Soundtrack Collection: Day of the Locust to De-Lovely

Day of the Locust

Day of the Locust (John Barry, 1974): The soundtrack to this early 70s John Schlesinger drama contains a mix of of John Barry’s light and breezy scoring and a variety of old standards, which are meant to establish a stronger connection to the film’s 1930s period setting. Barry’s score represents around 20 minutes of the just over half hour running time of the soundtrack album, which is available on a 2,000 copy limited edition CD from Intrada.  The CD is a direct transfer of the contents of the original LP release from the time of the film’s release.

The score is primarily centered around a warm and gentle main theme, which is a very recognizable example of Barry’s usual lush approach to dramatic scoring.  The score contains a wide variety of variations on the theme with a number of different orchestrations, resulting in a number of cues that are given a parenthetical subtitle of “Theme from Day of the Locust”.  The theme is generally presented in a fairly straight-forward orchestral performance, heavily dominated by strings and woodwinds.  The cue “Fire and Passion” includes an interesting arrangement that primarily features acoustic guitar.

Barry does provide some period flavor in some of the cues, such as the big-band style swing music that opens the cue “A Picture of Love” as well as the bouncy tune provided in the aptly titled “Soft Shoe Salesman”.  The cue “The Flying Carpet” has a fun, almost circus-atmosphere to it, even including a whimsical use of slide whistle at time.  These types of cues give the score an appealingly playful quality.

The songs included are all very recognizable standards of the era.  These include Louis Armstrong’s performance of “Jeepers Creepers”, “Isn’t It Romantic” by Michael Dees, “I Wished On the Moon” by Nick Lucas, “Hot Voodoo” by Paul Zabara, and “Sing You Sinners” by Pamela Myers.  The songs are interspersed throughout the album and the sequence seems well selected.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann, 1951): Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still is definitely a milestone in movie science fiction.  In a time when the genre was dominated by cheesy monster movies, this was a serious, dramatic story with a powerful and resonant message.  Bernard Herrmann’s score is also a milestone, establishing a style that is now immediately evocative of alien invasion storylines.

The score’s distinct and signature element is its frequent use of the Theremin, an instrument with a distinctly other-worldly sound.  Herrmann uses it frequently throughout the score.  The score’s familiar main theme has an especially eerie quality, with throbbing strings and low brass played under a primary Theremin melody.  It clearly establishes a tone over the “Prelude” cue and then is used very effectively at key moments during the rest of the score.  Most of the score tends to build a tense, atmospheric mood with a certain hint of dread.  Bits of effective and propulsive action music do come at key moments, though, such as during the cue “Escape”.

In addition to the other-worldly, Theremin focused music, Herrmann also includes some effectively melancholy and melodically regal music for the cues “Arlington” and “Lincoln Memorial”.  These cues have a strong dramatic weight and are very effective at grounding the score during the key moments that need it.

The soundtrack CD was released on CD under a short lived Twentieth Century Fox Classics series (distributed by Arista), which is now out of print but still easy to find.  This CD contains about 35 minutes of music, which covers pretty much the whole score as heard in the film.  Much more difficult to find (I don’t have it) is a special CD that was only available packaged with the Laserdisc release of the film.  That CD contains about 18 minutes of outtakes, rehearsals, and alternate mixes.

Varese Sarabande released a re-recording of the score under conductor Joel McNeely, which is still readily available and apparently contains pretty much the same program as the soundtrack album.  I don’t have that release, but based on the quality of McNeely’s other re-recordings I would imagine it is a competent performance and likely has a better sound quality than the original soundtrack cues.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Tyler Bates, 2008): For the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Tyler Bates had the unenviable job of following in the footsteps of Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score for the 1951 original.  While I doubt it was a conscious decision, it seems like Bates’ main way of distinguishing his effort from Herrmann’s was to make it as conventional as the original score was unconventional.  There isn’t anything substantially wrong with Bates’ score, but it just isn’t all that memorable or distinctive.

Bates approach to the score is fairly action-oriented, mix of orchestral and synthesizer music.  The score tends to be pretty heavy on brass and percussion and not especially thematic.  The synthesizer music tends to also become more dominant as the score progresses.  For the most part, Bates sticks more to modern action and tension scoring and avoids the type of moody, otherworldly qualities of Herrmann’s score, although with a few exceptions, particularly the cue “Surgery”.  Some cues have more of an electronic rock sound to them as well, such as the later part of the cue “You Should Let Me Go”.

Herrmann’s themes were not used at all in the remake’s score.  In the one likely homage to the original, there are bits of a Theremin used occasionally, although it is pushed far enough in the background that it isn’t particularly noticeable.  In fact, I wasn’t even entirely sure if a real Theremin is used or if its sound was just approximated via synthesizer.

For the most part, the score is listenable and holds up generally well for the 50 minute running time of the soundtrack CD.  If it hadn’t been written for a remake to a film with such an iconic score, it would probably have been an easier score to simply dismiss as an okay sci-fi/action effort.  Knowing what Bernard Herrmann did with the same material, though, it is easier for Bates’ effort to seem like a missed opportunity.

Dead Again

Dead Again (Patrick Doyle, 1991): Dead Again was my first exposure to both actor/director Kenneth Branagh and his usual musical collaborator, composer Patrick Doyle.  I immediately became a fan of both (in fact, I rented and watched Henry V the next day) and continue to look forward to their collaborations.

The film had a definite Hitchcock-inspired style to it and Doyle delivered a score that effectively pays homage to the Bernard Herrmann tradition of thriller scores while still putting his own distinctive neo-classical stamp on it.  Doyle’s biggest strength as a composer has generally been his skillful composition for strings and that is certainly on display here.  What is a bit more unusual for the composer is his much more extensive than usual use of brass in the score.  The score actually opens with a quick and startling burst of brass and Doyle pretty regularly engages brass to underscore the film’s surprises.  At times, this gives the score a bit of a horror movie quality, although the film itself isn’t really in that genre.

Doyle’s more typically melodic style of scoring is also very much on display here, particularly with an extremely effective romantic theme.  This theme is woven appropriately throughout the score, although a particularly complete and beautiful performance of it is presented during the cue “Winter 1948”.  This theme and its variations gives the score quite a bit of emotional resonance and nicely compliments the more thriller oriented cues.

The Varese Sarabande soundtrack CD to the film only runs a little over 30 minutes, a pretty common situation due to the often restrictive reuse fees charged by the musicians union at the time.  As was typical with the Branagh/Doyle collaborations, the film was pretty continuously scored and I hope this is a score that is under consideration for an expansion.

Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her (Alan Silvestri, 1992): For his first film after completing the Back to the Future sequels, Robert Zemeckis made this special effects oriented dark comedy which featured a particularly distinguished (some might argue overqualified) cast including Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, Bruce Willis, and Isabella Rossellini.

As usual for a Zemeckis film, the score is by Alan Silvestri who delivered a dark, Herrmann-inspired score that is heavily dominated by slashing strings and quick bursts of brass and percussion.   A fairly simple main theme string melody helps to anchor the score.  While this is essentially a dark thriller score, it definitely has a tongue-in-cheek quality to it that reflects the film’s much less than serious tone as well.  Silvestri often seems to take the score pretty close to the edge of going over the top, but pulls it back before it quite gets out of control.

One off-beat item on this soundtrack is “Me”, a ridiculously over-the-top Broadway-style song (that even veers into disco) that is performed by Streep during the film’s early scenes.  The music to the song was by Geoffrey Aymar and the exceptionally silly lyrics are by the film’s screenwriters, Martin Donovan and David Koepp.

This is yet another 1990s soundtrack that was put out at an abbreviated length due to re-use fees.  The Varese Sarabande CD only runs for 35 minutes, including the song, making this score another prime candidate for an expansion.

The Deep

The Deep (John Barry, 1977): As a big-budget, nautical adventure based on a novel by Jaws author Peter Benchley, The Deep was largely expected to be the big box-office draw of the summer of 1977.  While it wasn’t really a failure, the film ended up only finding a small percentage of the audience that Jaws had drawn 2 years earlier and it was also heavily over-shadowed by the run-away success of Star Wars, which came out just a couple weeks earlier.

While the film wasn’t as big a hit as expected, the soundtrack LP (which was pressed on blue vinyl) was a big seller.  The big draw on the album was Donna Summer’s charmingly cheesy song “Theme from The Deep (Down, Deep Inside)”, which was adapted from the melody of John Barry’s principal theme in the score.  The album contained two different mixes of the song as well as an instrumental-only version.  The album also included a 7 1/2 minute, reasonably annoying source cue called “Disco Calypso” performed by someone billed simply as Beckett.

John Barry’s score was presented on the album in a 24-minute suite that was arranged as a single long cue and given the unwieldy title “Return to the Sea – 2033 A.D. (A Ballet Based on the Score from the Motion Picture The Deep)”.  While this suite only represents a little less than half the music written for the film, it is a very impressive example of a composer taking selections from his score and arranging it together into a single symphonic work.

Despite the popularity of the album on LP, it wasn’t released on CD at all until just a few months ago.  Intrada corrected that with a 3000 copy limited edition, which is now sold out at their website but can still be found from other retailers.  Their release is a 2-CD set with the original LP program on disc 1 and the complete score presented in film order on disc 2.  While the original LP program, including the score suite, is presented in stereo, the complete score is in mono as no stereo masters were available.

Barry’s main theme for the score has a quality to it that is simultaneously bouncy and a bit haunting and is definitely a very infectious melody.  The secondary countermelody in the theme has more of the lush quality that tends to be regularly associated with Barry’s more dramatic or romantic themes.  The theme serves as the score’s primary anchor point and is repeated pretty regularly throughout.

The score as a whole tends to be very atmospheric and, at times, fairly dark.  The nautical setting is supported by melodies that have a tendency to reflect the slower pacing of the underwater world, with Barry particularly using low strings and horns to create deliberate pacing in cues such as “The Coin; The Vial; The Chase".  This atmospheric aspect to the scoring was somewhat underemphasized in favor of the main theme and some of the action motifs in the LP suite and is brought out more clearly in the complete score.

Deep Impact

Deep Impact (James Horner, 1998): When it came out, Deep Impact was somewhat overshadowed by Armageddon, which was a showier and more star-driven version of the same basic plot idea.  I definitely believe that Deep Impact was the far better film, though.  While still basically a pretty traditional disaster movie, it did take a much more cerebral approach to the storyline and also featured considerably better acting and the filmmaking was overall much more skillful.

One of the film’s definite strengths was James Horner’s very dramatic, epic-scaled musical score.  Horner creates one of his trademark majestic, vaguely militaristic themes, often presented featuring a solo trumpet, for the score.  The theme is established early on the soundtrack album in the cue “Crucial Rendezvous” and then is used pretty liberally throughout the remainder of the score.  Musically, this score is hardly any kind of a departure for Horner, but it is a solid example of him doing the kind of epically dramatic music that he tends to do best and this score serves its film particularly well.

As has been typical with Horner’s scores for a while now, Deep Impact received a soundtrack release with a pretty long running time.  The disc runs for about an 1 hour and 17 minutes and, thus, is a very solid representation of the score.  Another common trend with Horner’s scores is to include some pretty lengthy cues, which can lead to musical ideas and themes that are pretty fully developed.  This score includes the cues “Our Best Hope…” at over 13 minutes, “Drawing Straws” at about 10 1/2 minutes, and the finale cue “Goodbye and Godspeed” which runs about 11 1/2 minutes.

De-Lovely

De-Lovely (Cole Porter, 2004): This biographical film about Cole Porter was presented as a musical, with many of Porter’s best known songs performed by members of the film’s cast or various pop artists.  The results are something of a mixed bag, although I’d generally say that more of the performances work than don’t.

The album opens with the title song which is well-presented in a very traditional performance by Robbie Williams.  His voice is well-suited to the song and he brings a fair amount of personality to the performance.  Another particularly fun performance is Elvis Costello’s version of “Let’s Misbehave”.  While his voice may not be ideal for the song, he sounds like he is having to much fun with it that it is hard not to be entertained by the performance.

Alanis Morissette’s attempt at “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)”, a song that isn’t extremely well suited to her voice, but she gives it a pretty good attempt.  Another current pop/folk female vocalist, Sheryl Crow gives an appropriately smoky performance on “Begin the Beguine”, but her voice is so breathy that she is somewhat overwhelmed by the accompaniment.  She especially seems to have a really rough time with the parts that call for belting out the vocals.   Another one that seemed kind of off was Diana Krall’s performance of “Just One of Those Things”.  While Krall’s voice seems that it should be appropriate to the song, her pacing seemed off.  In fact, she seemed to be having some difficulty keeping up with the accompaniment.

The cast of the film includes Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, and John Barrowman.  Kline does a great job with the vocals and appears on the most songs.  He does effective solo performances of “Experiment” and “In the Still of the Night” and also is entertaining on “Be a Clown” (along with Peter Polycarpou and a chorus) and in duets with Pryce on “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and Barrowman on “Night and Day”.

“True Love” is presented as a duet between Ashley Judd and child actor Taylor Hamilton.  Judd’s singing voice is not exceptionally strong, although it is probably reasonably appropriate for the on-screen dramatic performance of the song.  On the album, her vocal limitations are pretty evident.

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