Time again for us to survey some of the soundtrack music that’s been issued on CD, for both new films and classic films. Here’s our quick look at some of the listenable CDs that might appeal to movie music collectors:
MILK (Danny Elfman) – Decca: A great film of the year, with a superb score by Danny Elfman. In addition to his tone-painting for the dramatic story of the life of the San Francisco politician, there are six tracks from other sources designed to help capture the sounds of the 70s in which most of the movie takes place. They include tunes from David Bowie, Sly & the Family Stone, Sopwith Camel, Sylvester, and the Swingle Singers doing a Bach Prelude. This CD soundtrack album will bring back the movie for me.
DOUBT (Howard Shore) – Howe Records: This was another one of the great movies of the past year, with superb acting by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I don’t recall a great deal of music in the film and that seems strangely supported by the advance CD I received of this album. It states: “Bonus tracks not featured in the film: 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 16 thru 19.” There are only 19 tracks on the disc. A few make use of hymn tunes.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (Alexandre Desplat) – Concord Records (2 CDs): This soundtrack album is divided into two separate discs: the first contains the 23 short symphonic cues by Desplat heard during the film (using an 87-member studio orchestra); the second features the pop, jazz and classical selections which were used to give a feeling for the various eras in the film, interspersed with snippets of actual dialog from the film to get the scenes. This disc also totals 23 tracks, the selections include Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, The Boswell Sister, Sidney Bechet, The Platters, a cathedral choir, and a Debussy Arabeske. The album would probably make the most sense to those who have viewed this unusual film and appreciated how Desplat’s haunting music and the authentic songs of different periods work together to underline Button’s singular life.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Thomas Newman) – Nonesuch: The score for the Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio film employs a string orchestra conducted by Newman, with all the members listed in the booklet – that’s unusual. There are five soloists on such oddball instruments as hammered dulcimer, struck mandolin, EWI, wire piano, simplified violin, struck and bowed metals, and backwards vibraphone. There are also three pop-hit tracks – from the Ink Spots, The Orioles and The Ravens.
WALL•E (Thomas Newman) – Walt Disney Records: Thomas Newman’s score is one of the many elements that go into making Wall•E another huge Pixar animation hit. His music has to convey feelings and emotions that you wouldn’t expect a weather-beaten robot to have, and it works perfectly. There are 38 cues, so it can be seen that they are very short. They include a few “outside” tracks: two songs sung by Michael Crawford, one by Peter Gabriel, and Louis Armstrong doing La Vie en Rose. For once the outside songs don’t seem corny or kitschy, and fit beautifully into the story line. This was a big musical production, with real musicians, and again all credited in the note booklet – perhaps this is something Newman insists on!
THE SOLOIST (Dario Marianelli) – DGG: The fact this soundtrack is on DGG indicates the accent on classical music in the score. The story revolves around a homeless mentally-disturbed cellist who plays on the streets. Ben Hong is the cellist on the soundtrack and the orchestra if the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Marianelli’s own music is interspersed with excerpts from two Beethoven symphonies, three string quartets, the Triple Concerto and one of the Cello-Piano Sonatas.
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA – Telarc: This sexy bon-bon from Woody Allen has been described as his most French film yet, though it takes place in Spain. Basically about artist Bardem’s varying relationships with three different women. Woody put together a score from various classical Spanish guitar selections and original numbers for solo guitar or guitar in a small ensemble. Two of them are familiar pieces by Albeniz: Granada and Asturias. Your Shining Eyes sounds almost like gypsy jazz and Entre Dos Aguas is performed by Paco de Lucia. The songs Barcelona and La Ley del Retiro were created by a duo known as Giulia y los Tellarini, whose first CD was passed on to Woody by a friend and he used them on his soundtrack. Their music mixes tango, Latin bolaros, French chanson and jazz.
THE DUCHESS (Rachel Portman) – Lakeshore Records: This costume drama has 16 cues by composer Portman, which are mostly in the Romantic style but having a feeling of the Baroque period of the film. This is also a German Dance No. 10 from Beethoven and the Adagio from Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 1 No. 3 in D Major. Both are played by musicians of the Isobel Griffiths Ensemble, and Haydn is mispelled – indicating the classical awareness of the folks at Lakeshore…Unlike many soundtrack albums, though, the score is good listening apart from having seen the film.
ELEGY – Lakeshore Records: This film which starred Ben Kingsley has another compendium
soundtrack from assorted sources, but what clever and fitting choices were made! There are classical selections by Bach, Beethoven (two of the Diabelli Variations for piano), Satie (two Gnossiennes), and Arvo Paart. Plus a Leonard Cohen song sung by Madeleine Payroux and other songs in Spanish and French. It would be an appealing album even for those who haven’t seen and don’t plan to see the film.
EASY VIRTUE – Decca [May 16 release]: I gather from the 17 songs on this compendium soundtrack that the film takes place in the 1920s. Unfortunately, all the songs are performed by youthful singers of today or don’t even come close to the proper mood, feeling and interpretation of the great songs by Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Gus Kahn and others. Even the one instrumental track – a foxtrot – comes off as a rather band imitation. I’m also up for movies about the 20s but if this soundtrack is an indication I think I’ll skip the flick.
YES MAN – Mark Oliver Everett, Zooey Deschanel & others – Lakeshore: It appears the 13 tracks here are divided between two rock/pop groups: Eels and Munchausen By Proxy. Not my sort of music, but if you’re a fan of either band and/or of this latest Jim Carrey effort, it probably will be yours.
DEFIANCE – James Newton Howard, with Joshua Bell, violin – Sony: The WWII-set film stars Daniel Craig as a Polish fighter against the Nazi who tries to save and protect a group of Warsaw ghetto dwellers. James Newton Howard is at his usual high standard, as he was with Michael Clayton, I Am Legend and The Dark Knight. Some of the 15 cues are longer than most such, and the violin plus orchestra setting plus occasional Jewish melodies may remind the listener of the score to Schindler’s List. Again I think this would mostly appeal to those who have viewed the film.
BEFORE IT RAINS – Mark Kilian – Lakeshore: This Merchant Ivory-supported film is set in southern India in the 1930s as the country’s nationalist movement grows. Kilian is from South Africa and was assistant to film composer Christopher Young. His biggest film score effort was for the Oscar-winning film Tsotsi. There are 19 cues, and I’ve always enjoyed such mixes of East Indian elements with European symphonic writing.
DEATH DEFYING ACTS – Cezary Skubiszewski – Myriad/Lakeshore: Though he may not seem to have an Australian name, Skubiszewski is one of the top filmscore composers in his adopted country. The film also had an Australian director and starred Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It concerns Harry Houdin’s romance with a con woman in attempting to contact his dead mother via a psychic. Zeta-Jones plays the con woman, who has a Scottish background, and Houdini was Jewish, so the music mixes klezmer and Scottish folk motifs. Don’t laugh, it works OK. Though I’m not sure I need to audition it again.
THE PROMOTION – Alex Wurman – Dimension/Lakeshore: This one was a comedy vehicle for John C. Reilly, and from the preview I saw it fit him to a T. There are a plethora of very short cues, which again would appeal most likely to those who have seen the film.
NINE HOURS TO RAMA; THE LION – Scores by MALCOLM ARNOLD – Vocalian/Dutton CDLK 4371: These are reissues taken from the original soundtracks of two classic Fox films of the early 60s, both composed and conducted by the distinguished British composer. (The Lion score came from a 7-inch EP LP.) The first film concerns the plot to assassinate Ghandi and the second starred Trevor Howard and William Holden in the story about colonial Africa and a game hunter’s daughter’s relationship with a lion. Arnold, who wrote over 120 original scores for movies and TV, had a great interest in non-Western music and used it in both of his scores. There’s plenty of drumming in both of them, and the integration of the Indian elements in Nine Hours to Ramais especially colorful and interesting.
GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN 12 PARTS – Philip Glass – Orange Mountain [Distr by Harmonia mundi]: This is this soundtrack from the recent Scott Hicks documentary on the composer. Its 16 tracks provide a worthwhile overview of the composer’s music, and since most of the tracks are quite short, those for whom a bit of Glass goes a long ways will find it more enjoyable listening. The longest track is a 19-minute movement from Glass’ Symphony No. 8, which obviously didn’t run that long in the film. The film, which we just reviewed by the way, is well worth seeing even if you don’t care for Glass’ music, and this soundtrack CD would be an excellent Greatest Hits album for those just getting into Glass’ musical world.
NEVERWAS – Philip Glass – Orange Mountain [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]: This is part of a series of works being released by Orange Mt. from Glass’ extensive archives of compositions. Reading about the movie Neverwas now makes me quite curious to see it. The problematic story combines a family adventure epic with a rather more adult story about the son of a famous manic depressive author of children’s books, who as an adult takes a job at the same mental institution where his father had committed suicide. It turns out his father was the king of a great land called Neverwas, and it starred Ian McKellen and William Hurt. The music is quite different from Philip Glass’ other film scores, but it excels in creating moods of dread and suspense. It underscores both the fantasy and the internalized struggle of the main character.
THE ESSENTIAL HOLLYWOOD – Sony Classical 2-CD collection of great Hollywood film scores 77086-2: This is an A-1 compendium of themes from great films. You’ve probably seen every one of these; just a few bars of each theme and you’ll remember the films right away. Many of the greatest composers for the screen are included: Max Steiner, Korngold, Rozsa, Waxman, Tiomkin, Herrmann, Newman, and the most recent ones such as Roa, Mancini, Jarre and Morricone.
Themes from: Star Wars, Gone with the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, Laura, Psycho, Lawrence of Arabia, The Magnificent Seven, E.T., The Adventures of Robin Hood, Jaws, Vertigo, The Godfather, Fox Fanfare, Casablanca, Dr. No, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, King Kong, High Noon, Sunset Blvd., The Pink Panther, Ben-Hur, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Citizen Kane, Kings Row.
– all reviews: John Sunier