Soul (2020)

soulThis was a beautiful film. It looked beautiful (even for Pixar, this computer imagery is quite remarkable), it sounded beautiful (an interesting Jazz-infused score from Jon Batiste contrasting with electronic doodling from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) with a captivating script that felt refreshingly adult, not pandering to the young tykes in the audience as much as it might have. My favourite Pixar film remains the quite sublime Ratatouille but Soul runs it a very close second. I was quite taken by this one, and its really such a pity that it didn’t get the theatrical release it deserved, Covid forcing it to be premiered on Disney+ (quite fittingly, I suppose, on Christmas Day). 

Thankfully Disney don’t seem to have nixed physical releases just yet (perhaps seeing it as a way to recoup some of the losses of missing a theatrical distribution, or to get its greedy fingers into the pockets of those of us not yet enticed by its streaming platform) so through this 4K UHD release I’ve finally been able to watch it. I’m sure this is a film I will be watching many times in the future, its really quite wonderful. I’m not entirely sure it sticks the landing, the finale feeling a little ‘off’, but maybe a repeat viewing will dispel any doubts. 

Curiously, I only watched director Pete Docter’s previous Pixar film, Inside Out  once and never returned to it. I was quite surprised to read my old review of Inside Out and find that I really enjoyed it, because my recollection of the film remains pretty vague now (well, it has been five years and countless films under the bridge since), so I was perhaps unfairly a little cautious about Soul. Having seen Inside Out only once perhaps I should watch it again (if only I can find my Blu-ray; five years has a way of burying discs in the unlikeliest of places). Maybe I’ll be posting a re-review here when I manage to find it – at the minute it seems a job for Indiana Jones; I hope I’m not alone in discs disappearing without trace, but at times I can be searching for a film for weeks if not longer. Sometimes they never turn up, but they are in this house SOMEWHERE.

parentadvWhen the credits came up for Soul and I reflected on just how wonderful a film it was, I had the most curious train of thought. Maybe it was the Jon Batiste music score and the warm feeling that the film had infused in me, but I began to think how sad it was that Pixar never worked with Prince on a project. No doubt Prince with his track record (Parent Advisory stickers anyone?) would forever negate any possibility of him teaming up with an outfit as homely as Pixar or Disney, but that explicit content stuff dates pretty way back and Prince had moved on from that in his later years. I just considered what an amazing talent Prince was, and what he might have done musically if afforded an opportunity to work with creatives like those at Pixar or Disney. Or maybe I’m just wondering what might have been, had Prince not been so… Prince, in his later years. Because clearly few musical artists could amaze and frustrate his fans quite as much as Prince often would.

Its possibly because I’ve been reading Neal Karlen’s book about Prince ‘This Thing Called Life, Prince’s Life On and Off the Record’ (which is a very good book by the way) that I had Prince in my head at the time. Its the only explanation I can offer at why such a curious fancy struck me at that moment.

Thanks partly to the vacuum left by Prince’s untimely passing and the music from his vault released over the years since, some fresh perspective has been afforded regards Prince’s prodigious talent, strangeness and failings. I’m sometimes not at all convinced Prince was entirely human, he seemed to be on some other level, like a Da Vinci or a Mozart or a Einstein, and that judging him like the rest of us is unfair (or maybe that’s just a way of letting him off the hook for often being such a jerk).

Karlen’s book is very balanced, the guy certainly knew him as well as most could ever hope to- marvelling at Prince’s talent and rueing those disturbing failings, suggesting that the same talent that made Prince so great perhaps also destroyed him. Prince was a musical savant that was perhaps tortured by that same genius (the size of that vault of unreleased music gradually leaking out an indication of how obsessed he was, particularly in the 1980s with so much great music pouring out of him). There’s a few parts of the book in which Prince remarks about all the voices in his head, the endless creativity at his peak that stopped him getting much sleep… that’s a blessing and a curse, surely. Of course Prince wouldn’t be the only superstar whose success divorced him increasingly from normal life until he became an oddity, a contradiction and almost a self-parody of earlier heights. How can such a genius be such an asshole, is the same as asking how can such a genius NOT be such an asshole?

I don’t know, it was possibly an errant and unwarranted trail of thought, but I just wondered, like a what-if, regards all the disparate talents out there that if combined… like Lennon and McCartney being so greater together in The Beatles than they ever were once separated, or how great a film like Blade Runner became with the timely combination of Scott, Trumbull, Vangelis and all those other talented creatives at their peak at just that moment in time. I just thought how great a visual/musical experience a Pixar film might have been with Prince’s involvement, had he been able to work within a creative team rather than just on his own. It might have been a horrible disaster. But it might have been great.

Which is of course nothing at all do with Pixar’s Soul, so I’ll stop this stream of unwarranted consciousness from harassing your sensibilities any longer. If you haven’t yet seen it, do watch Soul, its a wonderful film.

Last week…

Still working from home, close on six months now. As we slip towards Autumn, it looks like there’s little rush getting the team back into the office, at best it may be for just two days each week, and that’s still some time off.  Its not lost on me that after all the fair weather we’ve had, the time I’m going to finally be expected to commute back to work will be when the frosts return/bad weather/possibly snow etc.

Meanwhile Covid 19 numbers are climbing, particularly here in the Midlands, and our Governments latest desperate roll of the dice, the ‘rule of six’ (limiting the number of people at any social gathering to just six people) begins tomorrow. A rule that can’t possibly be policed,  simply dependant on the public happily following the rule… I mean, its not as if its Mega City One and some Judge will be kicking the door down if there’s more than six perps chatting in the lounge or back garden. Mores the pity with some of the idiots out there. Regards Covid, so many people seem to be in denial, or just bored of it, and think everything is back to normal. Hence the numbers rising? All I can see is lots of idiots out there, most of them proving the (ironically old) adage of too young to know better. The next few weeks seem to be crucial. The days are shortening. Winter is Coming. Hang on, that didn’t end well, just ask HBO.

Anyway, last week. You may have noted that I had a busy/productive week regards watching films: i’m thinking of ending things, Under Suspicion, Bumblebee, City That Never Sleeps, The Man Who Finally Died. I didn’t get around to reviewing Under Suspicion– a thriller starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci, Thomas Jane… a great cast, but wasted in a pretty lousy film that almost had me hitting that abort button. Only the great Gene Hackman kept me stuck with it: one of my favourite actors.

ohmssRegards re-watches, I managed two. The first was one that…well, we lost Dame Diana Rigg on Thursday, which was an awful shame, and I’ve been meaning to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again for awhile now. Its an awful reason for doing it, but Dame Diana Rigg’s passing was the push that I needed; I reached for that Bond 50 Blu-ray set. OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie; its the film when the Bond franchise grew up and yes, graced with the best Bond Girl of all, the one that got Bond to the altar. But what a downer at the end. This time I watched it, it just seemed so remarkable, such brass balls of the producers to close out a film -and a Bond film at that- on such a huge emotional downer. And in a film with a new Bond, too. Talk about loading the dice for a serious gamble, like a real-life Casino Royale moment. Dropping George Lazenby and breaking the continuity (OHMSS really needed such a proper sequel with Bond out for revenge) was a terrible error, I think, and it would take Bond decades to grow those brass balls again.

vertigo1The second re-watch was the 4K UHD disc of Vertigo, that graces the four-film Hitchcock 4K set that was released last week. The film looks utterly gorgeous in 4K, really something special. We’ve seen some great 4K releases for classic films this year and this is one of the best, I think. Mind, is it just me, but as I get older, does Vertigo on subsequent viewings just get more disturbing, and James Stewart’s obsessive Scottie more repellent?  As a deeply flawed character who proves difficult to root for, he reminds me of Robert De Niro’s character in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America. The difficulty in revisiting films with such doomed, self-destructive characters is that you have to re-experience it all over again, with the knowledge of hindsight that the character itself obviously lacks. There seems something deeply personal, of both Leone and Hitchcock, in these two films, and I’m sure that’s part of each films endless fascination. Glimpses of flawed humanity’s darkness. Vertigo is such a powerful film, exquisitely filmed and scored (by the great Bernard Herrmann), and really so daring, its one of my favourite films and it feels a blessing to be able watch it again in this kind of quality. I’m building quite a collection of (hopefully definitive and final) editions of some of my favourite films in 4K, with some great additions this year.

dunetrailrLast week also brought us the first trailer for Villeneuve’s long-anticipated  Dune. Mind, it seems we will have to wait longer for the film itself, as word has it that the film will be delayed to next year now, with Wonder Woman 1984 being moved to the Christmas Day slot (Tenet‘s box-office woes causing much consternation for a troubled film industry struggling to manage the Covid crisis). Of course the Dune trailer looks great and pretty much everything we might have hoped for. I was a bit surprised that it looked, visually at least, like a Blade Runner 2049 sequel set Off World, it seems to share so much of the monochromatic, brutalist ‘look’ of his previous sci-fi epic. I’d hoped for something a bit wilder, more ‘out there’ and unusual, but we’ll see. There’s so much, after all, that we didn’t see.

Speaking of delays, news broke last week that Vangelis’ latest album, Juno to Jupiter, accidentally released on digital by a UK store over a weekend a few weeks back before being hurriedly pulled, has been officially delayed (again?). This is so frustrating, its a great album, one of his best in decades, but it seems so strangely (and unfairly) blighted by mishaps. Possibly its just a Covid thing effecting marketing etc, but I sincerely hope that perhaps this delay will facilitate a simultaneous physical and digital release, rather than the latter first (which was the original plan, and which possibly led to that premature release foul-up).  Its a great piece of work, and I was gearing up to finish my track-by-track review… well, I’ll just join the pack and let my review suffer another delay. Hey, its just so Covid, man.

I just hope that the Super-Deluxe of the Prince classic album Sign o’ the Times isn’t going to get delayed. Its only two weeks away now so seems to be all on track. Certainly review copies are out and some reviews have been released, track breakdowns on forums etc so my only worry is problems with stores getting stock out. Hope springs eternal- I’m actually on leave from work the week it gets released, and naturally I’m going nowhere, so the opportunity to just relax for a few lazy days, chill with that box of peach and black goodies is the nearest thing to Christmas I’m actually likely to see this year.

25th June

signdeluxeI had intended to post on Thursday (June 25th) about a number of things- firstly the fact that it was the 38th Anniversary of the release of both Blade Runner and The Thing in America. Just imagining those two classic films being released on the same day is pretty wild- studios seem much more cautious these days about releasing tent-pole films at the same time, preferring to allow each other at least a week or two for each such release to dominate screens/recoup costs before the next big release comes along. Just imagining genre fans over in America being able to go to the cinema and watch both films on that opening weekend, or even on the same day, rather blows mind. Just imagining it was 38 years ago blows my mind too, but for all the wrong reasons.

Simultaneous international releases were simply not a thing back then, so over here in old blighty we had The Thing in August and Blade Runner a few weeks later in September (I was too young to get into a screening of The Thing, eventually watching a pirate copy on VHS later that Autumn, but did indeed see Blade Runner on its first weekend- the rest, as they say, is a well-documented history here on this blog).

On Thursday I also wanted to comment on the official announcement that day of Prince’s classic album Sign o’ The TImes getting a Super Deluxe release. Widely rumoured over the weeks prior, the announcement set in stone the contents and packaging, both of which was subsequently scrutinised and deliberated on forums worldwide. On the whole, the track contents are excellent with very few glaring omissions, and I’m particularly pleased to see All My Dreams (a wildly bizarre track only Prince could come up with) and two versions of Witness 4 the Prosecution (the kind of funky classic that only Prince could create and then shelve) included- these are two of my favourite Prince songs that have appeared on bootlegs. As with last year’s 1999 Super Deluxe, the fact that I have heard most of the vault tracks listed for Sign o’ Times Super Deluxe in bootleg form in the years since Prince’s passing seems a double-edged sword; on the one hand the prospect of hearing what I know are really great songs in better quality is really exciting, on the other hand, the sense of discovery most fans will experience hearing these vault releases for the first time is something I’m quite envious of.

Of course there are many tracks included I haven’t heard before either, and some bootleg material from that period apparently missing but hopefully planned for the Parade Super Deluxe that is already being worked on – indeed originally this was actually intended as the follow-up to 1999 Super Deluxe but rights issues for Warner caused a rethink, as the label owns Parade material (and that of other film-related Prince material like Purple Rain and Batman) in perpetuity but the non-film albums move to Sony from next year. So Warner obviously figured that if it wanted to profit from a deluxe edition of what is widely considered Prince’s finest album/period, it had to do it now, and leave the other albums for 2021/2022. I think that’s fair enough, considering all the work the label did for Prince during that period of his career. No doubt we’ll also get a ‘proper’ Purple Rain Super Deluxe after those, too (for the 2024 anniversary?). The bitter irony that it took Prince’s passing to enable these releases to ever surface is not lost on me, indeed, its never far from my mind when getting excited by these releases.

Hopefully we fans will benefit from the oversight of both the Parade and Sign o’the Times Super Deluxe projects being worked on pretty much at the same time, ensuring a wealth of material between them- on the evidence of the Sign o’the Times release, that seems pretty likely.

Regards the packaging, it does seem a bit of a shame that the Estate hasn’t been able to ensure that all the CD versions of the Super Deluxe releases match each other in design, but the 12″ format of the Sign o’ The Times release means we get a lovely, impressive-looking 120-page book as part of the package. Its large size hopefully means that I’ll find it easier to read. I liked the compactness of the 1999 Super Deluxe and that it fits on my shelf with other CDs but my word, my eyesight has failed over the past year or two on the evidence of how I struggle with that boxes booklet. It should come with a magnifying glass or something. Hopefully when Sony takes over for other Prince Super Deluxe releases perhaps they will maintain this 12″ format (and likewise Warner with its own future releases).

 

 

Prince and the Parade and Sign “O” the Times Era

prince sign oNot published until -gasp- 2021, but already this has me not only wishing I had a Time Machine but also excited that its timing might just be perfect for the hopefully inevitable Sign O the Times Super Deluxe edition that, surely by all things Purple, must be coming next year (rumours are we get Parade Super Deluxe later this year). I thought the authors previous book, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 was the best book about Prince that has been published since his passing (and if you haven’t read it, go get it now, as its indispensable reading), so have very high hopes for this one, as it covers my favourite Prince era. Pre-order available on Amazon now.

Sign ‘O’ the Times returns

sign1First released by German label Turbine Media in September last year as a pretty expensive limited deluxe edition (that nonetheless sold out very quickly), Prince’s classic concert film Sign O The Times was re-released in December in a slightly cheaper mediabook edition, just in time for Christmas. Well, if you can’t treat yourself at Christmas, then when can you?  This more space-savvy edition features the same discs (two Blu-rays and two DVDs) and the same booklet (in a reduced size naturally but featuring the same very informative essays).

While the album Sign ‘O’ The Times is one of my favourite Prince albums, I hadn’t actually seen the concert film since back in the VHS days, so there was a distinctly ‘blast from the past’ feel when I finally gave the Blu-ray a spin a few days ago. I remember the VHS looked pretty awful but as the concert was shot on film (barring the U Got the Look video that serves almost as an ugly video-noise intermission)  it really looks great in HD, The music of course is as sublime as ever, arguably the songs better in their concert form than they were on the original album- Prince was at his creative peak here, and I’m only hoping we don’t have to wait too many years for the Prince Estate to release a Super Deluxe boxset edition, full of goodies like Vault tracks and live music.

One of the curious pleasures of this edition- and everyone’s mileage on this might vary- is the commentary track, by a bunch of folks at the Peach and Black Podcast. Its light on technical details really but once its gotten past its awkward first several minutes, it offers the curious luxury of sitting in a room watching the concert with a few other Prince fans. Its chatty and very fan-based but its great; grabbing a few beers and watching the show doesn’t feel quite as lonely as it used to. You see, even though Prince was a musical powerhouse-cum-genius, in my immediate social circle he’s as popular as Trump on a Twitter spree. I think this commentary track is great fun, the guys know their stuff (certainly have seen the concert many more times than I have) and I’m certain it has great replay value.

Strangely enough, being a fan of Prince has become something of a Strange Relationship (sic) since his untimely death- there have been quite a few books out (I had the cruelly-brief memoir-book The Beautiful Ones as a present for Christmas) and the Estate album releases since have offered tantalising glimpses behind the curtain with which Prince used to maintain his mystique and mystery. In some ways he feels more real, more human, but while there are moments I think I understand him better, at the same time I realise that I perhaps know him even less than before. Certainly the near 90-minute documentary that accompanies the concert film here offers fresh insight and behind the scenes details about the album, tour and the film (as does the rather detailed booklet essays). There’s a fresh appreciation to be had here, and as a deluxe edition this set is pretty damned fine- sure its very much a fan-based project, very positive without any real negative reappraisal accompanying any of it: its clearly a celebration, sadly one well overdue. How tragic it is that it had to wait for Prince’s death to come into being, and seems to have arisen quite independent of the Prince Estate due to a rather troubled rights situation. I haven’t even gotten around to the second disc that features unedited interviews from the doc totalling three hours, so whether its fascinating or yawn-inducing, I can’t say.

I believe that the concert film is indeed being released over here in the UK shortly, and may indeed be the same restoration/master, but it does appear to be minus the special features that Turbine Media has curated here, and minus the Dolby Atmos soundtrack (there are three soundtracks, a bassy Atmos track, something called a Auro-3D 11.1 mix, and the original stereo mix which will keep purists happy even if it lacks something of the wallop of the other pair of tracks (all three appear to be different mixes entirely, rather than the same mix across the three different formats: everyone’s sure to find one that they prefer)).

So whether its worth the added expense (even the mediabook edition can be quite expensive, as it can only be bought from Germany and is itself a limited edition) depends on how much one needs that commentary track, the doc or that Atmos mix and the other two mixes. The packaging is very fine and it looks a quality product- I just hope one day there’s a Super Deluxe edition of the Sign ‘O’ The Times album to accompany it. Time will tell, but in the meantime, here’s hoping we get rumoured that Parade Super Deluxe later this year.

Dear Santa

1999 super.jpgWell, this looks very lovely. At long last the Prince Estate seems to have gotten things right with a pretty definitive-looking Super Deluxe edition of one of his classic albums, here comprising 5 CDs plus a concert DVD, or (for vinyl collectors), 10 lps and a concert DVD (there’s also a ‘budget’ 2-disc (4 lp) edition whose only purpose seems to be pushing people into buying the more expensive/complete set as its so frankly redundant).

Being released at the end of November, this thing has Christmas List all over it, which is a canny move by all concerned- other than the Purple Rain Deluxe the other vault releases following Prince’s passing have had their merits but have hardly set the mainstream world alight, satisfied the fans or sold hugely. Maybe this set is the point at which things change and we get ‘proper’ Super Deluxe sets that deserve that moniker and fans attention. 1999 was the first single/album by Prince that caught me, back when I was at college, so for me it’s nicely apt that its the first ‘proper’ set.

Rumour has it Parade is next, but we’re surely all just waiting for the Sign o’ the Times Super Deluxe, if our bank balances can stand it (and maybe a revisit to Purple Rain someday? That would seem inevitable at some point). My only sobering consideration about this release is that it’s perhaps ten years overdue- Prince should have allowed these kind of releases many years ago, and it’s terribly sad that it had to wait until he passed. I understand it’s his music, his legacy, and he was more interested in ‘new’ music than looking back on his old success, even if the rumours of the Vault increasingly shadowed over then-‘new’ albums, but it’s almost tragic that he was never interested in curating this kind of release or having any input in it- imagine if this was accompanied by a book of his reminisces/commentary about the music and his career back then?

Perhaps if he had lived longer he might have reconsidered things- we’ll never know. As a fan, his shyness/enigma was both fascinating and infuriating, and it would have been marvelous if he had decided to pull aside the curtain, so to speak, and reveal to his fans the behind-the-scenes story behind one of the most gifted musicians and remarkable life’s work in that vault. Instead, well, perhaps we’ll eventually get to hear (most?) of the music hidden in the vault and when the scope of all that life’s work is known maybe that enigma and mystery will be all the more tantalising. We may get the music, but he’ll always keep us wanting more, eh?

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.

Purple Reign

princePrince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

A glimpse behind the purple curtain, and perhaps the most important recording period of Prince’s career – I say ‘perhaps’ because although Purple Rain is widely considered Prince’s masterpiece/breakout period, I really think Sign o’the Times and his output during that 1985 – 1986 period is more interesting, but that’s likely just a personal thing and I’m certain many fans will argue otherwise. At any rate, this exhaustive  book is an utterly fascinating read. And I must say, it’s a formidable prospect-  it’s huge, running at well over 500 pages of detailed text, I have to admit I’ve barely delved into it but having already learned so much from it,  I feel it necessary to mention the book on this blog to get the word out there to all Prince fans- you need this book. Buy it now or get it put on your Christmas lists, because this will surely be a cornerstone of anybody’s Prince collection in years to come. Best yet, the author intends for it to be the first in a series of such books, so hopefully my beloved Sign o’the Times era will get similar treatment someday.

The book is pretty much a day by day account of Prince’s work in the recording studio from 1st January 1983 through to the end of December 1984, from the last days of the 1999 tour through to the breakout that was Purple Rain and how it changed everything for Prince. It breaks it down to day by day, recording the dates and times and what was done, song by song, session by session, including those many songs currently in the fabled vault yet to be released (and those that leaped out onto the extras disc of the recent Purple Rain deluxe reissue). It documents how he worked, where he worked, who he worked with, and is filled with commentary from those who were there. It really is a new insight into Prince’s genius at a time when he was particularly on fire creatively, and shows just how hard it was to craft those songs. The work involved in documenting all this and collating it is quite breathtaking.

I’ll be losing myself in this book over the coming days and weeks. It’s a helluva book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Batdance

batm

The news this past few days has been dominated -Brexit hysteria and Royal birthday here notwithstanding- by the sudden death of Prince. Like Bowie’s death a scant few months ago it has been a terrible shock to the music world and his fans, and whatever your own views on Prince and his music, it has to be agreed that his impact on pop culture is immeasurable. I’ve been listening to Prince’s songs since 1999 in 1982, and have bought pretty much all his albums since then, and the last few days have been pretty brutal to be honest.

So I thought I would just mark his passing by remembering the summer of 1989 and Batdance. Tim Burton’s Batman was a huge media event that summer- what the studio guys call a “movie event”. Thinking back on it, I wonder if it was the last really big summer blockbuster of the pre-internet era. You used to get news/previews in magazines but that was about it. I remember seeing stealthily-taken, off-set pictures of the new Batmobile in newspapers during the filming (the film was shot over here in England).That was no Batmobile anybody had ever seen before.  I remember the news that that thin guy from Beetlejuice was gonna play the Caped Crusader and how everyone thought how nuts that was. The news that Prince was writing the soundtrack (not entirely the truth, as it turned out) was worrying even for a Prince fan. There was talk of Prince onset and actually acting in the film. We were all wondering just what the hell kind of film Tim Burton was making.

Batman was released in America in June amidst a huge marketing push by Warner. That clever Bat-logo (as reinterpreted by the film’s production designer Anton Furst, I believe) seemed to be everywhere; posters, tee-shirts, badges. The merchandising for the film was inescapable. It was the summer of Batman. I remember when it became a Stateside sensation and was featured on evening news broadcasts over here in the UK. Usually they’d show clips of Batman swooping down on criminals in the chemical factory. Reviews seemed favourable, the box-office triumphant. This was in the days of delayed releases internationally, and we didn’t get the film released over here until mid-August. We did, however, get teased by Prince’s Batman album.

I don’t know how true it is that Tim Burton didn’t want Prince involved in Batman- I guess Burton wanted Danny Elfman’s score to be the musical identity of the film, but Warner had Prince signed to their music division and they were the money men after all. As it turned out, the amount of Prince music actually in the film was fairly minimal, maybe two or three songs in all. It certainly wasn’t a situation anything like Queen’s music so central in the Flash Gordon film. But you cannot deny how clever it was from a marketing perspective. In those pre-internet days, the media attention on that album (Prince still in his peak popularity at the time) and all the airplay on MTV and radio of the single Batdance was just pure gold from a marketing perspective. I recall the album got rather savaged by critics at the time. I’ve always had a fondness for it, Prince channeling the film’s darkness into his funky songs.

atm2And yep, Batdance seemed everywhere. It got to number one in the US, number two in the UK. It shouldn’t really work, mixing the pop-culture sensibilities of the 1960s Neal Hefti tv show music with the ‘current’ Prince-funk . So many snippets of songs from the album, and unreleased stuff like Prince’s song  Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic (released many years later) were thrown in amidst dialogue snippets from the film. Its really similar to the approach that Queen took with their Flash single years before. That video, with Prince in purple guise, part Joker, part Batman. How weird was that video? That song seemed to be playing on the radio all the time, really cementing that summer as the summer of Batman. It wasn’t just a movie. It was something akin to a cultural behemoth; nearest thing I can compare it to is Star Wars and Jaws. For all the blockbusters we get these days, they don’t feel as ‘big’- they are here and gone so quickly now (ironically thinking of Batman vs Superman in particular). I think Prince’s album and its subsequent singles like Batdance was a big part of that summer belonging to the Caped Crusader.

Batdance actually was built from 200 Balloons, a song Prince had written for the scene of Joker’s parade where he threw money at the crowds while intending to gas them with his balloons. The lyrics directly referenced the scene but Tim Burton rejected it.  It was replaced by Trust, a song whose only link was the Joker asking “who do you trust?” at the end of the song. 200 Balloons only turned up on the Batdance single where its closeness to the Batdance song made it seem like a remix track.  Regards those remixes, I remember the William Orbit remix was rather extraordinary at the time.