Monday, February 6, 2012

Terence Blanchard's Red Tails score swoops into "AFOS Prime" on A Fistful of Soundtracks

'The Force is strong in this one,' thinks George Lucas while he's barely listening to what Terence Blanchard's saying.
George Lucas and Terence Blanchard (Photo source: Jessica Drossin)
Even though TV spots for feature films flash the cast and crew member credits so quickly you have to pause the DVR to read them, I was able to make out the name of Aaron McGruder in the split-second credits at the end of a TV spot for frequent CSI: NY and Treme director Anthony Hemingway's Tuskegee Airmen flick Red Tails, which came out just in time for Black History Month and was a longtime pet project for George Lucas, who produced it.

"Hold up," I thought. "The Aaron McGruder? The same Aaron McGruder who made Red Tails star Cuba Gooding Jr. and George Lucas such frequent punching bags in his Boondocks comic strip?"

I still haven't seen Snow Dogs. I take it I'm not missing much.

Wow, Jazmine's family's tastes in movies are the wackest.

'Daddy, what's Vietnam? And Daddy, what's Napster?'

I have a feeling 3-D won't be enough to redeem these prequels for Huey.

The Boondocks remains the only comic strip to ever name-check Frantz Fanon, other than that time when Marmaduke chased a mailman through the library at an Occupy camp.
If someone told me 10 years ago that Lucas and McGruder, the most vocal lapsed Star Wars fan outside of Simon Pegg, would work together someday, I would have said, "Sure, they will. When pigs fly."

According to the New York Times, in 2010, McGruder did a polish on the Red Tails screenplay.

Hold up. I hate the sound of that phrase "did a polish" because of the shoe-shining connotation. Let me rephrase that.

McGruder tweaked the Red Tails screenplay. There, that's better and not-so-Fetchit-y.

"So the man who accused Lucas of racial klutziness found himself supplying dialogue for Lucas’s Malcolm-and-Martin passion project," said the suddenly "Mr."-less Times (what, no "Mr. This" or "Mr. That" in the Times anymore?). "Lucas and McGruder spent mornings talking over scenes and dialogue. Then McGruder escaped to his Skywalker Ranch apartment, which was named for John Huston, to write new pages."

Another surprise about Red Tails is the involvement of composer/trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who's written several terrific scores for Spike Lee (Malcolm X, 25th Hour). I expected John Williams to be attached to Red Tails because of his ties to Lucas, but according to the Times, Lucas wanted to employ many African American craftsmen behind the scenes.

"'I thought, This is the proper way to do this,' he said. Indeed, to scan the credits in Red Tails is to see Lucas’s fidelity to African-American filmmakers," wrote the Times. "There are two black writers and a black executive producer. Terence Blanchard… wrote the score."

Blanchard's Red Tails score, which I've added to the "AFOS Prime" and "New Cue Revue" blocks on A Fistful of Soundtracks, is suitably rousing, and it climaxes with a striking trumpet solo of "America the Beautiful" by Blanchard. Armed with a 70-piece orchestra and a 40-piece choir, it sometimes contains contemporary flourishes a la Jerry Goldsmith's occasional synths during his score to the 1997 '50s crime epic L.A. Confidential.

"I wanted to service the movie [Red Tails] in a way that made it grand and big. But at the same time, I didn't want to lose the whole notion of who these guys were and where they came from," said Blanchard to the New York Daily News. "So I used the ethnic percussion as a subtle kind of flavor. I didn't want to go too over the top with it, like blues guitars and such. That kind of thing has been done before."

By the end of any one of Blanchard's Red Tails action cues, you'll feel like shouting, "How you like that, Mr. Hitler?!" But don't do that out loud in a crowded office while you've got Blanchard's music on in your ears or everyone around you will think you're what WWII pilots like the ones in Red Tails would call a "Section 8."

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I did not know that Aaron Mcgruder had such scathing things to say about Lucas. I wonder how their first meeting went. It must have been awkward.