NEWS ARCHIVE - 31st DECEMBER 2007 to 6th JANUARY 2008



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AUDIOBOOK REVIEWS




3rd January 2008

Happy New Year!

SOUNDTRACKS

Time to catch up with a bunch of recent CD releases from film music label Film Score Monthly, and Trunk Records' remarkable Blood on Satan's Claw CD...

Is there another soundtrack label on the planet with the nous or the perseverance to exhume the soundtrack to Tigon's 1971 horror masterpiece Blood on Satan's Claw? Well, once upon a time Silva Screen might have done, but, alas, no more.

Marc Wilkinson's score for the film is, without question, one of the most effective ever written for a genre film. It's not just off-kilter, it's frequently genuinely unsettling, partially due to the use of the haunting Ondes Martenot (the instrument that gave Elmer Bernstein's Ghostbusters its characteristic flavour) and the cimbalom (used to great effect for the opening titles of The Persuaders!)

The fifty-minute score also boasts a bewitching cascading melody, rivalling the one in Paul Ferris' - still inexplicably unavailable - Witchfinder General. It's a superb score, very evocative of Civil War-era England, and highly atmospheric.

The disc's sound quality is generally very good, especially considering how brittle the score can sound, and how vulnerable it's long sustained notes would be to wow and flutter. There are a few quirks, though - there are some brief comments (by the conductor?) between a couple of the tracks which really should have been excised (or moved to a bonus tracks section, perhaps). Despite this, the disc comes highly recommended to genre fans and collectors!

There's part of me that wishes I'd never listened to one of FSM's most recent releases, which showcases Erich Wolfgang Korngold's sweeping score for Warner Bros. melodramatic 1942 family drama Kings Row.

The film's title was, of course, familiar to me, because I've heard its score cited in numerous places as an influence for John Williams' original Star Wars score. The glorious gatefold LP of Star Wars is virtually single-handedly responsible for my thirty-year long interest in film music, so, naturally, I hold it in some reverence!

Listening to the first track on the album, the film's Main Title, it's immediately obvious that William completely Hornered bits of the Star Wars score from Kings Row, denting my admiration for the composer by a notch or two. It's not just the Main Title, either: several Star Wars themes have their origin here! Then there are the odd phrases that recall another Williams classic, Superman... Ah well, better to be enlightened and disappointed, than blissfully ignorant, I suppose!

Kings Row, a rich, velvety score from Korngold, has been something of a Holy Grail for many fans (especially for collectors of a certain - shall we say - vintage!) It's not hard to see why. The disc's extensive (twenty-eight page) sleeve notes, by Korngold Society president and biographer Brendan G. Carroll, sums up the score's appeal most succinctly: "Korngold's score has clearly been a stylistic model for Williams and other film composers - a seminal work that influenced the language and rhetoric of film music in a rare and profound way."

FSM's two-disc set pairs eighty-odd minutes of Kings Row with a second firm Korngold favourite: his score for the 1941 Edward G Robinson version of Jack London's adventure classic The Sea Hawk.

The Sea Hawk, recorded a year before Kings Row, is much darker in tone; its somewhat unearthly colours aided by use of the Novachord, the world's first synthesiser, which is used to depict the lead character's figurative descent into the maelstrom. The film was scored sparingly, and the disc offers the complete score, including several cues that were composed for the original version of the film, before Warner Bros. chopped twelve minutes out of it, for the 1947 re-release (believed to be the only version of the film that survives, sadly).

Music from these two films has been re-recorded for commercial release many times, in performances that lack the masterly authority of Korngold's hand on the baton. FSM's new CD set offers both scores from the original film recording sessions, preserved via archival quarter-inch tapes of the original monaural nitrate optical film elements. A few Kings Row cues are absent - presumed lost forever - and one cue, the Invictus part of the final track, is presented without a choral overdub, another victim to the ravages of time. The sound on both is a little thin, and there's some tape hiss, but neither of these should be an impediment for the discriminating enthusiast.

FSM jumps forward three decades for their next release, which partners two scores for films made by one of the great directors of the era, Alan J. Pakula. The CD features Michael Small's score for Pakula's directorial debut, Klute (the groundbreaking 1971 Jane Fonda / Donald Sutherland psychological thriller), and David Shire's score for the landmark 1976 political drama, All The President's Men.

Like many composers of the early seventies, who gave the films of the era such a distinctive new sound, Michael Small didn't come from a traditional Hollywood background. His minimalist, smoky underscore for Klute is a complex, avant-garde experience that features a range of unconventional instrumentation (including prepared piano, crotales, a drone box, chamber bowls and a marimba), and an ethereal solo "siren call" female vocal performance from Sally Stevens (who performed a similar role for Lalo Schifrin's Dirty Harry, a few months later).

Klute was the first of Small's nine collaborations with Pakula, including 1974's exhilarating political thriller The Parallax View.

The release of this disc will thrill fans of music from the era, and shows what great instincts and flexibility FSM has as a label. Both scores have been much sought-after by film music fans for decades. Klute has only ever been available on LP, and one of rather dubious origin (and quality) at that. David Shire's Spartan score for All The President's Men accompanies only twelve minutes of the film (and much of that dialled-down so that it's presence is almost subliminal). Until now, the score's duration had made its commercial release seem rather unlikely, but now, expanded to half an hour, thanks to alternate recordings, discarded cues and a couple of minutes of Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets in C Major: Allegro, All the President's Men has become a rare treat for fans of the under-utilised composer, (who recently made something of an A-list comeback by writing the score for David Fincher's Zodiac).

FSM's disc offers the scores for Klute and All The President's Men in virtually-pristine condition, newly-remixed from the original 2" sixteen-track studio masters.

Many people reading this will have heard extracts of Ennio Morricone's full-on score for the 1966 Burt Reynolds Western Navajo Joe, even if they've never heard of the film it was composed for. The film's Main Title turns up in Alexander Payne's 1999 sharp black comedy Election, and A Silhouette of Doom appears during Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill 2 (most memorably during the face-off between The Bride and Daryl Hannah's eye-patched Elle Driver, which takes place in Michael Madsen's caravan).

Film music fans familiar with the film or its delirious score won't need my recommendation: many will know the music from its appearance on various Morricone compilations, or from the various United Artists LP incarnations, or from the flaky 1995 Italian CD. It's a score that has some devoted fans, as demonstrated by the booklet's paean, by veteran B-movie director Jim Wynorski (who gets a co-producer credit, alongside label boss Lukas Kendall).

It's true that the score won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's use of chorus for the regular chants of "Navajo Joe", performed by choral group I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni, featuring soloist Gianna Spagnulo, can be a little irritating, but fans of Spaghetti Westerns wouldn't have it any other way!

FSM's disc, which includes material not previously released, has been mastered from quarter-inch recordings (three tracks, recorded at the time in stereo for commercial release, have been taken from the Best of Ennio Morricone LP album master; the remainder of the LP tracks, in mono, are from the score's United Artists LP master). FSM's CD presents the complete score in film order, which runs just under three-quarters of an hour. The disc is rounded off by ten minutes of bonus tracks, taken from a quarter-inch tape retained in Italy, including variations on, and an alternate version of, the Main Title.

FSM paired the scores for two swinging sixties sex comedies, Sex and the Single Girl (by The Odd Couple's Neal Hefti) and The Chapman Report (by Fantastic Voyage's Leonard Rosenman), for its November Silver Age Classics release. Both are frothy pop scores, presented in the form of their original stereo LP release re-recordings, from the original three-track album masters.

Hefti's score offers breezy, upbeat cocktail-lounge cues, some of which are reminiscent of his work on the Adam West Batman TV series and movie, as well as two songs featuring vocalist Fran Jeffries.

Rosenman offers a more intense, jazzier vibe for The Chapman Report, as well as some more sombre cues conjuring a darker tone. Some cues invoke the spirit of his score for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, including the boisterous Teresa and Ed, which reminded this listener of Chekov's Run.

FSM's disc, like the album it virtually replicates, also features easy listening-style re-recordings of the composer's themes for two distinctly more heavyweight movies, East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. The disc also features an alternate edit of the record version of The Chapman Report's Main Title Theme, which omits the looped ending tacked on by the original album producers.

Franz Waxman's score for the 1954 biblical sword-and-sandals epic The Silver Chalice has been afforded two-disc treatment as part of FSM's Golden Age Classics collection, offering nearly two hours of music from the film, as well as another twenty minutes of bonus material.

The Silver Chalice is a film that's gained a certain degree of notoriety. Its star, Paul Newman, publicly apologised for his performance in a trade-paper advertisement (in Variety, apparently, or The New York Times, depending on which account you believe), when it later aired on television. The movie also ended director Victor Saville's until-then flourishing career.

The film's score, though, is one element that works exceedingly well, earning its composer his ninth Oscar nomination. It's a colourful, Bach-tinged thematic score, which charts the tempestuous relationships of its array of histrionic characters.

FSM's disc marks the original score recording's CD debut (a version re-recorded in the 70s by Elmer Bernstein was recently released by FSM as part of the Film Music Collection CD box set). It was sourced from the studio's original monaural mixdown tapes (the film survives in stereo, but, alas, the separate sound elements do not). The Main Title and Ballet cues are presented in stereo, from the film's mixed soundtrack, as neither is obstructed by dialogue or effects. The disc's suite of bonus tracks include a version of Deborrah's Theme which appears to have been recorded for a commercial release that didn't come to pass; a version of the Main Title preceded by an abandoned Prologue; source music cues, a suite of fanfares, and music especially recorded for a theatrical trailer.

As always, FSM's extensive booklet notes, in this case penned by Lukas Kendall, add enormously to the listener's appreciation of the score.

The last FSM Silver Age Classics disc I'm looking at today brings together music from two quite different films. It features Scottish composer Johnny Keating's score for Hotel, the 1967 adaptation of Arthur Hailey's best-selling novel, and Stanley Myers' score for the little-seen 1966 Warner Bros. Austin Powers-style romantic comedy Kaleidoscope, which featured then up-and-coming stars Warren Beatty and Susannah York, (not to mention a largely-British cast of supporting actors, because the film is partly set in London).

Keating, perhaps best known for his superb theme for the long-running BBC police series Z-Cars, was a pioneer of synthesiser technology, but his score for Hotel is rooted in his early career, as a trombonist and arranger for the Ted Heath Orchestra, in the 50s. The score, a blend of orchestral and jazz music, features a number of jaunty themes. A long-time fan of jazz, Keating found that he had his pick of his favourite artists to work on the film, and was delighted with the opportunity to work with legendary vocalist Carmen McRae. She appears on two tracks of the FSM CD: the nightclub song This Year and Hotel.

Kaleidoscope was Myers' first movie score. His background was in television, at the BBC (where he wrote music for a William Hartnell Doctor Who story, various editions of The Wednesday Play, and the theme for Question Time). He'd later have great success with Cavatina, a guitar theme which was popularised by its use in The Deer Hunter.

The much-praised score for Kaleidoscope emphasises the James Bond-ish elements of the story (appropriately, the film had a title sequence by 007 veteran Maurice Binder). With its brash, trumpet-based theme, and tracks featuring harpsichord, jazzy sax, and exotic Indian instrumentation, Kaleidoscope offers an appealingly eclectic mixture of styles and textures.

The disc features the original LP presentations of both scores, both in stereo (Hotel remixed from the original four-track half-inch masters).

The Sea Hawk, The Silver Chalice and Klute discs are limited edition pressings of 3000 copies. All of FSM's titles are available from specialist soundtrack dealers, including their preferred trading partner Screen Archives Entertainment.

Screen Archives Entertainment Links:

Kings Row / The Sea Wolf

Klute / All The President's Men

Sex and the Single Girl / The Chapman Report

The Silver Chalice

Hotel / Kaleidoscope


31st December 2007

ZETA MINOR NEWS

Two new sections have been added to the Cult Television section of Zeta Minor today!

The first is the third in our series of syndicated Heroes interviews: this one is with series creator Tim Kring. Click here to read the interview, or here to go to our Heroes interview index.

The other offers a review and nuts-and-bolts information about Anglia Television's 1985 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The addition of this section was inspired by a request on the Mausoleum Club Forum. Click here to read the article, or click on the Cult Television button on the menu, left.

DVD NEWS

As you can imagine, news is thin on the ground in the week between Christmas and New Year. We have, however, added some new titles to the Incoming database, and added more details for many others.

Significant new listings includes the art-house hit Hallam Foe; the fourth season of the brilliant American crime series Homicide: Life on the Street; and two long-awaited Robert Altman favourites: Short Cuts and The Player (both apparently missing the bonus features that appear on the US editions).

Additional press release details have been added for many titles, including the Doctor Who: Beneath The Surface box set; the two-disc Sally Lockhart Mysteries set (which will feature an exclusive interview with the author of The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow of the North novels, Philip Pullman); the controversial William Friedkin / Al Pacino movie Cruising; and the short film collection Blake's 7 Junction / Ant Muzak / World of Wrestling.


Last week's Zeta Minor News can be viewed here.

Previous Zeta Minor News entries can viewed here.


   

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