Superman Returns Expanded OST

suprmn retTo get me in the mood for the (hopefully imminent) arrival of La La Land’s 3-disc Superman: The Movie soundtrack, I’ve been listening to John Ottman’s score for the ill-fated Superman Returns from 2006- well, the expanded 2-disc edition that La La Land released in 2013. It might seem a perverse choice, but I really like Ottman’s score – mainly because it re-uses so many of John William’s original themes. Its almost a Superman Greatest Hits, with plenty of Horner’s Brainstorm score also thrown in, partly from the choral sections which accentuate the films rather ill-judged religious tensions regards our Kryptonian hero, but yeah, there’s a lot of Brainstorm in passages of this score. I think it’s a really nice, melodic and thematic old-fashioned superhero score – inevitably it owes a huge part of its success to those timeless classic William’s themes and motifs, but as a fan of that original score it was lovely reprise. You just can’t make a Superman film without John William’s music- God knows Hans Zimmer later tried, but Man of Steel etc are woeful, frankly, compared to William’s masterpiece. Whenever Ottman reprises the Superman main theme, I always get a tingle, and the frequent use of the Fortress of Solitude music is lovely, lending it something of an importance not present in the original film.

Admittedly I’m not best equipped to really comment on the 2006 film,  I haven’t seen the film for some time, probably back when it first came out on Blu-ray over a decade ago. When I first saw it at the cinema (and subsequently on disc) I really enjoyed it but I’m open to a rewatch recalibrating my opinions somewhat. Time inevitably changes things. Back when it came out I was overjoyed by its sense of heritage, its honouring of Richard Donner’s original – it felt like the Superman III we deserved back in the day. And the music! As a lover of William’s original score, how could I not be bewitched by hearing it again?

Looking back on it, maybe the film was just too faithful and sincere to the original and needed a fresher, more unique voice of its own- it’s a shame the same creative team didn’t get to make a sequel that, having set up the return of our hero, actually gave him an adventure worthy of the Big Screen (that being said, one of the things I remember enjoying of Superman Returns was how intimate and character-based it seemed). Instead the franchise stalled again and took a decidedly different approach with Man of Steel etc.

Anyway, I’ve certainly been enjoying exploring this score again. I hadn’t given it a spin for awhile, but it certainly holds up pretty well. Indeed, considering how film music (and superhero scores in  particular) have been going lately with the almost mundane background muzak of the Marvel films etc, it’s almost a great surprise. supermanalbumSure, in the great scheme of things its a poor shadow of the Williams classic in comparison, and I’m sure the 3-disc edition of the original will blow this out of the water, but that’s true of most scores compared to that 1978 colossus.  But this hasn’t been a bad way of getting me in the mood for that lovely old album I used to love listening to, an album assembly that features on disc 3 of the new set and that I’m really looking forward to hearing again.

Ah hell. Time I dug out my old vinyl and jumped back to being a thirteen-year-old kid again, lying on my bed with the gatefold on my lap, listening to the music and dreaming of heroes and villains. 

 

 

 

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 Apollo 13 expanded

apollo-13-expandedCue a really neat segue from my last post, and its proposals of lunar excursions in the next two MI films, to the confirmation that Intrada over in the US has released an expanded and remastered 2-disc edition of James Horner’s Apollo 13 score.

Regular readers here will know of my affection for James Horner’s music, particularly his early scores back when one great score followed another and it seemed like he could turn his hand at anything. There was a time that I’d buy a James Horner soundtrack blind, and go watch a film just because of his involvement.  Apollo 13 was released in 1995, just after Braveheart and Legends of the Fall, and just a few years before Titanic would really change everything (I mean, he was popular back then but Titanic would launch him beyond the stratosphere). There is some really great music in Apollo 13, but the original album release really confounded fans, being a strange mix of dialogue, pop songs, sound effects and score, relegating the score music to just a few tracks. Well, it looks like that horrible piece of corporate thinking has been rectified at long last with this edition, combining a disc of the complete score and a disc of Horner’s original aborted album assembly from all those years ago. Why exactly it has taken so long for this to happen is baffling but I suppose with how things are now with CD sales we should think ourselves lucky it’s finally here.

Its certainly a nice start to 2019. I’d really like to see new editions of his Field of Dreams and Legends of the Fall scores, so fingers crossed we have more releases of Horner’s work over the coming year.

This could be a great year for soundtrack albums, with a rumoured three or four-disc edition of Hans Zimmer’s sublime The Thin Red Line score possibly getting announced next week. As both film and score are among my very favourites, if this actually does happen I think this blog will go into some kind of meltdown…  and a depressed funk if it doesn’t.

Mary Magdalene (2018)

mary1In some ways, what got me to watch this film was a throwback to the old days, being drawn to a film through its soundtrack. Back then it would be a new James Horner album, these days its either scores/albums by Bear McCreary maybe or, in this case, Jóhann Jóhannsson. Unfortunately, as is the case with James Horner, being drawn to a film by way of Jóhannsson’s work is soon to be something of the past- this score was his final film project before his passing in February this year. Co-written with the cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir, a frequent collaborator over his, this is a delicate and sensitive score. Throughout the film it impressed upon me how much the film world has lost with his passing- the music and its placement is a frequent joy through the film and often I’d just reflect on how good a score it is. I bought the album several months ago and as a listening experience it is fine, but within the film it really does surprise, and delivers on another level entirely. It just makes the film all the more affecting and a sober experience.

The film itself is a fascinating and very finely crafted piece. Beautifully photographed with some stunning locations, it feels quite authentic, reminding somewhat of the similarly excellent Agora, another film revealing a ‘hidden history’ with a feminist angle.

As might be expected by the title, Mary Magdalene is a biblical tale, a sort of re-interpretation, or reboot, if you will, of the story of Mary Magdalene and her place in the story of Jesus Christ. It  shares ideas and themes raised within The Da Vinci Code book/film, that the Catholic Church in the sixth century, in particular Pope Gregory in 591AD, rewrote history and cast Mary as a prostitute in order to encourage a male-centered doctrine and power over the Catholic Church and its teachings that was maintained for centuries.

There’s naturally some tendency to see this film as a part of the ‘me-too’ movement and placement of women in their deserved position of integrity and power, a feeling of a wrong being righted. I suppose with regards faith and religion, everything should be taken with some sensitivity and care- some will see this film, and the Biblical story of Christ retold here, with as much a pinch of salt as The DaVinci Code or as much reverence as befitting the Jedi religion of Star Wars. Others will take it as truth or even heresy. But simply as a story, and a film, this is a dramatic and fascinating piece.

Strangely enough, over and above the interpretations of Rooney Mira’s Mary Magdaline or Joaquin Phoenix’s Jesus, is how the film portrays Judas Iscariot (Tahar Rahim) and reinterprets his motivations with some sympathy,  rather than simply depicting him a villain. Here he is utterly confident that the subject of his devotion will usurp and overthrow the Roman tyranny and free his people, and in particular, reunite Judas with his fallen wife and child. Judas’ treachery here isn’t for silver coins but rather to force the Messiah’s hand and bring about everyone’s salvation. Judas is convinced that when trapped by the Romans, his lord will be saved by God and the evil Empire torn down.  His horror at how events actually unfold is palpable and his own end inevitable.

In some ways, this film is not a religious one- it depicts some of the miracles of Christ and events from the bible with some detachment- which may be the films failure, as it fails to really emotionally engage- its more an intellectual exercise. Joaquin Phoenix’s Jesus, while not wholly successful, is suitably enigmatic and detached from everyone around him, and his friendship with Magdalene, while warm and convincing, curiously seems to infer that only she perhaps really understands him and his word.  There is a sense of humanity corrupting or misunderstanding Christs teachings. After the crucifixion the Apostles already begin to fragment and argue over the teachings of their master, while Mary and her truth walks away into oblivion.

Only the Brave (2017)

brave1Sometimes, expectations are everything: Only the Brave is a frustrating film. Oh, its sincere enough, and a noble attempt at telling its true story with respect and surprising restraint- this isn’t the huge Hollywood effects spectacle that might be expected. It just doesn’t, sadly, ignite (sic). Its such a strange thing- competently staged and with a really great cast (Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly)… actually, maybe that cast is the problem, maybe its just too good a cast, with too much cinematic baggage behind them that carries all sorts of expectations in itself.

I was surprised to see that it was directed by Joseph Kosinski,  of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion fame, as that in itself would suggest a big, spectacular and horrifying canvas would be put up on the screen but Kosinski seems to deliberately play against those expectations. Its just a different sort of movie than his previous films might suggest. Yeah, there’s those confounded expectations again.

But it isn’t an intimate character-driven piece either, possibly because those big-name actors, or that visually-adept director, aren’t exactly an arthouse cinema bunch. Its therefore caught somewhere in-between, and so intent on treating the real events and people caught up in them with proper due respect that the film just… exists, without really saying anything.

It reminds me rather a great deal of The 33, another film based on true events that impacted on a reasonably large group. While Only the Brave mostly centers upon Josh Brolin’s character, it also tries to flesh out the rest of  the Granite Mountain Hotshots that he leads in the firefighting, and like The 33, the film suffers from not having enough time, or perhaps the script isn’t finely honed enough, to do so many characters justice.

I don’t know, its really a strange one. Its a good film, but it just lacks that essential spark, if you’ll forgive one more fire metaphor. I’m tempted to suggest the issue may lie with the score, funnily enough. I just find myself thinking of the film Glory, and James Horner’s magnificent score. Sure the music and the film were perhaps overly manipulative but the combination of film and music involved me, made me feel something.  I didn’t really feel anything with Only the Brave; I enjoyed it and found it very worthwhile but it didn’t engage me emotionally. It might seem odd to suggest blame lies with the music score but film music isn’t what it used to be, and the industry has lost something of the genius of the likes of Goldsmith and Horner and that kind of film music, no longer in vogue, certainly worked back in the day.

So a missed opportunity then, unfortunately, but certainly a sincere enough effort.

A further note regards Johann Johannsson

The passing of the Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson was a profound shock back in February and one I have found as hard to get over as the accidental death of James Horner back in 2015. From a purely selfish perspective, the sudden loss of these two composers has meant that a wealth of future music I would have enjoyed will no longer happen- while that’s a petty thing to come out and say, its true, in just the same way as losing Prince or Chris Whitley or Jerry Goldsmith. And while I have continued to  listen to Johannsson’s and Horner’s music that had become such a soundtrack to my daily life over the years,  it is always now tinged with a sense of regret and loss.

While Horner’s passing was tragic it was at least in the service of a hobby and pastime that he dearly loved, so there has always been a little comfort/understanding from that. But the cause of Johannsson’s death was something of a mystery, and although recently revealed results from a toxicological report have cleared things up, it nonetheless has actually made it even more difficult to reconcile.

The report confirms that the Icelandic composer died of an overdose caused by his use of cocaine. Johannsson was taking prescribed medication for an illness- the cocaine combined with that medication caused him to die of the accidental overdose.

So on the one hand, its reassuring that he wasn’t so troubled somehow (success etc doesn’t make anyone impervious to feelings of depression or anxiety) that he had felt compelled to take his own life, but on the other, its just tragic that his passing was accidental and that his life was so cruelly taken from him. Natural causes such as heart attack, though, would be bad enough, but the fact that it was drug related, well, it seems to happen so often these days, doesn’t it?

Heath Ledger, Prince, Tom Petty, to name just three who passed recently from drug-related complications, and now the unlikely addition of Johann Johannsson to the list. Well, I don’t feel at all qualified to comment as I’ve never even smoked let alone took drugs (and I don’t drink much either), and I haven’t lived in the limelight with all the pressures that might put on actors or musicians but all the same, everyone seems to know these days that there’s nothing glamorous about drug use.

So while I continue to feel so sad about Johannsson’s passing, maybe I feel a little angry and uncomprehending about it too. Its an anger that we are living in this world where a soul as gifted and sensitive as Johannsson, who could write such dark and fragile music, could perish in such an accidental way, or self-inflicted way through weakness or mistake or addiction. How are such things possible in this world and how do such tragic losses of such gifted people occur? Why was Johannsson taking cocaine, was it something he had done for years, was it an addiction getting out of hand, was he driven to it or was it something he was trying new? Were his freinds and colleagues aware? Of course we will likely never know, Johannsson’s family deserve privacy and no disparaging comments on my part. In any case I am not qualified to be judgmental about it- but the tragedy of it remains and oddly its now perhaps intensified somehow. Its a terrible and sad world sometimes and I’m certain we’re never going to make any sense of it in events such as this.

Living in the Age of Airplanes – OST by James Horner

airp1Just arrived at Ghost Hall is the long-awaited (well, by me at least, as I resisted the download for years- call me a very old-fashioned bugger) CD release from Intrada of one of James Horner’s very last scores.

Inevitably, it’s a very bittersweet experience listening to some ‘new’ Horner material years after his passing in an air accident back in 2015- indeed, it’s impossible to ignore that the love of flying that is so infectiously instilled in this score also led to the accident that took his life.  Considering the sadness this carries with it, I have to say this score is so overwhelmingly positive and joyous it’s impossible to resist, and it becomes almost a cathartic celebration of James Horner’s life’s work.  While some of it carries the ‘Hornerisms’ that perhaps dogged his later career (and God knows, I have to say over the last few years I’ve really missed those ‘Hornerisms’ that I used to moan about so much) most of this score sounds incredibly fresh and vibrant and exciting. It really is such a celebration of his music that it is an oddly fitting farewell, almost, to the composer, having fallen in love with his work way back in 1984 and his Brainstorm score. I am pretty certain I may yet have the opportunity to hear some ‘new’ Horner music – I am sure there are scores etc of his that I have not heard- but I doubt any will be such a pleasant and positive experience as this.  Its quite a way to bid farewell, James.

 

 

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.

 

Almost magnificent indeed

mag72017. 22: The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Blu ray

Surprisingly good. A damn solid Western, proving there is life in that old genre yet.

Back when this remake was announced, I had the natural response of ‘why bother?’ It always seems weird when a perfectly fine, classic film gets the remake treatment when so many poorer films could possibly better argue for another shot. Films like Logans Run, say, of which a remake might benefit from better effects technology and ability to stay more faithful to the original book (although I’m certain fans of that film might cry foul at such heresy).  But why The Magnificent Seven? The original is perfectly fine, what could a remake offer?

Yet here we are, another version is with us. But it works. Its different enough to qualify as a reworked adaptation for modern audiences, has a good solid cast reflecting some of the male stars of this generation, but doesn’t push any revisionism too far. You could almost argue it’s actually quite old-fashioned in how it respects the original and the Western genre, but there is also a self-knowing eye on everything; it is a Western that knows it is being released in 2016.  The carnage alone shows its a modern movie- its surprisingly violent and the death-toll is up there with a Rambo flick; there are enough bodies littering the landscape at films end to befit a massive war movie. But it works.

Its an approach reflected in the music too. Here the film has a poignant status, as the score was started -and its main themes written- by composer James Horner prior to his death. Completed by the composer’s musical team (the score credited to ‘by James Horner & Simon Franglen’) it sounds like an authentic James Horner score, almost crushingly so, as it’s the last original music from him that we will ever hear (discounting the slim possibility of, say, his Romeo & Juliet score, which was recorded and then dropped, getting a release). LIke the film itself, the music references Western traditions and even the original Elmer Bernstein score, but remains modern and ‘current’ in its execution/orchestration. It was such a bitter-sweet thing though, hearing familiar Horner-isms in the music, moments that sounded like earlier Horner scores, a reminder of what we have lost. But its a strong score that propels the film forward and is no small part of the films success, and forms a fitting finale to the composer’s career.

So I’m just left to wonder, will we get a sequel, as the original film did? I believe this film was a box-office success, and we all know how fond Hollywood is of sequels. I’d actually like to see it, if it could be handled by this same creative team. There’s nothing wrong with a damn fine Western, and I’ve always got time for another.

What it means to be young: Streets of Fire

sof1Whenever I think of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire I always think about VHS. Its like they are inseparable, and might explain why it’s been more than twenty years since I last saw it. Watching it on blu-ray just feels… almost weird, and although the picture is inevitably better it almost seems inferior without all the grain, drop-outs and blooming reds of watching it on tape.Bizarrely, looking back on it, some films almost looked better with that grainy VHS fuzziness, and I’d likely include Blade Runner in that, too. VHS just had this thing for smoke/steam/neon, the way images would go grainy and the colours bloom out into a pulsing mess. It was kind of beautiful. In crystal-clear HD it can sometimes look, well, too clean.

And thats another curio about those two films, as each of them crashed and burned at the box office but gained a second life -and revaluation- on home video. Streets of Fire in particular seemed to me to just capture the zeitgeist, almost, of that time and that new home-viewing technology. It was bold and colourful and fairly gritty and had rock songs and a great Ry Cooder soundtrack (an unreleased score, too, another weird synchronicity between SOF and BR). It just seemed made for video, back in the era of the early days of MTV remember, and of course seemed light years ahead of the films being shown on network tv at the time.

How to explain the new thrill back then of video rentals, picking films from their box art on a shelf and taking it home to watch? Impossible in this day and age of streaming and downloads and buying films to explain how much of a revolution it was back in the 1980s and only having four channels on the television, and that heavily sanitized by censors etc. Of the delicious tactile thing of that plastic, rattling case and the tape inside? Beats shiny discs in just the same way as vinyl will always be more romantic a thing than cds or mp3’s.

So I’ll aways remember Streets of Fire as being a video rental back when those things were something special and an exciting departure from the stuff on television. And it was a pretty cool movie anyway. It looked like a retro/futuristic fantasy much akin to Blade Runner, had sharp witty dialogue and yet an old-fashioned feel, like something out of a Jimmy Stewart western. It had this breathless pace, carried by that throbbing, beautiful Ry Cooder score, the heartbeat of the movie. It had a great young cast. And Walter Hill directing it.

Watching it now on Blu-ray… well, there was the first thing that was off about it. Watching it on disc instead of tape. The reds didn’t bloom, the picture was clear of drop-outs and I didn’t need to fret about the tracking. Man, thats no way to watch Streets of Fire.

sof2In all seriousness, Streets of Fire today holds up pretty well.  Its a neo-noir Western/gangster flick/Musical, this weird stylistic hybrid that maybe doesn’t really work but has a fine time trying to. There is such a blatant naivety about it, a weird fairy tale of youngsters pretending to be old-school movie stars in a big Hollywood movie. It really is a silly Rock and roll fable with intentionally cheesy dialogue and characters straight out of old Westerns, familiar archetypes that are so old-fashioned as to be almost endearing, as if it’s teenagers appropriating those archetypes, Hollywood being self-reverential. It has likely dated poorly and new viewers no doubt find it oddly disjointed and bettered by later, better films, but old fans like me will love it forever.

Maybe you just had to be young. I don’t know. There are far worse films.

And the cast! God lord they all look so young (because of course they really were). Diane Lane so beautiful  (and apparently utterly vexed she couldn’t perform her character’s songs herself), Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton (this is the first film I’ve seen of his since he passed away, rather bittersweet), William Dafoe… a great cast, all destined for greater things. And then of course there is Michael Paré in the lead role of Tom Cody, the film’s biggest casting misstep. He doesn’t really work, the biggest problem being his lack of chemistry with Lane. He’s not a bad actor, he just feels like he’s in the wrong movie (besides, is it an actor’s fault if he’s miss-cast? How come he is then expected to carry the blame for a film’s failure?).

MSDSTOF EC052
STREETS OF FIRE, Michael Pare, 1984

Not that Paré doesn’t have his moments, but he’s clearly more of a supporting/character actor than the charismatic, charming major lead which this film needs. Then again, it was his first big movie and he needed help that he apparently didn’t get from the director, left to flounder like a fish out of water and it shows through most of the film. Its sad and there’s a charm to how wrong he is, like he’s some kind of acting underdog who you just want to somehow succeed. Apparently they came really close to signing a pre-superstar Tom Cruise instead, and you have to wonder how that Streets of Fire would have looked/fared with Cruise in the lead (and Daryl Hannah originally intended in Lane’s role, too, at one point). At any rate, you can’t lay the blame of the film’s failure simply on Paré. There are more responsible parties who would always prefer that, of course.

More importantly, and most damningly, there are several key stylistic choices that really derail the film. The keyed-down violence is one of them. The thinking was that as its a fairytale/Rock and Roll fable nobody should get hurt and almost all the cast be under thirty, but that lack of gritty violence and/or gore just, well, bleeds the life out of it. It looks dark and edgy, has a great Cooder score that throbs and pulses, but it all feels watered-down and neutered, there’s no sense of real threat. Its a pity there was never an alternate, stronger cut, or that the film wasn’t shot in two different ways to offer that choice. But it was only shot the one way and by the time it came together it was too late to ‘fix’ it I guess. The good guy doesn’t really have to suffer to succeed, and the bad guy never really has the chance to be anything bad. There isn’t any real intensity to any of the drama.

Even the title of the film hints at problems- originally the Bruce Springsteen song was to be the main/end title music for the film but Springsteen wouldn’t allow it to be used. Oddly enough, before Cooder got involved, the original score was by James Horner, which was even recorded but got rejected. So you also have to wonder how that might have affected the film- although I love what Cooder did, a Streets of Fire with an early James Horner score would sound, and feel, quite different. Its also another clear sign that the film was in trouble, that they just couldn’t nail the stylistic feel they were after or got lost in second-guessing themselves, all clear signs of a film in trouble.

Not that I really cared back when I watched this on VHS. It still seemed pretty cool. Its only watching it again decades later that it is all too apparent where the film falters and what it could have been.But its still fun. One of those ‘what might have been’ movies, and anyway, to me it will always feel like a love-letter to the days of VHS. So all that young cast and cheesy songs and 1980s MTV stylings, and a ‘straight-to-video’ actor in the lead role, all of that kind of works. It throws me back to when I was young. Got to love films that do that.