February 26, 2007
Sometimes smaller independent films can have extremely interesting scores and Conversation(s) With Other Women was no exception, in fact it was a refreshing change to some of the drone material that has passed over my desk in recent weeks. The Hans Canosa directed film (his first feature) stars Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart in a yet another romantic interlude that turns out to be not exactly what it appears on the surface. To make it even more intriguing Canosa uses a split screen for the entire picture!
Parodi and Fair created a wonderful jazz based score that while not prominently featured in the film ( well in the background) it of course front and center on the promo soundtrack. One can only hope that this score will be released in its entirety along with the vocal numbers that appeared in the film but not on this soundtrack. Is there any real groundbreaking material? No not really just lots of good jazz in the genre of Gil Evans and Miles Davis with a little dash of Bill Evans piano thrown in for good measure. Starr uses a 1928 Steinway which has a really nice tone to it and from what little I know about pianos the 28 model was still pre composite keys. The piano was once used in the Wizard of Oz film and it is still being put to excellent use today.
“Her Story” is written in the style of Killer Joe, a great jazz number letting guitar, piano, and sax each take their turns doing nice solo features. “Last Dance” conjures up Miles Davis with the muted trumpet along with guitar and piano. “Shirley Temple With Pineapple”, an award should go to it for one of the most unique track names, is in fact a country sounding quirky melody. “Where’s Your Daddy” is a nice combo number featuring the brass with a nice guitar solo. “Another Time” is a slow two stepper with guitar, trumpet and sax taking their turns on solos. The trumpet is another of those muted dreamy sounding Miles Davis solos. “Snow”, “Food Will Wait”, “Time Shift”, and “Regrets” are all underscore landscape material that while adequate for the film are not as pleasant of a stand alone listening experience. These tracks are somewhat more what you expect to hear in a modern score. “Fussy Headset” a big band number and “Lazy Guitar” another guitar based slow dance completes the selections.
In a way I hate to review and talk about material that might or might not get an official release. But in the case of this one my hopes are that it will be released so that all of you can enjoy the excellent material that Starr Parodi has to offer. For what my humble opinion is worth her jazz material would have sounded a lot better in Black Dahlia than what Isham offered us. Good stuff and I look for more from the duo in the future.
February 23, 2007
Notes On A Scandal is the third Oscar nomination for Glass, the other two being The Hours and Kundun and is by far the furthest that he has been away from the minimalist style he is known for. The psychological thriller starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett is directed by Richard “Iris” Eyre. It has received quite the Oscar “buzz” as it has been nominated for best actress (Dench), best supporting actress (Blanchett), best adapted screenplay (Marber), as well as Glass. Starting off slowly at the box office it has quickly moved from the art houses to the multiplexes in a rather short period of time.To say that Philip Glass is not busy is an understatement! The 70 year old, yes seven zero, seems to be doing more not less these days having worked on (39) different film projects in the last five years and that doesn’t include any opera, chamber, or classical work or his touring with his ensemble. Just writing about what he has been involved in makes me tired! Philip, in addition, does his own orchestrations and his composing is done the old fashion way with a pencil and paper. He has no office.
“First Day of School” gives the feel of a Russian minor symphony complete with lower register strings followed by a haunting theme on the oboe (Barbara’s theme) with counterpoint from the flutes. While it is only approximately 3 minutes or so you definitely get the feeling of eeriness as the film begins to unfold and a complete departure from Philip’s usual style. This simple effective melody will be heard through the entire score like a leitmotif but Glass uses it more in harmonic way. In fact it is fun to listen for the motif in various forms in the 20 tracks. The last track “I Knew Her” also uses the same theme or chromatic harmony as the first cue. “It begins with Barbara and ends with Barbara”, according to Glass in the sparse liner notes. “Invitation” features frantic quick scales from the keyboard giving it very temporarily a Bach like sound until the single modern sounding horn offers a simple melody with the keyboard taking the background. This cue is as upbeat as Glass gets in this score as many of the remaining cues are in that somber tense mode with a somewhat return of Philip to his M.O. of repeating and repeating again and again and again.
Another unique entry is the use of some very loud percussion! Tracks such as “Betrayal” and “It’s Your Choice” could sound almost like something that Horner or Zimmer wrote not Glass. In fact there is quite a clanking in “Barbara’s House”. While this is truly an attempt at wanting to have a more modern sounding Hollywood style it is still Philip Glass but a very real effort to have altered his style.
Philip Glass is a composer that one must truly acquire a taste for and Notes On A Scandal might very well be the soundtrack for one to begin with. Unlike scores such as Roving Mars this one does have a small amount of melody to it making it more accessible to the listener to appreciate and understand. Having said that, this is not a soundtrack that the casual or entry level listener is going to have any interest in. Glass is Glass! He won’t ever be mistaken for John Williams, Franz Waxman or any of 100 other composers. Yet he is extremely talented and this music does fit the film like a glove. The more seasoned listener is going to find this Oscar nominated entry for 2007 an ear opener and perhaps the winner? Time will tell. This reviewer will be most interested to hear what Glass has come up with for Woody Allen’s latest film Cassandra’s Dream. Two 70+ year old grizzled veterans working together on a film has got to be intriguing. In the meantime please enjoy and give a chance to Notes On A Scandal.
Notes on a scandal
(movie notes Part ii)
Having very recently had the opportunity to view the film the score in this case is an absolute essential addition to the film! This is a case where seeing the film is essential to understand why it was written the way it was, how it was placed in the film, and the overall texture of the music. This film was completely the opposite of a recent review of Conversation (s) With Other Women. In the case of that particular film the stand alone experience away from the film is far more enjoyable than listening to the placement of the material in the movie. While Conversations took a background seat, Scandal was front and center and a very important part of the film.
One of the very clever additions was the playing of the soundtrack before the commercials and previews started. Having listened to and already reviewed it was a unique experience, and of course as soon as the film started you got to hear a repeat performance! From the very beginning the use of the oboe as sort of a motif for Barbara the main character is quite prominent and extremely well done. While it is not a constant theme for Barbara the use of this instrument is and her presence is felt whenever it is played.
In the case of Notes On A Scandal this is one film that both are necessary to get the full enjoyment from both. Yes the subject matter of the movie is quite disturbing and requires a high level of maturity to appreciate the nuances the picture has to offer. This is overall a very dark disturbing picture and one leaves feeling sorry for Barbara and the overall incomplete dull life she lead. When I asked a fellow moviegoer what they thought in regards to who gave the better performance Dench or Mirren (both were nominated for Oscars) no clear answer was given to me. When asking about the film music (this person has little interest) the comment came back that it worked very well in the film. With that in mind listen to the soundtrack but by all means do yourself a favor and watch the film. You’ll have a much greater appreciation of the score.
February 20, 2007
Johnny Green is yet another “golden age” composer who some of you are not familiar with. Johnny, was the head of the MGM musical department, and while he was primarily known for his wonderful adapting techiniques of bringing broadway musicals to the film world, he did compose drama soundtracks from time to time, Raintree County being his shining star. While his fine score received an Oscar nomination the Arnold score to Bridge on the River Kwai prevailed that year. The 1957 film was more or less a disappointment as far as MGM was concerned yet the Motion Picture Herald in February of 1958 deemed it one of the six most profitable films of January 1958. Go figure! It had an all star cast featuring Eva Marie Saint, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Directed by veteran director Edward “Caine Mutiny” Dmytryk and filmed with the new MGM Camera 65 (like Todd AO and Cinerama) all the ingredients seemed to be in place. And opinions of the film are as varied as Coke vs Pepsi vs 7up as to how you liked it. Many feel it was way too long with Montgomery Clift giving a lackluster performance due to his accident during the filming or a poor screenplay. Others felt the “great american novel” did not translate to the screen. Still others consider this a minor masterpiece! There is an entire website devoted to it at http://www.raintreecounty.com. There was a book (OOP) by Ross Care, a biography of the author by his son recalling the tragic suicide of his father (took his life within two years of the release), a 50th Anniversary celebration in Raintree County, and a reprinting of the 1000+ page novel.
Whatever problems the film might have had did not carry into the score in anyway. From the opening Copland influenced “Overture”, to an introduction of the raintree theme, to more Copland, to the hugely romantic love theme “Never Till Now” you are off on a 2+ hour journey of Johnny Green. The “Main Title” with lyrics by Webster is sung by veteran Nat King Cole in a heartfelt romantic ballad version of the theme. Does it really belong in the film? Green I am sure pondered this question for quite a while and with likely a shove from MGM went along with the High Noon/Tiomkin popular song concept. It is a theme that while certainly not overused, will be heard in many different arrangements and cues on the (2) CD’s. “Freehaven” is another tribute to Copland’s style of Americana giving us the theme of Flash Perkin with twin picking banjos and clarinets. “Freehaven” and “Swamp” are excellent examples of good solid underscore with something a lot more to offer than some of the landscape filler of today. “Johnny’s Crown”, if you listen carefully to the beginning, will give you a mini Waxman tribute with its saxophone which seques right into the love theme, another theme you will selectively hear in the score. Some of the scores today you are fortunate if you can leave the theater with one theme you can remember. This one has at least three memorable ones if not more! Some may listen and consider it schmaltz in the same vein as Wuthering Heights or Now Voyager. This reviewer doesn’t in the least. They are nicely crafted melodies that are properly arranged and orchestrated. The vocal of Cole was likely pushing the limits but this was the Hollywood way at the time. The Webster lyrics seemed a bit forced in parts not quite the smooth flow of a really popular song. Contract issues had Cole recording it for Capitol and RCA releasing it as a choral piece which seems like a small can of worms anyway. You hear Cole in the film, purchase the RCA soundtrack not knowing he isn’t included. Seems like really poor customer service to me. Either way, you get both versions on this CD, a bit of a nice coup for Lukas Kendall to be able to include the Cole track on the release.
True to what Film Score Monthly usually does if at all possible is include all of the alternate takes, and source material that didn’t necessarily end up in the finished product for a variety of different reasons. While the majority of the score is contained in the first CD there are (7) cues on the second CD before the bonus material starts. For the collector who wants all of the recorded material this is a dream come true. The Ross Care written liner notes (26 pages) are really a small book written by one who is extremely knowledgeable about the making of the film, the book, and of course the Green score. This will make a fine addition to your collection of golden age material and will likely be your first entry from Mr. Green. Highly recommended
Golden Scores Rating (****)
Produced by Lukas Kendall
Remix by Michael McDonald
Mastering by Douglas Schwartz
CD# is FSM Vol. 9 No.19
1. Overture (03:30)
2. Lion/The Song of Raintree County (Main Title) (02:44)
(Vocal by Nat King Cole)
3. Nell and Johnny (03:42)
4. There’s Another Tree (02:29)
5. The Swamp (03:41)
6. Nell and Gar/Freehaven/Prelude Segue/Meet Flash and Susanna (02:59)
7. Johnny’s Crown/Look at the Birdie/First Meeting (05:28)
8. First Meeting (film ending)/Nell’s Huff/Pursuit of Happiness/July Swim/Tell Me About the Raintree/Nell Insert/Your Exact Location (06:11)
9. Going Home/Train From the South/I Had to Come Back/Fare Thee Well/River Wedding Night (07:37)
10. Burned Mansion/Susanna’s Obsession/Lament for Henrietta (05:02)
11. Cousin Bob’s Plantation (00:47)
12. I Lied/Country Road/Johnny’s Book/Best Friend (05:00)
13. You Hate Me/What Did I Do Wrong?/Where Is Susanna?/Where Is That Doll?/It’s Happened (06:56)
14. Be a Pig’s Eye/It’s a Boy/Back in Freehaven (05:57)
15. Dearest Thing/It’s the House/What About the Fire?/I Don’t Know/They Can’t Follow Me (07:33)
16. Judby/She Was Going Home (02:26)
17. First Act Finale (Roadshow) (01:13)
1. Entr’Acte (02:51)
2. Brand New Pants (01:14)
3. Battle Montage/War Commentary (03:31)
4. Fairweather/I Don’t Believe It/Night Ambush/Flash Dies (08:40)
5. Johnny’s Escape/War’s End/I’d Like to Try/Lincoln’s Funeral Train (06:10)
6. I Still Love Him/You’re Not Sick/Surprise for Daddy/Ask Daddy/Search (09:42)
7. Susanna’s Death/Jeemie’s Raintree/The Song of Raintree County (End Title) (04:09)
(Vocal by Nat King Cole)
8-25 BONUS TRACKS:
8. The Song of Raintree County (Main Title) (02:40)
9. Freehaven (film version) (00:32)
10. Freehaven (alternate) (00:32)
11. First Meeting Part 1 (alternate) (01:23)
12. First Meeting (song version) (02:39)
(Vocal by Carlos Noble)
13. Pursuit of Happiness/July Swim/Tell Me About the Raintree (alt. ending) (03:39)
14. Going Home (alternate) (00:27)
15. Polka at the Party (00:47)
16. Why No One to Love — Party (02:34)
17. Why No One to Love (00:42)
18. Cousin’s Bob Plantation (alternate) (00:46)
19. Best Friend (alternate) (01:46)
20. Best Friend (film version) (02:50)
21. First Act Finale (Day Date) (01:07)
22. Jeemie’s Raintree/The Song of Raintree County (End Title) (chorus version) (02:41)
23. The Song of Raintree County (instrumental) (02:20)
24. The Song of Raintree County (04:20)
(Vocal by Bill Lee)
25. Jeemie’s Raintree/The Song of Raintree County (End Title) (film version with chorus) (01:18)
Total Duration: 02:22:35
February 15, 2007
Yimou “House of Flying Daggers” Zhang directs Chinese stars Yun-Fat Chow and Li Gong in an illicit tale of the Tang Dynasty in the 10th Century. The costume design is spectacular, so much so that it has been nominated for an Oscar in 2007. The overall amount of money spent in the production is impressive, but this film is about a dysfunctional imperial family and not yet another martial arts film. Yes it has action, spectacle beyond belief, and a cast of a thousand, but this is not the main focus of the film, so please don’t be mislead by the trailers that you might have seen. This really has a good storyline to it and it is told quite well. One gets the impression that the Chinese are spending more time on the storytelling and at least in this film it shows.
You will hear few surprises if any in the Umebyashi score. His work is quite good, straightforward, professional, and what your ear wants to hear to go along with a film of this nature. The choral work, complemented with excellent timpani and other percussion, are quite a strong point and the timpani especially got my attention from the very first listen to this score. “Shadow and Escape” is an excellent example of using the percussion to create the track! “Mother and Jai” begins with the wordless female chorus and this segues us to the orchestra and then to the orchestra and the chorus in an extremely churchlike elegy. It’s quite touching. “Fight of the Sickle Troops” is another track featuring the timpani complemented by slow long lower string chords in a minor key. Both the “Opening” and “Tai-He-Song” are very chinese sounding both with chorus. The “Opening” is female and the latter is very strong religious overtones by a powerful sounding male chorus. One of my favorite musical forms is the adagio and “Behind Pageant” is a very pretty one with just the complement of choral in it. Excellent piece. “Huang Jin Jia” is another bold chinese sounding track with male chorus. “Curse of the Golden Flower” with its poignant flute is as good a track as I have heard in quite awhiile. As stated earlier, there are no surprises, but the soundtrack is so well recorded and professional sounding that one can’t not sit up and take notice of the material. There is no strong or even weak melody to grab onto, merely a series of landscape tracks, yet these seem to be more than enough to carry the score. Those days of the Korngold melody appear to be over with. Still what Umebyashi has crafted is quite strong as not only a soundtrack to a film but as a separate listening experience.
The orchestra, engineer, mixer are not named but whoever did it performed there job well. The miking (placement and type) captured the timpani in a way that other engineers perhaps might want to stop and listen to! No Umebyashi didn’t come thru with any groundbreaking material yet while it is not different it is different. Well worth looking into.
February 6, 2007
Partita is an Italian word meaning a very early form of an instrumental suite. This suite is divided into three sections an Intrada, Lullaby, and Finale. The beginning of the Intrada or introduction is right out of the pages of an opening of a dog running in a field with a young boy chasing close behind. Think of something that Bruce Broughton might have written and you’ll be on the right track. The ‘D’ Major key makes it bright and snappy (allegro giocoso) as the tune quickly moves into its central section which features short solos from the different woodwind instruments before it returns to restate the beginning theme. The second part begins as a small chamber piece featuring the strings followed by woodwinds. The central part offers a wonderful theme played by first the french horn and then the flutes. It is a theme that would easily fit into a reflective romantic film with the full orchestra swelling to play and restate the melody. It ends with the theme being played by a gypsy like violin. The third part is a vivo giocoso tempo in a Copland style (if it was just played for me without knowing, this is who I would have guessed). It is biting and staccato like before Bennett arranges his style and orchestration into the center portion with cat like creeping coming from the bassoons. The end of the Finale features excellent timpani work in a rousing conclusion to a very well performed work.
The Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Richard Hickox appears to have struck a homerun in their performance! I say appear because this was my introduction to this work and I have nothing else to compare it to. The orchestra was obviously well rehearsed and Mr. Hickox did his homework to fully understand the conducting of this piece. There is that feeling of the orchestra enjoying themselves while playing it. There are also three other works on this recording which will be discussed at a later date.
Definitely put this in the category of a classical recording that the soundtrack enthusiast will want to have in his collection. Mr Bennett did a fine composing job, the Watford Colosseum is a nice recording venue, and the Philharmonia and Hickox are in excellent form. Recommended.
Golden Score Rating is (***1/2)
Produced by Rachel Smith
Engineer is Ralph Couzens
Chandos CD# is 10389
1. Intrada (5:00)
2. Lullaby (7:38)
3. Finale (4:57)
February 3, 2007
Thomas Newman is not a newcomer when it comes to attending and receiving Oscar nominations. The Good German is his eighth nomination since 1995. Steven Soderbergh, director of the picture, is also no stranger to the Oscars having won for his film Traffic in 2000. Cate Blanchett and George Clooney, costars, have also won Oscars in supporting roles with Clooney for Syriana, and Blanchett for Aviator. Sounds like a winning combination yet to date the film has yet to even come close to recovery of its 32 million dollar budget. The story involves a murder investigation that involves an American military journalist (Clooney) and his former mistress and driver (Blanchett and Macguire). The setting takes place in Berlin shortly after World War II.
The film has been discussed as a return to the ‘noir’, the score a return to the golden age style of music, complete with black and white and even fixed camera lenses. What I found was an attempt without really succeeding. The black and white just didn’t have the look of an old noir film like Out of the Past from Tourneur or a noir score like Raskin’s Laura. This is not a bad score at all, its just not the noir flavor of Webb, Deutsch, or Rozsa. It leans heavily toward the classical side of the spectrum where you can hear strains of Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius. But on closer examination there are the sounds of Newman in tracks such as “A Good Dose”, “Kraut Brain Trust”, or “The Good German”. Overall I have to say that this score is a radical departure from what you have been accustomed to hearing from Thomas in the past. The opening track, “Unrecht Oder Recht” (Main Title), does come close to a more traditional golden age sound but there was still something lacking in the orchestration and arranging of it. A track such as “A Nazi and a Jew” is too modern sounding with its chordal harmony and unusual effects at the end of the track. One of the more difficult challenges I have found with listening to Thomas Newman are the excessive amounts of tracks. This soundtrack logs in with 29 of them in 45 minutes of playing time. In fact there are only 6 that are over 2 minutes so it is difficult to get yourself settled into something because its going to change before you know it. The last three tracks “Always Something Worse”, “Godless People”, and “Jedem Das Seine” total nearly 8 minutes and offer somewhat of a summing up of the score with “Always Something Worse” restating the main theme and ending it with a crescendo, “Godless People” is the end title, and “Jedem Das Seine” is a somber conclusion with a gypsy like violin and oboe restating the “Good German” theme.
The overall sound of this score is rather dark and very very somber with little use of any major keys. There are no loud percussive chords, synthesized tracks, nothing to make you want to turn the volume down. Yes, “The Brandenburg Gate” is a bit on the noisy side but it certainly is well within the bounds of normal listening. If you enjoy Thomas Newman this soundtrack will be an interesting style change. Perhaps if an analog recording had been done, old fashion tri-x film had been used, and the name of the film had been changed it would have been more of a success. The film didn’t have that sharp biting contrast and while the golden age style was attempted it failed.