Friday 13 August 2004

Film scores.

Norm points at this brilliant piece in Sight & Sound, in which film directors and musicians choose their favourite ever soundtracks. I have to say the results are extremely surprising. Quite a few of the directors seem to have treated the exercise as an excuse to publicly name-check the most obscure films they can, which is no surprise at all. No, what's surprising is how badly some of modern cinema's greatest soundtracks have fared.

Only one musician and not one director named The Jungle Book. The Piano and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence each get just a couple of mentions. Star Wars isn't anywhere near as popular as it should be. No-one mentions David Arnold, despite the fact that he has actually managed to improve on the unimprovable, namely John Barry's James Bond work. Danny Elfman gets just one mention, for Edward Scissorhands — where the hell is Batman? And the only Hans Zimmer piece mentioned is The Lion bloody King. Surely Gladiator deserves a mention. And no sign of Dances With Wolves. Tsk.

Annoying though Belle & Sebastian generally are, Stuart Murdoch must be congratulated for picking the themes from Mr Ben, which are indeed so good that they deserve to be mentioned among the greats. And it's interesting how, when you read Martin Scorsese's contribution, you can't help but hear it in his voice.

These two eejits deserve a mention:

Mamadou Diabaté
(Composed the music for Moussa Sène Absa's Madame Brouette)
"My favourite music track is Titanic (1997). I like the emotion of the movie, it gives you the same feeling that the music plays. Celine Dion's voice brings you to the past and the deep feeling from that time period."

Now, James Horner's soundtrack for Titanic is actually rather excellent, and deserves to be mentioned. But Celine Dion doesn't sing in the film; she just sung on the hit single spin-off, which was a horrid bastardisation of a great piece of music, complete with bad Eighties-style soft stadium rock arrangement. Yeah, I think it got played over the end credits, but so what? This woman is implying that Celine Dion's voice is part of what makes the music right for the film. Since you don't get to hear her voice until after the film is over, this is clearly bollocks.

John McNaughton
"My choice for favourite film soundtrack music is Ennio Morricone's score for Sergio Leone's Once upon a time in America (1983). It has stayed with me since I first saw the film by which I mean the so-called long version and not the cut down studio version, which was unfortunately the first version to be released. The movie is about a man, David "Noodles" Aaronson, haunted by the past, who returns to his old neighbourhood after a thirty-five year exile. The story is told in flashback and is sometimes difficult to follow but Morricone's use of thematic and harmonic repetition functions to connect the narrative and make emotionally clear that which may be intellectually confusing. As "Noodles" is haunted by the past so are we haunted by Morricone's music, which so beautifully evokes the past. Of special note is the cue, "Cockeye's song," played on the Pan Flute by Gheorghe Zamfir. The beautiful melody conveyed by the unique tonal quality of the Pan Flute transports us into "Noodles'" heart, so haunted by memory and loss."

This is one of my pet hates. This bloody film. Now, anyone who says that it's a great soundtrack to an otherwise dreadful film has my agreement, or at least my sympathy, which is near enough. But don't try and tell me that this film is good in any other way.

Firstly, this is one case in which the studio were right to move in and cut down a film that had been made stupidly long by a self-indulgent director. Don't get me wrong: I love long films. Lawrence Of Arabia is probably my all time favourite. I love Dances With Wolves (which could have done with being a bit longer, in my opinion) and JFK. But the thing about Once Upon A Time In America is that it doesn't actually have the plot to support its length. The script for the film is about ninety minutes long, if that. Any other director would have made a short film out of it. The long version isn't the "so-called long version" — it's the bloody interminably long version. Leone didn't stretch it out by adding bits of plot or dialogue or even scenery; he did it by adding about fourteen hours of footage of Robert De Niro quietly remembering things. Yes, Noodles is haunted by the past, all right. He looks at a wall. It reminds him of when he was last there. He continues to look at the wall. The camera moves around a bit, so we see him from a different angle, still looking at the wall. The music swells evocatively. Robert De Niro looks at the wall. What was that? A slight flicker in his eye, perhaps, as he looks at the wall? Perhaps he's remembering something. Yes, look, he's definitely remembering something! And... cue flashback. He looks at the wall. Cue flashback. He looks at the wall. Cue flashback. Cue flashback! He looks at the wall. The camera zooms in. Cue the fucking flashback, already! De Niro looks pensive. Aaaaarrrgh!

Secondly, the story is not "sometimes difficult to follow", unless by that you mean that you keep drifting off to sleep and it's difficult to work out what's happened when you wake up, although even that is unlikely as you can get a good hour's kip without any actual plot happening on screen. The story could be summed up in four paragraphs, easily, without using any long words, or even semi-colons. It's simplicity itself. Oh, yeah, it has a "twist" at the end, which I've heard people describe in the same sort of terms as the twists at the end of The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game. It's not that good. You sit through twenty-seven hours of crap, dull film because you've heard about this great "twist" and you naively hope that it might make it all worth it. Nope. It turns out to be the very thing that was made extremely obvious right at the very beginning — in about the fourth hour.

That film is three bloody days of my life I won't be getting back. You can probably get the DVD for about a tenner. So take a tenner, get a snail, and watch the snail eat the tenner. It'll be more interesting than the film, and quicker.


I've added links to all the films and soundtracks mentioned above. Apart from that bloody film. Remember, kids: links are what is great about the Internet.

Further update:

Oh, and the observant among you will notice that I didn't link to The Lion King either. Don't get me started on The Lion King. Grr.

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