Wednesday, April 29, 2009

...And Don't Call Me 'Shirley'

So anyway, if you follow the film music world much at all, particularly the licensing of said music for CD production, you'll know that Paramount Pictures (a Viacom company) is and has been the stingiest bunch of fuckers this side of a Hasidic fund raiser for the German arts. Or at least, that was the case...until yesterday.

Apparently, LaLa Land Records has broken through Paramount's steel chastity belt (of death - see, sounds scarier, eh?) and come to some sort of arrangement. The details of said arrangement are known only to the fine folks at LaLa Land and Paramount, but the long and short of it is that "the wall" is coming down - and it's beginning with a real doozy!

Beginning May 12th, at 2:00 p.m. local time, orders will be taken for one complete score to what is perhaps the greatest comedy of all time - Airplane!, composed by none other then the late, great Elmer Bernstein. This, near as I can figure, is the comedy score that defined how to really compose for comedy - that is to say that the music plays completely straight against the absurdity on the screen.

Even if you aren't particularly familiar with the score, or of Paramount's steadfast inability to budge on letting their music out, you should be rejoicing at this news...a literal vault of amazing film music is about to be loosed upon the world. Think about it, complete scores from the likes of say: All of the Star Trek films, Johnny's Black Sunday, a reissue of Chinatown, Basil's Hunt for Red October, the list goes on and on...

May is going to be so fucking AWESOME!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

On the Subject of One Trick Ponies

So anyway, VareseSarabande recently released their tri-annual crop of "club" CD's. If anyone isn't familiar with what this entails...allow me to explain. Three times a year, VareseSarabande, considered by most to be the premier soundtrack record label, release what they call 'Soundtrack Club" CD's. These usually consist of four, sometimes five soundtracks that come either from their vast archive of out-of-print LP's, or music that is new to soundtrack album altogether. In both cases, most if not the complete score is represented in some fashion - and they're available in limited they sell out...

...fucking fast!!!

The usual pattern includes one album with 3,000 copies, one or two with either 1,500 or 2,000 copies, and one with a mere 1,000 copies. Any guesses as to which ones go first (regardless of quality of music)?! Thus far, they've released 99 club albums. Of those, 53 are sold out, never to be made available again (thanks to licensing and re-use fees). They include such gems as the "Jerry Goldsmith at 20th Century Fox" 6-disc box set, and Alan Silvestri's Predator (arguably one of the most sought after film scores ever) amongst others too numerous to list here - let's just say I've spent a tidy sum at Varese over the last few years...and that there are a few I missed that I'm royally fucking pissed about. At any rate Varese has a penchant for releasing rare items from the filmographies of Bill Conti, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, Franz Waxman, and even occasionally John Williams.

With this last batch, I picked up three of the four (opting to skip the vintage Waxman score). One was a funky little synth-score to the 1987 film Russkies from James Newton Howard, starring a young Joaquin Phoenix (when he was still going by 'Leaf'). The second was Henry Mancini's Nightwing (a pseudo-horror film from the early 80's about vampire bats and Native Americans - odd combination, but not a terrible film). The third brings us to the title of my post...John Barry's score for the 1979 WWII drama, Hanover Street, starring Harrison Ford. So I suppose my question is thus:

Why the hell are people so goddamned ape-shit crazy for John Fucking Barry?!!!

Don't get me wrong...I like John Barry, at least some of his music anyway. I always liked the music to Hanover Street, which is why I picked it up. But Barry is, well...he's limited, at least to my ears anyway. Lovely as Hanover Street is, you could easily remove the melodic content from the theme(s) and substitute Out of Africa or Dances With Wolves and not get off by more that a beat or two. I mentioned in my last post that Brad and I have a bit of a running joke that John Barry (much like Maurice Jarre) only has three, maybe four scores. There's James Bond - I'll admit, I'm not particularly intimate with the various Bond films he scored, but to my ears they're all kinda "1000 variations on a theme". Then there's big, epic drama Barry - with the likes of The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa, Dances With Wolves, etc. In the end, these all sound relatively identical as well. Different themes and motifs to be sure, but not much variation on harmonic progressions (in fact, Barry seems to be the king of common practice chord progressions - I can't recall the last time I even heard him write something in an inversion). I suppose calling the rest "everything else" seems a bit too all-encompassing (and maybe a little lazy) but I don't want to dig that deep into his repertoire to be more specific.

Much like our dear friend James Horner, Barry seems to have an established bag-o-tricks that he falls back on regularly. I suppose one might argue that what makes him a better composer though is that he hides them better. Like Horner, Barry has a "danger" motif. Well more of an orchestral stab than an actual motif. It usually consists of very shrill, triadic brass stabs, moving this way and that diatonically - I need to be sitting at a piano to analyze them better, as it is, I'm more or less doing this off the top of my head. Anyway, you can hear it plainly in sections of Hanover Street (when ze Germans are coming). There's a lot of it in his older Bond scores, particularly when the bad guy has just done something nefarious. And almost the entire score to Disney's The Black Hole is comprised of those moments (except when it's being all jaunty and British). Still, the man seems to have his admirers amongst the younger generation of Hollywood film composers - just compare the main theme from Hanover sometime to the love theme from Pearl Harbor, ahem...

There are people out there (lots of 'em apparently) that are far more intimately familiar with Barry's musical library than I ever could be with John Williams, or Brad with Jerry Goldsmith. Maybe that's where my lack of understanding comes from - I just haven't heard enough. But then again, if he's been using the same ideas and language for his entire career, then what is it about that language that kept his fandom coming back time and again. Again, I don't know a great deal of Barry's music, but I'd be willing to wager I'd be able to pick him out 9 times out of 10, regardless of what you put on for me to hear. So what is it?! What is it that causes such unwavering adoration? I frankly just don't hear it...some of it's interesting, some quite lovely - but some is just downright boring, and more repetitive than Jim Horner could ever dream of being! If I were to post any of this on a message board, say over a FilmScoreMonthly or Intrada, I'd be strung up faster than an 1890's cattle rustler (I figured that was more PC than some allusion to a black man in the south)!

But for the love of God, don't tell a John Barry nut that he's boring...they'll find you...

...and cut your balls off! (John Barry is GOD, after all!)