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By Randall D. Larson
May 31, 2007
Score for "Il figlio di Spartacus" (aka in the US: The Slave, Son of Spartacus) by Piero Piccioni.
This is Mania’s last Soundtrax column, our soundtrack coverage and daily Music News ending with this week’s posts. I’d like to thank all of the interested readers for your comments and your readership – and for the opportunity of six years of news, reviews, and interviews – almost 260 Soundtrax columns, two years worth of weekdaily music news reports, and assorted free standing CD reviews. If you’re interested in keeping up with film music I recommend: musicfromthemovies.com, filmmusicweekly.com, filmmusicradio.com, filmscoremonthly.com, and soundtrack.net. You’ll see me pop up from time to time with reviews and interviews on several of those sites. Cheers – rdl.
THIS WEEK’S RECOMMENDATIONS
When it comes to musclebound heroics, the Italians had it all over Hollywood. A whole sub genre of films, called peplum (we know them as sword-and-sandal movies) were imported from Rome and usually hopefully ruined in ill-meaning attempts to make them palatable to American moviegoers of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of these films featured marvelous musical scores, richly orchestral and full of bombast and romance and life. Fourth in Digitmovies soundtrack series dedicated to the original soundtracks of the Italian Peplum genre is Il figlio di Spartacus (aka in the US: The Slave, Son of Spartacus), a 1962 made-in-Italy sequel to Kubrick’s Spartacus directed by Sergo Corbucci (later to become a famed director of Italian Westerns) and starring the iconic musclebound hero, Steve Reeves, who learns the story of his father and seeks vengeance. The storyline is fairly humdrum but the execution is quite exciting and the film is noted for being one of the better of its genre. The music is composed by Piero Piccioni, one of the most important figures in Italian film music with more than 400 scores to his credit; this one appears here for the first time on record or CD, taken directly from the mono master tapes which have survived the years. The score is vibrantly performed (three bonus alternates takes play in stereo); action cues like are full-flavored and as swashbuckling as they come. Piccioni’s main theme is a classically heroic motif for French horns, strings, and percussion, but its presentation is one of grimness rather than bravado, as if the composer is emphasizing that life as a hero is not all fun and frolic; there’s a definite somber overtone to the hero’s main theme that reflects both the underside of the slave’s life and the sacrifices that are sometimes made in the pursuit of justice. The main theme is interlaced among the score’s alternating mix of aggressive action/fight music and eerie, suspended, mysteriosos that emphasize the mystical aspects of the story, including a remarkable timpani solo (“Prigione”), wild with reverb and oscillating tonality. There are a few exotically-flavored environmental set pieces for palace dances and the like, as well.
Jerry Fielding assumed the musical reins for the third Dirty Harry movie, The Enforcer (1976), when original composer Lalo Schifrin was busy scoring another project (Voyage of the Damned) and couldn’t do it. Fielding proved to be an adept and appropriate replacement, providing an exciting jazz-based score that fit will into Harry Calahan’s nihilistic world. Fielding doesn’t adopt any of Schifrin’s themes from Dirty Harry or Magnum Force, but his score, to be released on June 26th by Aleph Records, follows a similar stylistic pattern. A strong, paired horn base sets the score’s center, representing the often arrogantly confident Harry (“Main Title,”), seconded by a catchy riff from electric bass, piano, clarinet, and jangly percussion (“Harry’s World”). There’s plenty of moves and measures from the rhythm section to keep the action raging, and lots of suspenseful turns from the bass and percussion to keep the listener on edge. Beyond the action- and testosterone-laden music that gives The Enforcer its aggressive energy, the true heart of the score, as is the true heart of the movie, lies with Tyne Daly’s character of Kate Moore. I won’t say that her character brought a touch of femininity to either music or movie, because that would be devaluating both character and performance; what it brings is perhaps more of a humanistic realism than Harry was able to portray on his own in the previous and succeeding films. In The Enforcer we have a partner who truly comes to mean something to Harry, and her music provides the movie with its soul. Fielding gives the music its focus in Moore’s theme, balancing Harry’s cynical motifs with an eager and persuasive electricity that is very much the match of Daly’s personable but unyielding Inspector Moore. Much of the thrust of The Enforcer is found in the inevitable doom of all of Harry’s partners, and even as we grow to admire Moore we understand that the movie will run its course; likewise the musical heart of the film embodies the character of Moore and sustains her after she falls with the affecting End Title music, “Elegy for Inspector Moore,” wherein Fielding loses the rhythm section and jazz riffs and provides a beautifully romantic, and very respectful accounting of her life as the film ends on this note of melancholy.
Aside from the dramatic music, Fielding also provides a splendid piece of source-music in the chilled jazz instrumental vibe called “Tiffany’s Number Eleven,” a really cool and catchy bit for organ and rhythm section.
The package includes an unused alternative take on the score’s finale (edgier, more gritty, and far less touching); a very nice retrospective by Tyne Daly on working on the film, including her own brief evaluation of the music; and an analysis of the movie and its music by CD producer Nick Redman. Only a few minutes of Fielding’s score appeared on previous Dirty Harry music anthologies, which makes this complete score album especially valuable; and Aleph Records, as Schifrin’s personal record label, deserves a commendation for being willing to include a non-Schifrin score among its releases and for continuing to provide complete albums of these wonderful Dirty Harry scores. They – we have to say it – really make our day.
Also from Italy, Nora Orlandi’s splendid score for the 1968 giallo, Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (The Sweet Body of Deborah”) is, like most giallo scores of the 1960s, a wonderful mix of 60’s flavored Europop, contemporary romantic melodies, and enthusiastic lounge. Music tended to emphasize the pop sensuality of these films and their vividly colored visual, often playing against their fervently graphic violence and horror. Orlandi, one of the new female composers in Italy during the decade, who was also a vocalist (she performs two songs on the CD and provides wordless voice to a couple of others) and maintained a busy vocal chorus group that performed on many film tracks. Released by Sweden’s new label, Fin de Siecle media, Orlandi’s score shines on CD. “Musica Bionda” is an effervescent organ, bass, and snare drum piece that is practically intoxicating. The music is more pop-flavored than dramatic, providing the characteristic modern melodic groove that these films are known for. Orlandi’s featured instruments are organ, piano, and of course voice, both of which give the score a bright coloration and contrast against the storyline’s darker elements. The score is presented both in stereo and then again in mono on the same CD; packaged in a keepcase, John Mansell provides informative notes about the film and the composer.
FILM MUSIC NEWS
In a recent interview I had with Simpsons composer Alf Clausen on the occasion of scoring the shows’ 400th episode, Alf revealed that a third Simpsons soundtrack album is in the works, following up on his Music in the Key of Springfield and The Simpsons Go Simpsonic soundtrack compilations, which gathered songs and score from the show’s classic episodes. “I’ve been working on it for two years,” Clausen said. “It’s a collection of songs from the last eight seasons, none of which have been released before. I’m very, very pleased with the way it’s turning out.” A release date has not yet been established.
Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles) is slated to score the new Star Trek movie. Giacchino has been associated with Star Trek XI director J.J. Abrams, having scored Abrams’ previous projects, Mission: Impossible III, and television’s Lost and Alias. – via filmmusicradio.com
FreeClyde Music, a new independent record label, officially launches with the release of the soundtrack for the cult TV classic, Witchblade. The record label, founded by composer Joel Goldsmith, is distributed exclusively by BuySoundtrax. The first 100 copies of the soundtrack ordered at BuySoundtrax.com will be autographed by Goldsmith. Witchblade premiered in June of 2001. Despite only airing for two seasons, the show became a cult favorite. Based on the comic book, the show starred Yancy Butler as Sara “Pez” Pezzini, who while investigating the murder of her childhood friend, comes in contact with an ancient gauntlet, which melds onto her wrist and protects her from harm -- forever changing her destiny. It is the Witchblade, an ancient weapon that heightens her powers of perception and transforms into a formidable sword that is one with its wearer. With an arsenal of amazing powers -- and a mind of its own -- the Witchblade is both a blessing and a curse. Now Sara must learn its secrets in order to master its mystery before it masters her. The son of composer Jerry Goldsmith, Joel Goldsmith’s film scoring career began in 1983 scoring the Steve Martin comedy The Man With Two Brains. An expert with the synthesizer, early in his career, Joel spent much time assisting his father on scores including, Logan's run, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and Jerry’s first all-electronic score for Runaway, while also scoring lots of episodic TV. Joel Goldsmith’s sound proved a perfect match for the science fiction/fantasy genre and led to his work on such films as Kull the Conqueror, Man's Best Friend, The Outer Limits and the Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis television series. www.buysoundtrax.com
Intrada has released the world premiere recording of original soundtrack from Andrew V. McLaglen WWII action epic, The Devil’s Brigade, with a dynamic Alex North score. “Powerhouse writing for low brass section gets spotlight, including seldom heard baritone horn, euphonium, multiple tubas plus full compliment of saxes, much more. Complete score presented in stereo from excellent condition (once thought-to-be-lost) multi-track master elements, including all North-supervised source music, big band pieces plus alternate score finale. Exciting discovery reveals music not heard in finished film, including much longer Main Title with virtuoso middle section! Military action music galore!” The CD is a Limited Special Collection release of 2000 copies. www.intrada.com
John Ottman (Fantastic Four, X2) has scored the new sci-fi thriller, The Invasion. Directed by award-winning German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Experiment, Downfall), the film stars Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Jeremy Northam in a modern retelling of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. – via soundtrack.net
Speaking of Fantastic Four, if you’re in Southern California you might want to know that on Saturday, June 9th, the Golden State Pops Orchestra, located in San Pedro, CA, will be presenting "Superheroes & Beyond," which will feature the world premiere of John Ottman's new Fantastic Four suite (conducted by Damon Intrabartolo), as well as the new "Superman Returns Piano Concerto" (performed by Eric Anderson). Music from X-Men 2, Batman, Spider-Man and more are also expected to be performed, conducted by Steven Allen Fox. For tickets and details, see: http://www.gspo.com/concert.asp?nav=Schedule&cID=41
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