Tag Archives: Soundtrack

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)

RITA#624c

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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

RITA#621b

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

 

Rocks In The Attic #614: The Sex Pistols – ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#614.jpgI saw Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy recently. I’d avoided it all my life, not being a particular fan of either Alex Cox films or the Sex Pistols. I like Never Mind The Bollocks of course, I think it’s an essential rock and roll record for any collection, but to borrow a phrase of my Dad’s, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire. Which begs the question – if there was a fire at a Pistols gig, would the audience be able to summon up the required levels of spittle to extinguish it?

There’s an unwritten law that bands from lower socio-economic backgrounds can’t be intellectual. To be intelligent is to be phoney. As long as they’re wise to the fact that they’re downtrodden by society, that’s all that matters. So you get people like John Lydon – arguably a very bright individual – pulling retarded faces and generally acting like a buffoon to get attention.

That first wave of British punk – and especially the Pistols – seemed to cultivate this trope. They even fired original bass-player Glen Matlock for being ‘boring’ (read: intelligent and articulate). He also washed his feet constantly in the sink and liked the Beatles, two things forbidden in the punk handbook.

Matlock’s replacement, the oft-celebrated Sid Vicious, represents for me everything that’s wrong about punk. Brought into the band because he looked good and was a friend of Rotten’s, his short tenure in the band only served to fuel the band’s notoriety. To go back to the Beatles, Vicious was essentially the Stuart Sutcliffe of the Sex Pistols – terrible at playing his instrument, but a good comrade and one that looked appealing (even if he didn’t sound appealing). Even punk bands of today will use Sid Vicious as their archetype. Green Day, who like to think of themselves as a punk band, but are just as much of a corporate shill as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, have traded for decades on the sneer and attitude of Sid.

Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Sid & Nancy feels spot-on, when you compare it to interview footage from Sid’s few years in the limelight. He’s a junkie idiot, plain and simple, and the really cynical thing about the film is that it seems to celebrate Sid – holding him up as a hero and a martyr for punk.

I haven’t seen The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle – the Julien Temple mockumentary that this album soundtracks. I might get around to it one day, but I’ve had my fill of the Pistols for the time being. The record stands for itself though, and makes for a pretty interesting listen – a double-record with lots of archival live rehearsals, combined with some oddities. Sid croons through My Way and succeeds through some rock and roll covers, there’s an early, weightier version of Anarchy In The UK, and for a bit of levity some off the wall Pistols covers by a disco group, a trio of French street musicians and Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs backed by Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.

Hit: Anarchy In The UK – The Sex Pistols

Hidden Gem: Black Arabs – Black Arabs

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 #602: Richard Einhorn – ‘Shock Waves (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

tp0004c_Double_Gate_Cover_onlyI don’t often buy soundtracks for films I’ve never seen – actually, that’s a lie, I do it all the time – but what I don’t seem to do is buy soundtracks for films I’ve never heard of. I saw this LP listed on Waxworks Records’ website when I was purchasing the newly re-released Evil Dead 2 soundtrack and was just blown away by the cover. It’s such a great image – I love it.

I tracked down the film and watched the film on Friday night. It manages to be both the best film I’ve ever seen about underwater Nazi zombies, and also one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

We open on a spot of narration over a sepia shot of SS Officers:

“Shortly before the start of World War II, the German High Command began the secret investigation into the powers of the supernatural.

Ancient legend told of a race of warriors who used neither weapons nor shields and whose superhuman power came from within the earth itself.

As Germany prepared for war, the SS secretly enlisted a group of scientists to create an invincible soldier.

It is known that the bodies of soldiers killed in battle were returned to a secret laboratory near Koblenz where they were used in a variety of scientific experiments.

It was rumoured that toward the end of the war, Allied forces met German squads that fought without weapons, killing only with their bare hands.

No-one knows who they were or what became of them, but one thing is certain: of all the SS units, there was only one that the Allies never captured a single member of.”

(Of course, Nigel Tufnel’s stage-introduction to Stonehenge almost ruins that last sentence – “No-one knows who they were… or…what they were doing…”).

After some brief opening credits, introducing Richard Einhorn’s ominous synth score, we then open on a fisherman and his young son bringing in their nets. The son spots a small rowboat drifting on the horizon. They motor over to it and find a young woman, visibly distressed and cowering under the seat (shades of another future film here, of a similar scene in Jaws 2).

Her story is then told in flashback. A group of tourists have charted a boat around the Bahamas. The boat and its crew are not entirely in the best condition. A strange astrological phenomenon occurs – the sun turns everything a peculiar shade of orange – but is never explained; the first hint at a truly terrible screenplay.

Both the crew and the tourists are concerned at this occurrence and the strange noises they keep hearing. At night, one of the crew members piloting the boat crashes alongside a huge ship he claims appeared out of nowhere and without any lights. They send up a flare, and see an old shipwreck in the distance.

RITA#602a.jpgWaking the next morning to realise that the boat is taking on water, the group decamp to a nearby island. They find a deserted hotel, and meet the island’s only inhabitant – Peter Cushing.

Cushing appears alarmed at the news of the shipwreck and runs out to see for himself. After spying the approaching zombies for himself, he returns to the group to give them the exposition we’ve all been waiting for.

Towards the end of the war, Cushing, an SS Commander in charge of the death squad prefaced in the film’s opening, escaped Europe by sea, eventually ending up in the Carribean. He sank the ship, with the zombie soldiers still aboard, and took up residence on the island. The boat hitting the wreck has woken up the soldiers, who are now emerging from the water and making their way to the island.

It’s great to see a ­New Hope­-era Peter Cushing in a small, but pivotal role.  He looks so wiry and inhuman that he makes the Rogue One CGI version of himself look positively believable; I couldn’t get over the ‘uncanny valley’-ness of that in the cinema.

Terrible dialogue and acting aside, the one aspect where the film really works is in the shots of the zombies rising up from the sea. These sections look fantastic, and the rest of the film is hung around these moments like cheap wrapping paper around an expensive gift.

Characters are killed off one by one, and those who remain seem strangely unaffected by the deaths. In one scene, one of the tourists discovers the dead body of her husband, and doesn’t seem to be too upset. Yeah, don’t bother with naturalistic dialogue, just stick another scene of a Nazi emerging from the sea in his jackboots.

As with all horror films, the cast is whittled down to the Final Girl, who escapes the island in the rowboat in which we find her at the start of the film. Strangely the zombies are not defeated and are left roaming the island, awaiting the next 18 to 30 cruise liner to get beached there.

In the final shocking twist, we find the girl sitting up in a hospital bed writing up her account of the film’s events. Again foreshadowing a future film – Kubrick’s The Shining – we hear that she is repeating the same sentence over and over, and as the camera pans around we see that she isn’t writing at all, just scribbling indeterminately. SHE HAS LOST HER FREAKING MIND!

The film’s score is easily the best thing about the whole affair. I’m a sucker for a good synth score – and it’s great to see the soundtrack to Stranger Things welcoming this back into the zeitgeist – so I could have easily appreciated it without ever seeing the film. Give me that music, and Marc Schoenbach’s truly awesome artwork on the front cover, and I’m a very happy man.

Hit: Shock Waves (Opening Titles)

Hidden Gem: Zombie Chase