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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #47
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Count Your Blessings (Franz Waxman, 1959) *** Innocence made bittersweet, a circumstance as fleeting as a flock of geese in magic hour backlight. That's one way of describing Franz Waxman's score for Count Your Blessings. Such elegance invites closer inspection because the modern equivalent can feel a little jaded and less than sincere. Meanwhile, I felt enraptured by the waltz which danced to a teary crescendo in my heart. Will there ever be another Golden Age? Perhaps not. However, archiving treasures like the one Waxman has put before us ought to be a no brainer.

Images in a Convent (Nico Fidenco, 1979) *** A haunting theme can be a blessing as well as the proverbial curse. Good because the composer nailed a musical idea. Then again, such an elusive and spellbinding incident might leave you awake at night, the motif repeating until you're too tired to think. Insomnia has struck me only a few times thanks to the music of John Barry, David Julyan and James Horner. Regarding Images in a Convent, Nico Fidenco offers a hellish view of heaven. His music underscores the plight of nuns who cannot control their desires. Stylistically, he alternates between delicate nuance and raw impulse. Expect to hear a library of strange, momentous and pungent acoustics where every feeling got channelled into the score. Only drawback: repetition dilutes the experience. Finally, Images in a Convent arrives in remarkable sound quality. Kudos to Kronos Records for expanding their Gold Collection with this surprising entry. 

The Mechanic (Jerry Fielding, 1972) **** Like Alex North and Leonard Rosenman, Jerry Fielding wrote on the edge. He made the listener adapt to his way of thinking and feeling... all in service of the story. By experimenting with mood, rhythm and dissonance, he struck original timbres. We should celebrate such artistic bravery. No less compromising in tone, The Mechanic dices dangerously close to irksome foreboding. Rest assured, he tinkles inside an expansive, emotionally resonant landscape. The blackest blood pumps through this heart. Yet by modifying the strings, piano, woodwinds and other elements to reflect important character shadings, the music constantly surprises. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. For charting a new course while disturbing the status quo, Fielding taught other composers how to re-evaluate music and make the listener feel moved in a new way. 

Muhammad: The Messenger of God (A.R. Rahman, 2015) **** Considerable choral clout elevates Muhammad: The Messenger of God. By allowing the human voice to symbolize a personal connection, composer A.R. Rahman conveys both gravity and dignity. Equal depth in the recording paints emotion at its fullest expression. Seldom has a film score deigned to make its presence felt by purity alone. Calling Muhammad: The Messenger of God sublime only bridges the first tier in the heights to come.  

Spies in Disguise (Theodore Shapiro, 2019) ** As background accompaniment, Theodore Shaprio's Spies in Disguise does exactly what's required and little more. A familiar suspense ostinato, generic rebranding of Michael Giacchino's The Incredibles and a general sense that we've heard all this before robs Shapiro's effort of the fun factor. Of course, he's no stranger to the genre, having composed the score for Spy. However, Spies in Disguise rarely if ever stretches those creative or intellectual muscles which made Captain Underpants and Ghostbusters such enduring escapism. 

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Jerry Goldsmith, 1979) **** This rating could cause some controversy. However, I give Jerry Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture only four stars because it feels right. There are some strong structural units at play, namely the Enterprise Theme, Klingon music, Main Titles and Ilia's Theme. Beyond these elements, Goldsmith meanders and repeats himself quite a bit.

A poem:

The first Star Trek
literally hit the deck.
It divided and conquered little
The tone left some feeling brittle.

Even Goldsmith's music bore imperfect tissue
 and pacing proved a major issue.
The Klingon battle was a ruse
Ultimately left to confuse.

Goldsmith made impression huge
But Oscar went elsewhere, cue the deluge.
Perhaps there's a lesson
which arises from such messing.

Worthy of second place
and intergalactic space,
what the future holds I am guessing.
Deeper mysteries for the undressing.

Throne of Blood (Masaru Sato, 1957) ** In the hands of composer Masaru Sato, Throne of Blood comes across as brooding, sparse, abrasive, earthly, unbalanced and dirty. Voices, woodwinds, brass as well as percussion are employed for their timbral qualities more than serving the theme and narrative. Although there are moments of beauty, both dark and light, they are too sporadic and unformed to leave a positive impression. It's difficult to place significance on soundtracks like Throne of Blood outside the film. The effect can either shortchange or hypnotize the listener. Personally, I wanted Sato to expand the scope of these compositions, so a more potent mix between the abstract human experience and moral undercurrents might be achieved. 

Trauma Therapy (Scott Glasgow, 2019) A man of art, Scott Glasgow has intelligently forged themes to the betterment of various projects. Highlights include Lo, The Gene Generation, Hack, Riddle, Chasing Ghosts, Secrets of a Psychopath, Hatchet III and Poker Night. Fair to say, I binged on Glasgow's music upon first discovery. However, for all these treasures, the ongoing debate over style vs substance has almost a political resonance. Mainstream listeners tend to hear a theme, then love or hate it for the emotional resonance or lack thereof. Content can play a part as musical ideas relate to specific characters i.e. Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. As for style, it can disguise more than reinforce the basic needs of a score. Consider electronics which discard the breath and ancestry of a flute for something mechanical, artificial and humourless. Regarding Trauma Therapy, Glasgow dons the cape yet rarely makes a showing. He wires in a repetitive style where noises, clanging metal beats and effects like a heavily processed boiling kettle are the sum total of his artistry. If the aim was to promote an anonymous and elusive character, mission accomplished. If the goal involved emotion or storytelling, then the train departed -- whistle and all -- decades ago.

xXx: State of the Union (Marco Beltrami, 2005) *** Time to rhyme:

Primed for an action-packed reunion
in xXx: State of the Union.
With light and heavy rock
he tore down the block.

Packing some tremendous heat
for that foot tapping beat.
Main Title was sheer class.
A great workout for the brass.



The Living Daylights (John Barry, 1987) ***** Poetry in motion:

Secret agent 007 James Bond
Of the theme and melodies, I am fond.
A heavy responsibility to carry
The task taken by John Barry.

"Ice Chase" seemed cool and fast
Every note was a blast.
Even the electronics were key
Proof of Barry's creativity.

"Exercise in Gibraltar" made the heart race
Our man free-falling into place.
Danger and excitement of high energy.
Barry conquering tasks via synergy.

"Hercules Takes Off" felt electric
"Inflight Fight" similarly hectic.
The difference was precision
Leaving both free from derision.

All in a day's work for him
Bypassing momentary whim.
The Living Daylights has left
all current Bonds bereft.


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