The Thing returns looking awfully pretty

thingYou’d have to have been around in 1982 to understand why this seems to be a Big Deal for me. Quartet Records have announced a remastered edition of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for John Carpenter’s film, and while it doesn’t feature any additional music -or indeed inclusion of the roughly ten minutes of electronic underscore added to the film by Carpenter and his then-frequent collaborator Alan Howarth- it does instead feature the original album cover art used on the vinyl release back in 1982. I loved this cover back in the day and its meant that the original vinyl release has remained a valued possession all these years.  It just always seemed to encapsulate the film and the music better than any other art used to promote the film or soundtrack editions ever since, and it will be great to finally have a CD release featuring it. The music will probably shine from its restoration and remaster, too, and the added news that Jeff Bond, who always writes entertaining and informative liner notes, has prepared this editions new liner notes ensures I’ll have to get a hold of this one, even if saner and wiser folks will be scratching their heads wondering what on Earth is the big deal.

Naturally, we’re living in an age of mp3s, downloads and streaming, and the value of the ‘overall package’ of art and liner notes must seem immaterial to most, if not utterly prehistoric – and 1982 does seem some kind of prehistory to many I guess.

Legends of the Fall and the Shelf of Shame

legends7Well, another post in the Shelf of Shame series, this time concerning my Blu-ray edition of Legends of the Fall, a film I thoroughly enjoyed at the cinema back in 1995, and subsequently watched several times on DVD, but which I hadn’t seen since, even upon upgrading to the Blu-ray edition, which remained unwatched since I bought it (near as I can tell, sometime in 2013). One of the most sobering things about this Shelf of Shame series is the realisation of how many discs I have that I have watched only once, if at all,  and also regards just how much time is flying past and how much of a waste of money that collection on the shelves might possibly be, in hindsight.

Can we judge the worth of a DVD or Blu-ray or 4K UHD by how many times we have watched it? Is that fair or misguided? Does £20 spent on Alien on UHD suddenly become more palatable had the disc been watched five times? Should the monetary expenditure be more reason to watch less ‘new’ stuff and instead return more often to rewatching old favourites? Of course its not just films on disc, I could just as easily be remarking upon CDs and books, all the objects we accumulate.

I’m horrified that its been several years since I bought Legends of the Fall on Blu-ray and that I hadn’t watched it: for one thing, where indeed have all those years gone? On the other hand, one has to consider the worth of spending as much money as I have on discs if they are going to just sit there unwatched. I suppose a related inquiry would be, those films we enjoy and even love, how many times can we, and should we, return to them? I always feel its rather strange when someone says they only ever watch films once, but maybe they have a point. For my part though, I cannot imagine that: films are things I cannot help but return to, if I enjoy them. Even if this Shelf of Shame series would suggest some failure at that.

Its also very true that the only reason why I finally reached for this Blu-ray disc and actually watched it, was the release of the complete score on Intrada’s recent CD that arrived a few days ago. Listening to the score was a reminder of just how much I loved the film when I first saw it and of course that wonderful period from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s when James Horner’s scores were such a soundtrack to my life. I know there are many naysayers regarding Horner’s music in film-music circles, but for fans such as myself who were there pretty much at the beginning of his career, that period of Horner’s career is akin to people looking back to when The Beatles were making music.

legends2It is often true that rewatching films can offer a sense of perspective, looking at it from the vantage point of someone in 2020, older and (possibly) wiser, and naturally offering an inevitable giddy rush of nostalgia. Watching Legends of the Fall last night was a bewitching experience of impressions: the sense of tumultuous David Lean epic, huge breathtaking landscapes dwarfing the humans in nearly every frame. The great cast: a young Brad Pitt in one of his first leading roles, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Karin Lombard, who I recall appeared in a few films at the time (its funny how faces seem to appear in a number of films at a certain time that seem to then disappear- in her case, rather than disappear she simply moved to a successful series of tv roles I never saw). Of course there is the hauntingly beautiful Julia Ormond stealing the film from everyone around her with a wonderful performance. While watching the film I couldn’t help but imagine what a more ‘adult’ Star Wars prequel trilogy could have been, had it centred Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side around some Legends of the Fall-like doomed love story with Ormond as the object of his ill-fated affection (I could certainly more easily imagine a passionate and feisty Ormond as the mother of Leia and Luke than Natalie Portman). Above all else in the film, there is also that sweeping, overwhelming James Horner score that dominates the film in a way that scores really don’t anymore.

The funny thing was, even though it may have been ten or fifteen years or more since I last saw the film, I could still remember some of the lines just before they were spoken, and yet other moments came as quite a surprise, elements that I had quite forgotten. The film remains something of an oddity; even in 1995 when I first saw it, it seemed a film at odds with contemporary Hollywood; this is a film about myth, and legend. Its clearly not intended to be a true tale, its so larger than life its more a piece of modern myth-making, a tale of the early-20th century more in line with Sergio Leone’s filmography (as much a late-period Western as Once Upon A Time in America is a realistic gangster movie).

legends3That thought suggests a tantalising what-if: imagine what Sergio Leone could have done fashioning Legends of the Fall into one of his typical three or four-hour epics. It has all the elements of his films; a male-dominated list of characters with a chiefly male-dominated worldview, epic landscapes, huge battles scenes with hundreds of extras, a sense of larger-than-life fantasy, of Pure Cinema. With Leone at the helm, it would have certainly benefited from a better climactic gunfight- Leone was a master of them, turning them into operatic ballets of violence, whereas the one Legends of the Fall has ultimately feels clumsy, overwrought, relying on slow-motion to add gravitas and James Horner’s dramatic scoring.

legends1The story of Legends of the Fall is quite simple but unrelentingly dark when one considers it: I’ve always thought of the film as an overwhelmingly depressing piece (depressing in a good way, if that’s possible, like the grim denouements of so many Film Noir). At its very simplest, a beautiful young woman, Susannah (Julia Ormond), enters the lives of the Ludlow family living in the Montana wilderness, and destroys them, before finally blowing her own brains out from the guilt and sense of unfulfilment.

The film describes Tristan as the rock against which all the others broke themselves against, but that’s missing the point that Susannah is almost like a snake entering the Ludlow Eden in the films beginning. Admittedly she intends none of this, she’s just being true to her nature- beautiful and kind, but she’s finding her place in the world where she becomes an unhappy catalyst of doom. Its funny how Tristan later considers that he may be damned, and has pulled everyone he knows into this damnation, but that could just as easily have been a monologue of guilt spoken by Susannah.

But isn’t Legends of the Fall great? Sure, its not perfect, and it rushes things (a conscious decision of director Edward Zwick, who preferred to pace it as a stream-of-consciousness, of a tale spoken to someone over a campfire and consequently sweeping the narrative forwards with little reflection). But its a hell of a movie- that’s MOVIE in great big capital letters, full of passion and epic moments- yeah, Pure Cinema in the Sergio Leone vein, a win-win in my book.

Curious fact I hadn’t realised before: the novella the film was based on was written by Jim Harrison, who was also the author of the short story Revenge that was turned into a Tony Scott film from 1990 that I later discovered on VHS rental and seems largely forgotten now but which I really liked. It featured a beautifully haunting score by Jack Nitzche which is one of my most treasured CDs. In retrospect, both films share common themes so the connection is not surprising, but I hadn’t been aware of it before. You learn something new all the time (really must read that Jim Harrison novella that inspired Legends of the Fall).

Horner’s Magnificent Fall

legfallJust arrived from Intrada (via France and Music Box) is the expanded edition of James Horner’s magnificent Legends of the Fall soundtrack. I didn’t really ever see this coming- like the expanded The Thin Red Line set that La La Land Records released last year, this was an expansion that I figured would never happen. To be fair, the original score release was pretty good (Horner’s albums at that point -1995! crikey!- were usually pretty lengthy and a far cry from the paltry 30-minute highlights editions we were used to in the 1980s) but when a score is as good as this one, well, more is always better.

I don’t buy many soundtrack albums these days – part of this is just because, over the years, most everything I’d have wanted has fortunately gotten released, even Silent Running, and I’ve so many discs from Intrada and La La Land etc collected over the years that I often pick one off the shelf and can listen to it like its something new (except for The Thin Red Line, which as I have remarked upon before, I seem to be listening to all the time). Couple that with the crazy cost of shipping these days making the CDs so very expensive, I really have to think twice about releases (recent expansions of John  Williams’ Far and Away and The River failing to make the grade).

Didn’t have to think twice about this one though. This dates back to James Horner at his absolute peak, back when he was doing scores like Glory, Braveheart and Field of Dreams, when each one used to be fresh and thrilling, and, in the case with Legends of the Fall, sweepingly epic and dramatic. Scores like this were rare even back in the day, and today, well they are frankly non-existent. No-one scores films like this anymore, probably because nobody at the Studios asks them to. Listening to this album will be great, but also a little sad. 1995 and all that. Where has all the time gone?

(I plan on blasting this out while working at home tomorrow, should make those ten hours at the veritable desktop workface a little more bearable).

Yesterday, Pt.2

Well, yesterday’s whimsical post hardly merits as a ‘proper’ review so here goes with a few more thoughts.

lovesongsDuring the late-seventies, my Dad had an 8-track deck fitted in our family car. It was second-hand and came with a selection of albums on 8-track: for those happily ignorant of it, the fotmat was a bulky plastic-cartridge monstrosity from the mid-sixties when it had become popular in cars, but hey, it beat listening to the radio. One of the albums that Dad had bought with the 8-track deck was The Beatles compilation, Love Songs, and this was, other than hearing isolated songs on the radio over the years,  my first real experience of hearing the bands music. I remember that summer holiday in particular, very well, Dad driving the family to and around North Wales listening to that album over and over- some amazing songs on that compilation (considering how defintive a collection it was, it always seemed odd to me that it was discontinued in the early 1980s and never released, officially at least,  on Compact Disc).

It would be many years later when I eventually bought all the Beatles albums on CD and became fully familiar with their music, but across all those albums, its those love songs, heard many years before over and over during that summer holiday, that remain the most poignant to me: they were the soundtrack of that childhood holiday and listening to those songs always brings a smile of recollection. I can’t say I’m a die-hard devotee of the band or their music- much of it is brilliant, the rest either admirable or embarrassing but never inbetween. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m a child of the ‘sixties but I was far too young to have experienced Beatlemania or the years during which the bands music was new and revelatory. The Beatles music is always something of a history lesson, of another (my parents) generation.

yestrAnyway, what has anything of this got to do with Yesterday? I’m not sure. My overall impression of the film is of how slight it was. Its really one of those films that you can tell was born of a single-sentence idea (“what if the Beatles never happened, but one person could remember them?”) and strung into a full movie. Its a clever conceit that initially is quite arresting when you consider how much of a lasting impact the Beatles has had on pop music and pop culture. Someday someone will make a film about a world in which Star Wars never happened and old geeks will gush about how much the film franchise meant to them and how much the film/s changed movies and film culture, I just hope it will have a bit more depth than this thing does.

Yesterday is fine for what it is: its a romantic comedy, liberally laced with great songs from the Beatles. But thats all it is: which is fine, as I say, thats clearly all its intended to be. I suppose my issue with the film is what it isn’t, which is my fault entirely: I just expected some revelation, some Twilght Zone-like moral twist. Not anything dark, it could have been quite life-affirming. I just expected some reset button returning Jack Malick to the real-world suddenly wiser about what is really important (i.e. his best freind Ellie), as if the Beatles songs were teaching him something other than how to become rich on someone elses talent.

I thought that last theme was brilliant by the way: maybe the film  is really some subtle allegory for how so much modern culture is built on the talents of those who came before: hell, its like some incisive commentary on JJ Abrams whole career for a start, and the whole Hollywood machine making reboots and remakes and belated sequels ad nauseam. I like to think that was deliberate and quite brilliant, on which level Yesterday is pure subversive genius, but thats really just me pulling one of the stunts of that Shining documentary Room 237 and its marvelously deranged theories.

Danny Boyle has stated that 40% of the films budget was spent on acquiring the 17 somgs that they used in the film. Considering how the film ultimately served as a pure love-letter to the band and what the music meant to those who remembered it in a world utterly devoid of said music, its rather sad that some seriously wealthy individuals or music moguls insisted on taking that money. Yesterday tries to say that music can aspire to be something ‘more’ and should be for everyone, but such noble sentiment feels undermined as the real world maintains that this still comes at a price, afterall.

.

 

Yesterday (alt.)

yestrdyYesterday
All our troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks like Covid’s here to stay
So, time to watch Yesterday

Suddenly
Danny’s half the man he used to be
There’s no story that I can see
Oh, Yesterday its so lazy

Where the plot has gone, I don’t know, I couldn’t say
But there lots of songs, not much else, in Yesterday

Yesterday
Actors have such easy parts to play
Now I need a place to hide away
‘cuz Ed Sheeran’s in Yesterday

Where the plot has gone, I don’t know, I couldn’t say
But there lots of songs, not much else, in Yesterday

Yesterday
Such costly Royalties to pay
No money left for the screenplay
But, people love Yesterday
Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm

Flee to the Movies… but not The Omega Man (obviously)

omega1Listening to Horner soundtracks in my car, commuting to work. Every day a new score, every day less cars on the roads, less people on the streets, the world slowly becoming more The Omega Man. Its funny how the routine drive to/from work that was once pretty changeless day to day, week to week, month to month, has suddenly been so transformed. It was getting so I could drive to work and judge whether I was running early or late by at which point on my journey I would pass by certain pedestrians walking on their regular routes to work or shop etc. I drive alone in my car but the familiar faces almost seem like partners on my journey. A woman who I have figured out to be a teacher at a nearby infant school (regular as a watch term-time, absent during the holidays), or an old man with a hunched back walking his dog… both gone now, and so many others. Suddenly that whole landscape has changed. Call it Covid-19 Blues, a lonelier car journey than usual.

Has anyone else noticed the horrible feeling of reality come crashing in, when you’ve just watched a good film and then its over and -boom- you’re back to the Real World with all this Covid-19 nightmare going on? I suppose its all a part of the escapist appeal of movies anyway, but its pretty horrible, lately, coming out of a great movie and suddenly realising whats really going on. There’s a moment of ignorant bliss, basking in the ‘reality’ of the film before that glow fades and reality bites. Anybody else pointedly looking at watching more positive/escapist films than stuff, like, say The Omega Man or Soylent Green etc? Its funny how, when life is fine, you don’t mind dipping into something Dystopian or dark, but when everything in the world turns lousy, that stuffs just plain too horrible to bear and you need something rosier, happier.

There was a time, back in 1982, when I remember Blade Runner seeming dark and moody and Dystopian. Its practically a Utopian Ideal now.

I hadn’t listened to Horner’s scores for awhile. I stumbled into it by accident, my USB stick on random suddenly dropping onto the Main Title of Brainstorm, and that was it, I was hooked, the random function deactivated, listening to the whole album. Brainstorm is such a clear, fresh and astonishing work: the first James Horner score I ever bought, on a TER vinyl that I feared I’d wear out (a few years later it would be one of my very first purchases on Compact Disc, an expensive Varese import). Pretty much every day I would be driving to a different score, my USB stick going alphabetically through the ones I’d put onto the stick a few years back: Braveheart, Cocoon, Glory… the latter in particular bringing incredibly vivid memories of distant days, of blasting out Charging Fort Wagner racing through Cannock Chase in my first car (a banged-up old death-trap posing as a Mini Cooper) with my mate Andy: sun-drenched forest and Horner in his prime, glorious indeed. Its funny the things you remember like yesterday, when yesterday can be such a blur.

Mind, the last several yesterdays don’t deserve remembering at all, do they, so I welcome forgetting the details, the general darkness enough to send me scurrying for something pleasantly positive from my shelves of discs. I re-watched Gladiator the other day (albeit a 4K-UHD edition I bought in a sale a little while ago) and it was great, held up pretty well. Oliver Reed is magnificent in that; every time I watch Gladiator I wonder at what the hell happened with that guy, what amazing roles/films we missed out on because of what I assume were his personal demons. I don’t know much about him- its a funny thing, mind, how he seems to turn up in quite a few of the Hammer films in the Indicator box-sets (he even has a turn in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll that I watched a few nights ago: there was the weird feeling, seeing him in Gladiator, so old worn-out looking, shortly before his death,  while in Jekyll, so young and handsome (I guess the women in the audience adored his angry charms) with his whole life and career ahead of him.

johncAnother film I watched the other night, well a part of it, anyway, as I stumbled on it channel-hopping just prior to going to bed, was John Carter, Andrew Stanton’s wonderfully evocative love-letter to the old sci-fi pulps that Star Wars etc summarily ‘homaged’. Hadn’t seen it for awhile, I really enjoyed  what I saw and really need to find out my Blu-ray copy for a proper re-watch at a more civil time. It still seems mightily impressive,  looking gorgeous and sounding even better, with that fantastic Michael Giacchino score. That was a film from just before Disney purchased Lucasfilm (indeed, John Carter was killed by that particular deal) and you know, it was pretty clear to me from just watching half-hour of it, that the film was better than any of the Disney Star Wars films that replaced it. Whenever I see John Carter I wonder about all those other adventures on Barsoom we were robbed of. There ain’t no justice.

Ugh. I feel my mood slipping darkly. Maybe its time for The Omega Man after all… if you can’t beat it, wallow in it.

A CS-80 Masterclass

Forgive me another YouTube link, but this one’s pretty special. This is a one-hour demonstration of the legendary Yamaha CS-80, most famous for its use by Vangelis in so much of his music, particularly during the Nemo days and albums like Spiral, China and the soundtracks Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, portions of the latter being played  midway through the video leaving me amazed. Imagine sitting down with Vangelis at his Nemo Studio in London, as Ridley Scott must have done, and seeing/hearing him play that iconic Blade Runner score…I remember reading stories of Vangelis’ assistant redressing Nemo to establish mood and atmosphere for when the maestro was creating a particular piece of music or an album. Must have been spine-tingling, for instance, when he was performing the first movement from Soil Festivities, say, or Rhapsody from his collaboration with Irene Papas, Rhapsodies. What I would give to be there and to have witnessed it. All in a days work for the Greek maestro, I imagine, but something quite inspiring and astonishing to me.

You couple Vangelis’ mastery of the CS-80 with his vast collection of percussion instruments that filled Nemo and… well, magic is not the word, the recordings speak for themselves and his music back then formed the soundtrack for most of my life since. Timeless, gorgeous sound, and so much of it from this remarkable… do you call it a machine, or instrument?

Vangelis made the CS-80 his own, and funnily enough, it is commented upon by the presenter of this video that one of the only negatives regards the machine is that its so hard to play it without someone remarking “that sounds like Vangelis”. Frankly I think that is possibly the highest praise one could receive but I imagine some musicians would be infuriated by it.

If nothing else, the CS-80 goes to show that progress isn’t always, well, progress, and that in many ways this instrument remains unequalled. Mighty indeed. This is a fantastic video, absolutely fascinating stuff.