Soundtrack Shelf: Cherry 2000/The House of God (Basil Poledouris, 1987/1984)

cherry 2000It seems only fitting that following Edward Scissorhands, my next pick from the soundtrack shelf would be this charming double-bill from the late, great Basil Poledouris, as the Cherry 2000 soundtrack shares the same quirky, irreverent sense of inventiveness as Elfman’s score. The film itself was a b-movie sci-fi Western with inevitable nods to Blade Runner and Mad Max, which languished on the studio shelf for two years before getting an eventual release (I think it turned up late at night on television many years ago, don’t think I even managed to get through all of it- which was my loss, as it might have been nice to have heard the score years before I eventually did). The House of God, meanwhile, suffered an even worse fate- completed in 1980, it was eventually dumped onto television/cable networks in 1984, and I’ve never seen it. So with this Intrada release (hey, another link with Edward Scissorhands) we’re in the realm of blind-buying soundtracks for films we’ve never seen, either from recommendations online or simply due to the composer’s name.  Its something of a wonder either of these scores got an official release, but they certainly deserve to. Cherry 2000 is part orchestral, part electronic, reminiscent of his Robocop score (both would have been written around the same time, I imagine) but is a much lighter score, blessed with a gorgeous love theme that demonstrates the composers gift for melody. The electronics work really well, my favourite track is Drive, which thanks to the magic of Youtube I can offer a link to below-

I must say there is something utterly magical and fun about the Cherry 2000 score. Whenever I listen to it, it always brings a smile to my face. Its electronics are certainly of its time, adding a nostalgic bent to it with memories of other Poledouris scores, and also Jerry Goldsmith’s scores of the time, like Gremlins, Twilight Zone: The MovieExplorers and InnerSpace, among others, which often seemed to share that same ‘sound’. There are tender, intimate moments using that achingly sweet love theme, and big, brassy moments of almost traditional Western Movie scoring that hint at Poledouris’ later triumphs (Lonesome Dove for one) and sadly remind listeners that he later willingly dropped out of scoring Dances With Wolves.

Giving a telling insight to Poledouris’ range and ability, his score for The House of God is a rather baroque, chamber-orchestra piece, rather sombre and intimate and quite beautiful. Its got something of an Ennio Morricone feel to it. The penultimate track, The Turf of Jo, is one of the most exquisite pieces of score music I have ever heard, and to think it’s part of a 17-minute score that few have possibly heard (for a film few have likely had opportunity to see) is really quite depressing. I’ve included a youtube link below to a suite from the score- the track The Turf of Jo is featured at about 8:50.

As usual for my soundtrack CD collection, the Intrada disc I have is now OOP. Which is a pity, as both are very fine scores that demonstrate some of the sublime genius of Poledouris, a composer who never really seemed to get his due in Hollywood. I have several of his scores on disc and I’m sure I’ll feature some of them later in this series of Soundtrack Shelf posts, if only because I really should listen to them more often. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting this disc and shall have to do so more often.

Listening to- The Vikings (re-recording)

vikingsA really pleasant surprise this- the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, who re-recorded the complete Conan the Barbarian score several years ago,  return with a new recording of Mario Nascimbene’s magnificent score to the 1958 film The Vikings. I reference their earlier Conan album deliberately because this in many ways is its second cousin, a great old-Hollywood epic score full of emotion and grandeur- Nascimbene’s score sounds very akin to the Poledouris opus. Readers of my post last year regards The Vikings on blu-ray will remember how fond I am of both the film (a childhood favourite when it used to air on tv all the time) and its music. This album sounds fantastic, rich and clear and a very modern, faithful recording with a deep and wide stereo soundfield that the original score itself cannot match. Indeed, I well recall buying the original soundtrack on CD many years ago and being quite appalled by its awful, scratchy and weak sound, in mono no less and possibly one of the worst-sounding discs I ever bought (wouldn’t have surprised me if it had come from a very bad vinyl). For many years I have hoped that someday someone might do a re-recording of the score (particularly, funnily enough, back when the Conan re-recording came out (itself prior to Intrada’s ‘proper’ expanded original soundtrack that is still inferior in parts to the Prague version).

Oh well, it does seem that sometimes all things come to he that waits (hint- you reading this, Vangelis?). Its simply brilliant to be listening to this wonderful music in such great audio quality. It remains a genuinely great score that tells the story of its film without needing any visuals, utterly timeless and quite stirring. That Viking main theme gets me everytime, especially in tracks such as Regnar Returns. The sequence is one of my very favourite film moments, Pure Cinema, the gorgeous cinematography with the music making something special- a genuine piece of art, timeless and haunting.

Anyway, this is one of the music releases of the year. A The Vikings re-recording finally happened. Somebody pinch me. Hail Regnar!

 

Poledouris’ Triumphant Barbarian

barb1This CD cover here on the left must be one of the craziest, most unexpected releases I can imagine. Released a few weeks ago, its the majority of Basil Poledouris’ Conan the Barbarian score transcribed for organ. You know, like they play in churches- indeed this recording was made at Claremont United Church of Christ in California, so it has that authentic ‘sound’. Once you get used to it (and after thirty years listening to the score in orchestral form, yes it does take a little adjusting to), it is a remarkable sounding work. There’s something primal about it, as if the music is reduced to its most raw state, at times brutal but also warm, and often richly religious-sounding with the associations of hearing organs in churches. Its more successful than you might think, and for any fan of the score its a must. Listening to it I wonder what Poledouris, who sadly passed away in 2006, would have thought of it (I’d like to think he would have been absolutely thrilled). Then I consider the long road that led us here some thirty-plus years after the original film was released. Quality wins out, and that is never truer than with this music. Say what you may about the film, the score is a monumental piece of work, Poledouris’ masterpiece, and its wonderful to have seen the music get appreciated and revered separate from the film.

Back in late summer of 1982, I read an issue of Starlog that featured an interview with Basil Poledouris, composer of the score for John Milius’ film Conan The Barbarian. I’d been a reader of the Robert E Howard stories since the mid-seventies and while I wasn’t at that time a big fan of the movie, I was very curious about the score. It seemed to ‘fit’ the Conan I knew from the original stories perfectly, a monumental piece of work that I have always been convinced was one of the finest scores for any movie, ever (it was just a shame that the film didn’t match the music but subsequent viewings on VHS turned me into a fan of the film too).

Oh, but that music. I’ve always been a supporter of what Douglas Trumbull described as Pure Cinema, moments or sequences with minimal dialogue or exposition, in which visuals and the score tell the story. Conan The Barbarian was just that. “I wrote two hours of music for Conan,” Poledouris said in the Starlog interview; “It was always in John (Milius’) mind that Conan would be solid music – much like an opera, but without singing. Even the first three reels of the film is wall to wall music. From the first frame of reel one to the end of the Wheel of Pain sequence somewhere in the middle of reel three, is one long cue without any break.” More than that, dialogue during this first twenty minutes -barring a brief prologue between father and son describing the Riddle of Steel- is non-existent; it’s just the music and the visuals telling the story.

Handicapping this however was a deeply flawed decision by the film-makers to release the film in mono only. Looking back on it, it seems a crazy decision to make, especially in these times of home cinema systems, but back then televisions were square and mono, and home video undreamed of- films had limited lifetimes in cinemas before being consigned to network airings years later and cinemas themselves were hardly -in the main- the surround sound auditoriums they are today.

But still, it does seem short-sighted and clearly impacted the movie. Here’s a big movie with huge sets and a (literally) huge imposing star, accompanied by this massive score that serves film and story in purely cinematic terms, and you hamper it with a mono soundtrack just to save some of the budget (which presumably ran over). Poledouris commented about this in the Starlog interview: “I think its a crime that with a movie of this size that the soundtrack doesn’t come close to what Milius has on the screen. the monophonic optical track does the picture no service. For demonstration purposes, we mixed the first reel in stereo to show the producers what it should really sound like when all of a sudden those horsemen come charging through the snow. You really feel the terror of those hooves thundering through the snow with the drums and chants. The sound works on a gut level resurrecting primitive memories of fear”.

barb3The only way to hear any of that two-hour score in stereo was to buy the soundtrack album, which totalled 47 minutes of music. The soundtrack presentation was very good, including all of the main themes and highlights from the film. For some reason the only edition of the soundtrack that I could get was this version from Europe, a French import I believe, although it had Italian stickers on it if i recall correctly. I don’t think I ever saw a UK or American import at all. This was in those distant days of vinyl, and I damn near wore this sucker down. To save serious wear I recorded it onto cassette, placing the tracks into film order and played that over and over; it was really a soundtrack to my life back then, played in the background while doing my paintings during my A-level art days and playing fantasy RPGs with friends. Back then of course it would never occur to me that one day we might get a better, more complete release of the music.

A few years later the score would return, this time on CD, first on a Milan disc and later a slightly expanded Varese Sarabande release. At the time this was deemed the most complete release that would ever be possible, as the master tapes had been believed lost or destroyed. A complete and chronological release (C&C in filmscore geek parlance) of Conan would be the stuff of dreams for years, and of course, as the years went by, ever more unlikely.

barb2Poledouris himself was said to be disappointed with the performance and recording of the original score in Rome, and in the mid-nineties discussed with producer James Fitzpatrick the possibility of the composer having the opportunity to conduct a new re-recording of the score. At the time these plans didn’t come to fruition, and it wouldn’t be until 2010 that the full re-recording would become a reality- alas, some four years after Poledouris’ untimely passing. Fitzpatrick would do Poledouris proud, using the composer’s original manuscripts and a large orchestra accompanied by a 100-voice chorus to record the complete score. For fans of the score it was a dream come true, even though some would voice reservations. This was, essentially, the score as Poledouris had always intended it to be heard, but for some fans whose ears were used to the original, for all its faults, this re-recording sounded a little odd at times. I guess its in the nature of re-recordings. Deviate too far from the original and you get cries of heresy, stay too close and you question the point of a re-recording at all. But there was yet a twist in the tale of Basil Poledouris’ Conan.

maf7123Trays.inddShortly after the re-recording was released, rumours began to fly about the original master-tapes of the Conan scoring sessions finally being found after years of fruitless searches. Finally in 2012 Intrada records presented its definitive Conan The Barbarian set; a three-disc epic that encompassed everything any fan could have hoped for over all those years. Two discs of the original, complete score recording, supplemented with never-before-heard alternates and a remastered edition of the original 1982 album on the third disc to preserve Poledouris’ original album presentation of the score. Maybe it gives some hope to those of us still waiting for a complete release of Vangelis’ original Blade Runner.

So here we are. Basil Poledouris’ Conan the Barbarian is surely utterly triumphant after all these years, with a stature far above that of the actual movie and enjoying a life all its own. Philipp Pelster’s rendition of the score on organ just further cements this position and breathes fresh life of its own to the score. It is fascinating, really, to hear a track like “Anvil of Crom” on the Intrada album and compare it to Pelster’s version. “Orphans of Doom/Awakening”, always one of my favorite moments of the score, is particularly spine-tingling on the Pelster album. Then we have the Fitzpatrick/Nic Raine re-recording with its huge orchestra to compare to both. Fans have never had it so good, and the score for the barbarian remains as valid and powerful as it did all those years ago. I don’t know how many times I have listened to this score, but I’m certain I will continue to do so for many years to come, in all its guises (who would ever guessed I would ever have such choice in that regard?). They don’t score ’em like they used to, and the loss of Poledouris remains to film music as great as ever. I’m sure we won’t hear his like again. But we do have his Conan The Barbarian.