Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Soundtrack of My (Youth)

When I work on projects at home I will listen to music, or, if my task requires little concentration, spoken-word discussions or narrated pieces. Yesterday while looking for stuff to download from the wonderful BBC radio podcast site I noticed that British film reviewer/writer Mark Kermode had recorded a four-part series called "The Soundtrack of My Life". I listened to the first part last night.

Titled, simply enough, "Soundtrack Albums", the piece involved Kermode's memories of discovering film scores and soundtracks. He talks of his first, then goes on to interview several filmmakers and composers.

I remember my first soundtrack album. It was from a film I had seen just months before, in 1975, at the Terra Theatre in CFB Borden: Rollerball.

Later, as I perused the LP record bin at the PX (Public Exchange) in Borden, I happened across the Rollerball soundtrack and learned then that there was a tie-in record. I bought it on the spot. This LP was not an original soundtrack in the traditional sense, but a compilation of music: A mix of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Bach, and two more-contemporary pieces by Andre Previn composed specifically for the film. One of the catches for me was Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio"; I remembered that it was used quite effectively in the Space: 1999 television series episode "Dragon's Domain", which I had also seen just a few months earlier. Now that I think about it, I played the Rollerball record a lot. It was not my introduction to recorded classical music -- my parents had a good selection from that domain -- but the choices, no doubt by the film's director, Norman Jewison, seemed to be a perfect blend for this then young listener.

My next album was the music to Space: 1999, which I was a little disappointed in, and a couple of years after that was Battlestar Galactica. (What's with all the sci-fi TV crap? Oh yeah, I was young.) A side note to the latter score: When I listened to it again, many years later, I couldn't help but notice the William Walton influence. This really comes through on one piece in particular.

No, I did not get the soundtrack to Star Wars in 1977. What turned me off of buying it, I think, was after a friend of mine lent me the two-LP set a few weeks before we saw the movie. (The album was actually available before the movie release itself in some markets.) As I had discovered Miklos Rosza's Ben Hur music the summer before -- courtesy of my dad's original 1959 "Stereophonic" pressing of that album -- the Star Wars music on its own sounded rather lame. When I returned the album to my friend I mentioned that I found the music to be "watery" and didn't even bother turning the first LP over to play "side 2". (He too was not impressed. After all, this was the guy who got me into the German band Kraftwerk.) Of course the music plays wonderfully well with the film and is a classic film score. Film scores, as composer Gerald Fried noted in an interview years ago, generally don't stand on their own as music. This is not a failing, of course, since they are designed, quite designed in fact, to play with picture and other audio elements. Those audio tracks can get quite crowded. Some scores do work on their own; it doesn't mean they are better scores, just that they can be listened to away from the movie. I've since acquired the Star Wars CD and I like the background music much better now as a standalone....the few times I've given it a spin. Oh, I bought the LP version in 1982.

The first 'original music' film score soundtrack LP that I remember getting was for Alien. I was very impressed, even though I had not yet seen the film. Speaking of film composer Jerry Goldsmith, for that's who I was speaking of in that case, later in 1979 he would produce his brilliant music accompaniment for Star Trek - The Motion Picture. (It's the best part of that slightly underrated film, I think. The theme tune, in particular, is one of the greatest of movie anthems.)

What's with all the sci-fi movie scores? Well, for starters, there's the LP to Patton.

I'm a fan of the late composer Jerry Goldsmith. His effect was best summed up recently by producer/writer Seth MacFarlane on a BBC radio show: "(Goldsmith) was an insanely talented guy."

There are others who's work I admire: (the great) Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, David Shire, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Ron Goodwin....

Decades ago I stopped collecting film scores. The odd one would trickle down onto my shelf. I enjoy film scores best when they are with the actual film. Also, scoring today, 'the state of', is pretty pathetic. I'm speaking more of the Hollywood product. While smaller films are getting some fine work in that area, most "tent pole" pictures are tracked with overwrought orchestral parts of nothing (but noise). It's been this way for years. It's hardly a requirement that a film theme should consist of a memorable 'song', it really depends on the show, but, as film director Edgar Wright states in the Mark Kermode program I listened to last night: "What's the most recent film score that you can really hum?"

Ahh....ahh....ahh.....

Okay, I'll cheat and play The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That just might be the soundtrack of most of our lives.



3 comments:

Jon said...

Yeah, too much 'thrum thrum ba-BOOM' being used right now. You know which recent ST had hummable themes? "Pacific Rim", of all things!

Tibor said...

First soundtrack I got was for The Empire Strikes Back...still got it and it's in almost mint condition!

Simon St. Laurent said...

Thanks for the info!

I too have The Empire Strikes Back double-LP set. And it's in mint condition. It sounds like the score to an old movie.

"Pacific Rim"? This Toho fan should check out that flick.