Tag Archives: Various Artists

Rocks In The Attic #821: Various Artists – ‘Lost In Translation (O.S.T.)’ (2003)

RITA#821I recently watched Sofia Coppola’s fourth feature Somewhere, from 2010. The film stars Stephen Dorff as a movie star bumming around the Chateau Marmont, where he lives between acting roles and promotional responsibilities.

It’s a film that’s as aimless as its central character, and as aimless as Coppola’s career so far. She was thrust into the limelight, unfairly, as the ill-fated daughter of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, after Winona Ryder dropped out of the film. Nepotism is one thing but for her father, Francis Ford Coppolam to give her such a pivotal role was setting her up to fail.

She reinvented herself as an indie director, with the slow-burning The Virgin Suicides in 1999. It showed promise but I haven’t liked anything she’s done since. If she came from nowhere, I might not be so disappointed in her career, but her father’s status as the Oscar-winning director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now seems to have opened many, many doors to her. Even with this opportunity, her output can be best described with the shrug-emoji. I haven’t seen her recent remake of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled yet, but I’m not expecting to be blown away. Frankly, she lost me with Lost In Translation.

RITA#821aThere were a couple of films in the 2000s which served as lazy armchair tourism for uncultured Americans. First we had Coppola’s Lost In Translation (subtext: aren’t Japanese people funny?), followed by Wes Anderson four years later with The Darjeeling Limited (subtext: aren’t Indian people funny?). These films feel shallow and exploitative, with too much importance given to location and foreignness of the culture, rather than character. Danny Boyle’s Best Picture-winning Slumdog Millionaire from 2008 is a superb example of a film that does the opposite – it celebrates the Indian culture from within, not from the perspective of a patronising outsider.

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird from 2017 is the kind of character-piece that Coppola could be making. While Gerwig may have been heavily influenced by her partner, the director Noah Baumbach, Lady Bird still feels fresh, unique and personal. I haven’t seen Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women yet, but I’m looking forward to it after such an impressive debut.

But no matter what my reservations about Lost In Translation are as a film, I’ll always love the soundtrack. It feels like a perfectly put-together mood piece by Coppola and music-supervisor Brian Reitzell, and was accurately described by Consequence Of Sound as the third star of the picture.

Unfortunately, this vinyl edition of the soundtrack, finally released for last year’s Record Store Day, excludes Bill Murray’s karaoke version of Roxy Music’s More Than This. The rear cover of the record lists the credits for the song though, which feels like a disappointing oversight when they brought over the artwork from prior versions of the soundtrack, where it exists as a hidden track.

Hit: City Girl – Kevin Shields

Hidden Gem: Alone In Kyoto – Air

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Rocks In The Attic #815: Various Artists – ‘Christmas In England’ (1957)

RITA#815Christmas in New Zealand is definitely a different prospect than Christmas in England, and after twelve years I’m only just getting used to it.

I have my own kids now, so it’s a busy, busy day. After opening a few presents, we visit my father-in-law and his family for a pancake breakfast. This usually involves pigging out on a mountain of pancakes, complimented by a batch of bacon cooked on the barbeque.

Then we rush back home, collecting my mother-in-law on the way, for Christmas dinner back at ours. The sun’s usually out all day, so it adds an unreal element to the proceedings, compared to the cold and snow I grew up with. It’s not the peak of summer yet, which is fortunate as the stress of Christmas Day cooking would be so much worse with the humidity of a hot day.

RITA#815aWhile the temperature might not be too high, it’s just past the mid-point of our seasonal year. The longest day of the year – June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere – falls on December 22nd here, and so Christmas Day feels a lot longer than it does in the UK. There are no woolly hats or big coats; Christmas dress is a pair of shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt. And a Santa hat, of course.

One of the oddest things about a New Zealand Christmas is that, just like the UK, we get the Queen’s Speech at 3pm on Christmas Day, which means we see it approximately 12 hours before it goes out on the BBC. This has never felt right, and I don’t think people would be too bothered if it was held back to Boxing Day.

RITA#815bChristmas TV is the same. We get the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and the usual festive programmes. But by this time, I’m in a food coma and have consumed a flagon or two of cider. The only thing I’ll have room for – and this is when that second stomach reserved exclusively for dessert comes into its own – is for a door-stop sized portion of pavlova and cream.

This record, featuring choral arrangements of all the Christmas classics, is a great help in setting the mood. These songs really send me back to the UK, before the dark times, before Wham.

Hit: Ding Dong Merrily On High – King’s College Chapel Choir Of Cambridge

Hidden Gem: The Very First Christmas Of All – Ruby Murray With Ray Martin’s Orchestra

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Rocks In The Attic #799: Various Artists – ‘Go (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

RITA#799Following hot on the heels of his breakthrough hit Swingers, Doug Liman’s Go is a quirky little film dealing with youth culture at the end of the 1990s. It borrows liberally from Quentin Tarantino, in particular the time-switching of Pulp Fiction, as it intertwines three stories set in one day in Southern California and Las Vegas.

In the first story, a group of supermarket workers head to a weekend rave and get caught up in a drug deal that goes bad, in the second story one of their co-workers heads off to Las Vegas with another bunch of friends, and the final story covers the tale of a pair of TV actors forced to take part in an undercover drug sting.

As much as I admire 1996’s Swingers, the film that made a star out of Vince Vaughan and boosted the profiles of Jon Favreau (also its writer), Heather Graham and Ron Livingston, I’ve always found it quite bleak. For a Vegas (and Reno!) film dealing with the seedier side of the city, away from the neon glamour of the tourist traps, I much prefer Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight, released in the same year.

RITA#799aI found 1999’s Go to be much more of a fun ride than Swingers, although admittedly not as groundbreaking. It has an ensemble cast, featuring both Timothy Olyphant and Katie Holmes in early roles, and I’ve always wondered whether this was the film that Tom Cruise saw before he set his sights on Holmes. Or maybe he was just a Dawson’s Creek fan.

Sadly, Swingers and Go were the last small-budget indie films that Doug Liman directed. His talents were obvious and his subsequent filmography shows how much he impressed Hollywood with these two films. His next project after Go was 2002’s The Bourne Identity, and he followed this with similarly-sized blockbusters as 2005’s Mr. And Mrs Smith, 2008’s Jumper, 2014’s Edge Of Tomorrow and 2017’s American Made. He’s currently in post-production on a sequel to Edge Of Tomorrow, taking its name from the alternate title of the 2014 film: Live, Die, Repeat And Repeat.

The soundtrack to Go is very much of its time – all big beats and samples, typified by the inclusion of Fatboy Slim’s Gangster Trippin’. When I first heard the soundtrack was getting a vinyl reissue, I thought that it was another example of record companies scraping the barrel, and so I sat on it until I was able to pick it up in a sale. I’m so glad I did, as it’s chock-full of gems. No Doubt’s New and Len’s Steal My Sunshine get top-billing alongside the Fatboy Slim track, but it’s the lesser-known tracks that I’m here for.

Jimmy Luxury’s Cha Cha Cha, featuring a sample of the Tommy Rowe Orchestra, is a funky little gem, Air’s Talisman is one of the many highlights of Moon Safari, and Lionrock’s Fire Up The Shoesaw is just fabulous, not only for its stuttering sample of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, but more for it’s delicious sample of Fight At Kobe Dock from John Barry’s score to You Only Live Twice (the title song of which, of course, was sung by Nancy Sinatra).

Hit: Steal My Sunshine – Len

Hidden Gem: Fire Up The Shoesaw – Lionrock

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Rocks In The Attic #781: Various Artists – ‘Easy Rider (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#781Peter Fonda died on the weekend. The original Captain America from 1969’s New Hollywood hit Easy Rider, he co-wrote the film alongside Terry Southern and director and co-star Dennis Hopper. It almost seems like fate that Fonda would pass away on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. You’d be far pushed to find a more appropriate icon of that period in American counterculture.

All weekend I listened to WXPN’s live stream of the ’69 Woodstock festival, aired as close to ‘real time’ as possible, including all of the stage announcements and weather delays. It seemed to be streaming about 24 hours ahead of time, as they were streaming it by date rather than sticking to the Friday to Monday morning timeframe. Still, it was great to tune in to listen to most of the sets.

RITA#781aNot only were there quite a lot of forgettable acts early on in the festival, it also sounded very chaotic with the stage announcements offering a glimpse at the bedlam going on between sets. Lost thyroid pills and lost people, broken limbs, bad brown acid to avoid, and hitchhikers hoping to get back into the car they arrived in to get their ‘medication’. The coming of the huge storm minutes after Joe Cocker’s set sounded like the end of times.

Of the dozens of bands who missed out or turned down playing the festival, the funniest story is surely that of Iron Butterfly. Stuck at an airport, they sent a telegram to the festival: ‘We will arrive at LaGuardia / You will have helicopters pick us up / We will fly straight to the show / We will perform immediately / And then we will be flown out.’ Production co-ordinator John Morris sent a telegram back in reply: ‘For reasons I can’t go into / Until you are here / Clarifying your situation / Knowing you are having problems / You will have to find / Other transportation / Unless you plan not to come.’ The first letter of each line of his acrostic reply spelled out his true feelings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Easy Rider. It’s one of those films that obviously needed to happen, as an important stepping stone in wrestling power away from the studios and into the hands of writers and directors, but as a piece of art I don’t think it’s dated terribly well. In fact, after the opening thrill of Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild, the rest of the picture is a bit of a slog. It probably works better when you’re high?

But if this film opened the door and led to Coppola making The Godfather, or Friedkin making The Exorcist, and ultimately to Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars, then it’s more than alright by me.

Hit: Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf

Hidden Gem: The Pusher – Steppenwolf

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Rocks In The Attic #779: Various Artists – ‘FM (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#779Is there a worse film with such a great jukebox soundtrack? I don’t know what went on with the production of this film, but they managed to amass a who’s who of AOR tracks – courtesy of many different record labels – on the soundtrack.

It’s amazing to see the ident of the film studio, and the opening credits roll over a Steely Dan track. Their title track is one of the band’s only tracks not to appear on any of their studio albums, and serves as a great reason to own this soundtrack. Within the bands discography, it falls between the recording of 1977’s Aja and 1980’s Gaucho. The instrumental reprise of the title track, unavailable anywhere else, makes it essential for any diehard Steely Dan fan.

The plot of the film – a hit radio station staffed by a plucky bunch of rebels, faced with interference from their corporate owners – is about as interesting as the trade dispute storyline from The Phantom Menace.

The cast – of mostly unknowns – aren’t particularly bad, or unlikable, it’s just that the story is so damn uninteresting. It plays more like a soap opera than a feature film, and the claustrophobia of the radio station offices is really only punctured by two concert performances, by Jimmy ‘Great Spread’ Buffett and Linda Ronstadt.

RITA#779aWhat a corker of a soundtrack though. Alongside the Dan’s FM, we also get their groovy Do It Again, the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane, Foreigner’s Cold As Ice, the Doobie’s It Keeps You Runnin’, the Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like An Eagle, Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s Breakdown, Queen’s We Will Rock You and the full 8-minute cut of Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good To Me. It really is the American Graffiti of late ‘70s rock music. My only criticism is that it’s comprised entirely by white singers and bands, and I can’t imagine any radio station in the late 1970s being so blind to African-American artists.

In fact, the hits come so thick and fast, the film feels more like a 2-hour trailer for a much better film, given how used we are to hearing big songs flip between one to another so rapidly. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t live up to the quality of the music.

No static at all, but a whole load of white noise.

Hit: More Than A Feeling – Boston

Hidden Gem: FM Reprise – Steely Dan

Rocks In The Attic #752: Various Artists – ‘Cruising (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

Cruising-Gatefold-FINAL-1024What was Exorcist­-director William Friedkin doing in a hardcore gay bar, in the middle of the night, dressed only in a jockstrap, socks and shoes?

Let’s start at the beginning.

In 1977, Friedkin was one of the most successful film directors of the decade. 1971’s The French Connection earned him a Best Director Oscar, and he was nominated for the same award for 1973’s The Exorcist. 1977’s Sorcerer, a remake of 1953’s The Wages Of Fear, firmly established him as an exciting renegade director who didn’t play by the rules, and who switched genres for each film.

RITA#752aLooking for his next project, Friedkin originally turned down a film adaptation of the novel Cruising by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker, first published in 1970. Telling the story of a New York City cop working undercover to find a serial killer in the gay S&M clubs of Greenwich Village, Friedkin found it outdated and difficult to connect to.  He believed the gay scene had changed tenfold since the book’s release, and was now far edgier and more complex.

Friedkin then started to see news reports about a string of unsolved murders around the S&M clubs in the West Side of New York. Over the next two years, plastic bags containing body parts were found floating in the Hudson River.

In 1979, Friedkin read a newspaper headline claiming that the murderer had been caught. Next to the article was a photograph of the suspect, a man he recognised. Paul Bateson, a 39-year old former radiology technician, was ultimately found guilty of murdering journalist Addison Verrill, a regular at the Mineshaft, a popular leather bar. Bateson was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and although he boasted about being responsible for the ‘bag murders’, he was never officially charged for those killings.

RITA#752bFriedkin had recognised Bateson from a scene during the filming of The Exorcist in 1972. In an attempt to explain her daughter’s strange behaviour, Chris MacNeil agrees for Regan to undergo an invasive medical procedure called a cerebral angiography. The scene is extremely disturbing, and just as unsettling as the film’s later horror scenes. The murder suspect, Paul Bateson, had been an extra in this scene, acting in his capacity as a radiology technician. Friedkin remembered him for wearing an earring and a studded bracelet, both of which was rare to see at the time, particulary on a medical professional.

After meeting with Bateson while he was on trial, Friedkin changed his mind about adapting Cruising, thinking that an updated version loosely influenced by the ‘bag murders’ would be an interesting proposition. He originally cast Richard Gere as the undercover cop, but reneged on this – much to his regret – when Al Pacino read the script and asked to play the part.

By that point, Friedkin already had a history of pushing filming to the limits, to attain the ultimate in authenticity. In The French Connection he had filmed the film’s iconic car/train chase for real, without blocking the streets off or notifying the authorities. In The Exorcist, he had fired guns with blanks to unnerve actor Jason Miller, and pushed for special effects to feel as real as possible, leading to Linda Blair and Ellyn Burstyn suffering from back injuries after being yanked around violently in harnesses. For Cruising, Friedkin, still pushing for authenticity, wanted to film the bar scenes in the Mineshaft, the gay S&M club where Bateson met his victim(s).

RITA#752cThe Mineshaft and other gay bars were owned by Matty ‘The Horse’ Ianello, a member of the Genovese crime family. Friedkin approached Ianello, asked permission to film there, and in turn Ianello put him in touch with the bar’s manager, Wally Wallace.

After Friedkin outlined his plan to film inside the bar, and use the bar’s regulars as extras, Wallace smiled. ‘Well, you’ll never get actors to simulate what our members do,’ he replied.

That weekend, Friedkin attended the club to scout the location, accompanied by a retired Police detective. ‘Wally and his enforcers welcomed us at the door,’ Friedkin writes in his liner notes to Waxwork’s new reissue of the soundtrack. ‘But we had to check our clothes, like all the other members, and strip down to jockstraps, shoes and socks.’

‘We were the two ugliest guys in the room and nobody hit on us. Participation in any of the activities was by choice. We hung around for a couple of hours, drifting and watching. Even knowing what to expect, we left in disbelief. Don’t take this as judgemental – I was in my early 40s – but we had never seen anything like this. We went back several times before the start of filming and we got to know the regulars. Few had any problems appearing in the film and the sex scenes were all real. Pacino was there for most of it.’

It definitely makes for a strange film and not the obvious choice for a filmmaker with two mainstream hits under his name. Pacino plays the role relatively understated, exactly at the halfway point between his earlier, softer presence and the later, gruff-voiced Pacino which he would start to perfect in Brian De Palma’s Scarface a few years later in 1983.

RITA#752dIn film class at University, our lecturer played us a very odd clip from the film. Pacino sits in a room being interviewed by the Police, who are unaware that he is working undercover. Out of the blue, a black man wearing only a jockstrap and a cowboy hat walks into the room, slaps Pacino and exits. The short scene serves no narrative purpose and has stuck with me all these years for its utter randomness. I had thought that the film might have another scene, either an earlier scene feeding it, or a later scene explaining it, but no. When I eventually saw the whole film, it’s just as baffling as watching the scene in isolation. How marvellous.

RITA#752eI recently tracked down Interior. Leather Bar., James Franco and Travis Matthew’s 2013 documentary in which they attempt to film the 40 minutes of gay sex scenes that were cut, and eventually lost, from Cruising. In the hands of a comic actor like Franco, the project is quite difficult to take seriously, and while they are successful in enlisting actors and filming such scenes, the resulting scenes don’t match the sleazy aesthetic of Friedkin’s 1980 film.

The original Cruising soundtrack released in 1980 featured ten songs that appear in the film by Willy DeVille, The Cripples, The Germs, John Hiatt, Madelynn Von Ritz and Rough Trade. Waxwork’s recent 3 x LP reissue expands the soundtrack significantly, featuring a further eighteen songs. The label worked closely with William Friedkin, Sony, and Universal Pictures to locate and unearth the original masters that include the original Jack Nitzsche score sessions, the full recording sessions by the Germs, and all music recorded for the film.

There’s lots to like on this collection – the rock and roll sleaze of Willy DeVille, the post-disco new wave of Rough Trade and the hypnotic bass jazz of Barre Phillips and Ralph Towner. Probably most important, given their lack of available material, is the unearthing of five Germs songs recorded (but not used) for the film.

Hit: It’s So Easy – Willy DeVille

Hidden Gem: Shakedown – Rough Trade

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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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