A Nocturnal Vertigo

noct12017.44: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

This film may not be perfect, and it may not completely reach for what it strives for, but goodness me, I have to salute the ambition behind it, which is a rare enough thing to find in film these days. If anything it is this very ambition that may undermine it- crafted like a work of art as much as a mainstream movie, the film is exquisitely shot and framed but there’s a sterile coldness to much of it -likely deliberate- that distances the viewer from it (although it’s certainly not as emotionally detached as a Christopher Nolan film, say). Just getting through the main title sequence would be too much for some (and what it even adds to the film, or says, is a matter of conjecture).

Suffice to say that this film is no less than a modern-day Vertigo; a romantic, psychological thriller laced with awful sadness, regrets and loneliness that may leave you thinking about it for days. To complain that it doesn’t reach the heights of Vertigo (sic) is of course nonsense- Vertigo is a timeless classic that we may never see the likes of again. At least Nocturnal Animals aims high enough to deserve comparison – a fine compliment as it is.

noct2Nocturnal Animals is structured as a film within a film within a film- a fascinating puzzle to explore and obtain meaning from. In a sterile environment of empty spaces, Amy Adams is Susan, who lives a life of wealth and comfort as an art dealer, with a luxury home, beautiful (if increasingly distant) husband, servants and personal assistants. She seems to have it all- but seems to be realising she lacks fulfillment. A package arrives one morning containing the proof copy of a book written by her ex-husband, Edward, entitled Nocturnal Animals, which is dedicated to her. Having a quiet weekend whilst her husband leaves on business to New York (we soon learn this is a cover for his affair with a mistress), Susan reads the book, and we witness her minds-eye picture of the book as a film within the film. This book/film is a noir-ish pulp potboiler of tragedy and revenge in which she pictures her husband as the protagonist and her younger self as his wife. Bookended throughout all of this are her recollections, triggered by reading the book, of her past relationship with her husband -how they met, their affair and how their marriage painfully (for him) ended,  a timeline which is almost third film in itself. The difficulty in weaving these three timelines so well, so each informs and reveals things about the others, is something that deserves some consideration, and it’s  quite a feat that it works so well and that we always seem aware of ‘when’ things are happening, what is real and what is the book’s fiction. Actually, now that I think about it, that ‘real’ is pretty much subjective in itself, as the reality is Susan’s reality, the past as she sees it, just as the book is how Susan sees that. Revelations slowly unfold until we arrive at a painful finale that is both discomforting, frustrating and yet somehow perfect. There is a revenge in the real-world just as there is in the novel.

Amy Adams. What can I say? Another amazing performance which, like the same years Arrival, deserved but somehow didn’t get a nomination. Perhaps there is some truth to the theory that having two deserving performances actually did her a disservice by spitting her vote?  Nonetheless these two films have raised her to some kind of remarkable level of craft and leave me keenly anticipating any film she appears in.

Special mention to Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful, soulful score- as major a character in this film as Herrmann’s score is to Vertigo, performing much the same function. It’s a haunting work that is sparse but incredibly powerful. Korzeniowski is some kind of genius at this kind of stuff, whose romantic, haunting and yearning music served similar duties in the excellent Penny Dreadful tv series. It reminds me of John Barry as well as Herrmann. If only this quality of music was the norm and not the exception to film-scoring these days! This is of the quality we used to get in the 1970s, richly emotional, layered scoring. The film would be much lesser without it.

 

 

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Zimmer’s Blade Runner…

br2049Ouch. Consider this possibly the first real negative news about the upcoming Blade Runner sequel: Hans Zimmer is working on the soundtrack. Not necessarily a case of ‘Johannsson out, Zimmer in’ (which really would be a case of the film jumping the shark in my view), but all the same, bit worrying. Sure, Zimmer has done some good scores, but these days much of it sounds like sound design rather than score (in order to get some emotion for Dunkirk they had to dig out Elgar for crying out loud).

To quote a new interview with director Denis Villeneuve: “Johann Johannsson of Iceland composes the main theme as planned. However, given the scale of the task, Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer joined the team to help Johann. It’s hard to get to Vangelis’ angle. We have Johann’s breathtaking atmospheric sounds, but I needed other things, and Hans helped us” (Studio Cine Live).

I would much rather have seen/heard Johannsson left alone, doing his own thing and using his own voice to give the film, well, its own voice, like the film Arrival had. Too many modern film scores sound like Zimmer even when he didn’t do the soundtrack; his ‘sound’ is too pervasive and it can be argued has actually hurt film scoring in general. My one hope about Johannsson doing the score was that it would hopefully sound new, fresh, exciting, just as Vangelis’ score did back in 1982.  Besides which, I don’t think this film should even really have that Vangelis ‘sound’. This film isn’t Blade Runner 1982, its Blade Runner 2017 (well, I know it’s actually ‘2049’ but you know what I mean).

 

Jerry Goldsmith’s Thriller (and Prince’s Purple Rain)

tadthrillrWhilst on the subject of Jerry Goldsmith in my previous post, I thought it timely to raise the release by Tadlow Music just recently of a re-recording of some of the Jerry Goldsmith scores from the 1960 tv series Thriller. While I grew up thrilled and scared by classic anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, I never saw Thriller, so I was unfamiliar with the particular episodes Goldsmith scored or the music itself. But really, it’s Goldsmith. Classic, vintage Goldsmith. No-brainer.

Turns out the music is great. Innovative orchestrations with some creepy music, some of it akin to the original tv Star Trek music from the sixties (which is perhaps odd, as Goldsmith had no involvement in that- likely it’s just me, or something related to the limited orchestras involved in tv scoring back then, the ensuing creativity in tv scores of the time). In anycase, it is a great disc and sales have been good enough to encourage a second volume, so it’s all good news. How odd that stuff like this surfaces even now with cd sales falling through the floor and so long after the work was originally created- it’s the very definition of ‘niche’ market and likely means nothing at all to most who read this.

purpleRecently I’ve been following the rather tortured path to release of the remastered Purple Rain remaster/expanded edition due this month. Following Prince’s death last year there has been great interest in the artist’s fabled vault that houses hundreds, perhaps thousands of unreleased songs and abandoned album projects etc. From what I gather, this Purple Rain release may have unreleased tracks but they are not likely to be sourced from original masters within the vault itself- Warners seem to have their own copies of material from around that period which are second-generation. At any rate, there has been endless legal wrangling over rights to the music within the vault and whether it will be properly archived/restored and released one day. Some Prince fans feel that proper archive releases are likely years away, possibly decades- and indeed, some speculate they will never live to see/hear them (some of us Prince fans, as he ‘peaked’ in the ‘eighties, are getting a little long in the tooth now). After all, the recent deluxe Sgt Pepper remaster/expansion is 50 years after its original release.

The complication is simply that the cd, and physical music formats in general, are becoming increasingly marginalised in an ever-more digital market. So even if, say, work began on a series of properly mastered, deluxe vault releases tomorrow, would there even be a physical format and market for them over the coming decade/s? Or if there was, would it be so niche that prices/limited numbers would make them unviable? Of course we fans would like to think that Prince was a huge megastar, and he was a great performer/musician, but how popular/relevant is his music to the general public (and younger generations) today? Hardcore fans would likely pay any price but the general public? Perhaps this reality is why this Purple Rain release seems to be so low-budget and unambitious packaging-wise compared to some deluxe packages doing the rounds, with some Prince fans looking at the Sgt Pepper deluxe with envious eyes and wondering of what might have been. Warners seem to be dumping out a cardboard cheapie in order to keep the price down (and keep impulse purchases up?).

Naturally in this there are parallels to movies being released on disc. With streaming and downloads increasing in popularity, we have to wonder how long we will be so spoilt by films -particularly older, catalogue films- being released on disc. It can already be seen that some of those expansive, intensive bells and whistles releases of new films are becoming all the more rare. We’re lucky to get a commentary track days- usually its just EPK fluff thats no interest at all. So whats the future for film lovers who just want to treasure their fave films and have them pride of place on a shelf as part of a collection?

We are all getting old, Bats…

bat1Today is Danny Elfman’s 64th birthday. Incredible. I always thought of him as a youngster, one of the young turks that was threatening the thrones of Goldsmith and Williams etc… and he was, I guess. The shock of learning he is now 64, it’s just me forgetting how much time has passed since he came on the scene. My favourite Elfman scores are Edward Scissorhands and Batman… but of course, Batman is some 28 years old now. I really struggle to get my head around that- Tim Burton’s Batman is 28 years old… thats two years shy of the inevitable 30th Anniversary set that Warners will no doubt drop on us. But goodness me… 28 years?

I’ve noted before my tendency to judge the passing of time by film release dates, as if the films and their summers are markers of my life. Which they are of course. I am certain it is the same for everyone who loves film, except that where Star Wars or Blade Runner fit in with my childhood and youth respectively, I am sure that Terminator 2 or Titanic – or even Avatar, I guess, at this point in time- do for others.

But crikey. The idea that Danny Elfman is 64 years old today, and that this year Tim Burton’s Batman is 28 years old…  Yes, its a sobering thought: I’m getting old too.

Holy Anniversaries Batman. And happy birthday Mr Elfman.

Scott of the Antarctic re-recording

scott1Just arrived a few days ago, this disc from the Dutton Epoch label is a re-recording of the complete score for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic by Ralph Vaughan Williams. When I first saw the film many years ago as a kid, it really scared me- it was a pretty bleak and chilling film with a tragic ending and the score seemed a big part of that- music that was scary and brutal. Even today whenever I hear it, it gives me more than a few chills. It seems the perfect musical rendition of desolation, horror and arctic wastes and has never been bettered.

The music is of course most famous in its symphonic form, as Williams later adapted it into his Seventh Symphony, the Sinfonia Antarctica,  gaining a reputation and endurance beyond the original film. The score itself was written in 1947 before the film was even made- Williams composed it based on a copy of the script  and the book The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, which documented the ill-fated expedition. The score was recorded and then added to the film when it was later shot and completed.  A considerable amount of music composed and recorded for the film was never actually used, but fortunately William’s original manuscripts were stored for posterity and conductor Martin Yates was granted access to them in order to transcribe the music for this, complete and definitive re-recording of the whole score.

Its no exaggeration to say that this is an important piece of film-music history. The disc runs some 79 minutes across 41 tracks, and the music sequenced chronologically tells the story of the film perfectly. Its naturally got a very traditional, English-sounding style evocative of the period, but while it is ‘of its time’ it is also very powerful and dramatic. Film-scores just haven’t been like this since the heyday of Williams, Barry and Goldsmith, as music has retreated to soundscapes and ambience of late.  Fans of the film, its music or just the Sinfonia Antarctica will find much to enjoy here- if nothing else, its fascinating to compare this music with its symphonic cousin. Thanks to this great re-recording, the original score music that inspired that Seventh Symphony will have a life all its own for decades to come.

Max Richter – ‘Sleep’

sleep1This is a pretty extraordinary release- Max Richter’s opus ‘Sleep’ is over eight hours long, and in this full version arrives in a box with 8 cds and a Blu-ray that will play the whole thing uninterrupted. Pretty much designed as an aid for listeners to sleep, its also something of an experiment to see how that sleep can be improved and affected by the sleeper subliminally listening to the music through the night (hence its eight-hour running time). Its 31 pieces are variations of several themes, the structure designed after Richter consulted neuroscientist David Eagleman. Its generally ambient chamber music augmented by synthesiser.

How it works at improving sleep quality or affecting dreams I cannot say, as I haven’t bothered to try that out- I think my wife thinks I’m strange enough as it is (and I doubt it would work any magic on our Westie, Eddie, but you never know). Instead I’ve listened to the music as background music while driving to work or working at home on this blog, or when reading.  If ‘listened to’ really means anything with such ambient music -to be fair though, there is some argument that this music really works beyond any sleep experiment. With its soothing tones and melodies working a calming magic in the background, it creates a valid soundscape for daylight hours too. The sheer madness/eccentricity/bravery (delete as you seem fit) of creating and releasing something as huge as this eight-hour sleep cycle is quite impressive though, regardless of what you think of the music. It must be the music equivalent of the Ultimate Cut of Watchmen– clearly OTT and insanely self-indulgent but nice to experience all the same.

(Richter has also released a single-disc version ‘From Sleep’ for less ambitious listeners).

The Force is strong with this one…

100_5489From a blogger who had the Star Wars soundtrack on cassette given him for his twelfth birthday back in 1978, a very happy birthday to film composer John Williams, who is 85 today. Life would have much less joy in this world without this amazing man’s music.

The Force is indeed strong with him, 85 years old and still working, composing the score for another Star Wars film (Episode 8: The Last Jedi) this year. Quite remarkable considering that cassette I was listening to dates back almost 39 years ago. Bravo, maestro.

Delectus

delectus1The box-set Delectus arrived on Friday. I booked the day off work, how sad was that- but then again, box sets of Vangelis remasters don’t arrive often. Collecting the Vertigo and Polydor albums from 1973 – 1985,  it comprises most of Vangelis’ Nemo Studios work other than unreleased soundtracks, the RCA albums and a few odds and ends (his Irene Papas collaborations on Polydor were remastered and released a few years ago).  Thirteen albums and still several albums from that period not included- Vangelis was certainly prolific back then. Akin to a fire of creativity and experimentation, that period at Nemo was his prime, no question.

I have to say that this box set is more substantial than I expected. The packaging is excellent and oozes quality. The discs are held in two gatefold cardboard sleeves the size of regular albums from the good old vinyl days, and the hardback book is 100 pages long, full of rare/previously unseen photographs of Vangelis and notes for each album. Each of the thirteen albums has its artwork reprinted on a full page opposite recording/production notes, which is a nice touch as its pretty much a full-lp sized reproduction of the cover art sparking all sorts of memories. Those photographs of Vangelis are quite extraordinary in places, rare insight into him working during that period and glimpses of that fabled Nemo Studios. How I would love to step into a time machine and go back and visit that place, during 1978 or 1979.

Of course, the biggest question is regards the remastering, as some of that remastering back around 2007 for the RCA albums proved problematic. Thankfully Delectus seems to comprise of remasters dating more recently, as I feared as Vangelis had remastered all his back-catalogue back in 2007 for release we’d just get those. I may be wrong, but these do appear to be different. I haven’t heard many of the remastered albums yet, but they do seem to be fine. Maybe a bit of the inevitable reverb has been overcooked in a few places but that comes to personal preference- I’ve heard Earth and the reverb there seems to work. Its a case of Vangelis feeling the albums should sound different for today’s audiences, something purists cry foul at, but its his music I guess. Maybe a little more of an issue is a bit of editing- a track on See You Later has had a final word (“obviously”- if you know it you’ll know what track I’m referring to) cut out, and the first movement of Soil Festivities has had almost a minute of closing ambient rain/thunder effects cut.

soilThis particular cut is a little curious but I think it is a matter of changing formats. Back when Soil was released it was on lp, and the first movement comprised the whole of side A. There was a natural break in the listening experience as the listener turned the disc over for side B, and the lengthy fade out eased into this. On CD or mp3, no such changeover is required and the listening experience flows immediately from movement one to movement two, so I imagine Vangelis felt there was no need for the long fade anymore.

I remember listening to Soil Festivities for the first time, over my freinds house one evening in 1984. Must have been winter, I think. We sat in the front room listening to it on his father’s hi-fi system. It was the vinyl album, obviously. We sat, listening to movement one, it sounded quite complex and dense and unlike anything I had heard up to then. Its always remained a favourite of mine of Vangelis’ albums. Maybe second only to China. But that night in 1984, it is like it is ingrained in my memory so clear.  Its like that, when you grow up with music and its the soundtrack of your life for decades afterwards. Thats why this release of Delectus is such a Big Deal.

What a genius Vangelis was back then.

That Blade Runner sound

 

With Vangelis’ Delectus box-set arriving in a few days time, the elephant in the room regarding that release is it lacking the Blade Runner score. It should include the score because the box has (most) of the albums Vangelis created at Nemo Studios in London, and listening to them chronologically will inevitably indicate how much of the music is building to the creation of that iconic score. In a shady episode in the story of Blade Runner, the soundtrack release was delayed until a decade later on a different label, so it’s understandable but still annoying.

Which leads me to this fascinating video I discovered on Youtube. Well, fascinating to me, as I love Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner, but possibly boring as hell to most everyone else. Somebody plays an old-vintage Yamaha CS70, approximating the brass sound of the Yamaha CS80 that Vangelis used so well in his Blade Runner score.

Apologies if its bored you to tears. Like… tears in the rain… sorry. Couldn’t resist.