It has been a while since I have posted. This has mostly been due to circumstance; I've had quite a few odds and ends floating about.
- Camera Non-obscura
- The biggest news is that Sandy and I have gotten a new camera. The limitations of what we were using on The Early Mixes dictated this move. After searching through many different models, we settled on the Sony PMW-EX1, which is excellent in low-light conditions and offers the camera operator very user-friendly options, including personalized presets and control over every element of the imaging chain. More importantly, the 1920 x 1080 native 24p image is beautifully film-like in appearance.
This is a professional grade camera, which means that while it is easy to use, the instruction manual doesn't actually tell you what any of the features do, they just tell you where to find them and what options you have. For this reason, Sandy and I are taking the camera out to work with it in different situations in order to learn in a hands-on environment what everything on the camera does. We took it yesterday to the Little Neck Bay by Fort Totten to get more familiar with it.
- I finally caught up to Dolores Claiborne, which I found completely engrossing.
Stephen King's inspiration for the title character meeting Kathy Bates during the production of Misery; and Bates inhabits the role so completely that one easily forgets about her (formidable) filmography. This is a banner performance, hardbitten, unsentimental but endlessly engaging. Part of the reason why I don't really pay much attention to awards broadcasts is apparent in this case; Bates should have at least been nominated for Best Actress in all of them and makes a strong case that she should have won most of them. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays her daughter, and the expert portrayal of the broken relationship between the two makes the film completely compelling.
The screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Taylor Hackford's direction adapt King's purposefully rambling narrative into a film which tells stories occurring both in the past and present, each offering the other context. As more is revealed, the characters become more detailed and faceted. The end of the film demonstrates a great maturity; there are no easy answers here, but life goes on.
This is a film about stoic people, and the Danny Elfman's music is often tasked with helping to illustrate what may be going on under the surface for a character who can not allow themselves to show their true feelings. The score blends seamlessly into the performances and environment, an excellent counterpoint to the film. There is also one scene that would be creepy if it had no music, but Elfman takes a disturbing moment and makes it emotionally wrenching as well. This is without a doubt one of Elfman's absolutely finest scores.
- With work on The Early Mixes concluded, I have returned again to my Lord of the Rings mix (I remember when I thought this was complicated). I have everything down with one exception: disc one is running five seconds too long and it's very tight, making it difficult to whittle further. Once I eliminate that five seconds, I will have completed this set.
Just in time, too, because at long last the Extended Versions were released on Blu-ray. They look fantastic (there have been some quibbling about some of the color timing on Fellowship, but it's a very minor alteration and according to New Line, intentional), apparently a distinct improvement over the previous editions. The films themselves are presented on two platters each that are identical to the Extended Edition DVDs but in 1080p and DTS-MA 6.1. All of the previously issued special features are present, including the Easter Eggs. If I have a disappointment, it's that each film is accompanied by three DVDs of supplements that correspond to the two discs that came with the Extended Edition DVDs and the documentaries that came with the seamless branching reissue. This material could all have been placed on a single Blu-ray disc. It doesn't take up that much space on the shelf, however, thanks to some very attractive packaging.
- Kritzerland Records released a double bill of The Pride and Passion and Kings Go Forth by George Anthiel and Elmer Bernstein respectively. I was happy to upgrade my LP of Kings Go Forth, but The Pride and the Passion was a real pleasant surprise for me. I'm not too familiar with Antheil's work, and apparently his concert hall material was way out there, but this is a very well-done traditional score with some nice Spanish flavoring.
- Similarly, while Sol Kaplan's score for The House On Telegraph Hill is a crackerjack bit of tension, Leigh Harline's Ten North Hollywood, its companion piece on the Fox twofer from Intrada is nothing but pure melody from beginning to end. And it sounds crystal clear in crisp mono sound. It's only twenty minutes long, but worth the price of the disc.
- La-La-Land Records has just put out an expanded and remastered edition of Jerry Goldsmith's very last Western, the 1994 Bad Girls. I had never seen this film nor heard the accompanying soundtrack album, but I'd heard good things about it, and I'm often finding much to appreciate in the recent cornucopia of Goldsmith music (particularly his television work). This score turned out to be great fun, with Goldsmith returning to the milieu of Wild Rovers and Breakheart Pass but definitely maintaining his 90s (ponytail-era) musical identity.
- Perhaps the best illustration of how much I enjoyed the Bad Girls is the immediate effect of having listened to it: I ended up getting on a Western score kick. This is when the advantages of having a large iPod is that you can have a lot of music on it that you don't necessarily listen to all of the time, but it's there for when you want it. I was extremely pleased to rediscover a gem of a Western score, Lee Holdridge's beautiful and evocative score for Old Gringo. I like Holdridge's work in general, but this score seems to have particularly inspired the composer, and it features some of his most arresting cues.
- La-La-Land has also released a comprehensive three-disc set of the various different musical incarnations of The Golden Child. Overkill, you ask? Maybe, but I found it downright fascinating. The first disc features the score that John Barry had written for a longer version of the film. The second disc contains the replacement score Michel Colombier composed after the film tested badly with Barry's score. The third disc contains several alternate versions of score cues Barry was preparing for his soundtrack album and all of the songs that appeared on the "Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture" soundtrack album that actually came out with the film.
Now, John Barry's score wasn't rejected outright. Two cues still appear in the film, his vaudeville take on a dream sequence and "Wisdom of the Ages," the love theme which is heard as Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis) the love interest discusses Eddie Murphy's character with her mentor (Victor Wong) and appeared on the song album. It's very clear that the filmmakers liked Barry's score very much, it just wasn't working.
I've heard Barry's score now and I think I understand what the problem was. He approached the film as a straight adventure movie, and the score he wrote is very much in the vein of his James Bond and other adventure scores, such as the 1976 King Kong or High Road To China. It's prime Barry, chock full of great themes, including an amiable theme for Murphy's character "The Best Man In the World" usually heard on saxophone (also a song by Ann and Nancy Wilson that also appeared on the original LP), a beautiful love theme, a wonderful "questing" motif for the magic bird, a globe-trotting scope and dark villain themes. So what's wrong with it?
The score that Barry composed took the danger very seriously. The presence of dark mystical forces are represented by a low male choir. The evil Sardo Numba (Charles Dance) is characterized with harsh brass passages. Listening to this score, one would have no idea that the film was supposed to be a comedy first and an adventure second..Contrast this to Michel Colombier's score, who created a synth-rock-orchestra blend for the version of the film that eventually got released. His main theme for Eddie Murphy's character is the jaunty "The Chosen One," a raucous, bass-driven (shades of "Axel F") piece featuring blazing horns and synths, and permeates the score.
What this boils down to is that Barry's score puts Murphy into a very perilous situation in which he is way out of his depth, while Colombier's score emphasizes how slick and quick-witted the character is. The pop idiom of the score also somewhat trivializes the danger that the villains represent, leveling the playing field somewhat and making it (somewhat) more believable that Murphy could defeat them. Barry didn't make the choices he did in a vacuum, he created the score that the filmmakers originally wanted. It wasn't until they stepped back and showed the film to an audience that they realized that it was the wrong decision.
For myself, as a lifelong John Barry fan, I found this score to be chock full of great moments. The C&C (complete and chronological) presentation does drag a bit; the bonus tracks demonstrate that Barry was clearly planning a more concise account of the music for the soundtrack album when his score had to be (mostly) dropped. Nevertheless, it is great to finally get to hear this unheard score from one of my favorites.
That said, I also really enjoy Michel Colombier's score as well. It's 100% 80s fun with a little bit of exotica thrown in for good measure. It's nothing like Barry's score, which makes it easier to take on its own merits. It's a good companion piece to John Carpenter and Alan Howarth's Big Trouble In Little China and Danny Elfman's Midnight Run.
- It's been almost five months since I adopted Varinia and the novelty of having her has yet to wear off. There was a moment a few months ago that I realized that this was no longer the cat that I had adopted, but genuinely my cat. It was when I was walking by my chaise, which she was lying on, and she reached out and stopped me with her paws, giving me a mew that was unmistakably "stop and pet me." Our only major disagreement is about Daylight Savings Time.
It's not just me. I went away one weekend and my mother came to feed her, and she later regaled me with gushing stories about how sweet and friendly Varinia was. The nicest complement that I think that she received was from a friend of mine with whom I often would play Scrabble. He hadn't been to the apartment since I got Varinia until last week. It turns out that he had been avoiding coming over because he had a bad experience with a cat when he was younger and has been afraid of them since. He loves Varinia, though; she charmed the pants off of him.
Everyone loves my girl.
"If you wanna know what kind of life a person had, just look at their hands."