 1982’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch to have direct involvement from the series’ creator John Carpenter. As well as acting as executive producer and creative consultant, Carpenter also composed the soundtrack alongside his current bandmates (son) Cody Carpenter and (godson) Daniel Davies.

Again, this doesn’t make it a particularly good soundtrack. It just doesn’t suck as much as it could have done.

Hit: Halloween Theme

Hidden Gem: Intro

Rocks In The Attic #728: John Williams – ‘Home Alone (O.S.T.)’ (1990)

RITA#728I’ve just re-watched Home Alone. It’s probably the twentieth time I’ve seen it, but it felt like the right time to finally show it to my three daughters, aged seven, five and three. The three-year old was a little scared, but the other two enjoyed it as much as I hoped they would.

It’s funny how much of an evergreen hit the film has become. Upon its release it was a throwaway comedy, albeit a very successful one, but in the last decade or so it seems to have become as synonymous with festive TV scheduling as The Great Escape was in my youth.

What’s not to like? The McAllister family are as ignorant and self-absorbed as you’d want late ‘80s yuppy suburbanites to be portrayed, Macauley Culkin’s acting is just on the right side of precociousness, and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s wet bandit burglars are laughably moronic. But it’s the two white knights of the film that give it its heart: John Candy’s polka-playing airport saviour to Catherine O’Hara, and Roberts Blossom as the ominous neighbour Old Man Marley.

The film’s other secret weapon is its soundtrack and score by John Williams. Rehashing the childhood wonder / childhood danger motif that Williams has used many times, first with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but later with Jurassic Park and his Harry Potter scores, Home Alone stands alongside his seminal work from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

This expanded soundtrack release, from Mondo Records, includes the festive pop songs from the film. These are another highlight of the film, as they’re not the obvious, popular versions of the Christmas classics (and presumably selected for cost reasons): the Drifters’ version of White Christmas, Mel Tormé’s Have Yourself A Merry Christmas, and Please Come Home For Christmas by Southside Johnny Lyon.

Hit: Home Alone Main Title (‘Somewhere In My Memory’)

Hidden Gem: O Holy Night

Rocks In The Attic #726: Joe LoDuca – ‘The Evil Dead – A Nightmare Reimagined (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#726The soundtrack rights to Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead from 1981 have been in a legal quagmire for a very long time. Whoever owns them has them locked away in a cabin in the woods somewhere, probably in the root-cellar. In a weird twist, the original composer Joe LoDuca owns his score, but not the rights to the original recording, and so a long-overdue reissue of the score seems about as realistic as Donald Trump achieving world peace.

This year, LoDuca and Mondo Records has given us the next best thing – a full re-recording of the score, in a disgustingly beautiful green, yellow and purple swirl vinyl with red splatter. Pitched as a ‘reimagining’ of the soundtrack, it sounds similar enough to the original score with the main difference being the orchestration, both in size and scope. It sounds bigger and brighter than it did back in 1981, the same but different.

RITA#726aThe Evil Dead was one of the first horror films I saw in my early teens. Alongside the Friday The 13th and Halloween films, Sam Raimi’s second full-length feature made a big impression on me. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that it also made a big impression on New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, who took the film’s DIY special-effects ethos as the basis for his first feature Bad Taste.

I still love the first Evil Dead. It was improved on greatly in the 1987 sequel, itself more of a remake than a continuation, but the original still stands as a classic of its genre. The 2013 remake / reboot, which in a weird twist of fate (given the Peter Jackson connection) was filmed in New Zealand, was just a mess, a dirge of a film. Just like the root-cellar, avoid at all costs.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: A Nightmare Reimagined / Overture

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Rocks In The Attic #721: Tom Bähler, Chris Boardman & Albhy Galuten – ‘Raw Deal (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#721What a run of films Arnold Schwarzenegger had in the 1980s: Conan The Barbarian, Conan The Destroyer, The Terminator, Red Sonja, Commando, Raw Deal, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat and Twins.

Of those nine, there’s really only a couple I wouldn’t recommend. The two Conans and Red Sonja don’t really interest me as I’m not that into the fantasy genre – although I remember them being decent enough. Even Twins, despite being the odd-one-out and the start of his softer, family friendly direction throughout the ‘90s, is a bloody good film.

The only other duffer in the list is this film, 1986’s Raw Deal. Schwarzenegger’s ‘80s run is perfect fodder for a pubescent youth, but Raw Deal is the only one of the lot which feels cheap and exploitative. It has nothing else going for it aside from a couple of half-decent action scenes, and with a terrible script and wooden performances (Arnold aside) it doesn’t reward repeat viewings.

Essentially it offers nothing except the chance for Arnold to look cool in a leather jacket while smoking a cigar; and he goes on to do that far more effectively in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The soundtrack however, is great – all brooding ‘80s synths, big drums smothered in reverb, and wailing electric guitars (courtesy of Steve Lukather on one track). I found it at a record fair recently – a German pressing which names the film Der City Hai. Google translates this as The City Of Hai, which can’t be right, can it?* It sounds like something starring Tommy Wiseau.

Hit: Brains And Trains

Hidden Gem: Kaminski Stomps

*My German consultant Herr Gibson has pointed out that hai means shark in deutsche, which I believe makes the film, and Herr Schwarzenegger’s character, the City Shark.