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“We have taken Aqaba.”

G'Kar (Babylon 5)
    “In whose name do you ride?”

  • This week I had the pleasure of attending the Fathom theatrical presentation of Lawrence of Arabia. They were screening the recent 8k to 4k restoration of the film, which presents the extended 1989 director's cut of the film assembled by Katz and Harris under the direction of Sir David Lean and editor Anne V. Coates. I had seen the film projected previously in 70 millimeter at the Paris and Ziegfeld theaters, and I have always tried whenever the film was in theaters to go see it. This time was no different, except that I had attended Fathom's presentation of The Birds and was less than blown away by the image, and was less than impressed by the clips shown before that film of what Lawrence might look like. However, the film was being shown theatrically and my date had never seen it, so I felt justified in wanting to catch it again.

    I needn't have worried; the presentation was first-rate. I can say that the restoration looks fantastic, colors are more solid than they appeared on film prints. The depth and detail captured by the original 65 millimeter camera negative is all there, solid and vivid.

    The thing about Lawrence is that, if you've seen it at home, you haven't really seen it. This was a film that was photographed to be seen on a huge screen, and it doesn't translate so well to smaller dimensions. To put it bluntly: if your television fits in your apartment or house, it's TOO DAMN SMALL. Sequences in Lawrence are built around such striking images as a speck on the horizon resolving into a character (Omar Sharif's dramatic entrance and Lawrence's rescue of Gassim are unforgettable examples), or the John Ford-inspired use of the landscape to isolate characters. Freddie Young's cinematography is striking from the opening shot to the final fade-out, and several of the images are some of the most iconic in cinema history.



    Something else struck me as interesting whilst watching the film. While one can definitely point at institutional racism of its casting and production (the only star of the film that came from even close to the region he was supposed to be from was Sharif as Ali, and only because Horst Buchholz and Alain Delon weren't available), it is interesting that the finished film tends to be too sophisticated and intelligent to fall into the standard movie “white man helps the primitives” narrative that this film could easily have descended into. Indeed, Lawrence's own motivations as well as those who use him for their own ends (including Prince Faisal) are sharply called into question by the nature of the story itself. Colonialism and warfare are the subjects of the film, and many of the more disturbing elements of the film are addressing these issues head-on.

    To get myself pumped to see the film, I spent much of the day before I saw it (and the day afterward as well) listening to the superb Tadlow recording of Maurice Jarre's striking score. As I have mentioned before, I consider this to be one of the finest examples of a film music re-recording thus made. The performance captures the spirit of the original, and the sound is consistent with that of the original recording whilst not having any of its limitations. Indeed, perhaps the best complement I can offer is that there are several moments over the course of the album that I would have sworn before that only Maurice Jarre himself could possibly have conducted.

    However, the Blu-ray set is said to have a remastered edition of the original soundtrack album with two previously unreleased tracks. While I am quite satisfied with Tadlow's recording, I am nevertheless curious about this disc for two reasons:

    1. The sound of the score iin the new master of the film seemed a bit cleaner than it did in previous screenings I'd seen and the advances in mastering technology since the Varèse issue of the Colpix album was originally released in 1990 have been a thousandfold.


    2. I am hoping that among the two additional tracks will be the “Entry To the Desert” cue: that's the famous cut from Lawrence blowing out the match to the sunrise in the desert, with the rhapsodic presentation of the main theme as Lawrence and Tafas traverse the desert. This is one of the most striking cues in the film, but it was omitted from the original album (and subject to an awful rendition on the Silva recording), but has been part of many concert suites throughout the years; I'd love to have the original of this.



  • “It's okay by me…”

  • A wonderful surprise was the Quartet Records release of The Long Goodbye. While a few tracks had already been released by Varèse paired with an album for another Johnny Williams score Fitzwilly, Quartet presents several more variations on the main theme as well as an edit of Robert Altman's ingenious main title montage. The latter conforms to the film cut, but because the song always cuts to a different version of the same song but at the same melodic point, it still works as a piece of music. Weird.

    Quartet's edition nearly doubles the running time of the Varèse version, which could conceivably have made for a pretty dull listen for a score that consists entirely of different version of one song, but between Quartet's intelligent sequencing and the sheer inventiveness of the variations John Williams came up with (among the new tracks, he accompanies the Dave Grusin trio on piano), it pretty much breezes by.



    I recently revisited the film as well. I refer people to my earlier comments on the film and how well it captures the feel of Los Angeles. I did pay special attention to the music this time around, now that I was a bit more aware of the different elements that went into it, and I have to say that I have an even greater appreciation of the Altman/Williams collaboration that yielded this and Images. The song is like another character in the film; rather than reflecting anything interior, it seems to become a sort of Greek Chorus, but with jazz.



  • “Jim, I want this. As much as you wanted the Enterprise, I want this.”

  • I haven't really said much here about La-La Land's release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, mostly because I was just so overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of material represented on the set (although I did make the adjustments to my entry for A Busy Man to reflect the replacement of the old masters with the new material from this and GNP Crescendo's release of Star Trek: First Contact into that mix).

    It is difficult to explain what I find so satisfying about this release. The fact is, anybody who has been collecting for as long as I have has come across multiple different variations for this score; in addition to the original album and the expanded 1999 edition, bootleg tapes of various elements of the score abounded since the film's release. I have heard most of the music on this set in one form or another. It isn't discovery that is making owning this set so conclusive.



    Mostly, it's the fact that, for the first time, everything that I've ever heard has finally been placed in its proper context. All alternates and multiple versions have been accounted for, from the Lionel Newman-conducted version of the main title (the version on the record and in the “Director's Edition” cut were Goldsmith's own album take) to the different blaster beam hits for “The Force Field” to the variations on “Inner Workings;” album takes that are different from film takes, which were different from what was heard on the 1999 edition, at last can be made sense of here once and for all. And it is more complete than anything else previously heard, even including the film version of “No Goodbyes,” which I've never heard outside of the film before except as part of the sign-off for the expanded “Inside Star Trek” program included with the 1999 edition, where it was under Nichelle Nichols' exit speech.

    It's also the sound.

    The intial album master for Star Trek: The Motion Picture was prepared digitally in 1979; the 1999 edition was taken from an analogue source. The expansions on the latter had a characteristically flat sound, and while the original album master (faithfully reproduced as part of La-La Land's set) sounds decent on its own, there was some room for improvement. Newly mixed from the original 24-track analogue master tapes, the new set sounds completely different. Each section of the orchestra is much more clearly delineated, and the much more detailed sonics means that one hears more than one ever did, even when listening to one of the more familiar cues.

    This is one of the scores that truly cemented my love for this genre, and it has finally gotten the release that I'd always hoped for. As I've often commented, if this film were better-paced, I might not have had to notice how good the music was. As the film's tag-line stated, “There is no comparison.”



  • “Forget it, Jerry. It's Varèse Sarabande.”

  • Varèse has been taking some hits from some people in the film music community for their “Encore Series,” which is essentially them repressing certain titles from their back catalog, then making them available on iTunes. I actually like much of what they've re-released, and while some titles might have benefited from an expansion, if you look at it from the point of view that they're just making available stuff that people might have missed, it becomes a very fruitful line. I for one was very pleased to be able to pick up Elmer Bernstein's Amazing Grace and Chuck, Georges Delerue's Crimes of the Heart and Maurice Jarre's Tai Pan (among others) for a reasonable price.

    I have to say, however, I was not very pleased with their re-issue of Chinatown. I was okay with getting a better sounding master of the original LP (I would prefer the complete score plus alternates, but I understand that may not be as easy as some may think it is) there was no sonic improvement I could hear (the sound is slightly different, but I wouldn't say one disc had any real advantage over the other), the notes weren't much more illuminating than they originally were, and I actually liked the disc artwork a bit better than what graced the original CD release. There was no point in my upgrading whatsoever, and in a few weeks I plan to sell a lot of my doubles and whatnot to Screen Archives; it will be the new edition, not the old, that I am offering them.

    Speaking of Jerry, I found the BuySoundtrax album Jerry Goldsmith Volume One: The Rarities to have been full of pleasant surprises, not least of which is how well it sounds when played straight through. It is very well programmed so that the listener goes through various “suites” that concentrate on a certain genre or sound, such as a 'noir' suite with Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, 2 Days In the Valley and the like.

    Some of the tracks are remarkably faithful, such as the main title for Shamus (I'd love a release of that score some day), others are very, very different stylistically from the originals. Warlock and Psycho II get some very contemporary and different arrangements. I really liked this compilation as it filled in some blanks, while at the same time offering a fresh spin on some familiar favorites.

    Meanwhile, Intrada released the full original unused score for 2 Days In the Valley. The aforementioned BSX compilation was the first time I had heard any music from the film, but I loved the plaintive trumpet theme, and so I was quite interested to hear more. I was surprised to find how colorful and varied the score was when played in full. Some passages have what sounds like a slinkier take on Basic Instinct, others a jaunty Italian tune. I've not seen the film, so I don't know how any of this would fit together, but it makes for an interesting listen.



  • “My defense was evolving. You guys got scared. ”

  • Among his swan songs, Lukas Kendall has righted a serious wrong.

    In 1981, when John Barry was recording his soon-to-be classic score for Lawrence Kasdan's soon-to-be classic film Body Heat (again, I refer to my previous comments on the film), which was to be released by on John Lasher's Southern Cross label. An album master was prepared by Dan Wallin, but apparently Lasher didn't want to pay the price for that composer-approved mix and went off and made his own. That horrid sound mix was what graced the original LP and Southern Cross CDs, and for years was the only was to hear the original soundtrack recording.



    Film Score Monthly's new edition of the score repairs the damage done to the score with a fresh new stereo mix that is so much of an improvement over the Southern Cross master that it's amazing that they're even the same recording. The sound still has a slightly flat aspect to it, but it shares that with many other Dan Wallin recordings of the era; otherwise the new edition is clean and clear instead of muddy and distant.

    The film score is a much sleazier performance than the Varèse Sarabande recording. While I like both, it is the film performances with Michael Lang and Ronnie Lang (no relation) that really gave this score its characteristic sound, which would in turn redefine the sound of a genre.


I leave you with a picture of Varinia lying on a T-shirt that I got when I went to see Roger Waters at Yankee Stadium:

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
gislebertus
Oct. 8th, 2012 07:02 am (UTC)
I went to see Lawrence myself on Thursday as well, completing a 20 year quest to see my favorite film of all time on the big screen -- I'd tried more than once before, to have unfortunate circumstances block me, including the theft of my jeep the day of one screening. Needless to say, seeing it finally on a screen worthy of its grandeur and scope was well worth the wait. I damn near wanted to cry, I was so happy.
swashbuckler332
Oct. 9th, 2012 02:41 am (UTC)
Nothing is written.
I admit I teared up a little when Daud sees Lawrence returning with Gasim. It's the most triumphant moment in the film (indeed, everything goes tonally downhill after that; even the victory at Aqaba is mitigated by the execution of Gasim that precedes it), and that music…

I a very glad for you that you finally got to see it… to really see it. It's a lot like Rocky Horror in that respect; even if you've seen it at home already, you're still a virgin. You can get the drama, but not the full force of the epic sweep that one can only get from a big screen.

Edited at 2012-10-09 02:42 am (UTC)
gislebertus
Oct. 9th, 2012 07:22 am (UTC)
Re: Nothing is written.
The restoration was mind-blowingly crisp, too. I was stunned by how gorgeous it was. I enjoyed the Scorsese interview leading into it, as well. It's a film that refuses to be easily deciphered, and I think that's why I return to it so often.

Now I just have to go see The Searchers on the big screen.
swashbuckler332
Oct. 9th, 2012 12:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Nothing is written.
I think that's one of the reasons for its continued popularity (the screening I saw played to a completely packed house); its enigmas transcend generations. None of the psychological portrayal of Lawrence has dated because the film didn't really draw conclusions so much as presented the character for your consideration.

I also have to say, that with the exception of Lawrence's fey trot in the officer's lounge that one time (you know the time I'm talking about — Michael Caine essays a similar prance at one point in Zulu as well, if I'm not mistaken), the style of the film hasn't really dated (other than the whole screen size thing; I hope this isn't the last time that I ever see this film on the big screen).

One day I hope to see a 70 millimeter screening of Spartacus.

Edited at 2012-10-09 12:08 pm (UTC)
ehowton
Oct. 14th, 2012 05:44 pm (UTC)
Its like a bi-monthly newsletter of what's what. I always enjoy reading your posts even if I have nothing to offer - and I love the pic of Varinia!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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