Friday, May 01, 2009

Camera Obscura: Top 100 Movie Soundtracks; 'Straw Dogs' Remake

After the popularity of the recent post Top Ten Movie Characters, I was working on a Top Ten Movie Composers/Soundtracks idea and this week the Hollywood Reporter offered a list of the Top 100 film scores in honor of the fact that 2009 marks the 100th anniversary of music in the movies.

Soundtracks can make a mediocre movie so much better or a really good movie can be destroyed by bad music. And I've got more on this just below, but first a few quick takes on some movie news you should know.

Thanks to Newscoma, I learned about the upcoming release of the sci-fi movie "Moon", directed by singer David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones (formerly known as Zowie Bowie), which stars Sam Rockwell and is being featured in numerous film festivals at the moment. It looks great -- please check out the preview for it here at Newscoma's page.

Fox has been pumping out lots of promos for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" into my email, and I have to say how much I don't like that the movie has lots of focus on the character of Sabertooth, but he is part of the origin story, even though the comics canon says he is not his brother and I just never liked that character. I was glad to hear they are using the very, very funny character of Deadpool, though again Hollywood is mangling that one too. At the least, you might enjoy the Wolverine mini-game you can play here at the official website and you can download it into your iPod too.

Worst Remake Idea of the Year: Plans are underway for an August start date for a remake of the still-controversial 1971 Sam Peckinpah movie "Straw Dogs". Woe unto anyone who tries to remake one of Peckinpah's near-perfect movies. It's a movie that can really annoy and disturb viewers, and there is immense ambiguity in the movie as it examines the themes of violence and revenge through the experiences of self-professed pacifist, played by Dustin Hoffman. Add in the sub-texts of the Vietnam War and a rape scene which seems more erotic than violent, and you have a movie which raised ruckus back in the day.

Plus, this remake changes a very key element to the original novel and movie -- the tale revolves around what happens when an American relocates to rural England with his new wife, but the remake instead moves the story to the South, and this entire project is a bad, bad idea.

Now let's talk about music in the movies.

To get an idea of how strange a young boy I was, the first soundtrack I bought when I was a kid was from "2001: A Space Odyssey". And I actually listened to it. A lot. It still stands as a very unique blend of classical music and modern filmmaking and the scenes of a space ship docking with a space station while the Blue Danube Waltz plays behind it all is still quite dazzling.

So - a question for you --- who are the best film composers of all time? Which soundtracks have become part of our own lives, which music lives far beyond the running time of the movie?

As I mentioned, the Hollywood Reporter has a list of the Top 100 Soundtracks right here, and their top pick is for Nina Rota's score for "The Godfather".

Choosing my favorite composer is a tough call, and I end up picking two - Bernard Hermann and Ennio Morricone. Hermann is the creator of those incredible stabbing strings during the shower scene of "Psycho", and he made all of director Alfred Hitchcock's best movies so much better, like "North By Northwest", "Vertigo", "The Birds" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much". He also made the music for "Citizen Kane", "The Day The Earth Stood Still", "Cape Fear", and "Taxi Driver". His music is often re-worked today, and was featured in "Kill Bill" and "The Sporanos".

Ennio Morricone is also a favorite, even if only for one soundtrack, for "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". In addition to all the Leone/Eastwood westerns he scored, he worked with Italy's horror masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava, and picked up his most recent Grammy Award in 2008. Often using unusual instruments (like Hermann), his music is always adds to the movie you're watching. And like Hermann, his scores often get re-worked into new movies and soundtracks all the time. He's scored 500 film and TV soundtracks - so far.

Mention too must be made of the one man who has won more Oscars for Best Original Score than anyone else - 45 nominations, 5 wins and 21 Grammy awards. Can you name him?

Shame on you if you claim to be a movie fan and cannot name this prolific musician. Some hints? Think "Star Wars", "Jaws", "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or the Harry Potter movies. It's John Williams. Just about everyone can do that ominous shark music from "Jaws" and his Star Wars themes likewise are very familiar. I've always been impressed with his work for Lucas and Spielberg, and the operatic music titled "Duel of the Fates" which Williams created for the three prequel movies in the Star Wars series is my favorite of all of his works. It soars and thrills and echoes with the great battles ever put onto film. Here's a clip of the final light saber battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan with the "Duel of the Fates" composition that's just about perfect:

Lucas also helped to establish the most current trend in movie soundtracks, using pop songs behind the action of the film, starting with the huge popularity of "American Graffiti", and the best-selling soundtrack album. Today, the King of that method is director Quentin Tarantino who selects pitch-perfect songs for his films. Here is a fan-made mashup of video from his movies and the music from the movies too.
(CAUTION: adult language and lots of violence. what? it's Tarantino!):

Eclectic Method - The Tarantino Mixtape from Eclectic Method on Vimeo.


  1. cosmocrateroth3:52 PM

    don't forget elmer bernstein. i would like to nominate DAVID NEWMAN, a bright, not-so-newcomer

  2. Bernstein is mentioned in the Top 100 list, with good reason. I just mentioned a few whose work I rate very highly.

  3. that led me to the BERNARD HERRMANN estate...if you are not a member, well.....

  4. i would also give high honors to Howard Shore, Danny Elfman, John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith.