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Soundtrax: Episode 2008-9

April 22, 2008
By Randall D. Larson

George S. Clinton

No Escape:
George S. Clinton Recaptures Harold & Kumar

The Serious Side of Scoring Comedy

This week Soundtrax interviews George S. Clinton about his music for Harold & Kumar, Austin Powers, and others.  Clinton speaks candidly about the intricacies of scoring for epic comedy, and the similarities between scoring for comedy and scoring for horror films like The Astronaut’s Wife.   Reviews this week include examinations of Sudden Impact, the fourth Dirty Harry movie, Beat’s delicious giallo/Euroshock compilation Cinecocktail 4, Elmer Bernstein’s massive and must-have opus, Heavy Metal, masterfully preserved by FSM, Gianni Ferrio’s splendid vintage ‘70s Italian Cop thriller Il Poliziotta, Kevin Manthei’s splendid score for the animated feature, Justice League: The New Frontier, Lakeshore’s recent releases, Pathology, Bonneville, Penelope, and Sleepwalking (Christopher Young), and a world premiere release of Akira Ifukube’s classic Samurai film score, Tale of Osaka Castle (aka Daredevil in the Castle).  Plus we gather news from the world of films and games and their music.



Interview: George S. Clinton

With armloads of comedy scores under his belt – everything from the Austin Powers movies, the second two Santa Clause movies and their holiday cousin, Deck The Halls, Big Momma’s House 3, and lots more cinematic hilarity – Clinton has a valid pedigree as a comedy movie composer.  However his music is anything but funny, and he approaches comedy films with the same seriousness and sense of character and drama that he invested into his scores for such serious films as HBO’s poignant historical drama, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, TV’s true-life docudrama, 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out, John McNaughton’s sexy thriller Wild Things, Zalman King’s romantic Red Shoe Diaries, the martial arts fantasy series Mortal Kombat, and the science fiction thriller The Astronauts Wife.

In the sequel to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, the new film follows the cross-country adventures of the pot-smoking duo as they try to outrun authorities who suspect them of being terrorists, with Clinton providing plenty of poignancy and bombast as the situation required.  Currently, Clinton has reunited with Mike (Austin Powers) Myers for Paramount’s comedy The Love Guru, in which Myers plays a Deepak Chopra wannabe who is given the task of helping the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team get their star player back on track before the Stanley Cup play-offs.  The Love Guru opens in theatres on June 20.  For this film the composer’s score ranges from classic orchestral to "Bollywood" tablas and sitars.

We interviewed Clinton about the art and science of scoring comedy, his approach to the new Harold & Kumar movie, and asked about a few other notable entries on his filmography.  Thanks to Melissa and the folks at Costa Communications for setting up the interview and to George S. Clinton for taking the time to share his thoughts and perceptions.

 Q: You’ve become known for scoring what I describe as “epic comedies,” and the latest Harold & Kumar escapade certainly falls into this mode.   You’re not scoring comic music, but providing a larger-than-life, epic-styled musical environment in which the story’s comedy plays out.   How would you describe your use of music in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay?

George S.  Clinton: You’ve hit upon my approach to writing for comedies: music as the straight man.  I used some Middle Eastern elements to play to the terrorist aspect of the story.  Rob Cordry’s character gets a serious heroic-military theme.  I wanted the overall score to sound like a big adventure.  The love theme is very romantic.  All the elements are played at, as you put it, in ‘epic level’. 

Q: How has music for comedy films evolved and developed over the quarter century or so you’ve been scoring them?

George S.  Clinton: My approach is pretty much the same now as it was when I did Cheech & Chong movies 25 years ago.  There are more songs in films now, and I like using the technology that’s available today (samples, synths, rhythm loops, etc.) along with orchestra.  I don’t think the basic function of score in films has needed to evolve much.  Maybe comedy scores are less ‘cartoonish’ nowadays – it depends on the need of the film.

Q: How would you describe the theme-and-variation you have employed in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay?

George S.  Clinton: The adventure theme for Harold & Kumar adapts to the locale they find themselves in – Middle Eastern at Guantanamo, rural when they are in Alabama, patriotic when they encounter “W”.  The Rob Cordry theme is like Darth Vader’s theme – it precedes and follows him everywhere he goes.   The love theme starts out tentative and develops as does the relationship and reaches its fullest statement during the big kiss. 

Q: How should music enhance character, situation, and setting in a film like this, and how should music set up (if not play against or play with) the comedy itself? 

George S.  Clinton: There are scenes in any film, comedy or otherwise, where what’s required of the music is purely practical: A scene that moves too slow can be helped by energetic, up-tempo score; the typical emotional enhancement of happy – sad, tension-release, etc.; and even using music to distract the audience from paying too much attention to a bad edit, weak performance, or funky camera move.  On a whole other level, music is the key that allows an audience to unlock its feelings – it is artistic and practical all at once.

Q: Your music for the Austin Powers series seemed to play the films’ musical environment (recalling 60s, retro, Bond/PinkPanther/Eurospy styles) while also embracing the film’s attitude of high camp and satire.    Would you describe your approach at scoring these films and how the three scores differ as the series developed?

George S.  Clinton: The Austin Powers movies were the perfect job for me.  I’m a huge fan of the spy genre and am old enough to have been in theaters when the James Bond and Pink Panther films were shown.  The approach for everyone working on the movies was to honor the style, rather than send it up.  I wanted my score to sound like some newly discovered John Barry or Henry Mancini score from that era.  From film to film, I tried to write the kind of music each of Myers’ characters might hear in his own head- underscore their on-screen deeds.  The approach evolved just as the films did.  New characters, new themes – the last one even had a modern ‘techno-Bond’ opening. 

Q: Many feel that comedy and horror and flip sides of a very similar coin in terms of musical approach.   With that in mind, what was your approach to providing a very scary and moody score for The Astronaut’s Wife, and what were the unique musical needs of this film?

George S.  Clinton: Odd you should say that.  Sometimes when I run into “writer’s block,” I’ll pull a cue from a film of the opposite genre and play it under the scene just to get me past the block  (say, an Austin Powers cue under a scene in a horror movie that’s giving me trouble or vice versa).  Both horror and comedy rely a lot on timing – where to put the ‘boo’ chord or the ‘pratfall’ hit.  They also rely on the setup – building up to moment and then dropping out for the scream or the punch line.  Astronaut’s Wife needed to be creepy but beautiful, foreboding yet seductive.  I utilized choir and orchestra, and the score evolved from tonal to dissonant as the love story went from romantic to horrific.  There is also a disturbing undercurrent provided by processed rhythm loops and exotic percussion.   

Q: How would you describe your approach to scoring the Mortal Kombat movies – what was the challenge of composing these scores, and how did the musical approach develop from the first to the second film?

George S.  Clinton: When they hired me to do the first Mortal Kombat, I was told it would be a big orchestral action score.  After the first preview however, which had been temped with that kind of music, it became clear that techno music had to be part of the package.  I came up with a concept I called ‘Techno-Taiko-Orcho’: a techno center with huge Japanese Taiko drums (and shakuhachi) and orchestra.  But not just any orchestra – a testosterone orchestra: all low-end instruments (violas, celli, basses, trombones, French horns – no violins, trumpets, or woodwinds).  It was a dark, thick, massive ‘manly’ sound that was born of the world of Mortal Kombat.  I continued that approach on the second movie. 

Q: You also provided moody scores for TV’s Night Visions.   Did each episode have a unique score or was music written to be tracked throughout the series?  

George S.  Clinton: I actually only scored the pilot and supervised the ones after that.  It was an electronic package, as most TV is nowadays, so the challenge was to make samples sound like a real orchestra.  The re-used cues in subsequent episodes, so some of it was ‘library.’ 

You’ve composed a very eloquent and persuasive score for Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.   How did you decide to evoke the film’s various nuances and its historical semblances throughout your score?

George S.  Clinton: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee gave me the rare opportunity to do something besides comedy.  I had the Lakota flute master, John Two-Hawks, perform on the score and I was thrilled to write music for an epic drama.  Rather than play the period, I chose to underscore the emotions and narrative. 

Q: While you’ve clearly scored a variety of types of films over your career thus far, do you ever feel restricted or typecast as a composer of comedies – and is that a good thing or a bad thing?

George S.  Clinton: Humans have reached the top of the food chain by developing brains that are pattern seeking.  Who am I to fight millions of years of evolution?

Lakeshore Records has released the songtrack Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, which features one 3:32 score track composed by Clinton, "The Merkin Melody." But Lakeshore promises a full score soundtrack CD to follow shortly, so keep your eyes and ears peeled before it gets away..

Soundtrack Reviews & Notes

Aleph Records has released the soundtrack for the fourth film (of five) in the Dirty Harry series.  Returning to the franchise after stepping aside for film #3 (Jerry Fielding scored The Enforcer), Lalo Schifrin provided a powerful score for 1983’s Sudden Impact, which joins Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, and The Enforcer on Aleph Records’ roster of Dirty Harry soundtracks when the label releases Sudden Impact on May 6th.  Excerpts from Sudden Impact were included on Aleph’s first Dirty Harry Anthology album and on Viva’s 1983 Sudden Impact and the Best of Dirty Harry LP anthology, but this is the first true release of the complete score, plus additional bonus tracks that have been remixed from the original multi-track masters.  The Main Title, for example, which featured some hokey faux police radio traffic over the top of the riffing, is also included in a much welcome alternate version sans the “radio” extracts.  Many of the cues presented full length on this CD had been truncated in the film, so much of what we have will be new to listener’s ears in any case.  With Sudden Impact, Schifrin brought his jazz-based Dirty Harry music into the 80’s while retaining the nuances of where he’d come from, with reflections of 70s disco with a lot of heavy bass, scratching, and sliding shards of synth – not to mention the requisite rhythm section brass that dominated much of Harry Calahan’s music since the first film in 1971.  Moving forward, Schifrin embraced the techno-age in which he found himself in 1983.  As Nick Redman notes in the album’s CD booklet, “Ten years on, Lalo figured, Harry was older, maybe wiser, maybe mellower.”  The score reflects this advanced sensibility, and is less tongue-in-cheek, less youthfully arrogant than Schifrin’s scores for the first two films, while placing Harry firmly into the contemporary environment of the ‘80s.  The action music retains the riff-heavy style of the previous films, but Schifrin’s dramatic music tends to be even more psychologically complex, especially in his motif for Jennifer (Sandra Locke), the despoiled woman whose murderous rampage of revenge drives the film’s storyline.   Schifrin’s theme for Jennifer is gently melodious but subtly off-kilter, reflecting a beautiful woman damaged perhaps beyond repair by cruelty and callousness.  In “Murder by the Sea,” Schifrin introduces her sad melody from strings and flutes, the serenity of her tune counterpointed by cruel and edgy violin chords and a slight cynicism in the melody’s timbre.  In “Remembering Terror,” the music takes us through a “wild medley of anguish,” a Schifrin constructs a disturbing tone poem for the night of terror that generated Jennifer’s vengeful and violent resolve, morphing from the joyful sounds of a carnival carousel to the unearthly wailing squeals of a waterphone [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterphone] to delineate Jennifer’s unheard screams and torture, finally wafting into the pealed bell tones of a pop tune – suggesting Jennifer’s forcing out thoughts of what is occurring to her by focusing on that muted carousel – which are themselves overcome by a vicious rock rhythm associated with boom box of her assailants was carrying.  With a variety of action cues driving the action and bringing Harry and Jennifer into an unorthodox, Magnum Force-like understanding, Schifrin’s score is powerful, energetic, and psychologically in tune with the characters and their developing interaction.  Dirty Harry’s theme is reprised, first in “The Road to San Paolo” where it resonates dolefully before opening into a confident tune performed with broad strides, and as a final summation in the End Title closer, “San Francisco After Dark,” where Schifrin provides a bold statement of the theme, as confident and assertive as its counterpart at the end of Dirty Harry was tentative and confused.  As Redman perfectly puts it, “In 1983, older and wearier, [Harry’s] ideas of how to play the game having changed, his theme is bolder, more assertive, confident, dominant.  He can walk away with a beautiful murderess into an uncertain future, but his character and resolve have hardened.  He’s granite now…”


Lakeshore has released the CD soundtrack release of Pathology, the score for Marc Schoelermann’s dark thriller about a group of medical students who devise a deadly game: to see who can commit the perfect murder (the online version of the soundtrack features enhanced digital surround sound – see under Soundtrack News below).  Composed by prolific German composer Johannes Kobilke (The Pool, Tsunami) and American TV/video composer Robert (Robb) Williamson (Dandelion) (the two are joining forces again to score Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train next), the music for Pathology is effective if rather standard hybrid synth/sampled suspense-action thriller music; lots of sustained tonalities, chord progressions, percussive beats and rippling.  The 17 score tracks are bookended by the requisite rock tunes, 3 at the start (Renholder, The Legion of Doom, The Circle Jerks) and a Ryuichi Sakamoto instrumental at the end.  The score opening track (interestingly titled “F*uck Me, Please… Meeting the Interns”) is the best of the lot, opening from burbling synths and a sparkling piano motif into a cool Zimmerlike hybrid rhythmic action riff punctuated by clusters of strings and a slowly undulating horn phrase over sustained pads of percussion.  “We Don’t Like You,” which follows, is a pleasing introspective strings and piano passage, melancholy and quiet.  The rather compelling violin and piano portion, later identified as “Gwen’s Theme,” recurs from time to time as a gentle motif, as in “Juliette and Ted” where it grows out of a murky stew of synths and sample, in “Smoking Kills” where is emanates from the ashy mist of sustained synth tones, and finally in “Gwen’s Theme” as a warm, gentle, and very human melody, nicely set apart from the score’s harsher moments.   But tracks like “Killing Daddy” are just raucous noise and didn’t do much for me, although I can see where they would be distressingly effective in the film.  On disc, though, they are less listenable.  There are some admittedly influential sonic devices, textures, and atmospheres that are effectively disturbing, almost Saw-like in their ability to convey an all-encompassing feeling of growing apprehension, and “Liebeszauber” generates a provocative mood of claustrophobia through heavy, industrial tonalities, while “Ted Runs” lays down a Run, Lola-like assembly of percussive pads that drive a potent sweep of sonic energy.  Musically, though, a lot of the score lays there, like the cold denizens in “Meeting at the Morgue” without evidencing a lot of musical life or fresh sonic activity – or perhaps it’s just that a lot of these hybrid, synth-pad dominated ambient scores are beginning to all sound alike.  Pathology does harbor a notable melody offset against the more pervasive dark ambiance and it does have some intriguing moments – just not enough of them to sustain a lot of repeated listening.  (I am anxious, though, to see where these composers go in their next project into the land of Clive Barker as interpreted by director Ryuhei Kitamura – his Versus and Azumi are recent classics of Asian action cinema.)


In Cinecocktail 4: The Italian Horror Show, Beat Records gathers nearly two dozen tracks from 14 Euroshock and giallo films of the 70s and 80s, and pairs them up with an excellent hour-long DVD documentary entitled “Hanging Shadows: Perspectives on Italian Horror Cinema” (the DVD is all-region but PAL formatted, so a region free or other PAL-able player will be needed to watch it).  The Italian horror cinema of the 70s was an amazing canvas for remarkable film music, in most cases playing against the action with incredible beautiful music rather than providing seemingly requisite “horror music.”  Drawn from pop, lounge, jazz, and rock idioms, these scores, or at least their more sublime moments, are rich in passion and texture.  Opening with two lovely cues by Ennio Morricone, from 1982’s Extrasensorial (Blood Link) and 1971’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, the collection is off to a fine start.  Both of these are lyrical melodies, the former contrasting tense strokes of violins against an exquisite array of woodwind figures, the latter emphasizing the genre’s (and the composer’s) signature use of female voice.  Nico Fidenco’s rhythmic motif for 1979’s Zombie Holocaust is a cool wordless vocal riff that proceeds as a kind of restful march, languidly patrolling the wildlands.  The texture and tonality provides a compelling chorale accompaniment for this vibrantly graphic zombie film.  “Resurrection” from the same film adds a chilling synth rumble and ghostly voicings over a primitive drumbeat to evoke an inescapable apprehension, while ‘Zombie Parade.  Fabio Frizzi’s rock-based conjuring for the films of Lucio Fulci, as in 1984’s Manhattan Baby (aka The Possessed), proffer a slightly harder edge than Morricone’s transcendently gorgeous melodies of the 70s and earlier 80s, but still harbor an eloquence that is quite stirring.  Frizzi’s “Suono aperto” from Fulci’s L’Aldilà (1981, Beyond) is a moody orchestral track, somber and unsettling but ultimately very attractive.  Francesco de Masi’s music for Fulci’s Lo Squartatore di New York (1982, The New York Ripper) is represented by the melancholy horn intonations of “Fay,” a quiet and introspective inner-city jazz cue, reprised and extended with a cool echoing riff a few tracks later in “New York, One More Da”)  The somber organ tonalities of 1974’s L’Anticristo from Morricone and Bruno Nicolai are familiar entries in collections like this but still resound with a haunting diabolism.  Australian composer Simon Boswell’s drumkit raps out a consistent jazzy drum rhythm while a series of sinewy chords and breathy violin intonations hover about above it in “Sharp Groove” from Michele Soavi’s Deliria 1987, aka Stage Fright), while his “Stairway to Hell” from the same picture generates a quite likable raucous rock rhythm.  Morricone returns with his fragile female vocal song “Veni Sancte Spiritus” from Damiano Damiani’s Il Sorriso del Grande Tentatore (1974, The Temper).  Walter Rizzati provided an especially poignant piano melody for “Tema Bambino” from Fulci’s Quello villa accanta dl cimitero  (House by the Cemetery, 1981), and also provided a dance rock number, “April Night,” for The New York Ripper, included here as the album’s closer.  Less interesting selections include Alessandro Blonksteiner’s vague music from Antonio Margheriti’s savage Apocalypse Domani (1980, Cannibal Apocalypse), represented by two tracks, Piero Montanari’s two moaning synthy-choir cues from La Casa 3: Ghosthouse  (1988, haunting but clichéd electronica), Carlo Maria Cordio’s pair of overly synth-laden cues from Raptors (1987, aka Zombi 5), and Stefano Mainetti’s hard rocking “The Sound of Fear” song from Fulci’s Zombi 3 (1988)   But they are perhaps less known than some of the other cues, and their album releases issued by Beat during the late 90s and early 2000s have mostly gone out of print.  The sequencing of the album is quite good, beginning with the elegiac Morricone cues and gradually building up to harder-edged and rockier cues and finally ending up with a pair of pure rock songs.  While not sequenced chronologically, the collection also represents an interesting overview of how giallo film music has developed from orchestral-based melodic material of the 70s to heavily rock- and synth-influenced styles of the later 1980s.  All the tracks are original soundtrack excerpts, and Cinecocktail 4 (especially coupled with the DVD documentary) provides an excellent overview of the unique music of this most Italian of horror subgenres.


In the second of FSM’s March released (we reviewed Eye of the Devil last column), Elmer Bernstein’s massive fantasy score for the 1981 animated feature film, Heavy Metal, is finally given its due on CD.  Along with Ghostbusters (released by Varese as a club release in 2006), this is one of the most sought-after CD soundtracks in Bernstein’s catalog (we’re now left with Robot Monster and Cat Women of the Moon to long for, and wouldn’t they make a splendid pair on a single CD).  In addition to the requisite song album (and the film had a heapful of songs to fit its pop-culture iconicness), Asylum Records took the unusual, for the time, step of issuing a concurrent score album featuring Bernstein’s composition in its entire splendor.  FSM aptly refers to Heavy Metal as “Bernstein’s Star Wars” which isn’t far off the mark.  It’s a thundering symphonic work comprised of a wealth of disparate music for each of the film’s segments.  The film and its aesthetic were based on the American magazine Heavy Metal, which presented graphic stories of fantasy, science fiction, and eroticism, which itself was an American incarnation of a French publication created by comic artists Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Philippe Druilet and writer Jean-Pierre Dionnet called Métal Hurlant (Howling Metal).  In the film, which was directed by animator Gerald Potterton but produced by Bernstein associate Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) – hence the connection – a glowing orb terrorizes a young girl with a collection of stories of dark, erotic fantasy and horror.  Performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the music is powerful, persuasive, and poignant, as epic as the film tried to be (but failed).  FSM’s release, which includes a beautifully illustrated 24-page booklet with very thorough notes by Paul Andrew MacLean, drawing from interviews with Bernstein and orchestrator David Spear, presents the complete score, remastered from the original ¼” stereo tapes in the Bernstein collection at USC.  The score is simply breathtaking, from “Den’s” heroic anthem to the moody noir chic of “Harry Canyon,” and the soaring choruses of “Taarna,” embellished with Jeanne Loriod’s crystal clear Ondes Martenot.  The score is alive with soaring melodies, earnest crescendos, and the kind of marvelous, surging melodies that nobody but Bernstein could do with such orchestral energy.   There is swashbuckler aplenty, passionate and surging melodies, heroic measures and motifs – often in the same cue, as in “End of Baby” which roams through a soprano voice to a poignant melody into a surging heroic motif and into some plaintive mysterioso, and back and out again before launching into an engaging, faux-Western styled melody that’s missing only the sagebrush, culminating into a sultry, steamy, jazzy saxophone measure.  Heavy Metal is distinctly and definitively Bernstein and one of the best scores of his career; simply a must-have score for any serious filmmusicophile, and FSM has done a fine job presenting it on CD for the first time. 


In another animated science fiction feature, this one released by La-La Land Records, prolific video game composer Kevin Manthei provides a gleaming heroic score for Justice League: The New Frontier.  With a storyline set in the 1950s and 60s, about a new generation of superheroes who must join forces with the community's active veterans and a US government that is hostile to superheroes in order to combat a menace to Earth.  With a plethora of superheroes to deal with – The Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Batman, and others – Manthei had quite a job sorting out who should be supported thematically and who needn’t be, in order to keep the score from growing too complex or out of hand.  Manthei focuses on the primary protagonists affecting the story – Flash, Green Lantern, and J’onn J’onzz aka Martian Manhunter – and lets the other hero characters be supported by the underscore as their scenes play out.  With major themes deriving from a handful of characters, as well as the film’s central malevolence, a creature appropriately named The Centre, Manthei’s score is thematically and acoustically rich, emphasizing full orchestra (because the story takes place in the 50s and 60s, Manthei avoided using electronics or a hybrid approach in favor of the purity of a symphony orchestra) and broad strokes.  A wonderfully cacophonous Herrmannesque chord progression is associated with The Centre, suitably building both a mysterious apprehension about what this character is while also emphasizing his largess when he is revealed (it is especially well rendered in “Wonder Woman Recounts”); the Martian detective J’onn J’onzz is effectively represented by a brooding film noir motif.  The Flash is introduced with a rapid-fire percussive motif in “The Flash Saves Las Vegas” and plenty of roiling violins and horns, and an intriguing kind of high-pitched rolling sound from strings and/or winds.  A slow-moving but epic-styled Main Theme remains unassociated with the characters’ themes and retains a sense of darkness and foreboding even while representing the powerful gathering of super heroes into a mighty team.  Superman is accompanied, in “Superman Ties It Up,” be a heraldic chant of a choir, a nice nod to the Man of Steel’s legendary status even among this band of heroes.  “Plan to Action” starts out with a contemplative solo trumpet, poignant but powerful, which gathers confidence and is then joined by the full orchestra emphasizing the decisiveness and capabilities once the Justice League has determined their strategy for battling The Centre.  Superman’s choir returns in “Thick of Battle,” an intricate and complex arrangement of motifs and figures and thematic statements and bombastic orchestration brimming with activity; the activity continues into “The Flash vs. Centre/Last Bit of Business,” which really displays the energy of Manthei’s 100-piece orchestra, while “Victory” culminates the business with eloquent triumph and a concluding Coplanesque poignancy from solo trumpet.  “End Credits” recapitulates the score’s best moments in a powerful concluding summation of the brave and the bold superheroes.  At its core, apart from the more complicated dynamic of the action cues, this score is a simple yet splendid heroic action/adventure score, impressively orchestrated throughout – its depth of instrumentation and dynamic is well preserved on La-La Land’s CD, which includes detailed notes on the score from Manthei and from the film’s supervising producer, Michael Goguen.  I’m eager to hear Manthei’s next score, for Batman: Gothic Knight, the anime DVD film anthology that bridges the feature films Batman Begins and the forthcoming The Dark Knight.  That DVD will be released on July 8th and hopefully a score CD will follow.


In Sleepwalking, Christopher Young’s second soundtrack release in just a few weeks (see my review of Untraceable in the March 10th column), we have a very introspective score told mostly through brooding ambiance and indolent reflection.  The film is a drama, directed by Bill Maher – no webslingers or hellraisers anywhere in sight – about an 11-year-old girl's struggle to come to terms with her mother's abandonment.   After an opening song from the red-headed songstress A Fine Frenzy (Alison Sudol; a track from her debut album One Cell in the Sea), Young takes over for the remaining 16 tracks.  For the most part, the music assumes the characteristic of the film’s title, if not its unresponsive state, a languid ambiance for electric guitar, sustained strings, and a very evocative if subtle textural depth.  The music, from “Sleepwalking” to the long concluding track, “Shine On,” takes us on a journey from emptiness (emphasized often by lots of space for silence between the notes of tracks like “Twister Hearts, Broken Souls” and “How Old Do I?”) through a kind of redemption; the music moves from bleak austerity in both melody and instrumentation to eloquent harmony by the time we’re done, as the past is accepted, dealt with, and put aside.  As the film follows the story of the girl, Tara – and of her brother, James – the music reflects with both ambiance and melody her coming of age, her endurance and her triumph over the abuse of her past.  Through fairly bleak tonality and austere instrumentation, the score takes Tara by the hand as she makes her way out of her dark past and into the light of a hopeful future.  Piano, strings, and acoustic guitar are the score’s dominant textures, often highly reflected in reverb.  “Heavens To Be Had” is a tuneful piano melody over strings and brushed snare drum, a nicely eloquent track that builds an evocative rhythm and forward motion.   “Three Angels Underground” come adorned with an intriguing trio of acoustic guitar motifs sounding under piano: one clearly strummed, one voiced with squeaky strums, one with dirty and monotonous notes in an interesting collage of sounds.  “The Water Waltz” is a pleasing and vaguely country-flavored cue for piano and guitar.  “Losing To You” builds up a nice rhythm through taps of piano over which a slight acoustic guitar figure intones.  “Ferris Wheel” encompasses an eloquent melody and some notable glimmers of hope on Tara’s journey.  “Mad Bad Dad” circulates with a resonance of overdue confrontation, as vibrato guitar urges on an assortment of string measure that faced up to the abuser, until a epiphany of lighter guitar and strings plays out the other side; and the nearly 8-minute concluding track, “Shine On,” reflects Tara’s coming to terms with all that has gone before; similarly the music reprises elements of what we have heard before, reprised and reinterpreted with an attitude of confidence and reassurance.  It’s a quiet score but a very pleasant one, and one rich in introspective interpretation.


Gianni Ferrio’s music for La Poliziotta (Policewoman) a 1974 police comedy directed by Steno, is available via Italy’s Digitmovies.  The music is a pleasing mix of beat/pop/jazz with a variety of rhythms.  The score was issued on a limited edition LP at the time, in RCA’s promotional SP series, along with a 2-track 45-single.  Opening with a jaunty and fairly comic Beat motif for trumpet over percussion and electric bass in “Almost Love,” the music segues at the :54 mark into a blossoming string love theme, which is reprised via the marvelous voice of Edda dell’Orso on track 3.  This main theme appears in eight variations on the CD (which comprises  dozen tracks remastered from the original RCA album plus eight previously unreleased tracks, all of which are additional variations or alternate versions of motifs on that album, favoring solo harmonica (“Almost Love #3”), harmonica and strings in a jaunty pop arrangement (“Almost Love #4”),  romantic strings and keyboard (“Almost Love #5”), poignantly lush keyboard over strings (“Almost Love #6”), harmonica and acoustic guitar (“Almost Love #8”), etc.  A suspense cue, “Anonima Assassini” appears in several guises also, including one with a terrific low wah-wah guitar “wow” which adds a neat effect.  “Step By Step,” which also appears in an alternate version, is a cool Schifrinesque modern jazzy action cue that incorporates the “Almost Love” motif across its sultry riffing.  “Crescendo Trionfale” is a masterful classical motif which charges to multiple climaxes, aided by the massed voices of I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni, simply a wonderfully stirring cue which ends all too soon at 1:18.  Ferrio even provides a marvelous deguello version of the title theme in his finest Italian Western style, and you can smell the grimy dusters in the clear-toned trumpet.   There are also the requisite lounge tracks that a film like this, of its genre and era, tended to demand; Ferrio knocks these off effortlessly for several nightclub scenes, and they are pleasing enough on their own on the album as well.  “Il Mongibello” is a quirky tune for woodwind and electric guitar over Jews Harp, while “Il Potere” is a bold and patriotic-sounding heraldic cue for deeply-intoning trumpets over strings and twinkling keyboard.  Even with the multiple variations of the main theme, this is a pleasingly diverse album with plenty of variety in its sound and thematic interpretation.

Lakeshore’s release of Penelope, a contemporary romantic fairy tale, features six score tracks from Joby Talbot (The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, the remake Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arctic Tale), along with eight songs of various style and vintage (Meiko, The Secret, Devotchka, Stars, etc).  Talbot’s score tracks, interlaced among the songs, are sparkling and orchestral, emphasizing the fairytale trappings of the storyline (Christina Ricci is about a young aristocratic heiress born under a curse that can only be broken when she finds true love with "one who will love her faithfully").  The two movements of “The Story of the Curse” that open the album would not be out of place in a Disney animated fantasy; they are eloquently portrayed and embody a classical kind of fantasy sensibility.  “Penelope Breaks Free” dazzles with triumph and passion as it wafts to a dramatic climax, as does the climactic score cue, “The Kiss.”  The contemporary songs, most of which are pretty good pop and soft- or alt-rock numbers, reflect the story’s setting while Talbot’s score gives it its heart and soul, and reminds us that any Hollywood romance is, in fact, a fairy tale fantasy.  It’s simple and pure, and wonderfully satisfying.  The score tracks are better listened to apart from the songs so as to allow the flow of Talbot’s music to develop on its own without the intrusion of the wholly different sensibility of the songs, but it’s definitely a vibrant and pleasant score deserving of attention. 


Bonneville, another mix of songs and score released recently by Lakeshore, is a kind of dramedy about a road trip in the titular automobile: Three women(a splendid cast: Jessica Lang, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen) hit the road trip to Santa Barbara in order to deliver the ashes of one of their dead husbands to his resentful daughter.  The CD features seven score tracks (totaling about 11 minutes) by Jeff Cardoni (Firehouse Dog, CSI: Miami) nicely sequenced apart from the eight songs (Donovan, King Floyd, Amos Lee, Nick Kershaw, Chelo, etc) that precede it.  The music is fairly bleak, acoustic guitar, piano, and strings, mostly.  The opening moments and sadly reflective as the women deal with the death; once the film – and the Pontiac – gets moving, the score becomes more melodic and vibrant.  “Bo Leaves” and “Driving to Bryce” are both pleasant and rhythmic cues, with “One more Stop” and “Finale” capturing a string sense of emotive eloquence, but even here the overall atmosphere of the score is one of melancholy and reflection.  As with Penelope, the songs provide the musical grain for the obvious action and adventures of the story; the music, in its subtle emotiveness, carries the subtexts and psychological sensibilities of the characters.  It’s short but sweet, and alive with honesty.

Toho Records has issued a magnificent Samurai epic score from Akira Ifukube, offered as an exclusive from arksquare.net.  The film, The Tale of Osaka Castle (1961, known in the US as Daredevil in the Castle), is a 1961 film directed by the masterful Hiroshi Inagaki (Samurai Trilogy, Chushingira, Samurai Banners, etc) and starring Toshiro Mifune as a wandering samurai, grief stricken after his family is wiped out, who becomes a soldier for the Toyotomi clan in Osaka.  His courage and battlefield skills become sorely tested when Osaka Castle is besieged by an opposing army.  Although best known for his music for Godzilla and other classic Toho monster movies, Ifukube also scored dozens of period dramas and historical epics like this, including many of the Zatoichi (Blind Swordsman) films.  Ifukube’s score, presented here in 49 tracks totaling a little over an hour of music, is adventurous and somber.  Like his Godzilla scores, Ifukube constructs the music for Osaka Castle over a primary trilogy of motifs,  He makes the most of a dirge-like theme (Track 2) resonating with sorrow and tragedy, reflecting Mifune’s grief and sparking his ronin wandering, while a more active track is associated with Mifune’s actions and swordplay (Track 3), with the third motif often associated with the villainous elements of the story (track 4) – in the same way that the composer’s monster scores were built around a requiem or dirge, an action theme, and a monster theme.  Ifukube’s favored style serves him well in this score; the music builds a great deal of sympathy emphasizing the darker colors of cello, low horns, somber rhythms.  Occasionally there is a flavor of Eastern musical idioms, but for the most part Ifukube abides a Western classical sensibility in the score, albeit one filtered through his own unique musical perspective.  Even in Inagaki’s huge battle sequences, Ifukube maintains a fairly dark musical atmosphere, with low horns and strings driving the action while drums pounding away at a futile cadence.  This release contains the world premiere of the complete film score in its first 32 tracks, with valuable bonus tracks included featuring Ifukube’s music  from three earlier Inagaki films, Ninjitsu, Secret Scrolls (1957, 5 tracks), Ninjitsu, Secret Scrolls Part 2 (1958, 6 tracks) and Inagaki’s 1959 classic retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac transformed to feudal Japan, Samurai Saga (6  tracks).  The Ninjitsu scores are subtler and smaller than Osaka Castle, although Ifukube still manages to rage pretty well in the battle scenes and wax poignantly during the more intricate moments.  Samurai Saga is of similar cloth, featuring a notable requiem motif reflecting the main character’s hopeless love for the woman he helps his friend woo, and a large, booming main title theme that wafts out of the plaintive koto strumming that opens the score.  This is an outstanding recording demonstrating Ifukube’s remarkable capabilities within the samurai film genre.  While the scores have close ties to his monster music, they retain a sensibility and character all their own.  The Osaka Castle score is very well represented here and the inclusion of a few tracks from these other notable scores are very welcome.


Film Score News

UK Diva Amy Winehouse is reported to be working on the new James Bond theme with Mark Ronson for the forthcoming new 007 movie, Quantum Of Solace.  News of the collaboration comes after months of speculation that Winehouse would be asked to get involved.  Quantum Of Solace, which will see Daniel Craig taking on the role of James Bond for the second time, is due to hit cinemas in November.

The live action remake of the animated Blood: The Last Vampire, an award-winning Japanese film from 2000, gets an original score by Marcus Trumpp. The 34-year old German composer has previ­ously written stylish orchestral scores for The Breedand Hollow Man 2, and has worked extensively as an orchestrator and additional music writer for Marco Beltrami on many films, including Live Free or Die Hard, I, Robotand 3:10 to Yuma. Starring Gianna Yun, Allison Miller, and Masiela Lusha, the new version of Blood: The Last Vampireis directed by French helmer Chris Nahon (Kiss of the Dragon) and is about a vampire who is a member of a secret agency in post-WW2 Japan with the mission to hunt down and destroy demons in Japan after WW2.  – via filmmusicweekly

Christopher Young is reported to be currently working on Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell.  Raimi recently worked with Young on Spider-Man 3 and previously hired the composer to score his stylish supernatural thriller The Gift, released in 2000. Drag Me to Hell, starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long and Jessica Lucas, is a horror film about a young woman who gets a supernatural curse cast upon her. – via upcomingfilmscores

Danny Elfman will write the music and David Yazbek (the Broadway musicals The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) the lyrics for a stage musical about Harry Houdini, which is intended to reach Broadway in 2010. – via filmscoremonthly.com

Trevor Jones, the composer of such well-known scores as The Last of the Mohicans, Excalibur, Cliffhanger, Notting Hilland Angel Heart, has written the music for Three and Out, a UK comedy starring Mackenzie Crook, Colm Meaney, Imelda Staunton and Gemma Arterton. The film is about ordinary persons with unique dilemmas and how far they are willing to go. – via filmmusicweekly

The ever-prolific Aaron Zigman will be scoring My Sister's Keeper, a courtroom drama directed by Nick Cassavetes and starring Alec Baldwin, Cameron Diaz, Joan Cusack, and Jason Patrick.  This is the fourth Nick Cassavetes film Aaron Zigman scores, following John Q, The Notebook and Alpha Dog. Zigman has also recently scored Sex and the City: The Movie, Powder Blue, Meet the Browns and Step Up 2: The Streets. His other upcoming films include Lake City and Flash of Genius.  – via upcomingfilmscores

Michael Wandmacher has just signed on to score My Bloody Valentine 3-D, a horror film scheduled to be distributed theatrically by Lionsgate early next year. Genre specialist Patrick Lussier, who edited the Screamtrilogy and directed Dracula 2000, helms the project which is a remake of the 1981 slasher film of the same name (sans the 3-D).   Among Wand­macher’s other upcoming projects are the Madagascar 2video game (he scored the first one as well) and feature films Trainand Chain Letter. His score for The Killing Floor was released on CD earlier this year by MovieScore Media.  – via filmmusicweekly

Soundtrack News

Congratulations to Varèse Sarabande Records for their 30th anniversary.  The label is pulling out all the stops to celebrate 30 years of soundtrack albums, and the release of their 30th Anniversary CD.  The label will be hosting the biggest film music autograph event in Los Angeles history!  “Everyone will be signing the new anniversary set as well as many of their recent and classic Varèse Sarabande releases, which will be on sale,” notes the label’s web site. Attendees are said to include Christophe Beck, Marco Beltrami, Mychael Danna, John Debney, Michael Giacchino, Mark Isham, Brian Tyler, and Christopher Young plus artist Matthew Joseph Peak and producer Robert Townson.  “We may even have a few paintings on display and, of course, a few surprises!”  The event will take place on May 10th at 2PM at Dark Delicacies, 4213 W. Burbank Blvd. in Burbank.  In related news, Varèse Sarabande producer Robert Townson discusses his career and the label's 30th anniversary in a new interview on Filmmuziek.com

Produced as a companion piece to the labels best-selling 25th Anniversary set with no duplication in content, Varèse Sarabande’s 30th anniversary CD will compile tracks from the label’s greatest releases over the last five years.  Included are cues from such blockbusters as The Bourne Supremacy, Shrek 2, Night At The Museum, M:i:III, critically acclaimed films such as American Gangster, Inside Man, House Of Sand And Fog, United 93, Blood Diamond, Academy Award-winners Million Dollar Baby and The Lives of Others and family classics like Peter Pan, Elf, The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, The Holiday, and action blockbusters like The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, X-Men: The Last Stand, I, Robot, Fantastic Four, Tears Of The Sunwww.varesesarabande.com

On April 22, Varèse Sarabande will release the score by Rob Lane and Joseph Vitarelli for HBO’s ambitious miniseries, John Adams, about America’s second president and long-serving elder statesman.  On May 6th, Michael Giacchino’s 3rd season soundtrack to the hit series Lost will be released, as will his music for the live-action Speed Racer from Matrix duo Larry and Andy Wachowski, with Danny Elfman’s music for Errol Morris’ speculative documentary about abuse at Abu Ghraib, Standard Operating Procedure coming out the same day.

Lakeshore Records has become the first label to release a recording on iTunes utilizing SurCode™ for Dolby® Pro Logic®II technology with the upcoming soundtrack for Pathology.  In addition to its release as a CD (see review, above), the soundtrack will be available April 22 as an iTunes Exclusive Dolby Pro Logic II score album and was composed by Robert Williamson and Johannes Kobilke.  The SurCode for Dolby® Pro Logic® II software matrix encoder allows broadcasters, game developers, video producers, and audio professionals everywhere to easily encode surround sound mixes into stereo sound files.  The result is completely stereo-compatible and can be decoded by virtually every Dolby Digital home theatre system sold today. 

Available this week from La-La Land Records is Farscape Classics Vol. 3, third in the label’s ongoing series of complete soundtracks to episodes of the beloved Sci-Fi Channel series.   A limited edition of only 1200 units and not available in stores, this third volume features acclaimed Farscape composer Guy Gross’s emotionally charged scores to the episodes The Choice (Season 3) and The Locket (Season 2).  These scores continue to showcase the diverse musical talents of Guy Gross, which have helped elevate this creative sci-fi television series, produced by the Jim Henson Company, to its cult phenomenon status. “These richly textured scores are among the best musical moments the Farscape experience has to offer. 12-Page Collectable CD-Booklet is packed with exclusive liner notes [written by yours truly] and awesome photos.” www.lalalandrecords.com

Lionsgate Records will release in the USA on May 6th Ramin Djawadi’s score for Iron Man, the latest big-budget super-hero blockbuster, with Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark, Marvel Comics’ millionaire industrialist trapped in a mechanical body following an explosive attack.  The album contains 14 score tracks and four songs.   Silva Screen will release the soundtrack in all other countries.  – via soundtrackcollector.com  and silvascreen.com

Silva Screen will also release a soundtrack to Dangerous Parking, a screen adaptation of Stuart Browne’s cult novel about wastrel film director Noah Arkwright, a user and abuser who aims to destroy the addictions that haunt him. Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors, Johnny English) directed, took the lead role and wrote the screenplay.  The film features a subtle, yet powerful score by Andre Barreau. Silva Screen was also heavily involved in the film project as music supervisors, sourcing and clearing a wide range of material ranging from Jim Croce to Elastica.

Also on May 6, Aleph Records will release the comic book soundtrack for Spooks via iTunes.   Spooks, a new military horror series from Devil’s Due Publishing, was created and co-written by Schifrin’s son Ryan, for whom the composer scored the film Abominable.  The comic was a hit and sold out within its first week and all four issues will be turned into a graphic novel in July.  The music appears on the website for the comic www.spooksthecomic.com .    

Japan’s Verita Note is reportedly scheduled to release two more Italian Westerns in its series of expanded reissues: Lo Straniero (Piccioni) in May, and I Crudeli (Morricone) in June.  http://veritanote.com/

Canadian label DisquesCinemusique.com is releasing an intimate interpretation of the music of Georges Delerue with Les plus beaux thèmes pour la flûte et le hautbois (The most beautiful themes for flute and oboe), a new compilation that focuses on two favorite instruments of the composer, offering new versions of film music that can deservedly be called classic. The orchestra gathers nine of Quebec finest musicians, featuring Patrick Healey, flutes and piccolo, Hélène Déry, oboe and English horn, and the Ensemble En-le-vent et compagnie. The 20-page color booklet includes many stills.

RunMovies, the European web site archiving material from long out-of-print issues of Soundtrack and CinemaScore magazines, has moved to a new site and posted a barrelful of old interviews, reviews, and articles, including three of CinemaScore’s acclaimed “Vintage Score” examinations (D.O.A., The Werewolf of London, and Seven Samurai), interviews with Arthur B. Rubinstein (Blue Thunder, Wargames), Herman Stein (Creature from the Black Lagoon), David Shire (2010), Barry Gray (Thunderbirds),  Harry Robinson (The Vampire Lovers),  Miklos Rozsa, Elmer Bernstein (Ghostbusters), Jerry Goldsmith (Poltergeist), Leonard Rosenman (Star Trek IV), Mark McKenzie (Dragonheart II), and much more, including a number of more recent articles and interviews by John Mansell (Franco deGemini from 2006, Stelvio Cipriani from 2007, etc).

Video Game Music News

Austin Wintory's score and sound design for Sony's PlayStation3 hit flOw recently earned him the AudioGANG's 'Rookie of the Year' award.  The game's score was also double nominated at the GANG awards for 'Most Innovative Use of Audio" and "Best Interactive Score."  In 2007 Austin was also nominated at the British Academy Awards for flOw. Sony is currently in plans for a soundtrack release, due this coming summer.  Wintory also composed the music for the Jordanian film Captain Abu Raed, which recently played at the Sundance Film Festival and won the coveted Audience Award.  The score featured the Hollywood Studio Symphony and world-renowned singer Lisbeth Scott.  Most recently, Austin's music can be heard in the upcoming online film The Acquirer, which will available exclusively through Cinsay.com starting March 21st.  Wintory is also re-teaming with singer Lisbeth Scott on his next film assignment, the vampire epic Live Evil.

Codemasters has licensed tracks from the film Bullitt, composed by Lalo Schifrin in 1968, to be used in their new video game, HEI$T™ a new Grand Theft Auto-styled bank robbin’ action-driving game set in a gritty San Francisco, circa 1969.  HEI$T has gamers taking charge of a group of renegade criminals as they rob, steal ,and shoot their way throughout the city, all the while their sights set on the big score: taking the San Francisco Mint – to the tune of Schifrin’s iconic score. The video game will be released in the summer of 2008.


Other Relevant Music News

Two extraordinary musical talents with long histories in film music performance have joined forces to form Biomusique and release The 10,000 Steps.   The musicians are multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Greg Ellis (of the band Juno Reactor) and acclaimed singer/songwriter Lisbeth Scott. Both these talents have traversed the musical landscape of past projects and unite for a stirring unconventional project.  Kosmic Music U.S. will release The 10,000 steps on May 13.

Ellis’ intricate, carefully-crafted arrangements sensitively frame the tonal nuances achieved by Scott’s luminous voice in masterfully precise performances, with eclectic instrumentation surging bravely around some of her vocal tracks with understated grandeur and a deft chiaroscuro – or in other pieces enhancing her voice with the delicacy of fine filigree.  Instrumentally, Ellis is joined by bassist Dan Lutz; African drummer/vocalist Mabi Thobejane; guitarist Sugizo (also on electric and acoustic violin), as well as by Lisbeth Scott -- who plays piano (the maiden recording for her 1911 Steinway grand), harmonium, guitar and calimba.  

“The songs range from poignantly moving to serene and radiant, weaving a richly textural tapestry of emotion and sound – a ‘sonic sculpture,’ similar to a film score”, as Ellis describes it. This is hardly surprising, as both Ellis and Scott have long been ubiquitous as contributors of note to major film music; Greg's prolific workhas shaped the sound of such films as the Matrix series, Fight Club, Dukes of Hazzard, and 300, among others, while Scott's includes the haunting vocalisms forNarnia, Shrek, The Passion of the Christ(for which she received a Gold record), and Spielberg's Munich.   With the unmistakable words of a film composer, Scott describes the spontaneity and flow of The 10,000 steps creation process: "My lyrics present themselves with visuals all the time. A movie begins in my head…and I simply describe what I see.  As soon as I heard Greg's dulcimer playing for the song ‘Ohroo,’ I saw a fluid and strong young horseman riding across an open land with mountains in the distance…Iceland? Finland?  He was riding at night in desperation, not a minute to spare, longing for the woman he loves, calling the whole time…and she far away in a tiny room, asleep, dreaming of him.  And then I realized the metaphor:  we all wait, we all dream, we all wonder what our awakening will be…when we are already in it!  Do we create this magical world to relieve us of the pain we feel?"


Randall Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine.  A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music from the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He now reviews soundtracks for Music from the Movies, Cemetery Dance magazine, and writes for Film Music Magazine and others. For more information, see: www.myspace.com/larsonrdl
Randall can be contacted at soundtraxrdl@aol.com


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