‘THE BOOK THIEF‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR NOVEMBER, 2013
Also worth picking up DA VINCI’S DEMONS, DAYS OF THUNDER, FROZEN, LAST VEGAS, LES VISITEURS, LUTHER, JIMMY P., PHILOMENA, THOR and VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CDTHE TOP PICKS1) THE BOOK THIEF
What is it?: An excellent, “entry” level Holocaust film for mature young viewers, “The Book Thief” comes across as a movie you’d think that Steven Spielberg had directed, right down to a beautifully sumptuous, but no less achingly raw score by John Williams. While the filmmaking honors here can actually go to “Downtown Abbey’s” Brian Percival, Williams’ score is certainly worthy of his accomplishments for said other director, who’s often dealt with the horrors of WW2 in “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” But if there are any Spielberg movies that “The Book Thief” has a kinship with, then it’s the hugely underrated “Empire of the Sun” and “The War Horse,” both of which viewed civilian calamities through unknowing kids’ star-crossed imaginations. “The Book Thief” has the even trickier task of capturing the enormity of Germany’s Jewish genocide around the fringes of a bucolic small town where life is mostly beautiful – at least on the outside, as opposed to the cellar that hides the Jewish refugee its young heroine is captivated by.
What is it?: If there’s one instrument that Williams has used to devastating effect, then it’s certainly the violin in the Hebraic scores to “Schindler’s List” and “Munich.” What’s interesting, and no less impactful about “The Book Thief” is that the solo violin is barely present. Instead, the predominant sound is harp, strings and piano, as mostly heard in a pensive, if not gently happy register reminiscent of Williams’ soundtracks to “Stanley and Irish” and “The Accidental Tourist” – one movie about a writer re-discovering his purpose in life, and the other about a unassuming man learning to read. Both of these stories’ thematic elements are very much a part of “The Book Thief” in the lush, orchestral feeling that Williams gives the score, combining both a sense of optimism, and realism for a girl discovering the best, and worst about humanity in her literally sheltered life. Rhythm gently glides amidst the somberness of what lies behind a relatively gilded curtain, an insistence on subtlety that adds up to the kind of devastating impact that only Williams’ unabashedly empathetic, and utterly distinctive style can deliver.
Extra Special: Even though he’s past 80 years old, John Williams remains at the top of the Hollywood game with a sense of melodic freshness and innocence that’s no more resonant in a “Book Thief” that’s likely to reduce listeners to stealing handkerchiefs. But as always, it’s sweeping emotion that’s honestly earned through dramatic subtlety and gorgeous, heart-rending themes, of which “The Book Thief’ has volumes. It’s a veritable library of the greatest dramatic film scoring text of the last century, accomplished with no shortage of vitality as Williams continues to enthrall into the next epoch.
2) ED WOOD / JIMMY P.
Price: $17.14 / $16.76
What is it?: When it comes to Howard Shore this holiday season, it’s going to be all about “The Desolation of Smaug.” But if you’re on a quest to hear the composer’s more esoteric, but equally rewarding work, than you’ll find his Howe Records label offering a treasure trove of Shore’s past, and present scores, including “Cosmopolis’” trance limo ride to hell, the charming, Oscar-nominated imagination in “Hugo’s” Parisian train station and the ticking clock of the worst “After Hours” in an NYC shlep’s life. Now Shore’s versatility sounds off with two new Howe releases, one dealing with a psychologically wounded Native American veteran, and the other a knowingly turgid cult soundtrack that soars with the dreams of Hollywood’s most gloriously bad director.
Why you should buy it?: Tim Burton affectionately turned awfulness into art with 1994s “Ed Wood,” lampooning bad filmmaking while at the same time saluting the humanity, and optimism that can come with no discernable talent. Howard Shore would pull off the same affectionate trick of indulging in Grade Z 1950s excess, real emotion and period lounge swing. With a theremin and stormy orchestrations, Shore’s alternately mysterioso and rampaging music captures the thunderous tone (and in some cases replays) the stock music that accompanied any number of bottom-billed horror and sci-fi cheapos that Wood made, while simultaneously sounding more melodically accomplished than their music ever could. But Shore’s most brilliant conceit is letting the dark and stormy themes play the drama of Ed Wood’s incredulously real life, from Hungarian Rhapsody capturing the tragedy of Bela Lugosi to triumphant music for Wood’s cross-dressing revelation. There’s a true, never-say-die musical determination to rival the scaling of Mount Doom amidst the satiric inanity of it all that still makes “Ed Wood” one of Shore’s very best scores. It’s a loving, cheesy late show nostalgia that sounds even better in this newly remastered edition, especially with four bonus tracks that contain even more playful skullduggery, Bela cimbaloms and Brown Derby mambo jazz for a score that captures that pathetic passion of Hollywood’s eternal underbelly.
Extra Special: Shore’s psychologically incisive music has held counseling sessions both terrifying (“The Silence of the Lambs”) and sadomasochistically straight-laced (“A Dangerous Method”), musical methodology that takes on a serious, understanding tone with ”Jimmy P.” (its title continuing on with “Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian”). Shore plays doctor to a WW2 veteran, whose shell shock has the further barrier of his Blackfoot heritage, which a French psychoanalyst does his best to understand. While Shore subtly uses Native American rhythms to convey “Jimmy P.s” culture, it’s his ever-modulating orchestra that provides a levelheaded meeting of the minds. Shore’s rarely been a composer to provide easily separable themes, and his many distinctive melodies here are heard through a wash of affecting thoughts, music that can be calming and reflective, or surge with the trauma of wartime. For the most part, Shore avoids easy dramatic fireworks, creating a lyrical contemplation for piano, harp and strings that at times reach a Debussy-like tranquility for Jimmy’s addled mind. It’s unforced, intelligent scoring that shows film music’s power to both express inner emotion, as well as bringing it out of a character who can barely talk about his own feelings.
3) LUTHER: SONGS AND SCORE FROM SERIES 1, 2 & 3
What Is It?: Silva Screen seemingly has a lock when it comes to the BBC with it TV collections of Time Lords and all of God’s documentary creatures. But when it comes to take-no-prisoners charisma, Detective Chief Inspector John “Luther” has been the charm, not only in the gripping hands of Idris Elba, but its soundtrack that mixes eclectic tune choices with powerful underscore suspense, both suspects at last rounded up here for a terrifically assembled compilation of the songs and score that helped Luther track down serial killers and robbers across three seasons.
Why You Should Buy It?: So far, the biggest exposure that American audiences have had to Paul Englishby’s work has been through his tender, dramatic scores on “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” and “An Education,” which makes his often ferocious music here particularly dynamic. Not only does Englishby have the sound of TV crime drama down with gnarled percussion and tense strings, but “Luther” digs deep into an honorable cop who’s seen, and been unjustifiably accused of way too much villainy. Beautifully mournful female vocalese accompanies an elegiac guitar, while an equally solemn Duduk leads the percussive suspense. Englishby shows equal talent at stripping emotion down to a piano, violin and a guitar, before orchestra and sampled menace once again rear their menacing heads. It’s scoring that resonates with a feeling of tragedy that inseparably links Luther to the innocents he desperately tries to save, music for a heroic conscience that’s had to sink to the depths of human nature – a darkness that Englishby’s haunting, aggressive tone almost makes irresistible.
Extra Special: “Luther” is one of the very rare song-score albums whose tunes will hold just as much interest for those picking this up for Englishby’s instrumentals, showing off a constantly surprising variety that makes imaging what comes next on the CD as much fun as playing guessing games for the suspects’ criminal motives. Starting off with Massive Attack’s noir-ish jazz beat of “Paradise Circus” that serves as the show’s theme, “Luther’s mix tape coolly swings all over the place, from the Hendrix-like guitar rock of The Heavy’s “Big Bad Wolf, Gil Scott-Heron’s trance-hop for “Me and the Devil,” Robert Plant’s southern-style “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” Emiliana Torrini’s hauntingly echoing “Gun,” and Marilyn Manson’s screechingly horrific vocals that make for anything but “Sweet Dreams.” However, the most beautifully tortured, and lush tune here that speaks for Luther’s screwed-up mind belongs to Nina Simone’s elegant slow burn of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” It all adds up to a dangerously sleek listen for a violence-plagued detective.
4) PET SEMETARY (2,000 edition)
What is it?: There are certain horror films and soundtracks that transgress barriers by blending art and shock, a la “Psycho” and “The Exorcist.” Then there are some that just plain old scare the shit out of us with the yuck factor of seeing a sweet near-toddler rip the throat out of Fred Gwynne to the accompaniment of children’s lullabye voices. Such is the unnerving, brilliantly distasteful power of Mary Lambert’s “Pet Semetary” and the dawning of a composer who’d re-write the book on experimental scoring in Hollywood for Stephen King’s most unnervingly sadistic film adaptation, with a screenplay by King himself no less.
Why should you buy it?: Elliot Goldenthal was a student of modern classist John Corigliano (“Altered States”) and an up and comer in New York’s art music scene with only two punk indie scores under his belt. But then 1989 marked a breakthrough soundtrack year with between the hallucinogenic “Drug Store Cowboy” and the more musically “mainstream” “Pet Semetary.” At first, “Semetary’s” combination of synth and real strings seem about par for the course for the era’s cool, if lower rung horror scores. But then, you quickly become aware that this isn’t going to be just another low-budgeter that creeps about on good will, as the truly frightening brilliance of Goldenthal’s mind reveals itself through those chillingly innocent lullabye voices, weird metallic samples and tinkertoy percussion. There’s just something completely off about “Pet Semetary’s” score that makes reality itself seem confused, and all the more terrifying. But what’s even more stunning about the CD that finally puts Goldenthal’s complete score in the Indian burial ground is the humanity that comes out thought it, a gentle solo piano and poignant orchestra conveying two parent’s shattered grief at a child’s loss. Goldenthal’s score steadily slides into absolute, piano-pounding string-stabbing madness as does a father’s truly terrible idea at resurrection, creating a synthesis of tragedy and terror that can now fully stand as one of the 80s great horror scores. It’s not just hearing great horror music, but Goldenthal’s exhilarating shock of the new, with the ground-breakingly impressionistic scores like “Alien 3” and “Interview with the Vampire” just waiting to rear their heads.
Extra Special: With 50 minutes of score and nearly 15 minutes of alternate tracks slamming home the creep factor with funereal organ music, “Pet Semetary” can now proudly stand as one of the great genre scoring “firsts” with the exceptional mastering, and assembly that truly brings out the score’s chilling power. John Takis’ incisive liner notes get to the roots of Goldenthal’s madness with the composer himself in this graphically impressive booklet by Warm Butter Design. Sure, sometimes dead is better, but we can be thankful that the rapidly growing embryo of Elliot Goldenthal’s startling style has now been dug up in full.
5) THOR: THE DARK WORLD
What is it?: Back in the comic book day, The House of Ideas teamed The Thing with a guest superhero star of the month for Marvel-Two-in-One. That series’ consistent match-up of four-color brawn has now been musically equaled in the space of one year by Brian Tyler, who follows up his entry into Marvel’s cinematic universe for “Iron Man 3” with even more powerfully potent results in “Thor: The Dark World.” But while it might not necessarily be an even match comparing a playboy in a souped-up suit of armor with an alien-Norse demigod, the evil elf-sponsored end of the universe versus an ersatz Mandarin’s power play definitely necessitates Tyler beefing up the symphonic-choral muscle to roid’ rage heights, delivering a breathless powerhouse of a superhero score that merits as one of the most gloriously in-your-face soundtracks in a time of increasing timidity when it comes to letting film music be music.
Why you should buy it?: Perhaps no other composer in Tyler’s big-budget popcorn league has created a sound that’s at once traditional old school scoring and rock concert stadium ready for such beyond energetic films as “Eagle Eye,” “Battle Los Angeles” and “The Expendables.” But even when he’s not overtly employing rock-rhythmic, Tyler’s symphonic approach goes for the stuff of the golden age gods who reveled in themes. And the motif doesn’t get more massive than with Thor’s mighty hammer. Carrying the weight of the Nine Worlds, Tyler blasts out of the gate with a terrific main Thor melody, then continues on with enough leitmotifs, choruses, throttling samples and cliffhanging action to slake the thirst of any fan of the days when Goldsmith trod the earth, while also tapping into the life force of John Williams and James Horner – as channeled through Tyler’s zest for ever-escalating action ramps. But if there’s one big reason that “Thor: The Dark World” is so rippingly great, then it’s because Tyler’s music reaches right back to those Marvel Two-in-One years when superheroes weren’t lethal Freudian head cases two shades removed from the villains they fought. Here, the word is valiance and nobility. It’s exactly that sense of soaring nobility that links Tony Star; to The God of Thunder, and likely the many more Marvel stars that are likely to come Tyler’s way after this one-two punch of great superhero scoring – a confidence no doubt given by Marvel having Tyler score a memorable, mighty Studio Fanfare that caps off this album.
Extra Special: Some fans might go all Loki that the music of “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t presented in “show order” as it were. But the peaks and valleys this sequencing presents makes for an even greater thrill ride, especially when heard in hard copy format via Intrada Records.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. DA VINCI’S DEMONS
It’s no easy task having to score the smartest creator who’s ever walked on our planet. But given an endlessly prolific bounty of inventive TV soundtracks for the genre likes of “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Walking Dead” and “Defiance,” the energy of Bear McCreary is a match well met for Leonardo Da Vinci. And we’re certainly not talking about an old guy with a beard here, but a robustly sexual scientific adventurer making a Wild West West impression on Renaissance-era Italy, courtesy of David Goyer’s imaginative historical reboot. Obviously, playing it straight with 14th century instruments isn’t going to do the trick with this approach. But denying them as well would be the height of our musical era’s hubris. McCreary’s wise choice is to combine both approaches to exhilarating effect, not only making his Emmy-nominated work breathlessly resonate with a feel of history, but also with the racing pulse of the guy creating the future well before its time. Religious choruses, violins, harpsichords and other era-specific instruments jet forward with orchestral rhythm that takes McCreary’s Phillip Glass-ian work on “Galactica” to a whole new level here, as rapturous, repetitive melody captures the political machinations that Da Vinci counters his foes with, mixing suspense, action and humor and a palindrome theme (able to be played backwards and forwards) into two CD’s of perpetual motion and interest. “Da Vinci’s Demons” is musical anachronism at its finest, practiced by a composer who continues to impress with indefatigable musical invention.
. DAYS OF THUNDER: (Limited 3000 Edition)
For his first story credit, Tom Cruise had the nifty idea of placing his “Top Gun” team into the rock-fueled world of NASCAR, from pedal-to-the-metal mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer to director Tony Scott. But even if composer Harold Faltermeyer was missing from the below-the-line pit crew, his energetic Krautrock level of synth-groove propulsion would be more than juiced up by another German-to-Hollywood action émigré named Hans Zimmer. Having recently gone from the English arthouse likes of “Dark Obsession” and “Paperhouse” to LA’s go-to African guy with “A World Apart” and the Cruise-starring “Rain Man,” Zimmer was now making a fast break into the multiplex action with “Black Rain.” But it’s arguably the rocking score of “Days of Thunder” that firmly propelled him to the studio big leagues – and with good reason. In an era where longhair metal prog-rock scoring took pole position, Zimmer truly showed a talent for creating a great, blazing theme, then laying power-chord metal guitar and the state of the orchestra-synth art to drive his scores. Like the speed freak cousin of “Driving Miss Daisy,” Zimmer revs up the southern-centric rhythms for the NASCAR fan crowd into breathless, rocking momentum (its power chords supplied by no less than Jeff Beck), while also conveying some level of seriousness and reflection to the high stakes sport. If there’s a key to how enjoyable Zimmer’s early efforts are for all of the technical evolution his sound has gone through, then its just how melodic, and plain damn fun his late 80s / early 90s grooves are, no more so than in its pounding, long hair thrashing ten minute “Last Race.” If Zimmer’s latest, excellent score for the retro car racing drama “Rush” is about the U2 groove, than “Days of Thunder” stands as the Motley Crue version. Having done a great job with their complete presentation of Zimmer’s “Black Rain,” La La Land comes in first again with one of the composer’s most unabashedly energetic popcorn scores, even getting in David Covendale’s take on Zimmer’s theme (co-written by Billy Idol) “Last Night of Freedom,” with an extra flag wave for Tim Grieving’s excellent, entertaining liner notes that interview no less than Tom Cruise himself.
An iced cornucopia of The Magic Kingdom’s greatest fairy tale hits that reprises the Hans Christian Anderson “Little Mermaid” magic, “Frozen” brims over with cute sidekicks, a dashing hero and the upped ante of two princesses – one with a power that Professor Xavier would admire. It all makes for exactly the kind of pre-teen soundtrack catnip that set the studio’s animated standard for a reason, and is once again delivered at the height of hiply imaginative panache. “Frozen’s” memorable numbers have been co-written by the “Wonder Pets” duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who also happen to have musical stage credits like “Book of Mormon” and “Transit” under their belts). Now this music power couple go from the winsomely sung Zooey Deschanel numbers of their sweetly folksy take on “Winnie the Pooh” to full-on “Beauty and the Beast” power ballads. Done at the height of “I want something better-than-this” sentiment, the Lopezes have a terrific girl power-belting duo in Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, who’ve more than proved their musical chops on screen and stage with “Reefer Madness” and “Wicked.” Their characters’ sisterly numbers like “For the First Time in Forever,” “Love is an Open Door” and “Let it Go” are the wonderful stuff of cartoon heroines running up hilltops or bursting through doors, delivered with the kind of pleasant pop-orchestral energy that has been spun into Disney Radio gold by Demi Lovato. The guys get the pleasantly goofier stuff, with Jonathan Groff serenading that “Reindeer are Better Than People” and “Mormon’s” Josh Gad doing his musical comedy shtick as the singing snowman who dreams of surviving “In Summer.” Maia Wilson’s “Fixer Upper” likewise has a pleasantly jazzy groove that recalls the rhythmic energy of “Under the Sea,” showing off “Frozen’s” numbers as paying particularly nice tribute to the Ashman-Menken Disney songbook. The same bright, Menken scoring spirit can be found in sumptuous, bright abundance in Christophe Beck’s instrumental score. Having played snowy enchantment with “Fred Claus” and “Ice Princess,” “Frozen” marks Beck’s movie into a full-on Disney feature after his similarly enchanted score for the studio’s Oscar winning short “Paperman.” Magic abounds in Beck’s adventurously lush, magical approach that connotes the movie’s spell. While none too threatening, Beck gets across the menace of a giant iceman attack, the epically swirling scope of one princess’ unwanted power and the sweeping music that always has an unlikely couple kissing by the happy ending. It’s rousing, fantasy snowstuff on he order of Beck’s first “Percy Jackson” score, with the added interest of bringing out Anderson’s Nordic roots in his use of the Norwegian female Cantus choir and the country’s bukkelhorn, an ethnic instrument (and former ram’s horn) that Beck turns into the eerie voice of “Frozen’s” wintry spell. But whether the actors are singing for self-empowerment or the rousing score is conveying the wondrous eternal winter at hands, “Frozen” succeeds as exactly the kind of musical enchantment kids young and old hope to expect from the Disney holiday brand.
. LAST VEGAS
Where he was once known for musical Devo-lution, Mark Mothersbaugh has evolved into one of Hollywood’s most versatile composers, showing a colorful, chameleon-like range from “Safe’s” slam-bang urban action to the cartoon energy of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “Rushmore’s” Baroque irony. Now given a trip to the Neon City with a bunch of very much breathing codgers, Mothersbaugh adapts quite nicely to the fender Rhodes organ funk that inflects just about every movie score to feature over-the-hill gangs from “Stand Up Guys” to “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and any number of “Oceans” sequels. But then again, what better style to capture the retro groove of graying cocks of the walk, or The Strip in this case? “Last Vegas’” bachelor party puts a jazzily familiar, and very fun spring into their step, conveying the characters’ make-it-or-break-it weekend with both contagious, comedic zing and the nicely melodic schmaltz of strings, guitar and piano that get across the real desperation at hand. Like the movie, Mothersbaugh’s approach is as obvious as it is likeable, full of nothing but its utter, successful confidence in giving listeners a good time with the tried and true as the guys put wood back into their pencils. But if there’s a straight flush on the table, then it goes to the sparkling voice of Mary Steenburgen, who effortlessly puts sweet cougar sensuality into her role as the singer who captures the crew’s attention, especially with her renditions of such standards as “Cup of Trouble, “I Only Have Eyes For You” and uptempo and sultrily slow versions of “Only You.” It’s Steenburgen’s feminine touch that help makes “Last Vegas” a listen worth re-visiting.
Having made his breakthrough score with the innovative Britain prison bust-out of “The Escapist,” Englishman Benjamin Wallfisch makes a notable return to confined spaces with his desperate musical “Hours.” What makes his score particularly intriguing, and effective, is that said penitentiary is actually a post-Katrina hospital in New Orleans, where Paul Walker’s bereft husband find himself virtually chained to the respirator keeping his newborn son alive. Music is also vital in keeping company for virtual one-character dramas of this sort, and Wallfisch does a powerful job of ticking down one man’s emotionally draining journey, all while keeping soundtrack interest very much alive by segueing from pulse-quickening percussive suspense to the piano, violins and child-like bells for the innocent life he takes himself to the limit for, and the dreams of his dead wife that keep him going. It’s a powerful ticking clock that swings from sentiment to danger, the melody as capable of taking on the beautiful half-dream state that comes with no sleep as it is the harsh samples and dangerous orchestral swells of the human flotsam that comes in with the flood waters. But unlike this ordeal, Wallfisch’s score is a grippingly dramatic, often poignantly beautiful score that’s certainly no endurance test to listen to, especially in the final, transcendent symphonic cue that seemingly takes us heaven after fighting a battle for two lives, a terrific musical payoff for what both the character, and composer have put themselves through in this thoroughly intimate disaster film.
. MANDELA: THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
After his terrific work on “Emperor,” composer Alex Heffes continues on a historical roll, now turning his focus from a colonized post WW2 Japan to the Afrikaaner police state that was only overturned in fairly recent history by Nelson Mandela, with no small amount of support from his wife Winnie. Heffes hears his “Long Walk To Freedom” with a mighty, upraised musical fist, his score tone indebted to both the longtime symphonic approach of historical epics, as well as the pulsing samples of contemporary thrillers. The impassioned, orchestral march and tender emotion of this oppressed power couple are given a memorable, gutsy theme from Heffes, heroism that’s mixed with the darkness of just how far a Ghandi-esque approach to resistance will go for them. And when the Mandelas are thrown into the hole of a police state prison, guitars and doom-laden strings powerfully mark their unimaginable time. It’s a melodic soulfulness that remains unbroken as Nelson turns big rocks into little ones, the score always moving forward with the momentum of his surety in ultimate justice. While an African voice opens the score, and tribal percussion surfaces for the resistance, Heffes mostly takes a western-style approach. It’s appropriate for a subjugated land, while also making the music all of the more accessible, and relentlessly impactful as it pays off the emotional goods a biopic demands. Heffes truly embodies Mandela with the kind of heroic fierceness that’s all about sacrificing oneself to a just cause, his score making us understand that lion-like spirit with a moving, melodic power that never feels as if it’s part of the past. “Mandela” has stirring force of the best biopic scores, celebrating and making us feel the anguish of every step of Africa’s most important, and continuing walk.
Where Alexandre Desplat’s Oscar attention-getter last year was the heavy duty “Zero Dark Thirty,” the most definitely lighter “Philomena” is likely to get similar notice for its often whimsical, if bittersweet quality. For the track-down here is of the son of an Irishwoman forced long ago to give up her kin to a religiously repressive society. Philomena’s American road trip with an English writer has a fun sense of child-like discovery with bells and charmingly driving rhythmic momentum – of course with a notable theme that’s always behind always behind the melodic wheel. As he’s shown in the similarly empathic scores for “Julia and Julia” and “Coco Avant Chanel” (let alone for “Philomena” director Stephen Frear’s “The Queen,” “Cheri” and “Tamara Drewe”). Yet as bouncy as “Philomena” might be, the score is also full of regret, with some truly dark writing a la Bernard Herrmann, by way of John Barry’s lush strings. Yet it’s a mystery that’s also musically hopeful of the man that Philomena’s boy might have become. Desplat’s also come up with another wonderful waltz-melody, which also gets double duty as carousel calliope. Desplat is at his poignant best in “Philomena,” a score full of touching regret as it is sprightly optimism, making this Frenchman a woman’s composer second to none.
Holiday cheer is now abounding at Intrada Records with the recent releases of Alan Silvestri’s “A Christmas Carol” and Bruce Broughton’s “The Thanksgiving Promise.” But perhaps their most unexpected early present to arrive is Maurice Jarre’s score for 1989s “Prancer.” While this tale of a reindeer that may or may not be Santa’s favorite beast of burden might not have the cult cache of “A Christmas Story,” “Prancer” is certainly a chestnut for the cable generation. The star at the top of its feel-good Xmas tree is a truly beautiful score by Maurice Jarre. Then at the height of his “electronic” period after such scores as “Witness” and “The Mosquito Coast,” Jarre had the ability to take a sound perhaps more suited for genre films and apply their ethereal quality on top of a true orchestra for such tender, dramatic pictures like “Dead Poets Society” and “Gorillas in the Midst.” “Prancer” stirringly falls into the magical realm of Jarre’s “Ghost” and “Almost An Angel,” where kind souls encounter the fantastical. Here it’s St. Nick on the hoof, and the magic of Christmas that he brings to a little girl. Jarre employs glistening bell percussion, electronic horns and voice-like synths with nostalgic melody, seamlessly exchanging their gifts with lush strings and piano, along with the darkness of the threat of those who see Prancer as reindeer steak. At its best, “Prancer’s” warmly drifting music brings to mind the bonding between astronaut and Drac in Jarre’s “Enemy Mine,” except here the growing warmth is between girl and Santa’s helper. “Prancer” glides on pure sentimental charm and carol-like rhythms as Jarre opens his heart and breaks out the sleigh bell chorus to the possibility of miracles, with a richness of gossamer sound both human, and enchanted – though how “Mysteries of Love” from “Twin Peaks” figures into this still remains a mystery to me.
. LES VISITEURS (750 edition)
Where Georges Delerue had earthbound romance aplenty on his resume in both France and Hollywood, the one genre that was practically absent from his resume was science fiction (though the talking cetaceans of “Day of the Dolphin” could count). This makes Music Box’s ultra-limited release of “Les Visiteurs” a revelation on the musical order of hearing Delerue’s tunes at Devil’s Tower, though one can certainly expect his lush, beautifully flowing melodies instead of tone rows when it comes to welcoming the white suit-clad alien emissaries of this 1980 French TV miniseries. Their world-hopping chase accounts for the harmonica, classical quartet, a tango, and jazz pieces, which are heard in delightful, contrast to Delerues’ inimitable, flowing talent for orchestral melody. Graced with a sparkling, transcendent theme that speaks for the kind of Nirvanic intelligence that only space travelers seem to possess above us brutish earthlings, Delerue impresses with his eerie use of rubbed glass, and combinations of electronic and orchestral music, it’s shivering quality and a zither (sounding just like the sci-fi staple Theremin), reminiscent of Barry Gray’s music for the British series “UFO.” But even with “Les Visiteurs” human-alien body swap detective plot prefiguring “The Hidden’s,” asking for more of a darkly pessimistic Delerue score when encountering E.T.’s is like thinking there’s no hope for the universe, as the composer’s energetic spirit gives buoyant, soulfully emotional uplift by score’s end – again with a Baroque inflection that made Delerue one of the great classicist-cum-movie composers. It’s an especially impactful touch to this little gem of a score that most fans likely didn’t know existed. Ditto Delerue’s 1972 TV horror miniseries score for “The Man Who Came Back from Death,” wherein a spirit takes vengeance on a brother who’s living the good chateau life. Delerue delicately balances chills with beauty and subtle, spooky-ooky humor, offering a delicate waltz and harp percussion that floats along with eerie zither and strings, all capped off by rhythmically impactful end title. It’s the music of a classic ghost story, prefiguring the lyrical darkness for Delerue’s unused score to “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” An example of genre music in the most delicate of hands, “Les Visiteurs” and “The Man Who Came Back From Death” revel in a lyrical approach to the fantastic, capturing as much melodic poetry as Delerue would give to any romantic subject.
. VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET / THE DELICATE DELINQUENT
Kritzerland is proving to be the France of retro record labels by being just about the first company to get into the Jerry Lewis soundtrack musical catalogue, first with Walter Scharf’s delightful “The Geisha Boy,” and now with the double-header of “Visit to a Small Planet” and “The Delicate Delinquent,” two scores that reflect Lewis’ wacky ingenuity. The star often had fun playing off of movie genres, and his chance to indulge in sci-fi tropes is also heard in the absolute delight that composer Leigh Harline has in making hay with aliens-among-us clichés, as particularly heard in The Theremin. Its bizarre electronic oscillations had become the rage with The Day the Earth Stood Still.” But even Bernard Herrmann didn’t give that instrument the workout that Harline does here, with solos galore for the floating and wall-walking antics of Lewis’ Krelton. When it comes to the far more human orchestral players, Harline gives “Planet” a giddy, pizzicato-pokey touch that’s nothing but pure cartoon sweetness, fitting for a composer who got his start with Walt Disney. Selection of lounge-beat jazz by the likes of Johnny Mandell and Victor Young give that soundtrack the kind of swinging hepness that Lewis would really take to town as “The Nutty Professor” later on. You can also imagine Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim giving a listen to Buddy Bregman’s score to “The Delicate Delinquent,” with its rollicking Latin samba beat depiction of juvenile malfeasance, which could just as well capture the swagger of Bernardo and The Sharks. “Delinquent” marks the first release of any score from this arranger / producer for Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter, and it’s the epitome of everything that was wonderful about comedy scoring’s jazz era. Lewis is once again given a sweet orchestral touch, his hapless bumbling hit with lurching, exasperated snares and strings that could just as well befall Elmer Fudd. The “Delinquent’s” bumbling attempts to reform himself at the Police Academy also give Bregman that chance to blunder about with patriotic military marches, while a “Bout” surprises with Sumo-sized Asian percussion. A thoroughly delightful listen from space to earth, one can only hope that Kritzerland continues to release these gems from the film repertoire of a human cartoon that inspired similar zaniness from the composers.
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