Tag Archives: The Silence Of The Lambs

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 #671: Aimee Mann & Jon Brion – ‘Magnolia (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

150678 - SMALLER SPINECould Magnolia be the best film of the 1990s?

Rolling Stone rank it at a lowly #26, twelve places behind director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film, the arguably more accessible Boogie Nights. The magazine voted Scorsese’s Goodfellas at #1 (followed by a more esoteric run-down than you would expect from Rolling Stone: #5 – Pulp Fiction, #4 – The Silence Of The Lambs, #3 – Safe, #2 – Hoop Dreams).

A reader’s poll in Rolling Stone, ranking the twenty-five best movies of the decade, doesn’t even mention Magnolia, again with PTA’s Boogie Nights making the cut (faring a little better at #19). Not surprisingly, the poll’s top five are populist choices – #5 – Fight Club, #4 – The Shawshank Redemption, #3 – Goodfellas, #2 – The Big Lebowski, and #1 – Pulp Fiction.

RITA#671cBut who cares about polls and lists? They’re usually only there to provoke discussion – and quite why Rolling Stone could vote a three-hour documentary about basketball hopefuls from the inner-city slums as the second-best film of the year is anybody’s guess. I loved Hoop Dreams, but is it better than anything from Tarantino, the Andersons (Wes and Paul Thomas) or Fincher?

Even Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film – the casino-centric Hard Eight (1996), starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, deserves a look-in. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to inhabit a casino, let alone visit one.

A textbook first film, you can see a lot of the visual flourishes that are the hallmark of films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia before he started to move away to more static filmmaking. The easiest of his trademarks to spot is the fast dolly-in, usually as a character enters a scene or an object becomes the focus of the narrative. These shots define PTA as much as the inserts and birds-eye views of Wes Anderson’s films, or the tracking shots of Scorsese.

The number eight resonates strongly with Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. He debuted with Hard Eight – the number on the dice needed by the craps-playing Philip Seymour Hoffman; he’s just released his eighth feature, Phantom Thread; and the number eight is a symbolic fingerprint of Magnolia – the film culminating with the threat of Exodus 8:2: ‘If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.’

RITA#671aSo Anderson spends the three hours of Magnolia interpreting Christianity and emerges with a delicious pun, insinuating that the biblical plague of raining frogs was caused by the producers of the quiz show who wouldn’t let Stanley visit the toilet. He would revisit the themes of religion more seriously later in his career, but this is where he put his toe in the holy water.

It could be claimed that nothing happens in Magnolia, that it’s boring and uneventful. And while it possibly does try to do too much, with too many characters – even Anderson himself has suggested that it’s overlong – its real strength comes from its pacing. I don’t think another film exists as dedicated to building tension as Magnolia. From its opening scene, until the aftermath of the frog-raining finale, the tension builds and builds, until the clouds break and we get a well-deserved resolution across each of the story arcs.

One important aspect, of course, is the music. The soundtrack is comprised of three key elements – pop songs from Supertramp and Gabrielle, together with snippets of the opera Carmen and Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a suite of original songs from Aimee Mann, and a lush original score by Jon Brion.

This new release from Mondo Records represents the first time that the soundtrack has been released on vinyl. Split across three discs, the first discs offers the Aimee Mann songs, while the remaining two discs offer the Jon Brion score.

The beautiful packaging also follows the themes of the film, with new artwork by Joao Ruas and the three discs coloured in (1) Sky Blue, (2) Cloudy Blue, and (3) Translucent Gold – in other words, clear sky, cloudy sky, and frog!

Hit: One – Aimee Mann

Hidden Gem: Stanley / Frank / Linda’s Breakdown – Jon Brion

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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 #351: Jack Nitzsche – ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#351Just after my first child, Olivia, was born, I remember being sat in the maternity centre one quiet morning. It wasn’t visitors’ hours yet, so the place was pretty quiet – just sore mothers shuffling around gingerly, with a few nurses dotted around. I was sat with my wife, and our new arrival, in my wife’s room – and all of a sudden I heard the strains of a familiar song playing in the corridor outside.

I recognised it immediately – Charmaine – the easy listening classic forever associated with mental institutions (and retirement homes), not least because of its inclusion on this soundtrack. I jumped out of my chair with a smile on my face. I opened the door slowly to follow the source of the music.

I stepped out into the corridor, expecting to see Martini, Harding and Cheswick sat at a table, playing cards for cigarettes. Maybe Chief Bromden would be mopping the floor, shuffling past Frederickson and Sefelt, whispering to each other in the corner.

I looked for a nurse, thinking I would see nurse Pilbow. It was still early, so perhaps nurse Ratched wouldn’t be there yet. Perhaps Mr. Washington would be unlocking the nurse’s station, ready for medication time.

I couldn’t find anybody – perhaps they were all outside, in the exercise yard, or in the school-bus, en route to an impromptu fishing trip?

My copy of this record has a big red sticker exclaiming ‘WINNER! 5 Academy Awards’. That’s very important – five academy awards, and the five most important ones too. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and one of the screenwriting awards, in this case, Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s one of only three films to achieve this – It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) being the other two.

It’s a perennial favourite in our house. A film that never gets old, never loses its relevance, never feels dated. It’s my favourite Jack Nicholson performance and a film where everything, absolutely everything is just perfect.

Ah, juicy fruit.

Hit: Charmaine

Hidden Gem: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Opening Theme)