In this month’s “9 on the 9th” post, I decided to forgo the usual composer format and highlight some film scores that may be unfamiliar to many film music fans. I heartily recommend the nine scores below. And instead of playing favorites this month, the titles are listed in alphabetical order.
ABOVE AND BEYOND (1953)[audio:aboveandbeyond.mp3]
The story of Col. Paul Tibbetts (Robert Taylor), the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, is one of the underrated films of the 1950s. What could have easily been given the typical Hollywood sheen is instead a stark, spare, real human drama. Hugo Friedhofer Oscar-nominated score is bold and dramatic and sidesteps any hint of sentimentality in its love theme for Tibbetts and his wife (Eleanor Parker).
THE BARBER OF SIBERIA (1998)[audio:barberofsiberia2.mp3]
I first became acquainted with Edward Artemyev’s work with his excellent score for the Oscar-winning BURNT BY THE SUN (1994). Director/star Nikita Mikhalkov and composer reunited four years later for this 19th-Century period drama about a foreign entrepreneur (Richard Harris) who travels to Russia to sell a timber harvester in the wilds of Siberia, while his assistant (Julia Ormond) falls in love with a young Russian officer. With a haunting main theme for solo trumpet, Artemyev’s music conveys pain and pathos. The orchestrations bear period hallmarks of Tchaikovsky, yet the music is always filtered through the composer’s contemporary film music sensibilities. One of the best Russian film composers, Artemyev deserves to be better known by film music fans.
This American remake of the 1975 French romantic comedy COUSIN, COUSINE may be missing the Gallic flavor of the original, but the odd pairing of Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini somehow works in this tale of swapping partners. It’s all fluff, but the charm of the two leads help carry the film, as does Angelo Badalamenti’s score. Badalementi provides a lilting waltz for this sunny comedy and Rossellini gets a lovely theme, while the beautiful love theme will break your heart. A thoroughly enjoyable score from an underrated composer.
FORT SAGANNE (1984)[audio:fortsaganne.mp3]
Philippe Sarde seemed to be on the brink of a big international film career with his Oscar-nominated score for Roman Polanski’s TESS in 1980. He continued scoring more Hollywood fare like GHOST STORY and QUEST FOR FIRE (both 1981), but much of his scoring gigs remained in France. Sarde composed one of his strongest scores for this 1911 French military drama set in the Sahara. Even with stars like Gerard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret and Catherine Deneuve, the film isn’t particularly compelling. I stopped after an hour because it was ruining my enjoyment of the score. So skip the film and focus on Sarde’s impassioned music, featuring a lovely cello solo as the main theme.
If you didn’t vote for GANDHI at the 1982 Academy Awards, it seemed like you were voting against world peace and the Mahatma himself. How else to explain the awards sweep for such a bloated, overrated epic like this one? If the script and direction are flat, at least it’s well filmed and you have Ben Kingsley’s excellent lead performance to carry you through the excessive running time. Another plus is the score by George Fenton and Ravi Shankar. Shankar obviously handles the Indian elements of the music, but it is Fenton’s orchestral scoring that really captures the emotion missing in the film. The two disparate musical styles weave together beautifully. That this Oscar-nominated score has never been released on CD is a shame and needs to be remedied.
This film about the famous sexuality researcher, Alfred Kinsey, was prime Oscar bait. But by the time nominations rolled around, only Liam Neeson and Laura Linney were justly remembered for their excellent performances as Kinsey and his wife. Carter Burwell’s typical dark harmonies plumb the murky, unspoken depths of sexuality, while a tender main theme is offset by a chromatic descending countermelody. This score took me weeks to find after seeing the film because most record stores (remember those?) weren’t carrying such a small label. This is one of the Burwell’s tenderest scores that should have been remembered at Oscar time.
THE PAINTED VEIL (2006)[audio:paintedveil.mp3]
Alexandre Desplat finally gained some international attention in 2006 with his celebrated score to THE QUEEN. But the Golden Globe-winning PAINTED VEIL score is actually a richer, more complex score. Based on Somerset Maugham’s novel, the film came and went quickly, mainly due to its poor release timing. Audiences understandably didn’t want to see a film about a Chinese cholera outbreak during the Christmas holidays. Desplat’s typically transparent orchestrations keep the dramatic music from feeling overly heavy, a blessing with such downer subject matter. The lovely “River Waltz” echoes the delicate Erik Satie piano music that is used as source music in the film. (Does anyone write lovelier waltzes than Desplat?) An underrated gem and my favorite Desplat score.
A 10-year labor of love from director/star Ed Harris, the film details the life of Jackson Pollock and his relationship with fellow artist Lee Krasner (a surprising, but well-deserved, Oscar-winning Marcia Gay Harden). Jeff Beal’s frenetic score captures the bustling, manic energy of the celebrated painter. The orchestrations have a Thomas Newman feel to them, but Beal makes the music very much his own. The music is all running figures in the piano and banjo, syncopated strings, and bursts of woodwind rhythmic motifs as Pollock slings his paint in that inimitable style. But Beal also pulls back for some emotional moments that thankfully never descend into musical goo.
RAGGEDY MAN (1981)[audio:raggedyman.mp3]
Sissy Spacek, fresh off her superb, Oscar-winning performance in COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER , was the main draw for me here. And a Jerry Goldsmith score was icing on the cake. Spacek stars in this little film about a telephone operator in a small Texas town during World War II who falls in love with a sailor (Eric Roberts) on leave. I’ve only seen this film once when it was released, but I’ve remembered Goldsmith’s lovely main title ever since. The simple, childlike melody for flute and guitar is one of Goldsmith’s finest themes. The short 35-minute score, with its calliope overtones, was released years ago as part of Varese Sarabande’s CD Club. Now you’ll have to pay exorbitant prices on eBay, if you can even find it. I’m hoping that Varese reissues this some day so more film music fans can become acquainted with this underrated gem.