Lost In the Shuffle
I’d say that 95 percent of the music on my 80gb iPod (and it’s damn near full) consists of film music. Approximately 80 percent of the music of the 400gb I have stored so far on my external hard drive is also taken up with film music.
And yet I still have days where I look at my collection of well over 1,000 film scores and say, “I have nothing to listen to.”
With that many albums, it’s inevitable that some get lost in the shuffle. (Clever, huh?) So I thought I would start a new series of weekly posts (usually on Sunday) in which I just put my iPod on shuffle and see what the technological fates have in store. I take the first five tracks that come up, no skipping over tracks or scores I don’t particularly care for, and present them in that order in the post.
Normally, I’m not a shuffle kind of guy. I like to listen to my music all the way through, one score at a time. Even at the point of a gun, I don’t think I could make a playlist. And because these are single tracks, they may or may not be indicative of the quality of the score. They also may or may not be interesting when heard on their own. But that’s the fun of it.
Each week, I’ll add new scores to the iPod so that I’m not shuffling through the same musical trough. Though with 80gb of digital music, the chances of a repeat are fairly slim.
Who knows, we may rediscover some long buried film music treasures together.
HIGH NOON (1952) – Kane Warns Helen[audio:highnoon.mp3]
The original tracks to Dimitri Tiomkin’s Oscar-winning score were finally released on SAE in 2007. This track is a good example of Tiomkin’s scoring style, with him moving from one musical mood to the next. The score was groundbreaking in Tiomkin’s use of his Oscar-winning title song throughout the score. Melodic fragments from the song melody are interwoven with traveling music and Spanish-flavored motifs associated with Katy Jurado’s Helen. The accordion gives everything the proper lonely Western flavor. Many film music fans have a love it or hate it relationship with Tiomkin’s music. I’m on the fence myself, but he certainly composed a bang up score for HIGH NOON.
SECRETS OF LIFE (1956) – Fire, Air, Earth and Water[audio:secretsoflife.mp3]
In the 1950s, Disney staff composer Paul J. Smith scored a series of nature documentary shorts and features for the studio entitled TRUE LIFE ADVENTURES. Those of you of a certain age (and I’m one of them) will remember watching (and probably falling asleep during) these films in elementary school. SECRETS OF LIFE focuses on ants and bees as well as various plant life. Though this final track on the album isn’t as enjoyable as the score’s highlight–“Industrious Ants”–it gives you some idea of the workaday dramatic music for Disney films that gets taken for granted. At :57 and again at 3:14 you’ll hear the score’s majestic main theme in the French horns and trombones. I used to have the LP and this track was and still is multiple cues rolled into one (you’ll be able to hear the gaps in between). The score was never released on CD, but you can get it from iTunes. For under $6, it’s a bargain. A few years ago, Disney released the entire TRUE LIFE ADVENTURES series on four DVD sets. I own them all but oddly enough I’ve yet to watch this film.
MY COUSIN RACHEL (1952) – Countryside[audio:mycousinrachel.mp3]
The cue begins with the yearning main theme in the lower strings until a flourish in the harps takes the theme into the upper strings. Franz Waxman’s music perfectly captures the sturm und drang of this Olivia de Havilland-Richard Burton Victorian murder mystery. The music bears much of the same harmonic language of the composer’s earlier work on REBECCA, but now shows a richer musical maturity that plumbs the dramatic, psychological depths of the story. Being a Waxman fan, I was thrilled when Varese Sarabande issued this last year and I’m glad I snapped it before it sold out. This score has not exactly been lost as it received more listens than any other score last year, save Goldsmith’s THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. Though I love the score, this is another film I’ve never seen.
THE SILVER CHALICE (1954) – Helena At the Inn[audio:silverchalice.mp3]
Biblical epics were big news in the 1950s. Today, THE SILVER CHALICE is mainly remembered as Paul Newman’s first film. The actor was so embarrassed by the final film that he took out an ad in Variety apologizing. The stylized sets were an interesting choice. But the best aspect of the film belongs to Franz Waxman’s score. I wish I could offer you the majestic main titles with its stirring main theme for the cup. However, fans of Waxman’s Oscar-winning score to SUNSET BOULEVARD will recognize the seesawing motif in the flutes at the beginning of the cue. The track cannot begin to convey the complexity and beauty of Waxman’s marvelous score.
WALL-E (2008) – The Spaceship[audio:walle2.mp3]
Poor Thomas Newman. When will this man win an Oscar? Once again he scores an Oscar-winning animated film, is recognized with his 9th and 10th nominations (the song “Down To Earth” was also nominated) and loses. Most film music fans wouldn’t quibble his loss for FINDING NEMO to the final LORD OF THE RINGS film. But the fans were up in arms that he lost this year to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. The opening of the track gives a brief example of Newman’s unique sound. But from :25 on, the blood really gets pumping as WALL-E races across the landscape. Ominous drums, tremolo strings, and staccato brass convey the awesome appearance of the spaceship. I personally found Newman’s score to work better in the film than as a separate listening experience. It’s a pretty exciting track though.