December 28, 2010
Classic Film Scores: The Best of 2010
Film music of the past solidly present in soundtracks marketplace by Jon Burlingame
Film music aficionados struggled this year to find room on their overburdened shelves for the surprising number of classic soundtracks that saw re-release, expansion or re-recording. As modern scores — thanks to temp-tracking and the different needs of contemporary commercial films — become inevitably less interesting, it's a joy to discover, or re-discover, the heights that motion picture music once reached.
Here, in alphabetical order, is one writer's choice for the 20 most significant classic soundtrack releases of 2010:
1. The Alamo (Prometheus). Nearly three hours of music written by the great Dimitri Tiomkin — one of his finest efforts, including the song "Green Leaves of Summer" — for John Wayne's 1960 epic of the 19th-century Texas Revolution, recorded in its entirety by Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic.
2. The Andromeda Strain (Intrada). Gil Mellé's landmark score for the 1971 Michael Crichton thriller received its first CD release — a timely reminder of the brilliance of this maverick composer who explored the electronic-music frontier years before it became popular.
3. Black Sunday (Film Score Monthly). John Williams' intense music for the 1977 terrorists-attack-Super Bowl thriller — a John Frankenheimer film as timely today as then — received, amazingly, its first commercial release.
4. Le Cinema de Maurice Jarre (Universal France). A stunning four-CD overview of the prolific French composer's entire career, including previously unreleased music from Topaz, The Mackintosh Man, Mandingo and Resurrection — not to mention unreleased vocals by Ella Fitzgerald and Jeanne Moreau and remarkable archival recordings featuring the voices of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean and John Huston, discussing the scores with Jarre. Another historically important collection by producer Stephane Lerouge.
5. Conan the Barbarian (Tadlow). One of the year's most important albums: Basil Poledouris' soaring, savage masterpiece for the 1982 sword-and-sorcery film, faithfully re-created in its entirety by conductor Nic Raine and the City of Prague Orchestra and Chorus.
6. The Concert John Barry (Universal France). The first CD release of Barry's seminal 1972 Polydor LP: the composer's greatest hits from a decade of film and TV work (including the "James Bond Suite"), all reimagined for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with the composer conducting.
7. The Deep (Intrada). John Barry's complete, hour-long score for the 1977 underwater thriller, coupled with his popular album version (containing a 24-minute distillation of the score and three pop versions of his theme song for Donna Summer).
8. Family Plot (Varese Sarabande). Another long-sought, previously unreleased John Williams score: This 1976 film — Alfred Hitchcock's last — features a delightful mix of the mysterious and the amusing, with voices and harpsichord offering unusual colors.
9. The Flash (La-La Land). Shirley Walker's fun scores (and Danny Elfman's theme) for the 1990-91 TV series based on the super-fast DC Comics character. A jam-packed 2-CD reminder of Walker's ability to score comic-book action, which would later reach fruition in her several animated superhero series.
10. Islands in the Stream (Film Score Monthly). Jerry Goldsmith often said this 1977 film, a Hemingway adaptation by his director friend Franklin Schaffner, was a favorite. Another debut release and a certified Goldsmith classic whose music matches Schaffner's film as a thoughtful, warm, mature work deserving rediscovery.
11. Lawrence of Arabia (Tadlow). Producer James Fitzpatrick's tribute to his friend Maurice Jarre, who died in 2009: A complete re-recording of the Oscar-winning music for David Lean's 1962 epic, conducted by Nic Raine in Prague; supplemented by a surprising selection of other Jarre scores including The Fixer and The Magician of Lublin.
12. One-Eyed Jacks (Kritzerland). The long-awaited release of Hugo Friedhofer's complete, colorful 75-minute score for Marlon Brando's 1961 Western (plus the old Liberty Records album condensation). A sadly forgotten work by one of film music's true giants.
13. Patton (Intrada). Jerry Goldsmith's 1970 masterpiece, released for the first time with both the complete 37-minute original recording and the 33-minute album recording in a single package, all in stunning sound.
14. Spartacus (Varese Sarabande). Composer Alex North's centennial was marked by this lavish 6-CD treatment of his classic 1960 work, including the entire two-and-a-half-hour score, 70 surviving minutes in stereo, multiple recordings of the classic love theme, plus a DVD and an entire book chronicling the film and this project.
15. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (La-La Land). The 1989 film may have been among the weakest of the Trek features but ironically sports one of Jerry Goldsmith's finest efforts as composer. This 2-CD set reveals the full grandeur of the score — plus we get Nichelle Nichols' rendition of "The Moon's a Window to Heaven"!
16. Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Ron Jones Project (Film Score Monthly). A labor of love for producer Lukas Kendall, a massive 14-CD, 16-hour collection of the composer's 1987-91 output for the sci-fi series (and two computer games).
17. Straw Dogs (Intrada). Jerry Fielding's 1971 Oscar nominee, complete, remastered and better-sounding than ever. Nick Redman's liner notes offer the definitive word on what may be, post-Wild Bunch, the greatest Fielding-Sam Peckinpah collaboration of all.
18. Sunset Blvd. (Counterpoint). Only two-thirds of Franz Waxman's Oscar-winning 1950 classic survives, but it sounds surprisingly good and reveals detail not previously heard. Two colorful booklets, totalling 68 pages, tell the story of both film and score; a bonus disc contains a new recording of a funny Livingston & Evans song penned for the film.
19. The Whisperers / Equus (Kritzerland). Two British composers, working a decade apart — John Barry in 1967, Richard Rodney Bennett in 1977 — created chamber-sized scores for delicate subjects (an old woman living alone, a disturbed young man who commits a heinous crime). A clever combo of two fine, neglected works.
20. White Dog (Film Score Monthly). A lost Ennio Morricone masterpiece, recovered and finally released: His haunting score for director Sam Fuller's disturbing, theatrically unreleased 1982 film about a dog trained by racists to attack black people.
©2010 Jon Burlingame