Saturday, December 12, 2009

Soundtrack Rundown

I rarely write about film scores here anymore. They're a niche market, even more than jazz and classical music. Most movie lovers don't even pay attention to a film's score unless it's intrusive, too loud, or just plain bad. I don't know why that is, but that's how film music stands among even the most die hard of film buffs. Seeing as the demand for film music releases is slight band only wanted by a hardcore few, the specialty labels that release these long sought-after titles put them out in limited editions of 3000 copies or less and once they're gone, these soundtracks fetch huge prices on the secondary market.

My taste in film scores runs mostly towards 1950s-1970s recordings as I prefer the jazzy, modernistic sounds that came into being as the studio system was in its decline. The Golden Age sound doesn't really appeal to me, though I love those early-1930s scores that sound like a swanky jazz band is playing from a tinny radio in a deco apartment; go figure.

This past year was a great year for soundtrack fans. Two of the scores covered here have a tenuous Golden Age connection, so perhaps someone that will hold someone's interest...

In Harm's Way (1965) (Jerry Goldsmith) This Otto Preminger Pearl Harbor/Pacific Theater epic had a stellar cast and boasts a fine orchestral score from Goldsmith, who has a cameo in the film. John Wayne's character gets a tremendous theme in "The Rock" which is as sturdy as the character himself. Plus there's a fun Les Baxter-like exotica flavor in "Native Quarter" and "native" sounds in "Hawaiian Mood." The tense, edgy combat music is exemplified in "Attack", one of the best tracks on this. Goldsmith always scored the human element and a tender but playful example is "The Rock and His Lady", where Duke and his love interest (Patricia Neal) get to know one another. There are also a few big band source music cues that give off some 1940s period vibe. Intrada's release is of the original LP, so the anachronistic "echoplex" combat music is not present here. Shame.

The Big Sleep (1978) (Jerry Fielding) I reviewed the movie itself in the Philip Marlowe on Film series back in March, and I've come to the realization that I prefer this Robert Mitchum remake (set in London!) to the Bogart/Bacall original! That said, Jerry Fielding's modernistic score has a propulsive main title and some funky tracks and edgy suspense music which are atmospheric like a Noir should be. This was a release I dreamed of for years, and now it's here. Fielding is not to many people's taste, as he eschewed catchy melodies for sound textures and explorations that got into a character's psyche. I still find some of his compositions subversively catchy, though. He's become a favorite composer of mine. Fielding should've worked prodigiously in the 1950s but was blacklisted. He would emerge thanks to...Otto Preminger and make a triumphant return with his score for the director's film, Advise and Consent (1962).

Bullitt (1968) (Lalo Schifrin) Okay, so this is miles away from the Golden Age, but seeing as I have this life-long admiration for Steve McQueen, I was thrilled beyond belief that this CD got made. The Film Score Monthly edition contains both the original 1968 soundtrack--never before released--as well as the well-known and much loved re-record Schifrin did three months after the original sessions were done. "Shifting Gears" is the famous music that serves as a hip prelude to the (unscored) car chase you keep hearing about.


  1. As music is my greatest passion, soundtracks are as important to me as a movie itself. I could even suffer a bad movie if the music is good. I love those black-and-white detective movies with brooding background Jazz / Blues music. Many great composers count film scores among their best works, and it's the only genre together with Jazz that I consider to be the classical music of the 20th century.

  2. Jazz and film music just happen to be my two favorite forms of music. Jazz didn't make an impact on me until I was 21, but film scores have been with me practically since birth! They've spoiled me with how good they are.

  3. I love that "Shifting Gears" music, and associate it so closely with the chase that follows that I sometimes forget that the actual chase was not scored! And how could I forget the true-to-life "score" of those racing engines?

  4. I love film soundtracks. Probably most of my favorites come from the 1960's. Many of them are good to put on for background music at a cocktail party.


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