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.

What five tracks from your collection have gotten lost in the shuffle?

7 comments

  1. Terrific article, Jim. First five that struck me:

    1. Up by Michael Giacchino – Kevin Beak’n
    : delightfully playful & agile use of the bass clarinet

    2. The Painted Veil by Alexander Desplat – The Water Wheel
    : tremendous use of color and rhythm, often using orchestral families antiphonally.

    3. The Attempt by Ennio Morricone – The Attmept
    : holds a minor 2nd throughout, a clinic in panning dissonance.

    4. The Shawshank Redemption by Thomas Newman – Brooks Was Here
    : touching, still the blueprint for using modern mixolydian.

    5. Wallace and Gromit by Julian Nott – Antipesto
    : pest-control action theme, a perfect mix of light-hearted and kick-ass.

    Thanks for writing, I love finding real content on the subject.
    Cheers,
    AB

    1. Andrew,

      I love the UP score, and I especially appreciate the track title.

      Painted Veil is one of those underrated masterpieces of Desplat. Even with a Golden Globe win (which means nothing), it somehow didn’t merit an Oscar nom. Better movie than critics and audiences were willing to see at Christmas time. And the score is even better than THE QUEEN, which is pretty damn good in itself.

      Not familiar with this Morricone title. Will check it out.

      Shawshank – Great movie, score and track. The title alone brings back the moment and Newman scored it perfectly.

      Anything for Wallace & Gromit is stellar. Though I wish they’d release the scores proper, especially A CLOSE SHAVE. That Rachmaninoff-inspired (or maybe it’s actual R) theme for Wendolene is pitch perfect.

      Enjoyed listening to the music on your site. Looking forward to hearing more.

      Thanks for the kind words and for visiting. God knows, it’s rare to see words like “antiphonal” and “mixolydian” on the internet. :)

  2. My 80G is also full-to-bursting, but it takes all comers. Here are the first five score tracks that it shuffled up:

    1. “Main Title” — The Fall of the Roman Empire. Turgid and unwatchable in anything less than half-hour installments between fridge runs and bathroom breaks, but Tiomkin’s Main Title does its best to set the stage for the promise of something grand. Shockingly, the remainder of the score in context is nearly risible — something it seems the average adolescent might have constructed given time, making the best case I can proffer for certain scores to be strictly experienced away from their source.

    2. “The Lost World” — John Williams. As shockingly bloodless an adaptation of a Michael Crichton bestseller since, well, its predecessor, but Williams’ delivers a much more fully-throated score to this endeavor than the dinosaur whimsy he provided for “Jurassic Park.” This score bites, rumbles, growls, and makes you wish that someone other than Spielberg would have been the helmsman for a mutinous dinosaur rampage.

    3. “Main Title” — Quigley Down Under. The first film on this list that I liked, a frowzy, left-field sleeper that found me finally believing in Tom Selleck, and adoring Alan Rickman all the more for his uncommon talent. This score, not Silverado, was evidence to me that the spirit of The Western was alive and well and in the good hands of a new generation of composers. For all the grandeur that Poledouris infuses into the Main Title alone, you’d imagine you were dead center in Ford’s Monument Valley, not embroiled in an aboriginal range war somewhere in the Australian outback. Basil left us way too soon.

    4. “On Golden Pond” — Dave Grusin. Treacle of the highest order, but it looked good, and it had Grusin’s careful, delicate, and unobtrusive touch to maneuver us through all of the sticky bathos.

    5. “Airport” — Alfred Newman. More high-gloss trash, but damn if Newman’s breathtaking Main Title doesn’t make you pee your pants! One of the first pieces of film scoring that registered in my young mind, and it still thrills me until just about the moment that the opening credits end. Then you have to wait for either Maureen Stapleton or our man Alfred to make an entrance to rededicate yourself to the action.

    1. Great “choices.” :) (I love this game!)

      Fall of the Roman Empire – Absolute garbage, and expensive garbage. No one can convince me otherwise. And I’m not a Tiomkin fan normally, but there are some lovely things in the score.

      Oddly enough, never heard Lost World outside of the movie. Jurassic Park didn’t make much of an impression on me so I guess I never bothered with this one. Perhaps I’ll check it out.

      Never seen Quigley but I really enjoy the score. (And I’m a big fan of Silverado as well.)

      On Golden Pond – Very fond of the movie and the music. It just sort of came along at a very memorable point in my life. I wish they’d release the original tracks. It’s a short score so I suggest they attach Milagro Beanfield War with it. :)

      Airport – One of the great main titles, and a great capper to Newman’s career. The movie is junk, except, as you say, for Maureen and Newman.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. I love this idea. Recently got myself an iPhone so I might “steal” this idea for my own blog ;) (If it’s ok with you of course).

    I have to say though that I have trouble with older music, trouble listening and enjoying it that is. By old I mean older than 1980. There are some exceptions of course. Max Steiner and Miklos Rozsa stand out for me. Not a big fan of Herrmann although the 7th Voyage of Sinbad was quite spectacular.

    Your first four was a bit “meh” to me, but the 5th one is a gem.

    Love this concept though! Have to check your other shuffles.

    1. Sure, Jorn. “Steal” away. :) It can become almost like a game.

      As for older music, I totally understand. Everyone has their preferences. I definitely prefer the older stuff. And I try and keep my mind open to things I normally would say “meh” to (such a great word, by the way…says so much). I know you like the TRANSFORMERS scores a lot. But that kind of music usually leaves me cold. It’s hard for me to break through the wall of electronics and sound to hear what’s going on underneath. But I keep trying. Who knows, you just might make a convert out of me yet.

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