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28th November 2006


Time to catch up with four recent releases from soundtrack label FSM...

It's surprising that in the eight years that FSM has been releasing CDs - over a hundred and forty, now -  they've not released anything by one of the most prolific and popular film music composers: Ennio Morricone. Of course, you could argue that with a couple of hundred Morricone CDs already in existence, there seems to be little need for FSM to plug a gap in his discography.

The score in question, however,  is the one Morricone wrote for the 1968 Anthony Quinn movie Guns For San Sebastian (La Bataille de San Sebastian), a historical drama set in eighteenth century Mexico. The film, which also stars Charles Brosnan, is about a remote village besieged by an aggressive tribe of Indians, the Yaqui.

The film - a Franco-Italian-Mexican mish-mash - went through a string of personnel during its four year journey to the screen (at one point it was being developed for French star Alain Delon; later The Time Machine's Yvette Mimieux was attached as the lead's love interest).

Despite thematic links to The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent Seven, musically the film is more closely aligned to Sergio Leone's so-called spaghetti Westerns. Indeed, by the time it came to score Guns For San Sebastian, the Coplandesque Americana that typically accompanied Westerns of the fifties and early-mid sixties had gone out of fashion, and a new type of quirky pop-influenced Western-style score had become popular, and its principal exponent was Ennio Morricone.

The score for Guns For San Sebastian shares components with Morricone's masterpiece, Once Upon A Time In America, which the composer would tackle later the same year. So, it's not surprising with a pedigree like that, that FSM thought the score was worth resurrecting.

The score for Guns For San Sebastian was released on LP when the film had its original theatrical release, and has subsequently been re-released several times. All these feature the same half-hour of music. FSM's release is the first to feature the complete score (including the album's Overture), re-mixed and re-mastered from the original half-inch three-track recordings. The new hour-long CD also features two bonus tracks: an alternate version of The Chase (featuring an enhanced choir, instead of the recorders that feature on the film version), and the soundtrack album version of the Love Theme.

The disc comes with a lavishly-illustrated sixteen-page booklet, featuring extensive track-by-track notes, and some examples of the film's superb poster artwork.

Herbert Stothart, pioneering composer of dozens of films made between 1929 and 1954, is scarcely represented on CD. Most people will be familiar with at least one of his scores: the one he wrote for MGM's 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz. During his career, which included the scores for Mamoulian's Queen Christina (1933), the Wallace Beery version of Treasure Island (1934), and the Charles Laughton / Clark Gable adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), he was nominated for eleven Academy Awards.

So, why is so little of Stothart's work available on CD? Well, as you can probably guess, relatively few recordings from the era exist, and those that do are often in poor condition (almost everything was recorded onto fragile optical film). FSM's Random Harvest CD presents what survives of two of Stothart's most important scores: 1942's amnesia drama Random Harvest, and the soppy 1946 family film The Yearling. In both cases about half of the score exists. In addition to the surviving complete cues, the CD archives what remains of several others as bonus tracks (including a Harry Lauder song featured in Random Harvest, She's Ma Daisy). Remarkably, because of the way the scores were recorded, some of the material - including both main titles - are presented in stereo.

Stothart, who had Scottish roots, was perhaps the obvious choice for Random Harvest, especially after the success of Fox's charming WWII drama Mrs Miniver (also 1942), which he also scored. The film, which starred Lost Horizon's Ronald Colman, as an amnesiac British WWI soldier, and Goodbye, Mr Chips' Greer Garson, as the woman who loved him, features three key musical themes: one representing Colman's confusion; a love theme; and a third, based on the wedding hymn O Perfect Love. Stothart's score netted the film one of its seven Oscar nominations.

The Yearling, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a boy and his pet deer, had a turbulent journey to the screen. In fact the film took eight years to make, exhausting the patience of two of MGM's first-rank directors (Victor Fleming and King Vidor) in the process. Filming began in 1941, with Spencer Tracy and Roddy McDowall, but this version was abandoned (apparently mosquito swarms and behind the scenes squabbles delayed filming so long that the film's adolescent lead passed through puberty, making him unsuitable!) More delays occurred when the USA entered World War II. The film was eventually remounted in 1946.

Stothart had a good track record of scoring films with animal and other natural subjects (including Son of Lassie (1945) and National Velvet (1944)). As he had done before, Stothart incorporated music from the classics in his score: in this case an orchestral work with an Americana flavour by British composer Delius, which had been inspired by the Appalachian mountains.

The film was a smash hit, and garnered MGM another seven Oscar nominations (the film won two, for its cinematography, and for Art Direction; juvenile lead Claude Jarman Jr also netted an Academy Award, for the Outstanding Child Actor of 1946). The film's become something of an American classic, due to its regular exposure on television.

FSM's dics is accompanied by a twenty-four page booklet, with extensive notes by Stothart expert Marilee Bradford. The disc is a limited edition release of 3000 copies.

Last month's Golden Age Classics release was André Previn's score for the 1964 Bette Davis film Dead Ringer, which saw the fading star return to her old stomping ground at Warner Brothers after a lengthy falling-out. The film, about a woman who assumes the identity of a well-to-do sibling, featured Davis playing twin sisters, as she had done in 1946's A Stolen Life.

Previn was well-established by 1964. Indeed, he had  won four Academy Awards (three of them for film musicals: Porgy and Bess, Gigi and My Fair Lady). Previn managed to fit Dead Ringer in during a lull on My Fair Lady, creating a slightly tongue-in-cheek score for the film, which features a solo harpsichord, giving it a somewhat macabre flavour. It also exhibits a distinctive Korngold influence (Previn had recently recorded several Korngold concertos, his Symphony in F#, and an album of his film theme suites).

Dead Ringer had previously been released on a stereo LP, which accounts for about half of the music on the CD. The rest, in mono, comes from the quarter-inch tapes in Warner's vaults. Together they form a complete representation of Previn's score, which is released on CD in a limited edition pressing of 3000 copies, accompanied by extensive background and track notes by Jeff Eldridge.

The most recent Silver Age Classics release is a fine jazzy score from Argentinian composer Lalo Schifrin. It's from the 1966 MGM spy spoof The Liquidator, which starred Rod Taylor.

The film was shot in England and on the French Riviera, and featured a largely-British cast, marshalled by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The 007-style spoof featured a bona fide Bond girl, Jill St. John. Its authenticity was enhanced by a title song performed by Shirley Bassey. Its plot came from a novel by John Gardner, who would later pen more than a dozen authorised James Bond novels.

Schifrin had been working for MGM for a couple of years on an ad hoc basis, when he got a call asking if he could drop everything, fly to London, and start work immediately. A couple of days later Schifrin found himself in Ronnie Scott's legendary nightclub, arranging to hire the services some of the most talented Jazz musicians in the world: jazz flautist Tubby Hayes, drummer Tony Crombie, and Scott himself, on saxophone.

Schifrin's score resists mimicking John Barry, and is scored with his own distinctive style (it's very reminiscent of Mission: Impossible).

FSM's disc marks the score's first appearance on CD. Often the only parts of a score of this vintage that exist are the cues used for the soundtrack LP (i.e.: the album master). In the case of The Liquidator, though, the reverse was true: the original three-track recording session masters survive, but all the album tracks (which were removed from the recording session recordings) were absent, and the album master was lost (despite having been used as recently as 1986, for an LP and cassette release). After two years of investigation, the disc's producer has decided that all avenues have been explored, and FSM has reluctantly used a pristine copy of the album as the source for some of the tracks. Where possible, the original three-track recordings have been used. The results are very good, and unless you're blessed (or cursed) with audiophile ears, most satisfactory. The entire disc (which contains the complete score) is in stereo.

Three tracks that were on the album, but weren't in the film, (including the extended version of The Liquidator song, which played under the end credits) are offered as bonus tracks.

The disc comes with extensive track notes, written by FSM label boss Lukas Kendall. The notes include new interview material from the composer himself.

FSM discs are available from specialist soundtrack retailers, including FSM's trading partner, Screen Archives Entertainment (who are running a sale on selected FSM titles at the moment!)

27th November 2006


A feature-length special edition - indeed, the finale - of Channel 4's off-kilter hospital comedy series Green Wing will be released on DVD on January the 8th, four days after it is broadcast on TV.

The ninety-minute special will be supplemented by exclusive bonus material, including deleted scenes, and alternate ending, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a cast and crew commentary track. The RRP is £19.99.

Optimum Home Entertainment have announced about a bazillion new titles for release in the first quarter of 2007.

These are:

January 1st

Night and the City (Robert De Niro version) - RRP: £12.99

Mediterraneo - RRP: £12.99

Honeymoon in Vegas - £12.99

January 15th

Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva - RRP: £17.99

Aces High - RRP £12.99

23rd January

Belle de Jour - 40th Anniversary Edition (features History of a Film (31m), commentary by Professor Peter W. Evans, and a theatrical trailer). Ties in with a Luis Buñuel season at the NFT.  RRP: £19.99

The Luis Buñuel Collection (eight discs packaged in two digipacks, in a slipcase: Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Diary of a Chambermaid, Tristana, The Milky Way, That Obscure Object of Desire, The Phantom of Liberty, La Joven (The Young One)). The set will feature Making of... documentaries for seven of the films. RRP: £44.99

29th January

Comic Icons - The Leslie Phillips Collection (four disc set containing Please Turn Over, Watch Your Stern, No Kidding and Crooks Anonymous) - with commentary by Phillips (TBC).  RRP: 24.99

Comic Icons - The Frankie Howerd Collection (a "three disc" set containing Up Pompeii and Up The Chastity Belt) - there's been some speculation that the mysterious third disc might be The House in Nightmare Park). RRP: £19.99

Comic Icons - The Terry-Thomas Collection (six-disc set containing School For Scoundrels, His and Hers, Private's Progress, Make Mine Mink, Too Many Crooks and The Naked Truth).  RRP: 29.99

Comic Icons - The Sidney James Collection (three-disc set containing The Big Job, Make Mine a Million and The Lavender Hill Mob).  RRP: 19.99

Luc Besson's Angel-A - Includes exclusive UK interview with Luc Besson, artcards, Making of... documentary.  RRP: £17.99

Walter Hill's Southern Comfort - 101m, 2.0 audio, trailer. RRP: £15.99

Nic Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth - two-disc set in Amaray case with metallic board slipcase. Features new and exclusive Roeg interview; Watching the Alien documentary; trailer; DVD-Rom featuring pages from the theatrical campaign brochure.  RRP: £17.99

February 5th

The Go Between - RRP: £15.99

Stephen Frears' The Grifters (DVD debut) - RRP: £15.99

Polanski's The Pianist - RRP: £17.99

Lovers of the Arctic Circle - RRP: £17.99

Bruce Lee - Martial Arts Master (documentary) - RRP: £12.99

Private Elvis (documentary about Elvis' spell as a soldier) - RRP: £12.99

Bad Boys (Sean Penn) - RRP: £12.99

February 12th

Sleepy Hollow - Special Edition - Special Edition packaging. Features  containing two theatrical trailer; behind-the-scenes documentary, Reflections on Sleepy Hollow; director's commentary; photo' gallery; biographies; sixty page book featuring extract from Burton on Burton; career interview with Burton (TBC); interviews with composer Danny Elfman and "some of the UK cast" (TBC).  RRP: £17.99

Gilles Mimouni's L'Appartement - RRP: £17.99

Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark - RRP: £15.99

Brotherhood of the Wolf - RRP: £15.99

Narrow Margin - RRP: £12.99

Jacques Audiard's A Self Made Hero (UK DVD premiere) - RRP: £17.99

That'll Be The Day - RRP: £12.99

Stardust - RRP: £12.99

February 26th

Highlander - Immortal Edition - Embossed steel tin including artcards; newly-created extra features (TBC); new hour-long retrospective documentary; new audio commentary by director Russell Mulcahy (TBC); "soundtrack / music video disc" (TBC) - £17.99

David Lynch's Mulholland Drive - Collector's Edition - featuring Making of... documentary and interviews; 20-page booklet extracting Lynch on Lynch; special packaging and artcards.  RRP: £17.99.

The John Sayles Collection - three UK DVD debuts: Lianna, Return of the Secaucas Seven and Brother From Another Planet.  RRP: £29.99

Early Hitchcock Box Set - Blackmail, Murder!, The Ring, The Farmer's Wife, Rich & Strange, The Skin Game, The Manxman, Number Seventeen and Champagne.  RRP: £34.99

March 5th

Fellini's The White Sheik (DVD debut - digitally re-mastered) - RRP: 19.99

The L-Shaped Room - RRP: £15.99

The Raging Moon  - RRP: £15.99

Darling - RRP: £15.99

The Jean-Luc Goddard Collection - Volume One - Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou, Une Femme Est Une Femme, Le Petit Soldat, A Bout de Souffle, La Chinoise and Made in the USA.  RRP: £39.99

Korean blockbuster The Host - two versions: a single-disc edition, and a double-disc edition with bonus features (TBC)

Johnnie To's Election: Vol.2 - Interview with Johnnie To; Making of... documentary (TBC).  RRP: £17.99

Asterix and the Vikings  (DVD premiere) - RRP: £15.99

Wanted: Dead or Alive - Series One Volume Two - five-disc set containing twenty more episodes of the Western series featuring Steve McQueen. Features photo' gallery and Life In The Fast Lane featurette.  RRP: £49.99

Emmanuelle - Special Edition - featuring interview with director; Emmanuelle - An Erotic Success (52m documentary, "new to DVD"); booklet containing behind-the-scenes stills.  RP: £17.99

Fu Manchu Double-bill - The Castle of Fu Manchu and The Blood of Fu Manchu in "double Amaray in o ring".  RRP: £12.99.

Classic Horror Collection - The Beast Must Die, I, Monster, Night of the Eagle, Black Sabbath, Circus of Horrors, A Bucket of Blood, Ghost Ship and Doctor Crippin.  RRP: £9.99 each.

March 12th

Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth - extras to be created in collaboration with del Toro; twenty-page book containing extracts from The Book of Mexican Cinema, by Jason Wood (TBC); "special packaging option available".  RRP: £17.99

Guillermo del Toro Triple Box Set - Chronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth - £29.99

Screen Icons - Julie Christie - The Go Between, Billy Liar, Far From The Madding Crowd and Darling.  RRP: £34.99

Screen Icons - Catherine Deneuve - Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Belle de Jour, Donkey Skin, Manon 70.  RRP: £34.99

March 19th

Sweeney! and Sweeney 2 - RRP: £12.99 each

Michael Powell's Peeping Tom - Special Edition - slipcase containing Amaray case; The Eye of the Beholder documentary (30m); The Strange Gaze of Mark Lewis documentary (25m); booklet containing essay by Ryan Gilbey and interview with screenwriter Leo Marks; behind-the-scenes production stills; commentary by Powell expert Ian Christie.  RRP £17.99

The City of Lost Children - Special Edition - commentary by director Jean Pierre Jeunet (TBC); packaged in mirrorboard slipcase.  RRP: £17.99

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

Previous Zeta Minor News entries can viewed here.

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