Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New AFOS episode: "The Inmates Are Taking Over the Asylum"

This week, the United Artists 90th Anniversary Film Festival hits both the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and the Nuart Theatre in L.A., so the next episode of A Fistful of Soundtracks will feature my favorite selections from scores to films that were distributed by UA. "The studio without a studio" thrived during an era when rival studios couldn't keep up with their audiences--and the social changes of the period--and kept releasing dull and staid product. UA's smart and daring films during the Arthur Krim/Robert Benjamin regime and Krim and Benjamin's championing of filmmakers--they let them do their thing--are always worth celebrating. Oh yeah, and most of these flicks had terrific original music too.

"The Inmates Are Taking Over the Asylum" (WEB96) will begin streaming tomorrow (Thursday, May 1 at midnight, 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm). I've included themes from some of UA's most popular releases (The Great Escape, 007), but I also wanted to fill most of the episode with music from cult classics (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) or soundtrack albums that are out of print (The Long Goodbye).

Pelham, a thrilling caper movie with Walter Matthau at his sardonic best as a cynical transit cop who's the perfect disheveled hero for an even more disheveled New York, and The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman's clever reimagining of Philip Marlowe, are two '70s UA flicks I instantly fell in love with. I first caught Pelham on TCM a few years ago and discovered The Long Goodbye on DVD last year.

Pelham composer David Shire and Long Goodbye composer John Williams achieved so much with what little they had. Shire wrote each Pelham score cue under the 12-tone method of composition to evoke "organized chaos"--in other words, the funkiest film score not written by a black dude ever.

Williams' Long Goodbye score--one of the shortest he ever wrote--is equally off-kilter. It consists of nothing but different variations on the same melody. Wherever Elliott Gould's Marlowe goes, the Long Goodbye theme follows, whether it's as bar piano music or as a doorbell ring. I don't know exactly why Altman asked Williams to write the score like that. (Jaime J. Weinman says Williams' score is a spoof of the incessant pimping of movie title songs in the '60s and '70s--an issue that caused the previously stable working relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and the less pop-minded Bernard Herrmann to fall apart during the making of Torn Curtain. The Something Old, Nothing New blogger theorizes that Williams' score could also be an homage to Roy Webb's similarly structured score during Out of the Past.) But whatever the intentions were, the Long Goodbye score nicely reflects Marlowe's sense of displacement--he's a '40s guy in a '70s world.

Whereas UA was a '70s studio in a '50s Hollywood that struggled to keep up with the '60s.

Roman Coppola's CQ

WEB96 also covers UA's recent art-house phase, before Tom Cruise took over the company. One of my favorite films to emerge from UA's art-house years is Roman Coppola's CQ, a fun little film about filmmaking in the mold of Day for Night and Ed Wood. It contains a great loungey score by the French trio Mellow, which evoked the likes of Piero Umiliani, Piero Piccioni and Ennio Morricone during the cues for the movie-within-the-movie Codename: Dragonfly, a mash-up of Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik (the source of Angela Lindvall's sexy rolling-around-in-cash scene).

The '70s logo

A Half-Assed History of UA's Logos

I remember the first appearance of the '90s UA logo when I saw GoldenEye in 1995. The logo actually received cheers from GoldenEye's opening weekend audience--they were just so happy to see Bond again after a six-year absence.

The '90s logo

The sadly discontinued jingle was composed by Jeff Eden Fair and Starr Parodi.

The husband-and-wife duo recalled to SoundtrackNet that "We did that with a 90-piece orchestra at the Sony Scoring Stage... Our instructions were, 'We want something that represents the past, present, and future of United Artists.' So we started with classic orchestral instrumentation, moving to futuristic sounds and concepts at the end."

The '00s logo
Defamer's funny idea of what the UA watertower now looks like

Next AFOS episode: I'm taking a break after five consecutive eps. I don't know when I'll stream the next new ep.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Never Say Never Again's rejected theme

(Photo source: Life Between Frames)

Last week, Tim Lucas of Video WatchBlog unearthed Phyllis Hyman's rejected theme from Never Say Never Again, thanks to his friend Stephen Forsyth, who also happens to be one of the composers of the dumped theme.

This was a particularly cool discovery for me because I'm always interested in hearing theme songs that didn't make the final cut. In fact, I once did a Fistful of Soundtracks episode about rejected movie themes, and I played "Thunderball" by Johnny Cash and "For Your Eyes Only" by Blondie. (However, I wasn't able to get my hands on Alice Cooper's "The Man with the Golden Gun" and Ace of Base's "The Juvenile," which was an early contender for the GoldenEye theme. After the GoldenEye producers gave Ace of Base the boot and went with Tina Turner--good call--the Swedish group released their version of "GoldenEye" as "The Juvenile.")

Never Say Never Again, the unofficial 1983 Bond flick that featured a saggy-looking Sean Connery in his first appearance as 007 since Diamonds Are Forever, divides Bond fans. But they all agree that its score, which was composed by a past-his-prime Michel Legrand (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the original Thomas Crown Affair), pales in comparison to John Barry's energetic scores from the official Bond movies. Legrand's limp theme was performed by Lani Hall, the vocalist from Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66's "Mas Que Nada" (a tune I was introduced to by another spy movie franchise, Austin Powers). "Never Say Never Again" is one of the weakest themes to open a Bond film, official or unofficial.

According to Forsyth:
I co-wrote the title song for the movie with Jim Ryan. Warner Bros. informed our attorney that the song was to be used as the title song in the picture. However, shortly before its release, Warner Bros. informed us that the song could not be used because Michel Legrand, who wrote the score, threatened to sue them, claiming that contractually he had the right to the title song. So my song was never released...

Phyllis sadly took her own life in the early nineties. The year before she died, she called me late one night and told me she felt that "Never Say Never Again" was "her best and favorite recording."
Though her performance is terrific (she demonstrates restraint, something that's missing from the caterwaulers on American Idol) and the song is better than Hall's final version, it wouldn't have been suitable for NSNA's action-oriented opening credits sequence, which follows Bond on a mission that turns out to be a training exercise. Also, Hyman's ballad suffers from the then-popular "yacht rock" sound that instantly dated the other early '80s Bond themes (Hall's "NSNA," Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" from Octopussy). It took Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" to break the spell, restore energy to the Bond theme and make it rock again.

In other Bond theme-related news, reports that the Quantum of Solace producers chose Amy Winehouse to sing the upcoming film's theme have been exaggerated. (Note to self: Never believe the non-BBC British press.) When Winehouse isn't busy headbutting and pimpslapping North Londoners or searching for her dealer, she and her frequent collaborator Mark Ronson have been working on the tune, but the Quantum of Solace producers haven't picked it as their theme yet. Will this be another one for the rejected Bond theme pile?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Around the Internets: 04/28/08

- The release of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay inspires a list of "10 Sequels That Are Better Than the Original." [GreenCine] Speaking of superior sequels, a few of them are among the "18 Pretty Great Summer Blockbusters Not Directed By Steven Spielberg." [A.V. Club] Both the GreenCine and A.V. Club articles praise Terminator 2. Really? I still think the original Terminator is superior. It doesn't have Edward Furlong's grating performance (it's 1991, and the kid's still quoting lyrics from Tone Loc's "Wild Thing"?) and the hackneyed "a robot learns to understand human emotions" subplot, which is handled better on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, thanks mostly to an actor who's more nuanced than Schwarzenegger (Summer Glau).

- Sean T. Collins' "11 Most Awful Songs from Geek Movie Soundtracks" include Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" from Batman Forever, Margot Kidder's "Can You Read My Mind?" from Superman: The Movie and Puff Daddy's mangling of "Kashmir" for the 1998 Godzilla album (Puffy must have had a photo of Jimmy Page with a sheep, which could only explain Page's guest appearance). Where's R. Kelly's sappy "Gotham City" from Batman & Robin? That song made Bill Finger do a Batspin in his grave. [Topless Robot]

- I just discovered this. A brilliant mash-up of the Hillary Clinton campaign and one of my favorite movies, Alexander Payne's Election:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bonus new AFOS episode: "Bottomless Party"

And there you have one of the reasons for the R rating that's been stamped on Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay--the bottomless party sequence.

I'd hate to be at the bottomless party where they serve bean dip.

Austin Powers series composer George S. Clinton--his slinky, atmospheric Wild Things score doesn't receive enough praise--wrote the Guantanamo Bay score, and an excerpt from Clinton's new score will be included on the next AFOS episode, "Bottomless Party" (WEB95), which will begin streaming tomorrow (Thursday, April 24 at midnight, 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm).

Not much of the original music from the Harold & Kumar flicks has been made available to us fans of the H&K series--there wasn't enough in the first movie to fill an entire CD--so the rest of WEB95 contains selections from several of my favorite original scores that were written for comedies (The Hot Rock, Stripes, Ratatouille).

Also on the WEB95 playlist: some classic Henry Mancini joints, plus an amusing fake '80s movie anthem co-penned by former Shudder to Think member Craig Wedren, who regularly collaborates with alumni from The State (Wet Hot American Summer, Reno 911!) and is a film/TV composer to watch.

Some clickworthy articles about Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, the first H&K movie:
"Bathroom humor and stoner jokes aside, this teen-pleasing, stereotype-challenging road movie has a lot to say about race in America today." [Salon]
"The film's vision of what it really means to be a second-generation immigrant is downright sardonic." [Flak]
John Cho: "I imagine the second one, set as it would be in Amsterdam would be even funner... I can see the tag line now--'more funner than the first one.'" [DVD Talk]
"White Castle and Church's Chicken, Manhattan, New York" [Dancing Blue Seal] (actually, this blog post doesn't have much to do with Harold & Kumar--it just contains some great food porn pics of those luscious White Castle Slyders)

Next AFOS episode: The title of WEB96 will be "The Inmates Are Taking Over the Asylum," and it will feature selections from scores to movies released by United Artists, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a 90-disc DVD box set and UA retrospectives at both the Film Forum in New York and the Nuart in L.A. This ep will contain my favorite themes from UA movies (From Russia with Love, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), as well as selections from some out-of-print soundtracks to UA cult favorites (The Landlord, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

New AFOS episode: "Galloping Around the Cosmos"

J.J. Abrams' big-screen reimagining of the original Star Trek won't be unveiled until we're well into the next administration, so in the meantime, on the next episode of A Fistful of Soundtracks, get your Trek on with my favorite score cues from what's known as the TOS era of the Trek feature films. For the newbies, TOS stands for "Terrifyingly Obese Shatner."

"Galloping Around the Cosmos" (WEB94) will begin streaming Tuesday, April 22 (midnight, 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm).

Although four different men sat in the composer's chair, the epic scores of the first six Trek films were pretty consistent in quality, and that's rare to see in a long-running film series that went through many different producers, writers and directors. Even when an installment like Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek V faltered creatively, the music remained top-notch and satisfying (that's also due to the involvement of Silver Age great Jerry Goldsmith in those films).

ST:TMP contains one of my favorite Goldsmith scores, Nicholas Meyer's unequalled Star Trek II has my favorite James Horner score, Star Trek IV contains some of my favorite pieces by Leonard Rosenman, and Star Trek VI features my favorite score by Cliff Eidelman, who was touted as the next big thing in film music at the time of Trek VI's release but hasn't written anything as significant since then (unless you count The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).

The Star Trek IV LP was given to me as a Christmas present when I was a kid and is the first soundtrack album I ever owned. Because Rosenman recently passed away, WEB94 includes a brief tribute to Rosenman and his music.

Abrams regular Michael Giacchino is scoring the Trek reboot and has had a knack for this kind of epic material that's gone as far back as his scores for Alias and the Secret Weapons Over Normandy video game. I don't know how Giacchino feels about Gerald Fried's catchy fight theme from the old show, but I hope he does some sort of little tribute to that fight theme in his score. In Mission: Impossible III, Giacchino revived Lalo Schifrin's "The Plot" theme as a shoutout to the '60s Impossible, so I'll be a tad disappointed if he doesn't do the same with the national anthem of Decapod 10.

Abrams' goals for his Trek film sound promising. It's unlikely to be a heavy-handed and dull first movie like ST:TMP, which was nicknamed Star Trek: The Motionless Picture and Spockalypse Now because of its lackluster script and slow pace. (That must explain why the cast members wore pajamas during the movie.) The producers chose to model ST:TMP after 2001: A Space Odyssey instead of Star Wars--the movie everyone else was ripping off at the time--but imitating Kubrick was as much of a mistake as imitating Star Wars would have been. We wanted 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 '60s show, not stare silently for 10 minutes at garish visual effects. As an Everything2 review of ST:TMP notes, "Where the protagonists of the television series had been dynamic, there they were passive. Kirk & Co spent most of the film as bystanders, forced to watch things happen to them via the Enterprise's viewscreen."

The lively and textured Goldsmith score basically carries the movie. Next time you have the stones to sit through ST:TMP, watch it mainly for its score. It's that good. (Make sure the version of ST:TMP that you watch is the 2001 DVD-only Director's Edition, which doesn't quite fix the script's inadequacies--no updated effects footage ever could--but it's faster-paced than the theatrical cut.) My favorite ST:TMP score cue is the suspenseful "Spock Walk," which I didn't have time to include in WEB94. "Spock Walk" underscores the only exciting moment in ST:TMP's boring second half, the thruster-suited Spock's entrance into the innards of V'Ger.

WEB94 features "Genesis Countdown" by Horner.

WEB94 also features "Chekov's Run" by Rosenman.

The final two tracks on the WEB94 playlist are Eidelman's "Sign Off" and "Star Trek VI Suite," the musical swan song of the classic era of the Star Trek feature films.

Speaking of music from long-running movie franchises, Amy "Cocaine's a helluva drug" Winehouse and her Back to Black producer Mark Ronson have been chosen to write and perform the theme from Quantum of Solace, the next 007 film.

Not since Garbage's "The World Is Not Enough"--Shirley Manson was born to be a Bond girl or at least the singer of a Bond theme--have I been so jazzed about the next Bond theme. One of my favorite songs last year was the Winehouse/Ronson cover of the Zutons' "Valerie," so the Quantum of Solace theme--which Winehouse and Ronson just recently put the finishing touches on--is guaranteed not to suck.

A future AFOS episode will feature all the Eon Productions 007 opening credits themes in chronological order, from the Monty Norman Orchestra's "James Bond Theme" from Dr. No to the not-yet-titled Quantum of Solace theme.

Next AFOS episode: Favorite tracks from comedy scores. The whole ep is just an excuse to play something from the Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay soundtrack.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Around the Internets: 04/18/08

- CNN's Richard Quest had meth in his pocket. Which explains a lot. Here's an amusing Daily Show spoof of the CNN "reporter" who looks like the love child of Harry Bentley from The Jeffersons and Matthew Lesko.

- Mike Jones, Shaq, Marky Mark, Fred Durst and my favorite rap group, the Chicago Bears, are among "the 25 Worst Rappers of All Time."

- Former Cheers writer and popular blogger Ken Levine recommends Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, which I think is a more entertaining movie about Superman than Superman Returns.

- I'll wait for Forgetting Sarah Marshall on DVD--that's the format where Judd Apatow-produced movies are best appreciated because of the awesome extras--even though I got a kick out of Billy Baldwin's spoof of David Caruso's acting in the clips on NBC's site for Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, the CSI: Miami-style fake procedural featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

- After Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos bungled the Obama/Clinton debate in Philly, the first thing I thought was: "What would Jon say?"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"I invite the American people to suckle on my teats!"

Hulu finally posts something I've wanted to rewatch for so long: the 1996 Dana Carvey Show premiere, which features the controversial Clinton sketch that basically killed the series in its opening minutes. (Carvey's multiple prosthetic boobs and the hilariously oblivious animal actors are Robert Smigel trademarks that would later resurface in Smigel's Triumph bits on Conan.) The Clinton sketch is left intact, but the Taco Bell-bashing musical number has been deleted, perhaps due to pressure from some corporate entity (Could it be... PepsiCo? Pepsi-owned properties like Taco Bell and Mountain Dew agreed to take turns sponsoring episodes of The Dana Carvey Show, not realizing that Carvey's writers would bite the corporate hands that fed them).

I watched The Dana Carvey Show in college and thought the series' funniest bit was "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," which resurfaced the following season on SNL. Stephen "Ace" Colbert and Steve "Gary" Carell were part of the cast and were members of the now-legendary writing staff, which also included Smigel, Louis C.K., Charlie Kaufman (the Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind screenwriter) and Conan staffers Jon Glaser and Dino Stamatopoulos. (The show is also available for Netflix subscribers at the site's PC-only "Watch Now" feature.)

Jesse Thorn remembers The Dana Carvey Show. [The Sound of Young America]
The Dana Carvey Show gets graded, along with several other sketch comedy shows. [The High Hat]

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New AFOS episode: "All This Has Happened Before"

Because Battlestar Galactica's fourth season is finally in full swing, episode WEB93, "All This Has Happened Before," will feature highlights of Bear McCreary's terrific music from the show, and it will begin streaming Tuesday, April 15 (midnight, 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm). I wish all the tunes on the episode's playlist could be Galactica score cues, but because the Internet radio airplay laws only allow me to put four McCreary tunes on the playlist, I had to pad it with selections from scores to other remakes (Ocean's Eleven, 3:10 to Yuma).

All the Galactica score cues during this ep come from the show's season finales. WEB93 will conclude with McCreary's intriguing cover of "All Along the Watchtower" from last season's stunning cliffhanger, "Crossroads, Part II." (McCreary discusses recording the "Crossroads, Part II" score here.)

During WEB93, I mention that the Galactica producers didn't want the music during their remake to sound like what Stu Phillips wrote for the previous incarnation of Galactica. As Galactica miniseries composer Richard Gibbs said in the liner notes for the miniseries score CD, he avoided typical space opera score elements like a "sweeping, swooping orchestra, strong melodic themes, incredibly detailed flourishes," and it's an approach McCreary emulated when he took over as composer in season 1. What I like most about the music of the current Galactica is that it still manages to sound exciting even without orchestral bombast (example: the powerful taiko and strings combo in the "Prelude to War" theme from "Pegasus"). McCreary seems to understand that minimalism doesn't mean you have to turn the score into musical wallpaper, which is what happened with much of the original music on the Rick Berman Star Trek shows.

McCreary's score for the latest Galactica ep, "Six of One," was really good, particularly during the officers' farewell to Apollo on the port hangar deck. Frak! I wound up with a lump in my throat. (The next Galactica will feature something equally sob-inducing--a naked Dean Stockwell. Great. It's like we're being punished for seeing Grace Park dance around topless this week.)

Also during this AFOS ep about scores from remakes, I snark about Hollywood's creative bankruptcy. Speaking of which, a Ben-Hur miniseries is apparently in the works. I'd rather watch a remake of the SCTV Ben-Hur.

Next AFOS episode: The feature film score music from Galactica's tonal opposite--Star Trek.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

New AFOS episode: "Funk in the Trunk"

Battlestar Galactica and 30 Rock are back from hiatus, and so is another favorite around these parts, A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series. A new installment of AFOS will finally begin streaming Tuesday, April 8 (midnight, 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm). This long-delayed episode is entitled "Funk in the Trunk," and it will feature selections from scores to movies like Superbad, City of Men and The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. I'm not exactly sure what the episode's about. I think it has something to do with funk. And it seems to be in somebody's trunk.

A vidcap from Superbad's amusing Foxy Brown-style opening titles

Forbidden Photos hottie Dagmar Lassander

Tuesday, April 1, 2008