Listening to the Last Man On Earth

om1Today I’ve been listening to the FSM disc of Ron Grainer’s The Omega Man score. Maybe it was due to listening to the Silent Running score before Christmas, but I’ve been meaning to dig out this CD for several days now, as its another 1970s soundtrack that sounds quite unlike anything else you might hear today. Its funky and jazzy and is sprinkled with elements of pop and orchestral music… its such a melting-pot of different kinds of music it shouldn’t really work but it does. Its also, yes, utterly of the 1970s. Not that this dates it particularly but you always know it’s from some other era entirely from the one we are living in. It feels a little like a time capsule.

There’s a few other CDs in my collection from the 1970s that ‘feel’ rather apart from the John Williams/Jerry Goldsmith/John Barry scores that are likely more fondly remembered from genre films of that decade. Fred Myrow’s Soylent Green score for instance, which shares the kind of folksy, funky sound and jazzy source cues of The Omega Man in places (the ‘Prologue/Opening Music ‘ track is one of my favourite pieces of film music from that entire decade) and Lalo Schifrin’s unrelentingly melancholy score for George Lucas’ THX 1138. These scores and their ‘music of the future’ (at least as they saw it then with limited budgets and orchestra sizes)  are, incredibly, fast approaching half a century old now- THX 1138 dates from 1970, The Omega Man 1971 and Soylent Green 1973. Music of the past that used to be the music of the future- it’s a funny thought; odd to think it’s how they thought the future would sound.

I think THX 1138 came closest to sounding like the future- it’s about the perfect soundtrack to world events of January 2017.  So dark and depressing… makes the Last Man On Earth of The Omega Man sound distinctly jolly.

Silent Running OST by Peter Schickele

 

silentrunning_isc369_600a

December 1978, and BBC2 is showing a season of science fiction films over the Christmas holidays, a reflection of the cultural impact of Star Wars, a phenomenon in America hitting UK cinemas that Christmas. For a geeky science-fiction-crazy kid like me, it was something like heaven, all those late-night science fiction films every night; 1950s classics that I knew and loved and others quite new to me. One film new to me made a particular impact on me- Douglas Trumbull’s remarkable 1972 eco-drama, Silent Running. It made an emotional connection with me, in no small part due to the evocative music of Peter Schicklele and the songs featuring Joan Baez. Hey, I was twelve.

On a subsequent airing on another BBC2 science-fiction movie season (how I miss those movie seasons) I recorded the entire Silent Running film onto my mono cassette deck. We film geeks kind of did that kind of nonsense back in the days when videotape seemed, well, the stuff of Star Trek; we’d re-live the film experience by listening to it and running the film back in our minds-eye. I kept that cheap old C90 cassette safe for years, listening to the score mostly.

One time, I was in Birmingham and the HMV there was selling the Silent Running soundtrack album (the Varese green vinyl release). I nearly bought it, but money was tight (I was still in High School back then, back in the days of 50p pocket money) and I was caught in the heady thrill of buying Robert E Howard import paperbacks from the city’s sci-fi bookshop, so the REH books won and the album was left behind. How many times I regretted that decision (almost as much as failing to buy the Blade Runner issue of Cinefex, although the eventual book reprint halted that particular recurring nightmare). How was I to know those REH paperbacks would be around for a few years, later reprinted several times in later editions, but that album would disappear forever, quickly going out of print?

The CD format arrived, and over the years so many soundtracks got transferred to that format leaving the pop and click of vinyl behind. Surely Silent Running would get released on CD someday. Years, decades passed, inexplicably it never turned up, just like a CD release of the Tron soundtrack.  Eventually even the Tron soundtrack saw a release on CD (hurrah!), but Silent Running? I’d frequent Film Music forums raising its non-release as some kind of tragedy or crime, bumping old threads over the years. No-one seemed able to explain its absence. As the CD format itself neared the end of its days in favour of digital downloads and streaming its become increasingly unlikely that it would ever get a release. And then-

December 2016, and Intrada have released the Peter Schickele soundtrack of Silent Running on CD for the first time. Last month when Intrada  announced its release, rather out of the blue, of course exchange-rates and the dangers of customs be damned, I had to order a copy.  It arrived in the post today. Its probably one of the most expensive single CD’s I ever bought (although I got away without a customs sting, thank goodness). But of course its worth it. Its an incredible thing, hearing it at long last, crystal-clear on CD, holding the case in my hand. Seeing the artwork, reading the title Silent Running… Maybe there is a Santa.

From 1978 to 2016 its been 38 years. Holding this CD means a lot. Forgive an old fool the nostalgic passions dating back to his twelve-year old self. But anybody who fell in love with this movie over the years will understand the emotional connection with that music.

As it turned out, all the masters for the score and album were long-lost, which explained why a CD version was never released until now- this release entailed a transfer from an original mint vinyl copy of the original Decca album of 1972. Its amazing what those engineering wizards can do, because this sounds fantastic.

Well, I guess the only thing left is a complete Blade Runner release by Vangelis. Who knows? After Silent Running has finally seen the light of day on this amazing CD, anything, surely, is possible. 38 years. Crikey.

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…

Strange Vinyl from the Garage…

Here’s a few weird vinyl things from the archives (i.e. the garage) that I unearthed Indian Jones-fashion recently…

100_5493

The Empire Strikes Back ep by Meco. Not quite in the disco groove of his original Star Wars disc, this remains a fantastic re-imagining of some of the themes from possibly the finest soundtrack, ever. Some of the tracks resurfaced on CD a few years ago but Meco couldn’t resist tampering with it, alas (maybe he was going for the authentic Star Wars/George Lucas ‘experience’). In a strange precursor to all those VHS copies of the pre-Special Edition Original Trilogy that we keep in the loft, this vinyl ep seems to be the only way to hear the original versions of Meco’s music. Nowhere near the hit that the original Star Wars disc was, this was actually something of a rarity here in the UK, especially in those pre-Internet days when you had to trawl through record stores looking for stuff. This copy actually belonged to a friend at the time who later gave it to me when his interest in all things Star Wars waned (i.e. he grew up- don’t know what that says about me still owning it decades later, but…) . Great music though- Meco’s medley featuring the themes for Darth Vader and Yoda was brilliant.

100_5496

Here’s an album also The Empire Strikes Back-related. After the success of Star Wars releases years before, with TESB  albums the RSO  label went a bit nuts (two versions of the soundtrack, the Meco disc,  a Boris Midney disc, even a jazz album). This is a story album- basically the film soundtrack (dialogue, music, sound effects) edited to tell the story of the film with a narrator to fill in the gaps/transition between scenes. These things may seem odd now, but back at the time they were really quite popular. The three Star Wars films all had one, as did The Black Hole… of course actually owning copies of films was impossible back then, so being able to listen to an abridged  version was as near as fans could get. This disc had a gatefold sleeve to help ‘see’ the film alongside the audio presentation.  Tried taking a picture of it without much success but hopefully you’ll get the idea…

100_5497

 

 

100_5499

Meco’s huge hit with Star Wars a few years earlier had everyone trying to make money out of film scores, attempting to turn them into pop hit singles. This was a time long, long ago kiddies when there was such a thing as 7-inch 45rpm singles, the market for which was huge, culturally as well as financially- people by the millions used to tune into a top-40 countdown every Sunday.  Anyway, history lesson over, I feel old enough as it is. This oddity somehow surfaced on a market-stall in Willenhall, of all places. No doubt inspired by Meco’s Star Wars-themed music, this 12-inch single by some guy called Nostromo (a monicker inspired by Alien) tried to turn John Barry’s main theme for The Black Hole into a hit dance single, which of course it didn’t. Oddly, the b-side was an original piece titled ‘Gom Jabbar’, the significance of which utterly escaped me at the time. Kudos to the first comment that reveals where that song gets its inspiration from, and if anyone knows who the hell Nostromo is/was feel free to enlighten me.

100_5498

The beauty of 12-inch vinyl albums of course, particularly for movie soundtracks and the like, was the large reproductions of film artwork. It’s something we lost with reducing things down to the size of a compact disc. Album covers could be such beautiful things just to stare at when you were holding a big 12″ cardboard sleeve in your hands- a gatefold even better (I have the 2-disc/gatefold TESB soundtrack and its more than just an album, its a work of art/genuine souvenir of the film, with a booklet and everything, simply gorgeous).  Case in point, the soundtrack album for Logan’s Run, a great Jerry Goldsmith score graced with this extraordinary artwork. I believe its by Charles Moll, an artist who doesn’t seem to have done much other film poster work, mores the pity. I have to wonder if Moll designed the distinctive logo too, I presume so. The film itself may have been naff, but the bright colourful poster somehow evokes so much of 1976. At first glance it may seem cluttered, but close-up the artwork is tight and clean, highlighting objects and moments from the movie; I’d love to see what the original artwork looked like, what size it was. They certainly knew how to sell movies in those days, I miss great film posters like this, the 1970s were a great period for film posters.

100_5501

One last pic for now- this is the stark, arresting cover from the soundtrack album The Thing from 1982. The Thing always seemed to struggle for artwork on theatrical release, VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. Its one of those films that artists/marketing teams always seemed to struggle with. But to me they nailed it from the very start- I just love this cover design and think its such a perfect poster for that brutal horror classic. I gather its from the original pre-release in the USA, and got buried after the film tanked on its theatrical run. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and I think this is great, but when the film died at the box-office I guess it was easy to blame the marketing. Damn it people, it was that bloody E.T. that killed The Thing (that long-necked critter killed Blade Runner too). Far as I know, this poster design was never used for any subsequent soundtrack release on CD or on any home video format. Don’t know about you, but I think it would look great on a Blu-ray edition. Hell, even further reduced on CD, its simple enough to work.

Well that’s it for now- maybe I’ll get some more albums out later. Oh go on then, one more. This is most likely (as far as I remember anyway), my very first record, which my parents bought for me from Woolworths back in the very early ‘seventies. Its another of those story albums. Can you imagine how cool that cover was to a kid about six years old?

 

100_5502

 

 

 

 

 

Creepshow OST

creepshow-limited-edition-2I well remember recording the title music from Creepshow onto audio-cassette from a VHS rental copy so I could later listen to its creepy and evocative theme. Audio-cassettes; you may remember them, plastic cases with spooled magnetic tape, sort-of an older and even more archaic cousin of the video-cassettes that yet linger in car-boot sales. Just thinking about it makes me feel very old, so many things have changed since- but it used to be the thing back then,  to save music off-air with a microphone close to the tv speakers, fill C-60 or C-90 tapes with different bits of movie music, tv themes, stuff like that. I used to do that in those days; I remember around the same time recording the entire Blade Runner film onto audio cassette off a VHS rental so I could listen to it over and over. Was I ever so young? Was I ever so enthusiastic/obsessed that I’d hush the rest of the household in order to record Alien during its ITV premiere, dutifully cutting out the commercials? If only I could meet that younger version of myself, the damned fool.

So here we are today, and in the post arrives my copy of La La Land’s new CD of the expanded John Harrison Creepshow score, complete and with numerous library cues used in the movie. Listen to some people and you’ll be in no doubt the CD format itself is as doomed as that old audio-cassette that I had recorded the music onto all those years ago- well, let’s fight the good fight on that one, I still love my CDs. Funnily enough, I believe this album is also going to be released on vinyl, how strange is that?

With a lovely and detailed booklet (mine also signed by Harrison himself) which is a rewarding enough read in itself, this release is something of a tribute to those good old days, the purchase a nod to that damn fool teenager with a microphone I used to be. The music is fine, that evocative creepy main theme as lovely as ever, the score dominated by old-school analogue synths with some piano. Its dated I guess but that’s part of the charm with these sort of releases isn’t it? The film and score is over thirty years old, after all-  imagine my teenage self back in 1983 being told I’d be listening to the score in 2014…

 

 

 

Listening to…. To the Wonder OST.

2thewondrcdThe film may be perplexing and troublesome, even for Malick fans like myself, but the score for To The Wonder is simply wonderful, particularly so away from the film, which is something I did not expect. Indeed, in its album presentation, it gains a life all its own. It is a haunting, beautiful piece of work, eerily ambient, tender and thoughtful. Delicate, like fragments of dreams. The whole score flows from one track to the other like a series of movements, broken by a few passages of classical music carefully chosen to feel like part of the whole. It’s an hour of contemplative, emotional music that oddly enough also feels like a companion piece to the score for The Thin Red Line (which is no bad thing as that score is one of my very favourites). So how did a film that didn’t work for me suddenly spawn such a beautiful soundtrack album? It appears that where the film failed, the music succeeded, having the soul that the film seemed to lack.  Listening to this music is going to get me returning to that movie earlier than I would have expected, if only to ponder where the music was placed, and why it works on album so well and yet didn’t seem to in the film. Its funny how things turn out sometimes, after seeing the film I had intended to cancel my order of the soundtrack but it came through the mail before I got chance- irritating at the time, but very fortunate as it turns out. Quite surprising really. Anyone who has discounted the score having seen the film should really give it a chance.

Cloud Atlas OST

CLOUD ATLASCloud Atlas  is one of the films I’ve been most looking forward to watching this year. It’s proving to be a long and frustrating wait though-  an independent production, it was released back in October in the States with a UK release not due until late February this year.  Back last summer, marvelling at the long and intriguing theatrical trailer for the film, that February date was a kick in the solar plexus. Its like a sad return to the bad old days of waiting six months for Star Wars to cross the Atlantic- its funny how used to global releases we have become.  So anyway, a longer wait than usual- funny thing is, the delay has now even turned against the film’s (few) fans State-side  It’s originally planned February DVD/Blu-ray release has been pushed back to June, presumably to protect the theatrical returns of the film globally and to tie-in to a global home video release. So fans of the film over there (few as they are, as the film faired very poorly, something like $27 million all told ) are gnashing their teeth at having to wait a further several months for their Blu-ray.  Well join the club guys, we even haven’t had it at the multiplex yet.

One of the things that caught my attention about the film is it’s soundtrack. Written by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, they are hardly big-name/well-known composers, but I remembered them from their excellent score for Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, a film Tom Tykwer directed (that I would hope will be on Blu-ray one day, as its a great movie). That score, one of the most noteworthy of the past ten years, was an integral part of that film, no doubt due to the directors involvement in scoring it and word had it that the same could be said for Cloud Atlas, which featured Tykwer sharing directing duties with the Wachowski, er, siblings. Well, I’m a sucker for any film where the music is a big character in a film- its part of the ‘pure cinema’ experience and something rare these days in films where the current trend is for music to be part of the background and hardly noticed. Curiosity peaked, I couldn’t wait for the film to get out over here so ordered the soundtrack on import.

Of course the difficulty for the composers for the Cloud Atlas score is surely the vast spread of time and geographical locations represented in the film. How do they somehow unify all those separate elements, characters and timelines? Well, they do it with two central pieces of score.

Cloud-Atlas-SoundtrackThe film’s two core themes,  “Cloud Atlas Sextet” and the “Atlas March” prove to be central to the film’s narrative arc- in the film, the Sextet is written by a composer during the 1930s segment, but the music contained within this Sextet (an intentionally classical-sounding piece) is reprised in the film as it spans the several generations. I’m not sure how it is done in the film itself, as it apparently spans thousands of years and lives separated by time and space and yet somehow still connected, something like past and future lives of the same soul? (characters are being played by the same actor altered by prosthetics and make-up)- sounds pretty complicated, but hopefully it makes more sense in the film. On the album, which I presume is in chronological order, elements of the Sextet surface in various guises played by different instruments, depicting different characters and time periods.The second core theme, the Atlas March, is a more conventional piece, delicate and fragile, almost a melancholic love theme that weaves in and out of the score much like the Sextet until reaching a triumphant reprise at the films (and albums) conclusion.

The whole score  is richly orchestrated,  gloriously symphonic with some choral and electronic textures added to it. I presume some of the electronics are for the futuristic passages of the film but I guess I could be wrong. There is one piece of music, Death Is Only A Door, with chorus and strings, which is incredibly haunting and I cannot possibly imagine what is going on during the film in that sequence- I just can’t wait to find out. It will be very interesting to see how the score works in the film- it plays well enough as an album but I can see how it might make or break a film with such an apparently convoluted narrative as Cloud Atlas has.  The film had mixed reviews State-side and has been rebuffed/unnoticed during the awards season, but I can see it being a contender for film of the year for me already. It just looks so daring and interesting and unusual, like a breath of fresh air. Certainly, the score is quite remarkable and I doubt I’ll hear anything as bold and refreshing as this all year. Will the film live up to the music? Will just have to wait and see. Not long to go…

Three Grail Soundtracks of 2012

The guys over at the filmscore monthly forums have a word for their most wished-for and cherished soundtracks; they refer to them as their Grails. Its a term usually reserved for those titles that, over the years, have gained an almost mythical standing, usually due to rights issues or ‘lost’/destroyed recording masters. Hollywood has not always seen soundtrack scores as marketable commodities outside of the film itself, and cost-cutting or negligent archiving has resulted in many scores being lost forever. Over the past few years however researchers have discovered many scores thought lost to the ages, and as Hollywood studios recognise a new revenue-stream from old films, specialist labels like Intrada, FSM and La La Land Records have released many gems as limited-edition CDs.

startrektmp12012 has seen the release of three items that might be considered ‘Grails’ of mine. The first one was early this summer with the release of La La Land’s three-disc edition of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I have loved this score ever since I first heard it when seeing the film back in 1979, and subsequently bought the vinyl soundtrack album and later on further incarnations on CD. It’s a rich and powerful symphonic work that deserved a better film- indeed, I’d contend that the score is the best character in the film, its such an important element to the flawed, overly-rushed-to-release movie. This three-disc edition of the soundtrack is a dream come true to its fans; the complete score is spread over two discs, followed by several early pieces discarded from the score as themes were revised and redone, accompanied by the original 1979 album sequence. This latter section is important, as it arises that the album was mostly re-performed music conducted by Goldsmith during the scoring sessions, so the album we heard for so many years was not the score as heard in the film. Disc three features a further 74 minutes of alternates, rehearsals and related oddities such as a Disco-flavoured instrumental single that is a sobering reminder of the era the film is from, and a song by Shaun Cassidy based on the love theme. Sometimes when I see the disc sitting on my shelf I have to reach out and pick it up in a ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ kind of moment, just to check its real. After so many years waiting for someone to release the full score, to see it done so well and so complete, with all those unknown extras and sumptuous liner-notes in an extensive booklet, well, its a remarkable release.

As I write this I have a framed print of Frank Frazetta’s Conan painting “The Destroyer”, that I ordered from Frazetta’s own mail-order enterprise several years ago, hanging on the wall above me. Its a wonderful, amazing work of art that dates back to the original paperback covers Frazetta painted in the 1960s when REH’s barbarian became hugely popular. The ‘Howard boom’ that was fueled by Frazetta’s art and subsequent comics success of Conan culminated in 1982’s Conan:The Barbarian directed by John Milius and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film was quite successful and shot Schwarzenegger to Hollywood fame. Some thirty years later, the films wonderful score by the late Basil Poledouris remains one of the greatest scores of its time. Budgetary limitations on the film resulted in it being released in mono, impacting on the power of the films score and soundtrack during screenings, but the original album presented its highlights in stereo giving fans a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. The budget also impacted on the size and ability of the orchestras playing the music itself but to be honest I hardly noticed that whilst playing the score over and over. The album became the soundtrack to many RPG sessions and background music to my many paintings during my art student days.

conanThe music in the film is integral to the whole, particularly as for much of the film, dialogue is kept to a minimum. The film being pretty much wall-to-wall music, over the years, many fans began to ask about that music missing from the original album. It transpired that the original score elements had been lost or destroyed, leading to the composer himself abandoning his own efforts to release a more complete soundtrack album. Varese released a slightly-expanded edition using additional cues with fair to middling sound issues. Recently a remarkable re-recording, that had the blessing of the composer prior to his death, was made correcting problems with the original recording, and it was believed this would be the last word on Conan. And yet film  music fans have of late have become used to the adage ‘never say never’. After so many years of fruitless searches, the complete original score on 2″ 24-track reels surfaced at last and has resulted in a three-disc edition from Intrada. Whilst not as authoritative as the Star Trek:TMP set, as Conan was not such a major Hollywood production, nevertheless this release is another Grail for me. The Prometheus label’s re-recording wins hands-down on both performance and sound quality (although its differences are not always ideal) but this new Intrada edition is, after all, the actual original soundtrack, warts and all, and something we fans had believed lost forever. There are even nearly thirty-minutes of early alternates that are a complete surprise, featuring a spine-tingling version of the track  Orphans of Doom, and it includes the 1982 album sequence as a fine highlights version and reminder of what used to be. Fans might be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed/weary of so many editions of the score, particularly following the Prometheus set, but yeah, its another ‘pinch me’ moment for me.

Finally, the third Grail soundtrack release for me this year is La La Land’s breathtaking 15-disc box of the Star Trek: The Original Series scores. Its everything; the complete music for all the episodes of the three-year original series, including some sound effects and even music not used in the show. Over 17 hours of nostalgic joy. As someone who, as a kid, was simply in spellbound love with this show, this release, some 45 years after the show aired, is  just monumental. I only wish I could comment further, but unfortunately my (very expensive but to hell with the cost, it’s the original Star Trek! Its Christmas!) box set is, according to the USPS tracking website, still stuck in a sorting facility in New York. Has been for getting on for a week now, so yes, I’m getting rather concerned (although its insured, thank goodness) and yes, it looks like one big Christmas treat that I will not be getting this year, drok it.  So I’ll have to comment further when I actually get the damn thing, and in the meantime just drool and dream over the gorgeous pictures of the set. Agh.

TREK_poster_Layout_Big