Friday, March 30, 2012

March Madness March of the Day archive

And this is where Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got their whole look, except for the jhericurl stuff. A black Muslim in jhericurls would be like a white male dancer on Soul Train: an odd fucking sight.
The "Fruit of Islam" sequence from Malcolm X (Photo source: Raccoon)
Friday, March 2, 2012: Intro
Monday, March 5, 2012: "The Plot" from Mission: Impossible by Lalo Schifrin
Tuesday, March 6, 2012: "The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" from The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams
Wednesday, March 7, 2012: "Main Title" from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein
Thursday, March 8, 2012: "Space March" from You Only Live Twice by John Barry
Friday, March 9, 2012: "Prelude to War" from Battlestar Galactica by Bear McCreary
Monday, March 12, 2012: "Washington Ending & Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark by John Williams
Tuesday, March 13, 2012: "Fruit of Islam" from Malcolm X by Terence Blanchard
Wednesday, March 14, 2012: "Main Title" from Batman by Danny Elfman
Thursday, March 15, 2012: "Stripes March" by Elmer Bernstein
Friday, March 16, 2012: "Monster Battle March (Main Title)" from Invasion of the Astro-Monster by Akira Ifukube
Monday, March 19, 2012: "Baraat" from Monsoon Wedding by Mychael Danna
Tuesday, March 20, 2012: "Prelude and Main Title" from Superman: The Movie by John Williams
Wednesday, March 21, 2012: "March of the Beggars" from Duck, You Sucker by Ennio Morricone
Thursday, March 22, 2012: "Attack" from Patton by Jerry Goldsmith
Friday, March 23, 2012: "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut by Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman
Monday, March 26, 2012: "Captain America March" from Captain America: The First Avenger by Alan Silvestri
Tuesday, March 27, 2012: "Main Title" from Spartacus by Alex North
Wednesday, March 28, 2012: "Main Title" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith
Thursday, March 29, 2012: "Theme from Human Target" by Bear McCreary
Friday, March 30, 2012: "1941 End Credits" by John Williams

March Madness March of the Day: "1941 End Credits" by John Williams

The visual effects in 1941's ferris wheel sequence are wonderful, but the best part isn't a visual effect. It's the brief shot of wanna-be ventriloquist Eddie Deezen covering his dummy's eyes as if it can see.
"Williams brings on the movie's signature piece, the 'March from 1941,' which will inform and underlie almost everything that comes after it. The march, instantly hummable, melds the fighting spirit of everything from Kenneth Alford and Malcolm Arnold's 'Colonel Bogey March' (The Bridge on the River Kwai), to the playful exuberance and bombast of Elmer Bernstein's The Great Escape, to the echoes of lost national spirit that tumble through Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score for Patton. Yet Williams is never caught cribbing lines or themes--the genius of the music is that is [sic] finds its own spirit, equivalent to the cacophonous madness of the film, yet also coursing with a generous and goofy charm and sense of its own scale that makes a listener laugh even without the attendant imagery."

--from film blogger Dennis Cozzalio's 2010 post about John Williams' 1941 score

Unless it's a Chris Rock routine, a Lewis Black rant, a Will Ferrell girlie-crying jag or Nicolas Cage screaming "Oh no! Not the bees!! Not the bees!! Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!! Oh! They're in my eyes!! My eyes!!," yelling is such a comedy killer for me. If you like your comedy broad and always shouty, the expensive 1979 WWII farce 1941, Steven Spielberg's first--and not surprisingly, only--attempt at directing a straight-up comedy, is up your alley. But for the rest of us, 1941 can be a chore to watch as it tries too hard to be funny and assumes nonstop loudness--even the end credits curtain call consists of clips of cast members yelling--will automatically yield laughs. No wonder the few funny or amusing moments in Spielberg's John Carter-style financial failure are, of course, moments where no one's yelling.

The whole story of getting 1941 made may be more fascinating than the film itself. 1941 producer and right-wing nutjob John Milius wanted to call his film The Night the Japs Attacked. We have then-MGM production chief Dan Melnick to thank for objecting to the use of "Japs" in the project's early title (back when it was attached to MGM and was nothing more than a Robert Zemeckis/Bob Gale screenplay that was darker-humored and smaller-scale than the finished product). 1941 is an example of a movie where I wish I were a fly on the wall--or better yet, an extra or crew member or whoever was put in charge of the craft services table--because I would have been surrounded by comedy icons like John Belushi, his SNL pal and Blues Brothers bandmate Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Joe Flaherty; legendary actors like Toshiro Mifune, Christopher Lee and Warren Oates; and '70s hotties like Nancy Allen and that girl from Eight Is Enough. It's the ultimate "film that must have been more fun to make than sit through."

If you squint really hard at this cover of the graphic novel adaptation of the megaflop 1941, you can make out John Carter leaping behind John Belushi and attempting to flee from all the press coverage of Disney's big-ass financial loss.
In 1979, 1941 famously tanked. So did the little-known
graphic novel tie-in. (Photo source: Steve Bissette)
Spielberg is capable of comedy (see Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Catch Me If You Can or E.T.'s fish-out-of-water gags), so why did he drop the ball in 1941? Was it because of "too many cooks" syndrome--as 1941 cast member Tim Matheson implied in an A.V. Club "Random Roles" interview where he also noted that "It was fun to shoot, but I didn’t know what the core of it was"--or was the party-animal atmosphere on the set to blame? Vulture's "History Proves the More Fun a Movie Set Is, the Less Fun the Movie Is" slideshow argued that it was the latter.

"Belushi and Aykroyd... turned the set into one big playground where they could wildly drive around in their own vintage New York taxicab and throw out random scene ideas that Spielberg gladly accepted," noted the Vulture list. "First assistant director Jerry Ziesmer's memoir, Ready When You Are, Mr. Coppola, Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Crowe, paints a portrait of an out-of-control set where everybody was constantly cracking each other up."

Actually, I come not to bury 1941 (because so many have attacked it so well already, and I'm having a hard time trying to restrain myself from constantly dissing it), but to praise its few highlights. Let's list them now: the skillfully shot USO dance number/fight sequence (it hints at what 1941 would have been like as a musical, which, at one point during production, was what Spielberg wanted to turn 1941 into, and it also proves that the film would have been better off focusing mostly on the teenage characters); the offbeat sight of Robert Stack crying over Dumbo; the wonderful pre-CGI visual effects for the ferris wheel set piece; and the most memorable highlight, John Williams' terrific score.

So I don't find 1941 to be as hilarious as fans of Spielberg's original and longer cut like Dennis Cozzalio do, but I do agree with Cozzalio about Williams' "March from 1941." A great piece of symphonic anarchy, the theme is as loud as the movie's brand of property damage-reliant humor, but aren't all national anthems supposed to be performed loudly? The 1941 march is like the national anthem of Notreadyforprimetimeplayalistica or some country in an alternate reality where comedy nerds run Congress, the Supreme Court justices are stand-ups like Dom Irrera (who's had plenty of judicial experience presiding over Audience Network's Supreme Court of Comedy) and Paul Mooney (too bad he's not a Supreme Court justice because I would love to see Mooney verbally rip apart the conservative justices over matters like President Obama's health care law) and flags were flown at half-mast when Belushi, his '70s SNL colleague Gilda Radner and '80s and '90s SNL regular Phil Hartman died.

Like yesterday's penultimate "March Madness March of the Day," Bear McCreary's Human Target theme, the 1941 march captures the spirit of other classic themes without regurgitating their melodies. It's outlasted the movie it originated from.


All the other "March Madness March of the Day" posts from this week:
"Theme from Human Target" by Bear McCreary
"Main Title" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith
"Main Title" from Spartacus by Alex North
"Captain America March" from Captain America: The First Avenger by Alan Silvestri

This is the final "March Madness March of the Day" post.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Theme from Human Target" by Bear McCreary

Coming soon: Hunan Target, the all-Chinese version about badass security expert Christopher Chan.
"Bear McCreary's Christopher Chance theme is as important to that character as the Raiders March is to Indiana Jones, the Imperial March to Darth Vader, or Jerry Goldsmith's 'It's A Long Road' theme for the Rambo character," said a Human Target fan in an online petition where he called for Fox to bring back Jonathan E. Steinberg and the Walking Dead scorer as the showrunner/composer duo on Human Target during its second and unsurprisingly final season.

Although it bore little resemblance to the terrific and psychologically complex Vertigo master-of-disguise comic it was based on, the much more straightforward TV version of Human Target, particularly in its first and best season, was an enjoyable action drama in the vein of Burn Notice and Leverage. But it was far more globally minded than the confined-to-Miami Burn Notice (shot on location in Miami) and the confined-to-Boston Leverage (shot in Portland, Oregon, which poses as Boston and other cities, much like how Human Target's Vancouver homebase was disguised--a la the comic book version of Chance--as San Francisco and other locales). So in the music department, Steinberg, who once said his globetrotting and martial arts-heavy version of Human Target was built out of the DNA of the Star Wars, Star Trek and Indiana Jones films he grew up watching, encouraged McCreary to think big and epic.

Mark Valley is living every guy's dream: being handcuffed to Emmanuelle Vaugier.
"The real thrill of scoring Human Target comes from the unprecedented creative freedom I’ve been given to create the kind of sweeping, thematic and adventurous score largely absent from both the small and large screen in recent years. And while the heart of the score is old school, its [sic] not a throwback or a parody," wrote McCreary in his blog post about working on Human Target's pilot episode. "My goal was to create a continuation of classic orchestral scores, not a regurgitation of them."

McCreary's score music, from the 33-second main title march that trumpeted Chance's heroics to the themes he wrote for each love interest or villain, sounded superb. It was reminiscent of the dashing-sounding work of the late Shirley Walker, whom McCreary idolizes, and her staff of composers on Batman: The Animated Series, and it was accomplished on an amazingly large scale, despite a limited network TV budget (snowy Vancouver as not-exactly-snowy SF... again?!). Human Target's first season featured music performed by a 60-piece orchestra or larger, like in the series highlight "Christopher Chance," both the last episode before Steinberg and McCreary's exit and the last good episode (other than a Steinberg-penned second-season ep that reunited Mark Valley's eccentric and remorseful assassin-turned-bodyguard with Lennie James' unrepentant thug Baptiste, his ally-turned-nemesis-turned-ally).

Mark Valley makes an appearance at what ended up being Bear McCreary's final Human Target recording session and offers to teach the dorkiest violinists in the studio some krav maga moves.
One thing I enjoyed about the first-season Human Target opening title sequence, which evoked Human Target's comic book roots and was produced by the highly esteemed Imaginary Forces title design studio of Mad Men fame and directed by Karin Fong, was how it was animated and edited to the rhythms of McCreary's classy and cinematic-sounding march.

"This perfect timing between music and images was achieved because I actually wrote the music first, months in advance, and delivered it to the animators as a guideline," wrote McCreary at the beginning of his Human Target stint. "This combination of imagery and ballsy orchestral music make [sic] a bold statement, that this series is going to be something special. Chance is not your typical action hero and his music is not your typical electronica-inspired TV scoring. The title promises that you are about to watch a movie."



The ballsy orchestral sound lasted only one season. This was due to Human Target becoming a victim of showrunner musical chairs, one of many aspects of the TV industry I'll never fully understand. Tim Jones did decent work as the original score composer for one of Human Target producer McG's other action shows, the more comedic and soapy Chuck, but when Jones replaced McCreary on Human Target, his efforts paled in comparison to McCreary's. Jones' much less epic Chuck sound was wrong for Human Target, as was the whole Chuck-ification of Valley's show that was spearheaded by Steinberg's replacement, Chuck veteran Matt Miller, in Human Target's second season (why do the words "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" come to mind?).

In Human Target's second-season opening titles, Jones' theme briefly references McCreary's Chance theme at the beginning, but it morphs into this strange and unengaging beast that doesn't match the movements of the mostly unchanged opening title graphics. It's emblematic of Jones' less epic approach, which was the opposite of what McCreary said he wanted to achieve with his music for Chance.

Jones' theme is so out-of-place in the opening titles that "Human Touch" by Rick Springfield--who starred as Chance in an earlier and much more short-lived TV incarnation of Human Target--would have been a better replacement.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Main Title" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith

George Takei is thinking, 'I want to slap the costumer who stuck me in this hideous pastel bathrobe.'
(Photo source: They Boldly Went)
Jay-Z is so enthused about the sample of the horns from The Menahan Street Band's "Make the Road by Walking" during his own track "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..." that towards the end of the jubilant "Roc Boys," H.O.V.A. says, "This is black superhero music right here, baby!" Jerry Goldsmith's equally jubilant march at the start of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is intergalactic superhero music, baby.

Too bad the film it originated from is more Green Lantern than The Iron Giant (or Iron Giant director Brad Bird's other great superhero movie, the completely earthbound Incredibles). Like the live-action Green Lantern, it's overly solemn, the main adversary is a ginormous yet somehow unintimidating (and amorphous) cloud from outer space and the hero comes off as an unlikable and arrogant jerk.

Having Admiral Kirk aggressively swipe the command of the refurbished Enterprise from a younger officer he actually recommended for the job wasn't exactly a great way to introduce the Kirk character to moviegoers who had never seen Star Trek on TV before. "He's supplanting someone else (someone who may actually be better equipped for the job), and he's bizarrely pissy about it too, like he lost his sense of humor between now and the end of the third season," wrote Zack Handlen about Kirk in his piece on ST:TMP for The A.V. Club. "We're supposed to like Kirk, not vaguely tolerate him."

The tension between Kirk and his ill-defined protégé Will Decker (future 7th Heaven dad Stephen Collins) is supposed to feel dramatic, like we're watching All About Eve in space (and with dudes in ugly pastel space pajamas and unitards instead of divas in evening gowns from the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department), but their conflict is dealt with in such an un-dramatic fashion. It's quickly brushed aside to focus on the money shots of the Enterprise's encounter with The Cloud, a.k.a. V'Ger or the lesser-used Vejur, an alternate spelling that makes it look like the Enterprise is battling an Indian tennis player (speaking of which, Vijay Amritraj has a cameo in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as an exhausted Starfleet officer who reports back to the fleet about his downed ship). Kirk's motivation for getting the captain's chair back (other than, of course, the V'Ger crisis, is it due to a midlife crisis or resentment from being a Starfleet paper-pusher for so long or both?) is so underdeveloped in TMP that Nicholas Meyer took notice of its underwritten-ness, expanded upon this older Kirk's insecurity about being an out-of-touch and irrelevant relic and made it such an effective element in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and again in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

They still have traffic cops in the 23rd century? You would think that in the future, people would be better drivers by then. I always liked how the Enterprise had an Asian helmsman because you can shut down racist dipshits who joke about Asian drivers by saying, 'Sulu is proof that Asians can drive, motherfucker.'
I always dug how the Starfleet traffic cop does a backflip, like he's some Pinoy traffic cop entertaining motorists with Michael Jackson dance moves. (Photo source: TrekCore)
During their attempt to relaunch Star Trek on the big screen, the TMP crew--led by series creator and TMP producer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise, who was no slouch at intelligent sci-fi (his 1971 procedural The Andromeda Strain is a much more entertaining and witty '70s sci-fi film than TMP)--focused too much on spectacle, which isn't one of the reasons why the old show is, to borrow one of Spock's favorite words, fascinating.

We want to see Kirk, Spock and McCoy wittily snipe at each other and debate over ethics and fight their way out of trouble like they often did on the old show, not gawk silently for 10 minutes at visual effects (which vary from stunning and on a par with TMP effects whiz Douglas Trumbull's 2001 and Close Encounters work to "passable for their time but haven't aged well") as the Enterprise penetrates V'Ger's V'Jayjay. That character interplay is why I prefer J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek installment, a film that irritates hardcore Treksters, over TMP (I wish Right Stuff director Philip Kaufman made TMP instead of Wise because he would have gotten Toshiro Mifune to play the Enterprise's Klingon nemesis, and that would have ruled).

However, DeForest Kelley delivers a few good quips that keep TMP, which is paced less like the nimble and youthful-feeling original series and more like some square and annoyingly conservative Biblical epic from the '50s or '60s, from being a complete slog (too bad Kelley's the only cast member in TMP who's behaving more like his old self from the show than like a pod person). Goldsmith's score, which restates the main title march a few times in the film's first act and then takes a turn from mostly upbeat to eerie and atonal, also keeps TMP from being a total slog, and it helps elevate the one sequence where shit gets exciting and gripping--the thruster-suited Spock's spacewalk inside V'Ger.

Going back to that march, I feel like it's too good for TMP. It's a theme for the movie Roddenberry and Wise thought they were making, not the underwhelming one that ended up on screen (the DVD-only Director's Edition that Paramount released 12 years ago doesn't quite rectify the screenplay's weaknesses--no updated effects footage ever could--but fortunately, it's faster-paced and snappier than previous cuts of the movie). But without that march, TMP would have been more of a chore to watch than it already is.

An extra on the Director's Edition DVD shows what TMP would have been like without the march. It contains a snippet of a rejected Blue Max-esque take on "The Enterprise," the cue from the lengthy travel pod sequence, or as I like to call that sequence, the "Shatner wants to hug the Enterprise... envelop that Enterprise... make love to the Enterprise" sequence. Wise asked Goldsmith to rework "The Enterprise" and give it more oomph. "There's no theme!," said Wise.



The final result led to this beloved--if kind of overplayed--march that would go on to reappear in a subsequent TV spinoff (although Star Trek: The Next Generation composer Dennis McCarthy came up with a nice arrangement that combined Alexander Courage's '60s Star Trek fanfare with Goldsmith's TMP march, the march sounded much less impressive coming from an orchestra that was smaller than TMP's 90-piece orchestra) and four more feature films. Intergalactic superhero music right here, baby.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Main Title" from Spartacus by Alex North

Now that's what's missing from the Starz channel's Spartacus: Vengeance: crew cuts.
Spartacus--the film version with Kirk Douglas in the arena, not the Starz show with a frequently topless Xena--isn't a perfect epic, but I prefer it over the 2000 Best Picture Oscar winner Gladiator. Plus, the more dully scripted and much less politically intriguing of the two Roman epics didn't put an end to the Hollywood blacklist, and it doesn't open with killer Saul Bass opening titles accompanied by a riveting and slightly discordant march by Alex North. The main title theme and much of the rest of North's Spartacus score seemed to be, as Jonathan Z. Kaplan theorized in the 2000 "101 Great Film Scores on CD" issue of Film Score Monthly magazine, an attempt to go against the grain of Miklós Rózsa-style epic scores (not that there's anything wrong with the stately Rózsa school of scoring from the '50s, but it wouldn't have belonged in a downbeat and cerebral epic like Spartacus).

Chewsday

Chew #18 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Random Chew page of the week (from Chew #18)

Monday, March 26, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Captain America March" from Captain America: The First Avenger by Alan Silvestri

Had Captain America: The First Avenger not been completed in time for its July 2011 release date, Paramount was going to rush into release Captain Kangaroo: The First Avenger, in which Mr. Moose helps stop The Red Skull by ambushing him with ping-pong balls.
I remember watching the Marvel Comics float during NBC's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a kid and thinking, "This fake battle between the Marvel heroes and villains looks so cheesy, and the music from Back to the Future's not really helping."



That was back when the Marvel characters had a lousy track record on both the big and small screens, outside of animation. (Sure, The Incredible Hulk landed a few Emmy nominations back in the day and actually won one of them, but have you watched it lately? Its formulaic and Fugitive-inspired premise wears thin quickly, despite showrunner Kenneth Johnson's mostly serious treatment of the material and Bill Bixby's best efforts as the renamed-due-to-homophobia David Banner in standout episodes like "Dark Side," where both Banner and his Hulk self turn evil and pervy due to a serum experiment gone wrong.) In the years between the Marvel Thanksgiving Parade float and the breakout success of the first Blade movie, the first Marvel-inspired feature film that both the mainstream and the comics crowd liked, I thought, "Having the Marvel heroes run around and strike a pose to Alan Silvestri's Back to the Future theme was corny as hell, but wouldn't it be sweet if someday, someone like Silvestri wrote music for a Marvel character that was on a par with something like Silvestri's work for Back to the Future and Predator? Oh yeah, and a quality screenplay for that character would be dope too."

In 2011, both those things actually happened after Silvestri got recruited for a Marvel Studios project where screenwriting partners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely skillfully brought to life one of Marvel's oldest properties--a character I never really cared for, even when one of my favorite comics authors, Ed Brubaker, gave him an ambitious relaunch in print.

The first things that would come to mind whenever I'd hear the name "Captain America" were Glenn Miller, LaSalles, bobby socks and Japanese internment camps. Even though a comic shop owner who knew I was a fan of the Brubaker titles Gotham Central and Sleeper insisted that Brubaker was doing a bang-up job and making Captain America more of an espionage comic than a superhero comic, I still couldn't get past issue 1 and see the appeal of this whitebread Boy Scout in the silly jingoistic costume, the star of the lame Thanksgiving Parade production number above. He was never as interesting to me as the prejudice-fighting X-Men, Spider-Man the angsty and quippy New Yorker or Spidey's West Coast counterparts, the younger and much more anti-establishment Runaways.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Markus, McFeely, an uncredited Joss Whedon and director Joe Johnston, armed with the same sense of style he brought to The Rocketeer, all found ways to keep Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) from coming off as antiquated and banal while still confining his character to a period setting. One of those ways was to say "Screw it" and embrace Steve's do-gooder nature, but to make that eagerness to do good relatable and appealing (with the help of a subdued performance by Evans, removing all traces of his one-note, probably-bathes-his-dick-in-Axe-body-spray Johnny Storm character from the Fantastic Four movies and his smarmy action movie star character from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). That's best embodied in the frail but courageous Steve's response when a scientist (a German-accented Stanley Tucci) asks him if he wants to kill Nazis: "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies. I don't care where they're from."

The First Avenger supplies this guy who doesn't like bullies with two outstanding original marches. "Star Spangled Man," penned by Disney musical songsmiths Alan Menken and David Zippel, is an amusing fake '40s show tune that accompanies the newly buffed-up Steve when the military doesn't consider him experienced enough for combat, so they sideline him to performing at a USO tour as a war bonds-promoting mascot, clad in a costume as shabby-looking as the tights worn by the stuntman who played Captain America on the '80s Marvel float. The USO tour is a clever device that helps make Steve's offstage heroism pay off beautifully in the film's second act.

Hey, at far right, it's Neal McDonough, who's much less batshit crazy here than on Justified, despite the slightly porno handlebar mustache.
The other march, which is much less comedic than "Star Spangled Man," is provided by Silvestri, who, while writing the First Avenger score, found time to give a concert with the Video Game Orchestra at his alma mater, Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he told an interviewer from Berklee that Steve's humble quality was what particularly appealed to him about The First Avenger. Silvestri tapped into that quality throughout his First Avenger themes, which is a reason why they work so well.



Silvestri's suitably old-school First Avenger score is truly on a par with his work for the Back to the Future and Predator films. It's like the score that should have accompanied that cheesy Marvel float back in the '80s. (Like Steve during the USO montage, the vigorous end title rendition of the "Captain America March" got sidelined, specifically to bonus track status on the iTunes edition of the First Avenger soundtrack album, which frustrated consumers who already bought the end title theme-less First Avenger CD.)


Man, I would love to hear Cap's march in a live setting, but this will do.

Friday, March 23, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut by Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman

Damn those Molson's-guzzling bastards and their terrible closing credits songs for Marvel superhero movies.
"Blame Canada" may not be the best original song from the foul-mouthed 1999 hit South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut--that would be the fart-tastic "Uncle Fucka"--but Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman's Canuck-baiting march is the most prime-time TV-friendly, which must be why "Blame Canada" and none of the other Bigger, Longer & Uncut musical numbers landed a Best Original Song Oscar nomination in 2000. (Plus, it's got a hilarious closing verse.)

'Rock 'n' roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world. So they became OK with the idea that the biggest rock band in the world is always going to be shit.'--The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, clearly a Nickelback fan
In the film, "Blame Canada" was sung by several different parental characters. Almost all of them were played by the South Park TV series' immensely talented voiceover artist Mary Kay Bergman, who unfortunately committed suicide a few months before the song was nominated. Despite containing far less profanity than the other Bigger, Longer & Uncut tunes, "Blame Canada" was still too controversial for the musical number portion of the 2000 Oscar telecast.

ABC censors were uncomfortable with the occasional cursing in "Blame Canada," as well as lyrics that referred to the Ku Klux Klan and "that bitch Anne Murray too." They wanted Parker and Shaiman to write a sanitized version of "Blame Canada" for prime-time. Parker and Shaiman refused to change a single word because it would have contradicted Bigger, Longer & Uncut's stance on censorship. However, they settled on having Robin Williams--who entered the stage with his mouth covered in duct tape--turn his face away from the camera and not utter the f-word at the point of the number when he was supposed to say it.

Last year, Parker and Matt Stone's The Book of Mormon hit Broadway with way more curse words than "Blame Canada," and barely anybody was offended. In fact, the same Mormons who might have been too afraid to see Bigger, Longer & Uncut at a multiplex in 1999 didn't care about The Book of Mormon's profane lyrics. They embraced Parker and Stone's surprisingly uplifting musical about their faith and helped make it a Broadway sensation. Times have changed, indeed.



All the other "March Madness March of the Day" posts from this week:
"Attack" from Patton by Jerry Goldsmith
"March of the Beggars" from Duck, You Sucker by Ennio Morricone
"Prelude and Main Title" from Superman: The Movie by John Williams
"Baraat" from Monsoon Wedding by Mychael Danna

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Attack" from Patton by Jerry Goldsmith

Because I'm younger than most of my Fistful of Soundtracks audience, which sometimes bothers me, my first exposure to the Patton score wasn't through Patton. It was through the war between Nelson Muntz and Bart Simpson.
Aw, jeez. It's tough to pick for the "March Madness March of the Day" series just one march from Jerry Goldsmith's brilliant and rather subdued score from director Franklin J. Schaffner's 1970 biopic Patton (fun but disturbing fact: it was Richard Nixon's favorite movie and it might have influenced his wartime decisions, like the bombing of Cambodia).

There are four marches in Patton that stand out: the "Entr'acte" version of the General Patton march, the "Attack" version of that march, the German forces' march, which is distinguished by its bizarre time signature, and "An Eloquent Man," which merges both the Patton and German marches. I don't want to give two or more posts to Patton because there are so many other films with exemplary marches that I want to cover for the rest of the "March Madness March of the Day" series, so you win, "Attack."

Back when AMC stood for American Movie Classics(*) and its original programming--before the days of the esteemed Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the not-as-esteemed but spectacular-in-the-ratings Walking Dead--just consisted of a dramedy about old-timey radio called Remember WENN, AMC was old people's MTV. One of the few things I liked to rewatch on geriatric MTV when I was in college was the uncut and letterboxed Patton. You would think '90s AMC, with its serene graphics and older hosts like Bob Dorian and unexpected recent jailbird Nick Clooney, would find George C. Scott's language in Patton to be too salty to air, but fortunately, the channel kept its hands off the audio-off button during its airings of Patton. It could have pasted bleeps over Scott's saltiest words like most basic cable channels do today, but '90s AMC was too classy to bleep.

It was also too classy to interrupt its movies with commercials, so I could watch prolonged and uninterrupted chunks of Patton and be able to notice that for a film with such a famous musical component (the trumpet triplet, which represents Patton's obsession with reincarnation and was given a fading echo effect by Goldsmith with the help of a tape-looping device called an echoplex), Patton contains very little score music. There's only about a half-hour of it during Patton's nearly three-hour running time. The most effective film scores are ones that aren't so intrusive, and the Patton score is an example of that. It does its thing--like during the montage that traces Patton's winning streak on the German battlefield--and then gets out of the way.

The cue during that winning streak sequence is "Attack," which unleashes the pompous Patton march at its most pompous, as Patton heads for German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's forces in Berlin and amps up the troops with "I'm gonna personally shoot that paper-hanging son of a bitch!," a line I was especially glad to see AMC keep because of Scott's wonderful delivery during that moment.



Patton producer Frank McCarthy and Goldsmith later attempted to capture lightning in a bottle again with another World War II general biopic, 1977's not-as-well-received MacArthur, which starred Gregory Peck and was directed by original Taking of Pelham One Two Three helmer Joseph Sargent. In the early '80s, Goldsmith arranged "The Generals Suite," which combined his MacArthur march with his Patton march and became a staple of his concerts. So why is the Patton march more interesting than the less subtle MacArthur one and why is it such a highlight of Goldsmith's oeuvre? Goldsmith Conducts Goldsmith album liner notes writer Derek Elley broke it down best when he said the Patton march is "a melody which, like [General Patton], has ambitions to glory but remains trapped in its own dreams."

(*) I think it now stands for Advertisers, Meth and Culo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "March of the Beggars" from Duck, You Sucker by Ennio Morricone

'To Taco Bell, everyone! I wanna try that pinche taco shell made out of a Dorito! What other kinds of stupid shit will these gringos come up with next?'
In Sergio Leone's off-center 1971 western Duck, You Sucker (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite, which was what American distributor United Artists called the film in their badly butchered version, and Giù La Testa, which is Italian for "Keep your head down"), Mexican peasant bandit Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) and his extended family of--what else?--bandits are musically represented by goofball vocal effects that simulate belches and hunger noises.

Juan's hungry, particularly for money. "In Juan's mind, money equals religion," said Italian cinema historian Sir Christopher Frayling during Duck, You Sucker's 2007 MGM DVD commentary. So throughout the film, Ennio Morricone's comedic "March of the Beggars" theme features a chorale and church organ, like when the march receives its fullest, march-iest and most rapturous statement during the sequence where Juan and his crew break into the Banco Nacional de Mesa Verde with the help of explosives supplied by their new criminal accomplice, Irish revolutionary Sean Mallory (James Coburn).

Leone modeled the Duck, You Sucker bank set piece after a scene from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times where The Tramp picks up a red flag that fell off a truck and as he waves at the truck to turn around and retrieve the flag, a crowd of protesting workers marches behind him and the police mistakes him for their leader and arrests him. Juan accidentally becomes a hero of the Mexican Revolution--Sean didn't tell him the bank was converted into a political prison and its stash was transferred to another location weeks before--after Juan unlocks the bank's vaults to find political prisoners instead of loot and winds up liberating those prisoners.

When Juan starts to shoot the vault doors open, Morricone's orchestra slips in Mozart's "A Little Night Music." I don't understand why there's a Mozart shout-out during a bank raid sequence, but who cares? It's Morricone... being Morricone.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Prelude and Main Title" from Superman: The Movie by John Williams

You'll believe an opening credits sequence can look fly.
The best person to describe the most influential (and most imitated) superhero movie theme ever would be the man who wrote it.

"Although commonly called a march, Williams himself did not consider it such at the time of its creation. 'I put 'Superman March' on it perhaps after the fact in an arrangement done for performance. Certainly it was not a march per se in my mind when doing it for the film. I think what that says about it is that it has a certain tempo, and a certain forward motion to it in its rhythmic design that ultimately had become a march. We're resolved to the fact that it became a kind of march, although you wouldn't strictly march to it, I don't think... But that's one aspect of it that seemed to me to be needing to be there, that is, the notion of a certain tempo and drive and energy and a hero's theme... At the time we were doing it, certainly I couldn't have predicted that people would remember it. But if, as in any film, if I or another colleague can create a melodic identification for a character or a film that sticks, that connects with people and represents the film to them--I'll just put it this way, it represents one of the great opportunities that a composer can have in doing a film."

--from the liner notes of the Film Score Monthly label's enormongous Superman: The Music box set


Chewsday

Chew #8 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Random Chew page of the week (from Chew #8)

Monday, March 19, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Baraat" from Monsoon Wedding by Mychael Danna

I don't know what the deal is with that wedding planner guy in Monsoon Wedding who likes to eat flowers. He's the guy with his ear glued to his cell phone. If flowers help fight off the radiation your brain's absorbed from heavy cell phone use, well, munch away on them FTD bouquets, man.
Today's "March Madness March of the Day" post is just going to be a bunch of quotes pasted together because I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Indian music and Punjabi culture, although when I saw Monsoon Wedding at a press screening in 2002, I found its Mychael Danna-penned opening title march's New Orleans brass band-style sound to be a tremendous way to kick off the film.


I'd also like to give a shout-out to Southern White DJ Whose Radio Show Used to Follow A Fistful of Soundtracks Back When AFOS Was a College Radio Show Ages Ago and Whose Name I've Since Forgotten. Your dumb and cruel ridicule of the Indian actresses who sang the Monsoon Wedding track "Mehndi/Madhorama Pencha" while I played it at the station was one of several things that made me realize it was time to leave terrestrial radio and turn AFOS into an Internet radio station, you racist piece of shit. Thanks, Hank or Toby or Enos or whatever the hell your name was.

Danna, whose name I haven't forgotten, described the roots of "Baraat" in a summary of the theme that I found on the blog of a musician who arranged a cover of "Baraat" for his wind band and even received Danna's blessing:
Baraat is the hindi word for the wedding procession of the bridegroom to the bride's village, with the groom on horseback, surrounded by his family and friends and musicians, singing and dancing with the joy of the occasion. Traditionally, the music that would accompany this noisy journey would be the exciting rhythm of the dhol drums. But since the time of the British military brass bands, the more affluent weddings use this strange yet typically Indian absorption of marching band instruments into Indian popular songs... musical proof that outside influences will come and go, but there will always be an India. This piece was written by me in that style for Mira Nair's film Monsoon Wedding.
That horse is thinking, 'Glad I ain't working on the set of HBO's Luck.'
An example of a baraat.
In a 2002 article for The Music Magazine, reviewer Surajit Bose outlined how "Baraat" forms the backbone of Danna's original score:
The liner notes [to the CD of Monsoon Wedding] reveal that Danna and his wife Aparna underwent a traditional North Indian marriage ceremony even as he was working on the music for Monsoon Wedding. Apparently this was mere serendipity, and not (alas) a symptom of Danna's fanatic devotion to researching his art. Nonetheless, Danna's first-hand familiarity with the traditional trombone-laden wedding orchestras is evident in the joyous and appropriately raucous Baraat, which serves as both the title music and the music of the baraat at the movie's eponymous close.

The melodic line established by Baraat is worked and reworked in various arrangements and at varying tempi throughout the movie, almost in the manner of a raga interpreted and reinterpreted over and over again to bring out its varied facets. Danna's creativity reveals itself in the dazzling array of orchestral arrangements, emotional effects, and musical affinities that emerge from the reworkings of a single melody...

The repetition begins to function not only as a background to the action, but also a comment on it...

The reimagining of the same melody over and over again has another, more tactical effect. Danna not only manages to relate the various characters and situations to each other, he also relates his own composition to the borrowings that pepper Monsoon Wedding. His recontextualizations of his own brand-new melody parallel the recontextualization of an old classic like "Mujhse pehlisi muhabbat". First off, Danna's own melody is credible as part of the story. The presence of a typical marriage brass band concoction like Baraat is natural enough given that the movie is, after all, about a wedding. But when that concoction recurs under various guises throughout the movie, it takes on a resonance beyond that of mere theme music. Just as with "Mujhse pehlisi muhabbat", something that could be taken for granted turns out on closer investigation to be meaningful in unexpected ways. So symbiotic is the relationship of music and action, that the music becomes the movie, as it were; the music is not a decorative add-on, but an integral part of the movie's shape, its texture and flow. It is, as Nair says, an "essential inclusion" into the life of the movie.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Ask for Babs" mix-ology: The reasons for the order of the tracks

Babs went on to c--tblock Kate Jackson on Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
Thanks to beyond, deux for mentioning my "Ask for Babs" mix. What do I gotta do to spread the word about this mix? I'm new at this. I'm often not comfortable promoting myself. I'll be satisfied if at least one another blog or Twitter feed besides beyond, deux mentions the mix.

Ask for Babs (Universal 100th Anniversary Mix) by DJ AFOS

Here are the connections between each "Ask for Babs" track (besides the Universal connection, of course).

1. Nigel Godrich, "Universal Theme," Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Score, ABKCO
2. Alan Silvestri, "End Credits" (from Back to the Future Part III), Hollywood Soundstage: Big Movie Hits Volume I, Varèse Sarabande

Scott Pilgrim/Back to the Future connections: Scott Pilgrim and the Back to the Future trilogy are FX-heavy flicks with constantly bullied loser musicians as heroes; the Pilgrim film is nostalgic for '80s and '90s 8-bit video games like the BTTF game for the NES.

2. Alan Silvestri, "End Credits" (from Back to the Future Part III), Hollywood Soundstage: Big Movie Hits Volume I, Varèse Sarabande
3. Rose Royce, "Car Wash," Car Wash, Motown

BTTF/Car Wash connections: Fancy-car porn; pop star cameos; the BTTF fanfare is in the same key as the Car Wash theme.

3. Rose Royce, "Car Wash," Car Wash, Motown
4. Public Enemy, "Fight the Power," Music from Do the Right Thing, Motown

Car Wash/Do the Right Thing connection: Both films have multiracial ensemble casts and wall-to-wall soundtracks and are set over the course of one day.

4. Public Enemy, "Fight the Power," Music from Do the Right Thing, Motown
5. J.J. Johnson, "Willie Chase," Willie Dynamite, Hip-O Select/Geffen

Do the Right Thing/Willie Dynamite connection: Willie Dynamite star Diana Sands appeared with Do the Right Thing star Ruby Dee in the stage and film versions of A Raisin in the Sun.

5. J.J. Johnson, "Willie Chase," Willie Dynamite, Hip-O Select/Geffen
6. Giorgio Moroder, "Tony's Theme," Scarface, Geffen

Willie Dynamite/Scarface connection: Both films are crime flicks with huge followings in the hip-hop community.

6. Giorgio Moroder, "Tony's Theme," Scarface, Geffen
7. Jan Hammer, "Chase," Miami Vice: The Complete Collection, One Way

Scarface/Miami Vice connections: '80s; Miami; gangsters; synth-pop; drugs (speaking of which, the second soundbite during "Tony's Theme" is from Jon Stewart's cameo in the Universal cult favorite Half Baked, in which a blazed Stewart mentions Scarface and another Universal film starring Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman).

7. Jan Hammer, "Chase," Miami Vice: The Complete Collection, One Way
8. Stu Phillips, "Knight Rider," NBC: A Soundtrack of Must See TV, Tee Vee Toons
9. Timbaland and Magoo, "Clock Strikes (Remix)," Blackground
10. Busta Rhymes, "Turn It Up (Remix)/Fire It Up," Elektra
11. Punjabi MC, "Mundian To Bach Ke," Sequence

Miami Vice/Knight Rider connection: Both shows were NBC hits that aired at about the same time (and for one season, on the same night).

11. Punjabi MC, "Mundian To Bach Ke," Sequence
12. Johnny Harris, "Odyssey (Pt. 1)" (from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Sunshine Sound Disco

Knight Rider/Buck Rogers connection: Glen A. Larson produced both shows.

12. Johnny Harris, "Odyssey (Pt. 1)" (from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Sunshine Sound Disco
13. Danny Elfman, "Main Titles," Midnight Run, MCA

Buck Rogers/Midnight Run connections: Buck Rogers is set in New Chicago and Midnight Run anti-hero Jack Walsh used to be a cop in the old Chicago; "Odyssey" and the Midnight Run theme are both heavy on the bass.

13. Danny Elfman, "Main Titles," Midnight Run, MCA
14. Oingo Boingo, "Weird Science," Best O' Boingo, MCA

Midnight Run/Weird Science connection: Danny Elfman.

Here we see Scott Pilgrim and Knives Chau battling over whose lens flare can blind the other person faster.

14. Oingo Boingo, "Weird Science," Best O' Boingo, MCA
15. Nigel Godrich, "Chau Down," Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Score, ABKCO
16. Dan the Automator, "Ninja Ninja Revolution," Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Score, ABKCO

Weird Science/Scott Pilgrim connections: Weird Science and Scott Pilgrim are FX-heavy fantasy films with dorky youngster heroes; Pilgrim is nostalgic for the era when the Weird Science movie and TV series were made.

16. Dan the Automator, "Ninja Ninja Revolution," Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Score, ABKCO
17. Randy Edelman, "Dragon Theme," Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, MCA

Scott Pilgrim/Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story connections: Scott's temporary girlfriend Knives Chau is like the Bruce Lee of blades; scenes of action movie stars kicking the shit out of non-celebrities on movie sets; Asians who kick ass.

17. Randy Edelman, "Dragon Theme," Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, MCA
18. Henry Mancini, "The Boss," Touch of Evil, Varèse Sarabande

Dragon/Touch of Evil connections: Dragon was about Lee having to put up with yellowface/brownface, and Touch of Evil had Charlton Heston in brownface; Lee starred in The Big Boss, and the Touch of Evil cue is called "The Boss."

18. Henry Mancini, "The Boss," Touch of Evil, Varèse Sarabande
19. Henry Mancini, "Main Title" (from Charade), Music from the Films of Audrey Hepburn, Big Screen

Touch of Evil/Charade connection: Henry Mancini.

March Madness March of the Day: "Monster Battle March (Main Title)" from Invasion of the Astro-Monster by Akira Ifukube

'Hey Tsuburaya, I can't take direction from ya when that douchey hat is perched on your head, man.'
Invasion of the Astro-Monster director Eiji Tsuburaya tells Godzilla to stop indicating and be less plastic.
(Photo source: Rapsodie Japonaise--The Akira Ifukube Blog)
This one's for any Godzilla fan. Unlike say, Tracy Morgan, I'm not much into Godzilla movies, but as someone who's a fan of the 2006 Korean monster movie The Host, I can understand why some of my listeners in the past were so enthusiastic about Godzilla flicks and would request to hear themes from those films. Out of all the Akira Ifukube marches I've heard from Godzilla score compilations, "Monster Battle March" from Invasion of the Astro-Monster, a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, is the best-sounding one.

Is it me or do Ifukube's Godzilla scores sound more like Jewish monster movie music than Japanese monster movie music? I keep expecting Godzilla to dance the hora.


All the other "March Madness March of the Day" posts from this week:
"Stripes March" by Elmer Bernstein
"Main Title" from Batman by Danny Elfman
"Fruit of Islam" from Malcolm X by Terence Blanchard
"Washington Ending & Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark by John Williams

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Stripes March" by Elmer Bernstein

Quien es mas sexy? P.J. Soles o Sean Young?
There are two fantastic pieces of music that director Ivan Reitman's 1981 military comedy Stripes introduced to me. One is "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," a song from way before my time that soldiers adopted as a marching cadence after watching Bill Murray and Harold Ramis choose it as their cadence in Stripes ("The first time we screened this for a real movie audience, people started applauding as soon as they started singing 'Do Wah Diddy,'" recalled Reitman during the Stripes DVD commentary). The other is the spirited "Stripes March" by Elmer Bernstein, whose iconic Great Escape score Reitman utilized to temp-track Stripes before Bernstein recorded the Stripes score.



That march is so tied to the misfit likes of John Winger (Murray), Russell Ziskey (Ramis), Ox (John Candy), Cruiser (John Diehl) and Elmo (Judge Reinhold) that when it wound up as trailer music for another military comedy, 1994's Renaissance Man, I thought, "Hey, that belongs to Stripes, man! Don't be claiming that. That's like if the Beetlejuice TV ads copped Ray Parker Jr.'s 'Ghostbusters.' Get your own soundalike shit!"

The cinema blog Radiator Heaven posted a really good overview of Stripes a few years ago. It pointed out how superb all the major players in the film's cast were, from the perfectly cast Warren Oates as drill instructor Sergeant Hulka to Murray. His Second City training was put to great effect, like in the film's first few minutes, in which a cab-driving Winger has to put up with a snooty old socialite (Fran Ryan) who's his fare, or the improvised scene where Hulka (who, as we realize in this scene, isn't the film's villain--that would be John Larroquette as incompetent Captain Stillman) has Winger and the other recruits introduce themselves ("Chicks dig me because I rarely wear underwear, and when I do, it's usually something unusual").

The Radiator Heaven post doesn't mention Bernstein's catchy Stripes march, but it does acknowledge how effective Bernstein's score is during an early scene that straddles the line between comedy and drama ("Bernstein’s first musical cue appears and it is a slightly sad, whimsical tune"). Winger--whom Community(*) creator Dan Harmon named Joel McHale's study group leader character Jeff Winger after as a shout-out to both Murray and a film that must have influenced how Harmon sometimes has Community bravely and effectively straddle the line between comedy and drama--is dumped by his girlfriend (Roberta Leighton) right after quitting his cabbie job. He's then forced to deal with the fact that the lack of purpose in his life has driven away his girlfriend and is the reason for the rut he's in. "Interestingly," noted Radiator Heaven's J.D., "no music plays during this scene so that the gravitas of the scene, if you will, is not undermined by manipulative music. Bernstein’s whimsical score only returns when Russell arrives and the two banter back and forth."

J.D. also noted that Stripes' anti-authoritarian-misfits-in-an-authoritarian-setting template "would prove to be so successful that it was exploited in films like Police Academy." Sure, Michael Winslow's beatboxing and sound effects gags always elicit a chuckle, but everything else the Police Academy movies did, Stripes did it better. And that includes the soundtrack.

(*) Hell yeah, Community's back on the air tonight!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Ask for Babs (Universal 100th Anniversary Mix)"

Wow, the Universal logo is now so detailed I can see my apartment from here.
To mark its 100th anniversary, Universal unveiled a revamped version of its globe logo (The Lorax is the first Universal release to open with it) and got frequent Fast and the Furious sequel composer Brian Tyler to update Jerry Goldsmith's rousing 1997 Universal logo fanfare with a choir and additional percussion.



What was originally supposed to be just a blog post I was going to do about Tyler's spiffy arrangement of the Goldsmith fanfare evolved into the mix below. Because of Universal's centennial, I've put together a mix--my very first one, in fact. It consists of favorite tunes that were written for Universal films or TV shows.

Ask for Babs (Universal 100th Anniversary Mix) by DJ AFOS

It's hard to find original score material from Universal films or shows that's as dance floor-friendly (or full of rhythm that makes my head nod) as J.J. Johnson's "Willie Chase" from Willie Dynamite or David Holmes' "Rip Rip" from Out of Sight, so I had to really dig deep into my station library.

Universal smash hits like the Bourne franchise and 8 Mile are represented on the "Ask for Babs" mix, as well as Universal releases that didn't exactly set the box office on fire but are great or good films and have gained--and I hate this term because cults are creepy--cult followings (Midnight Run[*], Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). The mix also includes material from some Universal films I've never seen (like the not-on-DVD 1969 curio The Lost Man, which has a couple of problems that bother the African American cinema blog Shadow and Act: "It's not good" and as a black militant, Sidney Poitier "is simply miscast in the role, and clearly looks uncomfortable"), but I love the music that was written for those films.

Determining the ways each track would transition into another and basing the order of the tracks on certain connections between them were particularly fun. I blended Vic Mizzy's Ghost and Mr. Chicken main title theme with 30 Rock's fake novelty song "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" to show how much 30 Rock composer Jeff Richmond must have been inspired by Mizzy's Ghost and Mr. Chicken score. Tracy Morgan is followed by The Roots' original track for the Best Man opening titles because both Morgan and The Roots are employees of Lorne Michaels. I had a Touch of Evil score cue follow the Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story main title theme because Dragon was about Lee having to put up with yellowface/brownface, and Touch of Evil was full of brownface. Plus, Lee starred in The Big Boss, and the Touch of Evil cue is called "The Boss." "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile segues into the best original theme from Out of Sight (the theme for Don Cheadle's Snoopy character) because both movies involve Detroit. Fast Five, the best of the Fast and the Furious films, was placed next to The Rockford Files because, uh, car chases.

March Madness March of the Day: "Main Title" from Batman by Danny Elfman

Worst city planning ever.
(Photo source: Stefan the Cameraman)
In her 2004 book Danny Elfman's Batman: A Film Score Guide (wow, there's an actual book devoted to Elfman's Batman score?), Janet K. Halfyard wrote, "[Elfman's] theme is in a minor key and it is not actually a march, although it could be mistaken for one... as the theme enters in a more obviously militaristic manner, the pulse more than doubles [from MM70] to MM146, which is more of a gallop than a march."

So if you listen closely to certain sections of the 1989 Batman main title theme, they don't... Aw, who gives a shit? If its sound makes you want to march or go beat up a creepy clown, it's a march.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Fruit of Islam" from Malcolm X by Terence Blanchard

'My, that's a pretty flag. It'd make for a lovely tablespr... Oh no, what's happening?! Oh my God. They're burning it! And this fat gentleman keeps getting beaten! I don't like this Spike Jones fella! He's too angry! That's it! I'm leaving!'--every blue-haired Midwestern homemaker during the first two minutes of Malcolm X back in 1992
Today is Terence Blanchard's birthday. His epic Malcolm X score--the second one he wrote for Spike Lee--is the first score that made me sit up and take notice of the sounds of the trumpeter/film composer (and now, stage play composer, because of his work in Chris Rock's Broadway debut The Motherfucker with the Hat).

The centerpiece of Blanchard's Malcolm X score is "Fruit of Islam," a fiery march written for a pivotal sequence that recreates the Nation of Islam's outcry over the police's treatment of an NOI member named Johnson Hinton, which catapulted Malcolm (Denzel Washington, in a nuanced performance he should have won the Best Actor Oscar for, not for his much showier and less subtly written turn in Training Day) into the public eye in 1957.

Assisted by the NOI's Fruit of Islam security force, Malcolm and other NOI members march to the hospital where Brother Johnson (stand-up comic and Do the Right Thing cast member Steve White in a silent role), a badly injured victim of police brutality, is being looked after to ensure that Johnson is given proper medical care. After Malcolm is assured by a resident physician that Johnson is receiving the best care possible, an NYPD captain (Peter Boyle) orders the crowd of black protesters outside the hospital to disperse. But they won't listen to the surly-looking white captain. They'll listen to Malcolm, who, in one of my favorite bits of acting by Washington in the film, flashes a smile at the captain and then turns to the crowd and gets them to quietly disperse with a simple hand signal.

"Fruit of Islam" is also notable for being--along with the Chariots of Fire theme and "Duel of the Fates" from The Phantom Menace--one of the few film music instrumentals to receive airplay on music video channels. The "Fruit of Islam" video that ran on BET in 1992 interspersed Malcolm X clips with footage of Blanchard and his orchestra. Blanchard also has a cameo in Malcolm X as a trumpeter who performs with Billie Holiday (R&B artist Miki Howard).

"I kind of wish I wasn't [on-camera]. I thought I was going to have this big line, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Billie Holiday,' but no, Spike said, 'Just stand in the corner and play your horn, and we'll tell you action and cut,'" said Blanchard to the Associated Press while promoting his Malcolm X Jazz Suite arrangement of his score in 1993. "And Denzel had the most fun, especially after Mo' Better Blues when I was behind the camera watching him. Now our situations were reversed and he kept saying, 'Now you know what it feels like.'"

Chewsday

Chew #3 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Random Chew page of the week (from Chew #3)

Monday, March 12, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Washington Ending & Raiders March" from Raiders of the Lost Ark by John Williams

Aw, matte paintings. They've gone the way of the pay phone.
My favorite Raiders of the Lost Ark score cue is actually "The Map Room: Dawn" (Indy discovers the Ark's location, and the London Symphony Orchestra is both stoked and disturbed), but the end title theme, which features a full statement of some obscure composition called "The Raiders March" and "Marion's Theme," ain't too shabby either.


"A piece like that is deceptively simple to try to find the few right notes that will make a right leitmotivic identification for a character like Indiana Jones. I remember working on that thing for days and days, changing notes, changing this, inverting that, trying to get something that seemed to me to be just right. I can't speak for my colleagues but for me things which appear to be very simple are not at all, they're only simple after the fact. The manufacture of these things which seem inevitable is a process that can be laborious and difficult."

--John Williams on "The Raiders March," from the liner notes of DCC Compact Classics' 1995 expanded reissue of the Raiders score

Friday, March 9, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Prelude to War" from Battlestar Galactica by Bear McCreary

This Cylon basestar seems strangely underpopulated. Where are all the naked Sharons? Where are all the Minority Report precog ladies in the tubs spouting shitty spoken word?
A key word in composer Bear McCreary's approach to his original score music on Battlestar Galactica, a gritty and adult take on the '70s human-vs.-robot space opera of the same name, was minimalism. Frequent Galactica episode director Michael Rymer said that he and the show's crew wanted to reinvent "the language of the space opera," so musically, in Galactica's first couple of seasons, McCreary spoke this language through a smaller-than-usual orchestra, sparse strings, taiko drums, gamelans and Middle Eastern chants.

"It was based in reaction to Star Wars and Star Trek, the trumpet bombast that we associate with space operas," said McCreary to TV critic Alan Sepinwall in 2008. "[The producers of the series] told me they wanted no themes, and this is probably because in their minds a theme is a French horn playing Luke Skywalker's theme as he stares at the twin sunset."

Executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick ended up ditching their "no themes" rule and McCreary proceeded to write themes for each character (or character relationship, like the theme that represents the bond between Commander Bill Adama and President Roslin or the Celtic motif for Bill and his son Lee--the Adamas are apparently Irish Latinos, like Martin Sheen). But the composer continued to keep it minimalist during moments where most other composers would opt for bombast, like the memorable "Prelude to War" theme from the second season's nail-biting mid-season cliffhanger (the Galactica and the Pegasus point their nukes at each other).

If you listen closely to "Prelude to War," most of it consists of only strings, a duduk and percussion. Yet McCreary somehow managed to raise our adrenaline with just those elements.

And McCreary did it again with "Prelude to War" in the video below, this time performing the march with just a piano.



"Prelude to War" is also the title of a ballet where McCreary rearranged Galactica themes like "Prelude to War" and "Diaspora Oratorio" for choreographer Ricardo Fernando and the dancers of the Theaterhagen in Hagen, Germany. McCreary detailed the ballet's world premiere on his blog in 2009. (The most interesting part of McCreary's chronicle of the ballet briefly mentions that NBCUniversal placed restrictions on what McCreary was allowed to use from Galactica in his work, which brings to mind how 16 years before, the same corporation claimed certain parts of David Letterman's departing talk show as their "intellectual property." Notice how the dancers aren't dressed like Viper pilots or Cylons.) The "Prelude to War" theme gets the ballet treatment from 0:48 to 2:33 in the footage below.



UPDATE: McCreary himself brought to my attention the ultimate version of "Prelude to War."



All the other "March Madness March of the Day" posts from this week:
"Space March" from You Only Live Twice by John Barry
"Main Title" from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein
"The Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" from The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams
"The Plot" from Mission: Impossible by Lalo Schifrin

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Space March" from You Only Live Twice by John Barry

'Rocket. I'm taking a rocket. I'm packing my suitcase. Hey, look out, moon!'
"Space March," which perfectly captures both the mystique and danger of space and is introduced in the You Only Live Twice score cue "Capsule in Space," is one of the best themes written by the late John Barry for the 007 films. Too bad "Space March" originated from a 007 installment that's full of nonsensical plot holes and is often as listless as the constantly bored look on the face of Sean Connery as the least convincing white-guy-disguised-as-a-Japanese-guy ever. Connery became increasingly tired of the Bond franchise and the media circus surrounding it, and his misery is evident on his face during You Only Live Twice, which was loosely adapted from Ian Fleming's novel of the same name by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl, but you wouldn't have been able to tell Dahl worked on it because of the formulaic and lazily (re?-)written end result.

Later 007 installments like The Living Daylights and the 2006 Casino Royale make You Only Live Twice look as exciting as a bingo game. These 007 films got less interesting the further they drifted from their spy thriller roots and became more about spectacle (although that volcano lair, invaded by a ninja army in the film's most badass shot, is vintage Bond set design at its most imaginative).

But as usual, Barry's gorgeous score is a saving grace, particularly during "Space March" and the love theme "Mountains and Sunsets" (Barry captured Japanese sounds--or as most white soundtrack album reviewers prefer to say because their descriptions of us Asian people or Asian things are frozen in 1962, "Oriental sounds"--more skillfully than most non-Japanese film and TV composers). The score helps keep You Only Live Twice from dying on-screen.