Tag Archives: The Shining

Rocks In The Attic #792: David Shire – ‘2010 – The Year We Make Contact (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#792“My God, it’s full of stars!”

With Doctor Sleep, the long-rumoured sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s This Shining, about to eventually open in cinemas, it feels like a good time to revisit that other sequel in the Kubrickiverse: 2010 – The Year We Make Contact, Peter Hyams’ 1984 sequel to Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001 – A Space Odyssey.

Despite the strength of acting talent in front of the camera – Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Bob Balaban – and a great visionary team behind it, it seems like the film has been unfairly forgotten over time. Auteur theory is alive and well, with director Hyams also writing the script, producing the film and operating behind the camera as the cinematographer, leaving no doubt that this is his vision on screen (by way of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, of course).

RITA#792bThe music score, by David (brother of Talia) Shire is sublime, and the liner notes on the soundtrack LP go to great lengths to explain that it was recorded using the Synclavier II, the Yamaha DX-1 and the Roland Jupiter-8. It doesn’t sound too far from Matt Morton’s recent score to the fantastic Apollo 11 documentary; itself recorded entirely using synths only available in 1969.

We open in an extremely exposition-heavy (read: ‘talky’) first act of the film, with Roy Scheider still in his Aviators and short shorts from Jaws 2. Taking over the role from William Sylvester in 2001, Scheider plays Dr. Heywood Floyd, the head of the National Council for Astronautics, blamed for the failure of the Discovery One mission to Jupiter.

The Americans are in a race with the Russians to get a mission up to the abandoned Discovery spaceship, and Floyd is presented with the opportunity to get there first, onboard the Russian shuttle alongside two other Americans (played by Lithgow and Balaban). Scheider’s got such a great face, he should be immortalised on the side of Mount Rushmore.

RITA#792aThe production design on the film is superb, and it looks more like a sci-fi film from the latter end of the 1980s, or possibly the very early 1990s. Thankfully we don’t see much of Earth in the opening act – only a field of telescopes in the desert, a ridiculous clandestine meeting in front of the White House, and the gloomy interior of Floyd’s house (complete with pet dolphins – tut tut).

The rainbow-light design of the Russian spaceship is refreshing – after the used-future of Alien and the Star Wars films – and surprisingly doesn’t look as much like Super Mario’s Rainbow Road as you might expect. The only really hokey segments of the film are the voice messages to and from the mission. They might serve a narrative purpose, of course, but the treatment of the voices, processed with a warm reverb, doesn’t sound right – and in retrospect should have been handled differently.

The return of Dave Bowman, the missing astronaut from the first film, who turns up on his wife’s TV set back on Earth, is deliciously creepy, and starts a chain of events that take us all the way through to the finale of the film. Once we hear HAL-9000 again, it feels like the old team are back. By the way, when Amazon figures out how to program the voice of the Alexa home assistant with HAL’s passive tones, count me in. ‘Open the garage doors, HAL…’.

Unlike a lot of modern-day sci-fi, the film doesn’t get bogged down in explaining the technology of the future it presents, and instead it successfully jettisons many of the usual problems and anxieties about space. The astronauts go from ship to ship with ease, and aside from one white-knuckle moment when their ship enters Jupiter’s orbit, everything else works like clockwork.

2001 – A Space Odyssey raised a lot of questions about humanity, mankind, our past and our future. 2010  doesn’t go out of its way to answer those questions, but it does give us a sense of closure with the film’s final moments serving as a fitting bookend to the story.

Hit: Nova / New Worlds / Also Sprach Zarathustra

Hidden Gem: Earth / Space

2010 - cinema lobby card (set 1) 6.jpg

Original Cinema Lobby Card

 

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 #705: Abigail Mead – ‘Full Metal Jacket (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#705I watched Ken Burns’ excellent documentary series The Vietnam War recently. After being schooled by Hollywood on the conflict for so many years, it was refreshing to find out what really happened. And what a fucking mess. No wonder the United States is in such a bad state in the twenty-first century. There’s probably a straight line between the war and Donald Trump if you look hard enough. In fact, scratch that, you probably don’t even need to look.

Burns’ documentary is heavy-going at times, whether it’s watching the protesting monk committing suicide by self-immolation, the execution of a VC soldier live on TV, or ‘napalm girl’ and her family running away from friendly fire, you really need to watch something a bit lighter straight after. Something with Adam Sandler maybe.

I grew up in the 1980s, the decade which saw a glut of Vietnam films made for the MTV generation – Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Good Morning Vietnam, Born On The Fourth Of July, Casualties Of War – so it’s strange that Kubrick would visit such a popular genre. Oddly he didn’t direct a film between 1980’s The Shining and this, his only film which belongs firmly in that decade.

I’m not sure what Kubrick’s intentions are. Plenty of other films around the same time get across the ‘war is hell’ message loud and clear, and so Full Metal Jacket doesn’t feel as individual as the rest of his work. If anything, it’s the least Kubrickian of his post-1960 films.

Recently rewatching the film after seeing the Ken Burns documentary, one glaring take-out for me is that the US might have fared better in Vietnam if they hadn’t put so much time and effort into giving each other catchy nicknames (a trope excellently lampooned in Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump).

Music-wise, the choice of Abigail Mead as composer for the score lends the film an ominous gloom, but it’s the contemporary music that is best remembered. Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ opens the second act of the film, soundtracking an infamous scene with a Vietnamese prostitute bartering with two marines. I remember this playing as a comedic scene – a moment of levity – when the film was first released, but watching now, it’s hard to stomach. A number of racist epithets originated in that scene, and have since become ingrained in popular culture.

RITA#705aOn my way to work, I walk past an Asian fusion restaurant which proudly displays one of these phrases on the pavement outside their building. I like to hope that the owners are just trying to reclaim the saying, but it just feels wrong, and must look terrible to our many Asian residents and tourists.

The one mis-step on the soundtrack is the opening track – Full Metal Jacket (I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor), credited to Abigail Mead and Nigel Goulding. A dated jaunt through Lee Ermey’s drill instructor rhymes, put to a hip hop beat, and accompanied by a Fairlight synthesiser, it’s truly as horrific as it sounds.

Hit: These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra

Hidden Gem: Hello Vietnam – Johnny Wright

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