A Fistful of Soundtracks
Besides music, one of my other key interests is movies – I rarely watch television and so in terms of my viewing habits it’s usually either a film or a DVD that compiles all episodes of a TV programme (reason being that I have a hopeless memory and so trying to watch a series as it happens is nigh on impossible as I will inevitably forget to watch an episode – this is why I gave up on Lost after series 1, watched a couple of episodes of series 2 then when I found out it was going to run for 6 series I decided just to let it run and get the DVD’s when they come out as a complete set).
So with twin interests in music and film I suppose it was inevitable that a certain amount of my music collection is taken up with soundtracks from films. My first exposure to movie music was as a young kid, with a couple of albums of Disney music being around the house from a young age. One was the soundtrack to ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ while the other was a compilation from various films – ‘Bear Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from ‘The Jungle Book’ stand in the memory along with ‘Whistle Stop’ from ‘Robin Hood’; these tunes have been rediscovered in recent years with the arrival of my son who has his ‘own’ ever-expanding DVD collection which naturally takes in the classic Disney films which I am ‘forced’ to watch with him….
Another album that was around the house when I was young was the Ennio Morricone-composed soundtrack to ‘For A Few Dollars More’, the mid-point of the Sergio Leone-directed/Clint Eastwood-starring ‘Dollars’ trilogy (Morricone also composed the soundtracks for Leone movies ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘Once Upon the Time in the West’ as well as many other Westerns). I loved the music on it even at that early age and this has led to an interest in Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack work that lasts up to this day. I think the reason that this music can appeal to a kid is the unusual nature of it – whistling, trumpets, twanging jaw harps, electric guitars, church organs and angelic singing all intermingle and collide to produce a strange brew of sounds. It also set a model for various musical artists such as Tom Waits and Calexico to utilise unusual instrumentation in their music. Calexico on their early albums such as ‘The Black Light’ definitely seemed to be channelling Morricone, with songs such as ‘Minas de Cobre’ sounding like they had arrived from a lost ‘Dollars’ movie. Probably the most famous piece of music from the ‘Dollars’ trilogy is the main theme from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, which actually became a successful single in a version by conductor Hugh Montenegro. For me the soundtrack to ‘For a Few Dollars More’ as a complete work is Morricone’s best – although on his other Leone soundtracks there are individual pieces of music that are equally as good as anything on it (‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ (appropriated by Metallica as their traditional intro music on stage) and ‘The Trio’ from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’; ‘Titoli’ from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’; ‘The Man With the Harmonica’ from ‘Once Upon the Time in the West’), I find that those soundtracks have less interesting pieces that outside the context of the film are less satisfying to listen to as a whole.
Morricone has scored literally hundreds of films over his career, traversing possibly every single film genre possible, and while over the years I have collected up a few of these individual soundtracks along with a number of compilations, for me the soundtracks to the Leone Westerns make for the best listening. If you are interested in obtaining some of his work that I have mentioned, the complete soundtracks for ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘For a Few Dollars More’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ can be found on a collection called ‘A Fistful of Sounds’, which can still be obtained on Amazon for less than £30 – while this may seem pricey, the individual soundtrack for ‘For a Few Dollars More’ is currently quite hard to track down and is currently on Amazon at £160! ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ soundtrack can be found cheaply to complete the set. Be wary of some collections attributed to Morricone – I bought one in Asda a couple of years ago as it contained the main theme to ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’ which I had been trying to get hold of and it turned out that it was a compilation of pieces performed by an orchestra which had the essence of the original music but in a less satisfying form – this only became apparent when reading the small print within the CD booklet.
In more recent years it seems as though a lot of film soundtracks are essentially a modern day ‘mix tape’ which merely serve up a collection of songs by various artists. In some hands this can lead to a pretty pleasing result – the films of Quentin Tarantino are usually soundtracked by an eclectic mixture of music hand-picked by Tarantino himself, which throws up all sorts of gems that often leads me to try and find more by some of the artists and this can be expensive in itself as some of the stuff is quite rare and hard to find – but I don’t find myself looking to buy much movie music these days.
An exception to this is when a film is soundtracked by Clint Mansell (if you are of more mature years like myself you may recall him as the singer for 80’s grebo West Country act Pop Will Eat Itself, who enjoyed some chart success with songs such as ‘X,Y and Zee’ and ‘Cicciolina’ – yes it involved the Italian porn star!). His film work first came to my attention when I watched Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant ‘Requiem for a Dream’, the opening credit sequence featuring a fantastic piece of music that had mournful strings atop of an electronic drum beat that built into an insistent stabbing theme –on the soundtrack album this piece is named ‘Summer Overture’ and it crops up in various versions throughout the album, often named by the different seasons to tie in with the films chapters. It has since become known by the title ‘Lux Aeterna’ after one of the versions that appeared towards the end of the album and has become more widely recognisable after a more bombastic orchestral variant was produced and used as trailer music for Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy amongst a variety of others since. The strings were provided on the Mansell soundtrack by the Kronos Quartet and the soundtrack as a whole covers a range of moods and repetitive themes across its 33 tracks, with their strings providing the common theme.
He had provided some music for Aronofsky’s earlier work ‘Pi’ although the bulk of the music was by electronic artists such as Aphex Twin, David Holmes and Autechre. The relationship with Aronofsky continued with the soundtrack to ‘The Fountain’ which again features contribution from the Kronos Quartet along with Scottish post-rock heroes Mogwai. Again the music involves repetitive themes in slightly differing guises, sometimes gentler and haunting, sometimes building to a stirring climax – if you are a fan of Mogwai themselves, post-rock or bands such as Rachels, Labradford, Eluvium or Stars in the Lid, I would seek this out, I think you would like it. When I watched the film, I think the music most definitely added to the viewing experience, it’s not your run of the mill subject matter and features 3 separate time threads tracking a man desire to preserve the love of his life.
Mansell’s most recent work was for Duncan Jones’ ‘Moon’ and in this instance I actually bought the soundtrack before seeing the film – the effect of this was that on first listen it seemed again repetitive in theme but overly so and perhaps a bit lacking in direction. However, when seeing the film the music took context and the most recognisable musical theme expressed everything from suspense through to ultimately a sense of triumph – it has now become a constant fixture in my listening.
Mansell seems to have become a bit of a man to hire and has done soundtracks for a wide ranging genre of films – I have so far obtained ‘Doom’ and ‘Sahara’ and while these are listenable, I don’t enjoy them as much as the others I mentioned.
Other soundtracks worth checking out are the Angelo Badalamenti’s work for David Lynch, especially the ‘Twin Peaks’ TV series and ‘Fire Walk With Me’ film soundtracks (it’s also worth checking out the Julee Cruise ‘Floating Into the Night’ album – she performed the vocal version of the main ‘Twin Peaks’ theme ‘Falling’ and appeared in the programme as the nightclub singer – this album comprises songs written by Lynch and Badalamenti, a few of which appear in the series).
I also like the music Italian prog-rock band Goblin produced for various Dario Argento movies in the 70’s – ‘Deep Red A.K.A. Profondo Rosso and ‘Suspiria’ being the highpoints.
Recommended listening: -
Ennio Morricone – For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Mondo Morricone.
Clint Mansell – Requiem for a Dream; The Fountain; Moon.
Goblin – Suspiria.