A Beautiful October Sky

october2To misquote Ray Bradbury, first of all, it was October, a rare month for Rocket Boys. 

It was October, 1957, and Sputnik changed the world. It changed the lives of some American boys in Coalwood, West Virginia, a backwoods town centred on its old coal mine that was living on borrowed time. The sight of Sputnik in the night sky and the dawn of the Space Age signalled the End of Days for Coalwood, the relentless march of Time heralding the inevitable end of the 1950s. Watching Sputnik traversing across the October night sky gave Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a glimpse of an exciting world outside his hometown of Coalwood,  the possibility of a life different to everyone else in the town, who seemed to have lives mapped out before them, sons following fathers into the mine. Inevitably Homer’s ambitions created friction with his father John Hickam (a typically splendid Chris Cooper) who was the mine superintendent who loved his job, the mine and took immense satisfaction in how it kept the town alive. John expected his son to follow in his footsteps and could not understand why Homer would seek another life, his head in the sky in a town where all attentions were upon the dark bowels of the Earth. 

October Sky is a wonderful, life-affirming sugar rush of a movie, and a male weepie in the tradition of Field of Dreams: its one of those films for fathers and sons. The fact that the film is based on a true story, specifically a book, Rocket Boys, written by Homer Hickam himself, only makes the film all the more poignant. I generally have a problem with films that begin “based on a true story” because that often means very little, with films taking all sorts of liberties, but the hell with that- the cynic in me is sulking in that dark corner over there and he ain’t coming out for this post. October Sky is great. 

The film was directed by Joe Johnston, of Jumanji and Rocketeer fame (not to mention his work for ILM on the original Star Wars films, his name etched into my head back in the heady days of my youth reading The Art of Star Wars and seeing his artwork as an effects illustrator). He’s something of a hero to the twelve-year old geek in me, and his attachment to this film as director is one of the reasons I wanted to see this film for such a long time. Why exactly it took over twenty years for me to get around to it… well, its just one of life’s mysteries. The additional synchronicity that when I did finally get a round to it, it was actually in October… well, I guess Ray Bradbury would enthuse upon the rightness of that better than I ever could.

octoberThe period details are lovely, there is a wonderfully evocative feel of the time and place, from the cars, the clothes, the period songs playing over the radio, the sense of innocence in an American town so isolated from the bigger world, something really that still seems true for many old industrial towns of America today. There is always, of course, something of the Lost World about that, too, of an Industrial Heartland, and all the homegrown traditions that come with it,  that has largely disappeared from America (as it has here in the UK, too). The fate of Coalwood was the fate of many American towns, as well as the mining towns here in the UK and a coal mining industry and way of life lost completely. One can sympathise and understand John Hickman’s desire to maintain the way of life that made sense of his own life and his whole community –  and understand the stirring sensations his son feels as he looks up at an October sky suddenly full of possibilities. 

The film is a warm story about friendship -John recruiting his schoolmates to help him in his adventure of amateur rocketry – that shares much of the effect of films like Stand By Me, a lovely ensemble piece that is heartfelt and feels very true. There is also a nice sense of community, as people around them start to assist them, drawn into John’s passion. The acting is generally superb, the cast excellent- everything feels real, and everyone looks real (perhaps Laura Dern is the weakest link, looking perhaps a little too Hollywood in a film where most everyone looks so wonderfully ordinary, but that’s more of an issue with casting than Dern herself, who is perfectly fine). Sharing in this sense of the ‘ordinary’ and even the  mundane, the visual effects from none other than ILM are indeed surprisingly subtle while being uniformly excellent.

Accompany that with a fine score by Mark Isham and you have what is essentially a perfect little movie. This is a great little film, and anyone who loved Field of Dreams will really get such a lot out of this.

 

Green Book

greenbook1I’m certainly beginning to think I might be getting soft in my middle-age. I’m not sophisticated enough to suggest that this film is a deplorable calculated artifice that plays fast and loose in over-simplifying events and social history, nor am I gullible enough to believe that this film is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This film has ‘Artistic License’ stamped all over it. But I don’t really mind. In just the same way as I felt about Stan & Ollie, I just think this is a great, life-affirming and warm movie that I really enjoyed. Its a movie, not a documentary, and it’s obviously entertainment first and foremost. Yeah, I’m turning into a softie.

But maybe we need stories, and films, like this now. God knows the news is depressing, politics feels broken, and ‘truth’ seems to be a matter of interpretation rather than cold hard facts. Maybe we need movies as an avenue of escape more now than ever, and it’s refreshing to think that that escape might not always involve people in capes with superpowers righting over-simplified wrongs or saving the world from nasty bad-guys who are clearly mad. I think a film like Green Book serves the same function as earlier films like, say, Field of Dreams or Glory, or possibly even Its A Wonderful Life, a film that I was, funnily enough, thinking about as the end credits of Green Book crawled up my screen (I’m always a sucker for nice Christmas moments in film). Maybe we just need ‘nice’ movies about good people doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing or people learning they are wrong and changing their ways. Maybe we need to believe people can be decent.

Yeah, maybe I’m turning into a softie and need to watch Taxi Driver, pronto.

But I did rather enjoy this film.

The basic premise of this film explains all- in 1962, a streetwise, working-class Italian-American bouncer looking for work is hired as the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South, during which he witnesses the racial prejudices which blighted America’s Deep South and re-evaluates his own prejudices, becoming a better person for it. It leads with the text  ‘based on a true story’ as if that lends weight to its message, or excuses some of its ‘so strange it has to be true?’ moments. I’m caught in that ‘don’t even care’ position, to be honest- all film is make believe, no matter how intent on portraying a true story, and all that really matters here to me is that it’s a great story and well told. The period detail is really nice, the art design convincing without drawing too much attention to itself, the cinematography likewise isn’t too stylish, and the casting and performances really endearing and impressive. Its weird to think that Viggo Mortensen is actually Danish, as he does such a great turn as Tony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali deceptively underplays the pianist Don Shirley – I struggled to recognise him from his brooding, haunted and mumbling character in season three of True Detective that I watched about a week ago. He’s clearly an actor I need to look out for in future.

Party like it’s 1989: Field of Dreams (4K UHD)

pris2Another 30th anniversary, and another 4K UHD release of an old favourite- this time Field of Dreams, a film blessed by one of James Horner’s best and most intimate of scores, and a story/screenplay that makes it the best Ray Bradbury movie that isn’t actually based on a Ray Bradbury story. Like Rod Serling’s early Twilight Zone episode, Walking Distance, this feels so much like a Bradbury tale it’s almost from some kind of fantasy uncanny valley.  As someone who spent much of the 1980s devouring much or Ray Bradbury’s short fiction and later novels, quietly laughing and shedding a tear at just the right moments with each turn of the page, Field of Dreams was, to quote the characters, not just incredible, it was perfect.

In just the same way as Alien is possibly the best Lovecraft film ever made, in how honest and sincere it is in conveying the alien horror of his best tales, so Field of Dreams is the best Bradbury film ever made- the fact that neither author had anything at all to do with the original source materials of either movie matters not one jot.

So anyway, I had to pinch myself a little this past weekend- I was a very lucky ghost watching The Prisoner of Second Avenue in a new HD master on Blu-ray and the following day a new transfer of Field of Dreams, splendidly brought to 4K UHD disc. While the disc will never win any awards or standout from the 4K UHD crowd, it’s the best the film has ever looked- a quick spin of the original Blu-ray disc reveals how limited that old edition really was, hampered by a lackluster print/master which in comparison really highlights the improvements in this new 4K disc. The image is more stable, the detail and filmic grain more defined and the colour depth really improved- HDR is mostly subtle and all the best for it, only really vivid in scenes with neon street lighting or in the baseball field at night.

The film, of course, is something of a marmite picture; often described as a male-weepie or adult fable, it’s a charming and finely-judged film that is really quite subtle – I think it will be interesting to rewatch Always, also from 1989, and similarly old-fashioned and gentle in spirit, to see how Spielberg’s less subtle hand fares (a bargain-bin blu-ray sits waiting on the shelf as I type this). I was naturally predisposed to fall for this film simply because it evokes so much of the magic Bradbury’s old Americana fantasies, but this shouldn’t detract from the qualities of the cinematography,  the performances (Kevin Costner is at the top of his game and James Earl Jones a greater joy everytime I rewatch this), the sublime score, the deft direction.  It has the feel of lightning caught in a bottle- a film has naively nostalgic and innocent as this shouldn’t have worked in the 1980s and beyond, but like Capra’s Its A Wonderful Life, it’s rather gained a timeless life all of its own.

Whats coming in July

Hey, welcome to July- and it’s going to be an interesting month, so I thought I’d add a post that looks ahead.

armOf course, the big thing this month (other than my wife’s birthday, hey, I know what’s most important) is that we going to have the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and as something of a space nut, it should indeed be a pretty fascinating time. So expect to see me post another look at First Man on 4K UHD, and review the documentary Armstrong on Blu-ray that’s due in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the widely-praised documentary Apollo 11 recently released on disc in America is region-locked, and its limited run in cinemas currently doesn’t include one near me, so I have to wait for its November disc release over here (unless I get pleasantly surprised by an airing on tv, as you never know with these things). I’m really excited about HBO’s brilliant series From the Earth to the Moon getting a HD release shortly, and really, really excited that it appears to have been properly remastered with a Dolby Atmos track and new visual effects shots. As I remarked awhile ago, the old DVD I have looks pretty much unwatchable, especially on an unforgiving OLED panel, so having this show in a great release is more than I could have hoped for, really.  You never know, if whispers are to be believed, we might even be getting a proper soundtrack set too, something which I’ve been wishing for since, well, I first saw the show back in 1998 (if I remember correctly, the show’s original dvd release in old-fashioned 4:3 was also my very first international purchase on the internet). I also intend to dust off some of the Spacecraft Films DVDs that I have, particularly the Apollo 11 set.

The same day that Armstrong and From the Earth to the Moon land on disc, so too does Captain Marvel, which I missed during its theatrical release. I’m curious to see what I think of it, as I gather it got a mixed response from fans (something also apparently true of Spiderman: Far From Home, making me wonder if the bubble is finally bursting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, considering I had such misgivings regards Avengers: Endgame). The following week we get Alita: Battle Angel, which I saw back in February– I enjoyed it enough to have ordered the 4K release, so maybe I’ll post a review of how it looks at home, and see if I’m still hoping for a sequel.

gloryBeyond that, July 29th sees the release of Glory in 4K UHD and Chernobyl, the HBO/Sky limited series that everyone at work has been raving about. I guess those will be reviews posted in August.

Now, anybody who had the curiosity to read my post summarizing June will have noticed that I have reached 83 in my tally of ‘new’ film/television experiences. I also have a fair few items already waiting to be watched- films like The Nun, Rampage, Zathura, Lady Bird, Unsane, all kinds of stuff piling up on the Tivo or on Netflix/Amazon, and I really want to catch up with the second seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and Stranger Things.

But I really do think it’s time to go back and rewatch some of the discs/films that I’ve seen before that I just, well, kind of miss. I’ve quite enjoyed my (albeit limited so far) series of posts rewatching films from 1989 that are currently getting anniversary releases, and I’d certainly like to continue with that more, to which end I’ve got the 4K UHD release of Field of Dreams on the way and Spielberg’s Always on Blu-ray sitting on the shelf. So if all goes to plan, I will likely refrain from watching too many ‘new’ films in favour of going back and revisiting some of those oldies over July and August. If only to maintain my sanity. Good lord I’ve been watching some rubbish lately.

Part of that of course will be my rewatch of From the Earth to the Moon, so yeah, I hope to relax with some od favourites over the summer.

Unfortunately, this month is also the month of Wimbledon, and anyone reading this blog over the years may remember Claire is a big fan of Wimbledon and commandeers the television for the tournament, usually relegating me to Wimbledon Widower status, so it’s anybody’s guess how much of this stuff I have planned that I’ll get to watch this month all this month… Possibly none of the above. Hey ho.

 

Old Faves Making Another Comeback

pris1Its a funny thing, as far as collecting films is concerned, how you keep on getting suckered in by the same old movies, it’s like the bastards are relentless. I’ve rebought films like Alien, CE3K and Superman: The Movie in 4K, and it seems it’s a pattern that will just endlessly continue. Which is funny, considering I was happy enough with them on VHS back in the day – the temptation of better quality seems impossible to resist but I sincerely hope that 4K is the last time; even to this old fool this is starting to get ridiculous. I suppose it’s harder to resist with old favourites simply because we have all those emotional connections and the element of nostalgia, indeed maybe it’s an attempt to recapture something from years ago that’s always out of reach, no matter how good the quality gets (but we keep on trying).

This week I’ve ordered two faves from America, simply because that’s the only way to get hold of them. Which makes them more expensive than I’d like, but, what you gonna do? How can I resist an upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray for one of my Jack Lemmon faves, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a film that I have mentioned before here over the years and which just seems to get better the older it gets? Its a lesser known title that is hardly likely to ever get a blu-ray release over here (I’m not certain even a DVD release ever happened here in the UK). Likewise I’ve been waiting for a few months now for Universal to announce a UK release of its 4K UHD upgrade of Field of Dreams, another of those films from 1989 getting anniversary releases in 4K. Seems Universal can’t see the point of it getting released over here, no doubt another indication of the decline of the physical formats (mind, you watch, soon as they pop through the letter box the announcement will come of a 4K UHD Field… from Universal in the Autumn and Arrow Films licensing Prisoner of Second Avenue for a HD release).

pris2Prisoner of Second Avenue on DVD was a R1 import which I can’t play anymore (last time I watched the film was from my Tivo box, having recorded it off the telly- how retro is that?) so that’s certainly reason to upgrade to a region-free Warner Archive release.  As for Field of Dreams, well, although I had it VHS/DVD and later Blu-ray, it was always a problematic transfer across the formats, and apparently the 4K is a great upgrade with the best picture its ever had. I was listening to James Horner’s sublime soundtrack again the other week and it just had me falling into the mood to rewatch it again. God knows I’ve watched too many bad ‘new’ films of late so its about due that I returned to the comfort of old favourites. My wallet tells me there’s no fool like an old fool but my heart tells me its going to be great watching two of my favourite films looking better than ever. I shall post a report no doubt in a few weeks time.

Party like it’s 1989

I’m always slightly amused by studios and/or their marketing departments focusing so much on anniversaries when releasing or re-releasing films on disc. I’d buy a copy of Alien on 4K disc whatever year it came out, it doesn’t have to be the film’s fortieth anniversary, but hey ho, there you go. So anyway, this year we seem to be getting reminded of certain film’s 30th anniversaries this year- The Abyss appears to be getting a new 4K scan or master for release later this year (originally released 9th August 1989, I guess it will slip a bit later than that for a disc release in the Autumn), and Field of Dreams is getting a 4K disc release in May. Unannounced but surely coming is Tim Burton’s Batman, another film from 1989 (looking back, I always feel like 1989 was the year of Batman– it was all over the place in the media, a huge ‘event’ film in the same way Star Wars was). Before all these, Pet Sematary gets a 4K release next week, partly due to its thirtieth anniversary but also thanks to an incoming remake/reboot (hey, before you watch the new one, here’s the old one to watch first so we can make a bit more money out of it).

So anyway, its been getting me a little nostalgic for 1989, which on the face of it never occurs to me as a great year for films, but now that I think of it (and consider those 4K disc/Blu ray release schedules) I have to admit, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year at all. I used to go to the cinema quite a bit back then, and can vividly recall shedding a tear or two to Field of Dreams (in a good way, it’s not as if it was a terrible film or anything, I’d reserve that kind of emotional reaction to something like Black Rain), and coming out of a matinee screening of The Abyss into a full-blown storm, torrential rain lashing across the cineplex car-park in a tempestuous gale that was like I’d brought the film out there with me, one of those disorientating moments that last with you forever.

I remember watching Born on the Fourth of July and Glory on the same day. We went to see Born on the Fourth of July in the afternoon, went home to have a chip tea then went back in the evening to see Glory. Now, the funny thing about that was, we all expected July to be the better film, but were totally amazed by Glory, really swept up by it. It had a phenomenal score by James Horner, and a great score is something I always react to in films, no doubt a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. Another film I saw at the cinema that year with a great score was The ‘Burbs, and I remember scouring record stores looking for that soundtrack for months in vain. Yeah, it was a good year for soundtracks, as I recall, though it would take years for me to finally get a copy of The ‘Burbs score on disc.

Not every cinema trip was as thrilling, mind. 1989 was also the year of Star Trek V: The FInal Frontier, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and, yes, Black Rain, and The Fly 2. Not films I recall really enjoying at all. I remember coming out of Pet Sematary more impressed by the music than the film- I bought the Varese CD and years later the La La Land expansion, but never actually saw the film itself again at all. It was also the year of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film I enjoyed at the time but has really worn thin on me over the years since. Its a funny thing, how films you were once wowed by later lose their charm, but films you didn’t ‘get’ the first time around sneak up on you (Munchausen is such a crazy maddening folly of a film I eventually couldn’t help but fall in love with it).

Thirty years, though- scary. Mind, I was looking up both Glory and Born on the Fourth of July online and they were released in December 1989 in the States, and it certainly wasn’t December when I saw them, so suspect it was later in 1990 when I saw them that day over here in the UK- release dates could be really staggered back then. After so many years it’s hard to remember very clearly, although I can remember sitting in the cinema at the time and looking over at my mate Andy after Glory ended, both of us shell-shocked by having watched not just two war films at the cinema that same day, but two damn good films at that.  It would never happen again- it’s funny sometimes, you just never know, in the moment, just how special/unusual or unique a day really is. They just come and go but perspective lends us clarity- and thirty/twenty-nine years, whatever it is, it’s certainly some kind of perspective.

Apollo 13 OST by James Horner – Expanded 2-disc edition

apollo-13-expandedA few nights ago I rewatched Apollo 13 on Blu-ray. Mostly, I watched it because the new expanded CD of the soundtrack was due in the post this week, and I was curious to rewatch the film again and get a reminder of how the music worked in it- and fortunately Claire ranks the film among her own top ten films so it was easy to talk her round to it (there’s nothing more odd than an individual’s favourite films, I find).

Curiously, the last time I watched the film was in 2015, not long after James Horner passed away in an air accident- in a way, it was an attempt to honour his memory by watching a few films that he had worked on (I remember Field of Dreams was one of them, as well as Apollo 13). So James Horner’s memory worked its trick again, in a roundabout way, getting me to rewatch Apollo 13 again.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Apollo 13 that I have mentioned before and won’t get into again. Basically, its that while the film’s subject matter is right up my street and the cast features some of my favourite actors, there is a sense of cynical manipulation and dialogue driven hand holding that pulls me out of it. But whatever issues I have with the film, the score isn’t one of them, and while some may take issue with it as a seperate listening experience, within the film itself its works like gangbusters, one of the best examples of how well James Horner wrote music to suit its film and its beats and moods.

Anyway- as expected, this new edition arrived in the post today. Intrada’s new release of the score is across two discs but there is a lot of repetition/redundancy at work here to ensure its as complete as fans would desire. The first disc features the complete score and isolated electronic cues that feature within the film, and the second disc an original album assembly created by Horner that failed to materialise, replaced at the time by a curio release that featured key Horner music amongst songs used as source music within the film, as well as sound effects and dialogue. The first disc separates the orchestral score and the electronic cues later added by Horner, but an alternate track listing in the booklet will enable listeners to program the score with the electronic cues in chronological order as heard in the film. The second disc is largely a repeat of the orchestral score on the first disc and follows a soundtrack tradition of featuring discs of original score albums alongside the fully expanded discs- the irony here being that the original score album never got its intended release at the time (it was later released as a promo from which a bootleg was widely circulated). Fans buying this release won’t be at all bothered, but I imagine Joe Public would look at it at being a bit of a rip-off being sold a two-disc set with two discs that are essentially the same- not that Joe Public is really the target audience for something like this, that old horrible curio release would suit them fine I expect. The biggest selling-point is the remastering, as this music really shines here, and new detail can be heard all over.

It can’t be denied this is a great Horner score and I’m certain this release will seem long overdue for fans. It has a great main theme and some lovely orchestrations featuring a choir and Annie Lennox doing some very effective and emotive wordless vocals. All Systems Go -The Launch  is a ten-minute powerhouse of score music that I remember back when the film came out just blew me away- back then it seemed every Horner score had music like this, stirring music that sounded new and exciting (which is an irony considering how plagued Horner later was by accusations of plagiarizing his own work) and it would be fascinating to see the scene with and without the music to demonstrate how well it served the film. Elsewhere there are examples of Horner’s talent for Americana-like music, patriotic and uplifting, and yes, plenty of music similar to other Horner works (a surprising amount of Brainstorm, I think), but you know, the Beatles sound like the Beatles, and Prince sounds like Prince, and with James Horner gone now, we have no opportunity to hear ‘new’ music, and I’ve found myself making peace with all those Hornerisms that used to drive me batty later in his career. Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. That all said, there is some really original music here (Docking, and Dark Side of the Moon, for example) that stand as some of the most memorable pieces of his career.

The simple truth is that, whatever one’s views on Horner’s music, its film music such as this, lyrical and melodious that can be hummed and whistled walking out of the cinema, that has become increasingly rare and unfashionable in films. You just don’t hear scores like this anymore, really, and while I wouldn’t even say this film or score is particularly old, it feels like it- this release is a very welcome reminder not just of a great talent lost but also a style of film music that we have lost too.

James Horner’s music is a powerful part of the success of this film and this release is surely one to be treasured by fans of both Horner and the film itself. I know I keep on saying this, but it’s increasingly true- as time moves on, and the physical formats like CD continue to wane, these expanded and remastered releases will just get more rare and eventually will be gone. I consider myself lucky I’m around now and able to afford to import the ones that get my interest, and yes, Apollo 13 is a great way to start 2019.

Horner’s Titanic Returns

TitanicI’ve been spending the last few days listening to James Horner’s Titanic score, recently released in a definitive (and exhaustive) four-disc edition by La La Land Records. It isn’t my favourite Horner score by some margin, he did much better stuff earlier in his career, and the film’s huge success (and that Oscar) became rather a turning-point for Horner, in just the same way as Vangelis’ Oscar for Chariots of Fire changed his career too. Maybe that’s a bit contentious, but I just think all that fame and wealth (both soundtracks sold in the millions and both projects raised their composers profiles immeasurably) sometimes does more harm than good, no matter how gratifying it might be personally.

But I will say that, despite that, it has been a considerable pleasure listening to this complete and remastered edition, the first time I have heard the music outside of the movie in many years. It’s been a reminder of all that was lost by Horner’s passing a few years ago in a tragic flying accident. Its funny how all those Hornerisms that annoyed me so much when he was alive scoring stuff (his habitual re-use of motifs and material from previous scores numerous times) is such a bittersweet thing now that you just don’t hear it anymore in new films. Its strange. Somehow I don’t mind some stuff sounding like another parade of Horner’s Greatest Hits, or being reminded of moments from Field of Dreams or Braveheart or Wrath of Khan or whatever. I listen with affection now, rather than irritation. Its weird.

 

Long Live the (Betamax) Flesh

vid1Videodrome (Blu-ray)

We’ll spice up this October Horror fest with a bit of body horror, and no-one does body horror quite like David Cronenberg. So its another welcome slice of the unwatched Blu-ray pile with last year’s Arrow release of Videodrome finally getting put in the player.

In much the same way as Field of Dreams always seems to me to be the perfect Ray Bradbury movie, though he never wrote the story it was based on, so Videodrome always feels like the definitive Philip K Dick story. Okay, PKD never dealt with deviant sex or body horror in his stories, but Videodrome’s faltering sense of reality and perceptions of time and self, and its dysfunctional every-man hero, seems to be pure Philip K Dick. As chief protagonist Max Renn’s reality disintegrates you’re never sure what’s real or what isn’t, increasingly hallucinatory sequences twisting reality so far that, for much of the movie, the viewer is questioning everything he sees and the nature of reality itself. Indeed, one of the characters, Brian O’Blivion, is actually dead, only existing on hundreds of videocassettes in a sort of virtual existence: what could be more PKD than that (memories of his Mercer-ism from his story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep spring to mind)?

Decades after its release, the film remains a visceral experience, tactile in its analogue horrors (fleshy, ‘breathing’ videotapes and CRT televisions), compared to the digital-streaming world we live in today. There is something cosy and familiar about the old technologies of my youth, loading cassettes into top-loading video players, video drop-outs and tracking errors.Its also incredibly prescient too, with television ‘lives’ more ‘real’ than reality, predating celebrity culture and having hundreds of satellite/cable channels- back when this was released, the UK only had four channels and I don’t believe any of them were 24-hour transmissions, either. Feels like a different world.

Tim Lucas in his commentary track refers to a circular element of the film that was new to me- he describes the final shot of Max shooting himself in the head being followed by the start of the film with Max waking up in his apartment, stirred back to reality by the voice of his assistant’s wake-up message on his television. Its a new interpretation of the film to me and quite a seductive one. A very-noir horror, Max caught in a never-ending loop of hallucinatory reality. Videodrome is still a startling, strange and mystifying film, and James Woods is utterly brilliant. Great stuff.

Searching for Bobby Fischer OST by James Horner

bobby1

Life is yet full of surprises. A recent sale on La La Records swayed me into ordering a James Horner soundtrack, an expanded edition of his 1993 score for a rather obscure film, Searching For Bobby Fischer. It’s a film I have never seen or heard of other than for the fact that it had an Horner score, so I was completely unfamiliar with the music.

All I can say is- wow, what a beautiful and sensitive score, vintage Horner at his very best. Haunting and tender and sweeping, its obviously the kind of film that suited him and brought out his most heartfelt music. Many people like his big epic scores but I really prefer his quieter, more intimate scores; this is very much in the vein of Field of Dreams. Which isn’t really a surprise, I suppose, considering the film likely does for chess what Field of Dreams does for baseball. If someone were to hear the music without knowing the film it was from, or what the track titles were, it would be so easy to imagine it being the score for a Field of Dreams 2.

The score actually dates to something of a sweet spot in Horner’s career- a few years following 1989’s Field of Dreams and Glory, and just before his monumental scores for Legends of the Fall, Braveheart and Apollo 13. 1993 was the year he also composed the scores for House of Cards (one of my favourite Horner scores) and The Man Without A Face. What a career the man had- just thinking of those films and his scores for them, it just reminds me of the sadness of his untimely passing last year.

Its amazing that this score remained unknown to me for so many years, only to get my attention with this expanded release and of course even then, to my embarrassment, only eventually swayed by the sale. Guess I was lucky, these releases are always limited and as it came out last summer, I could have missed it completely (its obviously, due to the obscurity of the film, a score unknown to many). I’d urge anyone who likes Horner’s scores who is unfamiliar with this film to get a copy while they can, they won’t be disappointed.

I’m sure had I seen the film and heard its music I would have been rushing to buy a copy long before now. Oh well. I’m making up for lost time by playing this score over and over. Its that good, I think this is easily in the top ten of all the scores of his that I have ever heard (hey, there’s a subject for another post someday…). It does make me wonder though how many other scores of his are waiting for me to yet discover…