Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am joined by author, Andrez Bergen, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.
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Inception by Hans Zimmer. Let it be known that Zimmer’s work with Terence Malick (The Thin Red Line) and Christopher Nolan (the Batman movies) were scores I loved so much I had them on repeat hundreds of times, I sampled them in my own music, and they have influenced some of my writing. He’s also done a lot of crap. The German composer’s soundtrack for Inception therefore had to be insanely good to win me over – and it did. Sad, nostalgic and rousing all at one, there’s a rough, raggedly layered quality to the work. Superb stuff.
The Third Man, by Anton Karas, who single-handedly (with his zither) scored Carol Reed’s 1947 film noir classic. Word has it the Austrian worked up to 14 hours a day for twelve weeks to produce the soundtrack, using a stringed central European instrument until then largely unknown. Definitely most memorable here is ‘The Harry Lime Theme’ — which is used as the train platform melody at Ebisu Station in Tokyo. It’s a remarkable, mesmerizing tune that conjures up images of, well, Orson Welles (in his younger days) with a smug smile as he settles back to talk cuckoo clocks. And there’s nothing better than that.
Ran, by Toru Takemitsu. I love most of the soundtrack music utilized by Akira Kurosawa, especially from Fumio Hayasaka (Drunken Angel & Seven Samurai), but for Ran (1985) he inducted Takemitsu, a man who composed music for over 100 films in 40 years. Renowned as a hands-on composer who acclimatized himself with the on-set action during filming, Takemitsu’s work on Ran is a piece of art that fully compliments the movie it defines. Most striking are the moments of absolute silence while all hell breaks loose on-screen. The “found” sounds of reality, here, are soundtrack unto themselves.
The Italian Job, by Quincy Jones. You know, I very nearly slotted in the score for the 007 film You Only Live Twice in here, which I do cherish, until I noticed that Todd Stadtman had already done so in his version of Liner Notes. So let’s look at another British production from the swinging ’60s, made two years after Sean Connery hit Japan. Instead we get Michael Caine (as Charlie Croker) waltzing around Italy, and swap Bernard Lee’s M for Noel Coward’s Mr. Bridger. But it’s the theme music — put together by the great Quincy Jones, 36 at the time – that makes this film stand out. Jones has worked with people as disparate as Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Michael Jackson, and he did the soundtracks for In Cold Blood and The Anderson Tapes. The opening credits song here, ‘On Days Like These’, with lyrics by Don Black (a regular on the James Bond movies) and vocals by Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love), is a sublime number that lulls the senses — cue suave gent in wraparound shades and a cigarette in his mitt, heading out for a Sunday drive along a scenic mountain route. That is, until he heads into a tunnel and collides with a carefully placed Mafia tractor. Later on, after a successful, often hilarious bank heist, the film winds up with the bus hooning around corners and mountainous cliffs to the dulcet tones of the Cockney-inspired ‘Get A Bloomin’ Move On’. Perfect bookends to a perfect movie.
Mothra, by Yuji Koseki. Again, this was a last minute decision as I originally thought to field Akira Ifukube’s rousing score for 1954’s Godzilla. But there’s something enchanting about this wildly original soundtrack put together by Koseki, otherwise most famous for composing a baseball song for Japan’s second most-popular team, the Hanshin Tigers. Probably this enchantment has much to do with vocalists The Peanuts (twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito) who also star in the flick. Their song ‘Mosura ya Mosura’, with an extra-added Polynesian influence and the lyrical handiwork of Ishiro Honda (director of both Godzilla and Mothra), is all tribal drums and a reverberating vocal hook, making it one of the catchiest riffs to hallmark a movie.
Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, photographer and ad hoc beer and saké connoisseur who’s been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 11 years. He published the noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat in 2011 and just published his second tome, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude through Perfect Edge Books.
He’s currently working on #3, titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
Bergen has also published short stories through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, ‘Pulp Ink 2’, Another Sky Press and Solarcide, and worked on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by Mamoru Oshii, Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani.