In light of the third annual Lowell Film Festival, which brought many people out to relevant Depression-era movies a couple weeks back... I got an idea for writing about music in movies while watching the excellent Capra film It Happened One Night.

Howard Jackson's score was uncredited...but it presents an interesting look at film soundtracks: it is an elitist genre. Obviously a film with a good soundtrack is greatly enhanced. But what about a soundtrack alone? Does Carl Stalling's cartoon music stand alone because we've been watching cartoons for years or is it because its some of the most technical, fast orchestral music we've heard? I think they can stand alone, and here are some that do. I watch a lot of movies, so maybe I am biased by the images on-screen, but nonetheless, they certainly can translate.

  • Naked Lunch, Ornette Coleman & Howard Shore - (1990, dir. David Cronenberg) - This meeting of the minds, in my opinion, is unparalleled. Coleman's previous orchestra work on Skies of America had the orchestra molded with him, playing sporadic, free compositions. Naked Lunch bends Ornette around the mood setting orchestra of Howard Shore.
  • Brazil, Michael Kamen - (1985, dir. Terry Gilliam) - Just like Terry Gilliam in his film, Kamen's music puts a technocratic spin on sambas, film nior, dramatic fantasy, and everything in between,. To be amazed: add the track "Waiting for Daddy" with Johnathan Pryce, soggy toast, and ducts.
  • Vergogna Schifosi, Ennio Morricone - (1969, dir. Mauro Severino) - This is a great example, because I have not seen the film and thus have no images to connect to. Dirty Angels may be one of the lesser known of Morricone's but it is the most in touch with the popular music sound he injects into all of his works. The center piece of the whole album is a 1-2and bassline which lies beneath haunting vocal lines, summery guitar solos, and piercing organ attacks. It's best track is the spiraled rising of all parts on Una Spiaggia a Messogiorno.
  • The Conversation, David Shire (197 dir. Francis Ford Copolla) - 70s funk-nior from movies like Three Days of the Condor and the Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 seemingly responds to Blaxploitation be saying 'we can be hip too!' In FFC's The Conversation, not only was the film made between Godfather parts I and II, but the main character, portrayed by Gene Hackman, plays saxophone, and the ending this movie has one of the greatest endings.
  • The Shining, various - (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick) - Not to many arguments here, but this soundtrack includes a lot of source music and pop tunes which blend together very well. The Gleneagles band's old time, big band recordings are very washed out and sound eerie, plus Henry Hall's vocals are regal, yet sadistic in context. Electro-charged Wendy Carlos makes a breathtaking acoustic-electro appearance having worked with Kubrick 8 years before on A Clockwork Orange. However, the true terror, infused with mystery behind the film, comes from Krzysztof Pendereck (pictured above). This Polish compose's incredibly dark, unexpected contributions are marked with unexpected blasts of auxilary percussion, far-off, daunting brasswork, and truely scary sounds: open-ended terror of not knowing.
  • Blue Velvet, various - (1989, dir. David Lynch) - Picking out one of these with Angelo Badalamenti wasn't easy to do, so I just went with my favorite movie. He also scores the City of Lost Children, Holy Smoke, Wicker Man, and everything else Lynch has done. Aside from working with Lynch, he has collaborated with Shirley Bassey, and that just kicks ass. Atmospheric, ethereal, dreamy, terrifying. Also, this soundtrack has the best old school rock and roll from Bill Doggett, Roy Orbison, and others to complement Angelo's eerie sound and Lynch's surreal images.
  • Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Popol Vuh - (1972, dir Werner Herzog) - Before Grizzly Man and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Krautrock was spilling out everywhere. Apart from being an airy, highly experimental band, this film soundtrack is frequently cited as one of their best works.
Honorable Mentions:
  • Punch Drunk Love, Jon Brion
  • Alien, Jerry Goldsmith
  • Amarcord, Nino Rota
  • Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud, Miles Davis


groove68 said...

Watch Shirley Clarke's documentary about Ornette Coleman as video on demand stream

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