Friday, April 17, 2009

The Force is Strong with this One

My favorite story this month has to be that eight of Scotland's police officers, in a recent internal survey, listed their official religion as Jedi.

Strathclyde was the only "force" in the UK to admit it had Jedi officers with local officials stating: "The Force appears to be strong in Strathclyde Police…Far from living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, some members of the noble Jedi order have now chosen Glasgow and its surrounding streets as their home." About 390,000 people listed their religion as Jedi in the 2001 Census for England and Wales. In Scotland the figure was a reported 14,000.

This is certainly the most “inspirational” story to break out of the UK in recent weeks (barring Susan, “the force is strong with this one”, Boyle’s recent appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent”) and I’m now considering, just like, brothers Barney and Daniel Jones, who founded the UK Church of the Jedi - which offers sermons on the Force, light sabre training, and meditation techniques, on consecrating the first Jedi-Anglican-Baptist-American church, otherwise known as JABA.

I wonder if Susan Boyle would lead our choir?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bed Bugs

A recent study states that: "Bed Bug" infestation hit an all-time-high in the United States over the last eight years. Makes sense to me, the Bush administration had everything else bugged....why not the beds? Lastly, I'll leave you with this thought, if you had to have "Bed Bugs" wouldn't it be nice if they looked like Padma Lakshmi?

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Wizard In A Tea Cup or "Tea Baggins Rides Again!"

The whole “Tea Party” story has “spilled over” into even more perverse and sinister territory in the past few days. Throughout the country, "cockeyed” militias and racist white power groups, like the KKK, have embraced the sloganeering “Tea Baggers”, raising the level of “threat” associated with the ever-so-charming, "Bag", "political” cotillions.

Tea Baggers they are... and Tea Baggers they will be... And this is probably why they seem to have had no problem with their new (or maybe old) friends showing up at the party! What a charming thought the Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan sharing a cup of “Earl Grey” with the local Fox News reporter or militia leaders wife.

“What can we do?” you ask “to counter this wizardly attack on "good sense" and the time-honored, wholesome tradition of “Tea Bagging”?” “Fear not” says I… “Me thinks the time has come to call out our greatest weapon!”.

Look out, "Grand Wizard of the KKK” it’s the “White Wizard”! That’s right... Gandalf, Baby!… On Shadowfax he rides light of hoof and... Wait…! What’s that sitting between our kindly wizards legs? Not Frodo, not Bilbo.. no… it’s his most secret of weapons… more angry than a dragon with enchanted hemorrhoids…T’is none other than “TEA BAGGINS” riding in hard from the distant land of Sackville!

Lord, help those Tea Baggers now!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Cagney and Lacey Factor

There have been a number of articles lately focusing on the fashion sensibilities of the women of the new administration, in particular their choice of haircut. It seems that eight of President Obama's female employees; Cristina Romer, Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius, Hillary Clinton, Desiree Rogers, Valerie Jarrett, Lisa Jackson, Cassandra Butts, and Lisa Jackson, have chosen short-cropped hair.

Now there are a lot of reasons to have short hair it’s, professional looking, easier to dye, frames the face and or you were alive during the 1976 Olympics and never got over the “Hamill Camel” (a now classic ice skating maneuver) and its creator Dorothy Hamill. Though the reasons may be legion, the choice, I feel, can most be defined by what I call, “The Cagney and Lacey” factor. I am referring, of course, to the much-loved 1980s procedural cop drama and its two smart, female characters who’s lives and careers centered around combating crime in “Thriller” era New York City.

The 14-time Emmy award winning show factors heavily, as Carl Jung put it, “in the reservoir of the experiences of our species” and was the “Police, Sex and the City” of it’s time. The characters of, Christine Cagney, a single, career-minded, tough, witty, working-class woman and Mary Beth Lacey, a married, working mother balancing career, sex and family, have become archetypes, to a generation, of strong minded independent women.

It’s really no wonder. The show, unique in its time for it’s complexity and format, took on controversial issues of the day like, AIDS, date rape, cocaine addiction, racism, and spousal abuse. The real “breakout” element in this “Spiritus Mundi” was that; though solving crimes was part of the series equation, the real emphasis was on exploring the working and personal lives of the two women.

The subject matter of the show was matched with an equally strong visual iconography. Both women were pretty but of “a certain age” that projected ‘maturity of mind”, transcending the merely physical. Their clothes and hair were “a la mode” working-class, both sporting short-sheared-coifs that helped bind them together as well as defend them from their male dominated profession.

This last element, the “hairstyle”, was key. A self-imposed gauntlet; the removal of one of the most obvious tenants of female sexuality, thrown down in a gesture of self-flagellation, to prove their worth and to show diminishment could be transcendent and that through vulnerability they could become even stronger and more complete paragons of womanhood and feminine virtue. Such an open display of power and confidence could not be help but intoxicate and enthrall the show’s viewers. It did.

Though the series ended in 1988, “Cagney and Lacey” continues to inform and influence a generation and has become “the” touchstone of the professional woman’s hair-dressing choices.

Below is our "Fun Poll" please rate the following as more “Cagney” or “Lacey”:

1) Cristina Romer 2)Janet Napolitano 3)Kathleen Sebelius 4)Hillary Clinton 5)Desiree Rogers 6)Valerie Jarrett 7)Lisa Jackson 8)Cassandra Butts 9)Lisa Jackson

Rachel Maddows

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The "Fonzie Ponzi"

We all bought into it, invested deeply in his proposition. Why? Because he seemed so unflappable, imbued with that “I can’t fail aura”. He had our trust, security and children’s future placed in his hands. Then, our deep beliefs were torn away by a massive “Ponzi” scheme, the scope of which had rarely been seen. Who am I speaking of Madoff, Enron, Keating? No, I’m referring to one Arthur Fonzarelli a.k.a the “Fonz” or to his inner circle “Fonzie”.

It all began in the Great lakes city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin were “Fonzie” and three accomplices; Radulf “Ralph” Malph, Warren "Potsie" Weber and a key enabler Richard “Richie” Cunningham schemed to elevate there own social status by becoming, feeder funds, to Fonzarelli’s myth-o-mania social “Ponzi”.

Wait… rewind…what exactly is a "Ponzi" scheme? Named after Charles Ponzi, a notorious con man from Italy who immigrated to the United States in 1903, the scheme is, in financial terms, a fraudulent business that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from any actual profit earned. The Ponzi scheme usually offers short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The “Ponzi” requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going. In 1920 Ponzi coordinated a con, which took him from anonymity to being a well-known Boston millionaire in six months.

This same model was used in the “Fonzie Ponzi” only in a social networking context. Here’s how it worked:

Meeting often at a “Drive-In” restaurant owned by one Alphonse “Al” Delvecchio, “Richie”, “Potsie” and “Ralph” enticed patrons and their fellow students from the nearby high school into the “Fonzie Ponzi” with the promise of a simple introduction to Fonzarelli, who would then offer “help” or “guidance” on any number of adolescent crises.

At first the plotter were flush with success, Milwaukee’s youth flocked to the dinner for advice regarding all aspects of life whether, moral, sexual or financial. The “Fonz”, dressed in black leather, was known to “hold court” in the restaurant’s bathroom, dispensing advice to groups of young men who’d gathered there to listen. Infamously during these pontifications Fonzarelli would rarely look his followers in the eye, choosing instead to stare into the mirror, incessantly combing his hair while speaking.

The social investment “Ponzi” worked like this; by acknowledging the “coolness” of “Fonzie” one could, hope to one day, become “cool”. This worked in theory but without exception none of the “investors” ever actually achieved “cool” status. Instead they embarked on perpetual quest with the bar of achievement, ever rising. The participants could only ever hope to be “in process” and in fact never achieve favored “Cool” status.

In those early “Happy Days”, dealing only with adolescent problems, “the Fonz” kept his profile low, allowing his organization time to strengthen. Soon the scope went beyond just teenagers, Cunninghams parents became involved. Howard "Mr. C." Cunninghan and Marion "Mrs. C." Cunningham let Fonzarelli use a spare room over their garage as a base of operations. Over time more and more adults became ensnared in “Fonzies” game. So grand had his operation grown that he recruited family members into the “play’ including; cousin Charles "Chachi" Arcola and his mother Louisa, “roommates” Shirley Feeney and Laverne De Fazio as well as his former girlfriend (perhaps common law wife) Pinky Tuscadero (a known member of an outlaw biker gang).

The scheme was wildly successful and within the space of one year Fonzarelli was widely considered the “coolest” man in the World. Yet still no dividend to his followers!
The turning point and subsequent downfall came as follows:

By 1977, “Fonzies” narcissism and ego were total out of control and he had become an almost a comic book version of himself. On September 20th of that same year Fonzarelli, in an incredible act of hubris, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a penned-in shark while water skiing. Slightly injured in the stunt and perhaps dazed he delivered the uncharacteristic platitude; that taking “risks” "isn't cool". “Isn’t Cool”… the words thundered out across the globe, in later years this moment would come to be known as “Jumping the Shark”. Soon there were whispers, whisper everywhere and “not cool- not cool” were the watchwords. “Fonzie” grounded and "human", began to unravel. Rumors of his belief in alien visitations and his claims of friendship with an E.T. named "Mork" from the improbably name planet "Ork" caused followers to rapidly divest of Fonzarelli’s brand of “Cool”.

In the following years a tsunami of depression and panic at oncoming middle age caused the “Fonz” to withdraw. He later grew a beard, adopted a young child and when confronted by the media, claimed to be “a simple garage mechanic”. This, with his departure from the limelight, left behind millions of disenchanted followers to pick up their lives and “re-school” their own hopes of “cool”.

The world will probably never again experience a Fonzimonium of this magnitude, having learned what “Isn’t cool”….. but then again in the prophetic words of Warren Buffett, "it's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked" or “Jumping the Shark!”.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Release the Three-Headed Hound of Hell or Where’s Tony Stark when we need him!

Today New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed civil fraud charges against J. Ezra Merkin a Madoff middleman. Merkin, may have, dumped huge amounts of investors' money into the $65 billion Ponzi scheme, through the giant hedge fund Cerberus, basically a huge feeder fund.

Cerberus?.... My first question is who invests their money with a company who’s named after the three-headed dog guardian of Hell? Not me! The message is clear!

And what about the “Iron Man” super-villain named… ah.. “Cerebrus” (a combination of the words: Cerberus and Cerebrum). Here’s a brief overview of "Iron man's" ultimate nemesis; Cerebrus was an immense super computer spanning almost the entire surface of Earth. It possessed advanced analytical and multi-tasking abilities, coordinating and regulating virtually every facet of life on Earth, from power plants to agriculture to transportation. It utilized a number of human servants, mostly men, all of whom have had their original personality, morals and memories erased to better serve its will. The Human race rapidly became completely dependent on Cerebrus, zombie-like slaves of the machine incapable of thinking or caring for themselves!

Hmm... it does sound familiar…

Where’s Tony Stark when we need him! And where's Tony's hedge fund? I mean he was a billionaire, he must have done something with all that money.... that's what we need...A super-hero investment group... Stark/Wayne investments...Sounds good!

From Turkey With Love

With Obama's visit to Turkey the usual grumble and mumbles have begun about their entry in the EU and the ubiquitous "Are they ready?" question (are any of us?). Well, to the aforementioned condescension I would point out; Turkey and the US have been staunch allies since the end of WWII (through right and wrong!), a favored trading partner and a consumer of Amero-pop-culture. They even helped out James Bond in "From Russia with Love"... Kerim ("I've led a fascinating life") Bey is definitely the most charming of all Bond sidekicks... when he takes Bond to the female Gypsy fight, well...what more do you want from a friend? The Turkish train sequence at the end film is the most exciting and suspenseful of all the Bond movies. Well...the Cold War is over and Bond now has blond hair... but I say....Shake yourself a pitcher of vodka martinis and ..... wait I was talking about Turkey...yes...Turkey... Ancient Rome, Troy, The Blue Mosque, Ephesus, Dolmabahce Palace.... the history, beauty...Turkey....I'm sold!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Roofied” at a Disco

I see Newt Gingrich's "ample" visage on the television and web, almost on a daily basis, giving his "perspective" on the new Obama administration and their policy decisions. So I thought I'd add a little of my own "Newt" color-commentary/story to the mix just for laughs!

I met Newt once when I was filming a documentary at the Museum of Natural history in New York City. It was a truly bizarre moment! We were in Margret Mead’s old office getting ready to film when sudden the "well" headed Newt appeared at the door. He was being led around by the staff and apparently, I was told, is a huge supporter of the Museum (after all it was patronized heavily by Theodore Roosevelt ). Newt feigned interest in what we were doing and in a knee-jerk hyper-politico move, glad-handed the entire room, including me (I felt like I’d been “roofied” at a disco). It was all over in an instant and he was off like a “prom dress” through the dusty halls of the reserve floors of the museum and we were, though slightly dazed, back to filming skulls of Homo Heidelbergensis.... who by-the-way don't have a large cranial vault like Newt....Dam that evolution!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On A Sad Note

Maurice Jarre, composer and master of the Hollywood epic score, died this weekend in his Malibu home. The nine-time Academy Award nominee was 84.

Jarre won three of those nine “Oscar” nominations, all for films directed by David Lean. From the deserts of Saudi Arabia in “Lawrence of Arabia”, to the Russian taiga for “Dr. Zhivago” or the Indian subcontinent in “A Passage to India”, Jarre’s use of simple noble melodies to illustrate vast cinematic landscapes was the glue that held the aforementioned films together and allowed Lean the grandiosity, scale and reflective space necessary to execute his larger-than-life vision. Their collaboration was one of the great cinematic pairings, like Hitchcock and Herrmann or Truffaut and Constantin. Jarre described his relationship with Lean and why it worked in the simplest of terms; “Lean had very specific ideas about the music for the films and I understood what He wanted”.

Jarre was one of the first film composers I was really aware of as child. His already legendary status was burned into my memory one chilly New England evening when I watched (with my grandmother) “Lawrence of Arabia” on the television. Lying on the indigo-rag carpet of my Grandmother’s living room floor I was transfixed, nothing could have seemed or sounded more exotic.

In the years to come both “Dr. Zhivago” and “A Passage to India” had a similar effect on me and in one of those "lateral" steps in life, twenty-five-years later I found myself in Bangalore, India working with Ashok Mandanna, one of the stars of “A Passage to India”. I remember in particular an afternoon at Ashok's home, where over tea, we discussed Lean, Jarre and the production of the film. It was an amazing afternoon, really great fun and a long long way from Autumnal New England nights.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Favorite Scores of 1950's Sci-Fi Movies or All Great Works of Art Border on Being Awful!

I received a number of responses to my last posting (thanks!) on the subject of "top ten" film scores. The majority of the questions and comments were about Bernard Herrmann and his original score for "The Day the Earth stood still". It's seems most people weren't aware Herrmann had scored the film! Many seemed curious about other composers of music for sci-fi films of the 1950's. So, by request, I've put together a general "best of show" list, that for me, represents ten of the most "interesting" sci-fi film scores of the era.

Forbidden Planet - 1956 – Color


Directed - Fred M. Wilcox

Music - Louis and Bebe Barron

A starship crew is sent to investigate the mysterious lack of communication from a distant planet's colony only to find on arrival two survivors and a deadly secret! Oh… and Robby the Robot!

The movie's score was composed by Louis and Bebe Barron. The Barrons were “discovered” by film producer Dore Schary performing (essentially doing an electronic noise “freak-out session”) at a beatnik nightclub in Greenwich Village in New York City. Schary hired the Barrons on the spot to compose the films score.

Using equations from the 1948 book with amazingly pretentious title: Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine by mathematician Norbert Wiener, Louis Barron constructed the electronic circuits which he used to generate the films distinctive "bleeps, blurps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums and screeches". Most of the sounds were generated using a primitive ring modulator then adding reverb, delay and or tape manipulation to change the pitch of sounds. The result: this score cum Dadaist soundscape was the first all-electronic music soundtrack!

In the end, Louis and Bebe didn’t belong to the Musicians' union and, in a classic producer “save money” move, Schary refused to release a soundtrack album and credited the score as "electronic tonalities", to avoid paying guild fees (goodbye Academy Award nomination!).

Invaders From Mars - 1953 – Color


Director - William Cameron Menzies (who strangely gets a Production Design credit above his Directing)

Music -Raoul Kraushaar

In the early hours of the night, young David Maclean sees a flying saucer disappear into the sand dunes just beyond the backyard of his house. His once loving parents begin to act strangely and little David begins to fear aliens from the spaceship have possessed them! No one believes him until he manages to convince Dr. Pat Blake of the city health department and Dr. Stuart Kelston from the local observatory, that something is amiss! And chaos ensues etc…

I first saw this movie when I was a kid late one night on the local PBS station in the 70s (1979 maybe) and it really scared me! Maybe because the film’s told from a child’s point of view or perhaps it’s the surreal production design, they’re both interesting. But the real breakout element of the film is it’s score, the outre sound effects, the strange stinging choral stabs that buzz through the film like an ethereal wasp, taunting and cold! I love this soundtrack! It’s my favorite of the 50’s sci-fi B-movie genre!

What about the composer? Mort Glickman was a mainstay of the Republic Pictures music department for 13 years but this was the one and only time that he ever got to write for a relatively big-budget movie .

His main inspiration for the score to the film seems to have come from “Neptune, The Mystic” from Gustav Holst's suite “The Planets“(now this is long before John Williams "nicked" the entire score for Star Wars from the same Holst work!) but with a new kind of “flava”. His use of micropolyphony, a technique where the harmonic-musical flow doesn't change suddenly but is gradually blurred over time to form a sort of “harmonic cloud”, was and still is truly unique! His use of this technique in a film score foreshadowed the more well know works of György Ligeti, i.e.“Lux Aeterna” and “Atmospheres”, by a decade or more (both were later used in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Glickman died in February 1953 at the age of 54 just after finishing “Invaders From Mars”. R.I.P.

Other works include:

The serials - Mysterious Dr. Satan as wells as Nyoka and the Tigermen

Kronos 1957 –B+W


Directed - Kurt Neumann

Music - Paul Sawtel/Bert Shefter

Scientists investigate what appears to be a meteorite that crashes into the ocean. After a few days and nights of mysterious lights and noises, a giant alien machine comes out of the ocean to steal earth’s energy!

I like Paul Sawtells/Bert Shefter score it’s sort of “Perry Mason” meets “Planet of the Apes”. Sawtell perfected this style by striking-up alliance with fellow film composer Bert Shefter and then scoring numerous films together, including the classic science fiction and horror films: The Fly, Curse of the Fly, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and It! The Terror from Beyond Space in 1958. Later they composed many-a-score for director Russ Meyer, including the cult classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

The Thing – 1951 –B+W

Tagline: Where Did It Come From? How Did It Get Here? WHAT IS IT?

Directed - Christian Nyby

Music - Dimitri Tiomkin

Produced by Howard Hawks, “The Thing” tells the story of a small group of researchers and military sent to recover a crashed flying saucer in the Arctic. They discover in the spacecraft an unstoppable alien (half Frankenstein’s monster /half Telly Savalas: in fact it was James Arness of Gunsmoke!) hell bent on world domination. This is the genre starter: the unfathomable super alien that must be destroyed; scientists who let intellect hinder action; claustrophobia; and the fate of mankind resting on in the hands of a few who must sacrifice all.

Scoring “The Thing” fell to Dimitri Tiomkin (who received credit ahead of the director), one of cinema's most famous composers. Tiomkin's booming, pugnacious score for “The Thing” scared stiff the uninitiated 1950s audiences and became the touchstone for a decade of sci-fi movies. The score is a particularly forceful and enigmatic composition for Tiomkin, who was more well know for his sense of melody than muscle, it’s great work! He never revisited the sci-fi genre but perhaps that’s because he mastered it in a single stroke! Sadly the master tapes of the score were lost but recently a series monaural acetate transfer disks were found in Tiomkin's personal belongings. So hopefully with some restoration they’ll soon surface like some long frozen alien from the Arctic depths to dominate our planet!

Creature From the Black Lagoon - 1954 - B+W

Tagline: Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!

Director - Jack Arnold

Music - Hans J. Salter

A scientific expedition searching for fossils along the Amazon River discover a prehistoric “Gill-Man” in the legendary Black Lagoon. The explorers capture the mysterious creature, but it breaks free. The Gill-Man now filled will anger (and mojo) returns to kidnap the lovely Kay, fiancée of one of the expedition, with whom it has fallen in love. Quick aside: Ricou Browning who played the monster in the underwater scenes could hold his breath 4 minutes!

Hans J. Salter’s cues and scoring of the underwater scenes for “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” are doubly famous, once of being fanatically effective in the original film and secondly even more famous when John Williams “nicked” them for the movie Jaws. Never you say… it’s true just have a look! Though the theme to Jaws is now considered a classic suspense piece, the score's ominous two-note motif becoming nearly synonymous with sharks and danger, anyone who listens to even ten seconds of the score of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, will quickly find the “shark” in the motif.

Alas, Salter was no John Williams and composed mainly for Universal as an in-house composer, most famously for horror and science fiction films. His most celebrated scores include The Wolf Man (1941), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1953) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). The latter like much of his output for Universal was uncredited, as it became stock music, used time and time again in B-pictures.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) B+W

Tagline: A robot and a man . . . hold the world spellbound with new and startling powers from another planet!

Directed - Robert Wise

Music – Bernard Herrmann

Klaatu and his mighty world-destroying robot Gort land their “cherry” 50s spacecraft on a Cold War-era super-noided-out Earth to offer us peace and gets shot!

Bernard Herrmann (one of the greatest film composers of all time!) used not one but two Theremins to score the film, an otherworldly-sounding instrument that it is played without physical contact. The Thereminist stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines the pitch, and the distance from the other controls volume. The sound generated is a sort of an electronic whistle (think Beach boys “Good Vibrations”) with continuously variable pitch and portamento over its entire playable range (again justly like whistling). The result, a ground breaking electronically enhanced score and sci-fi’s first and perhaps “greatest’, sound cue. Hail Herrmann!

The Space Children - 1958 - B+W

Tagline: Slowly...and with horror the parents realized THEIR CHILDREN WERE THE SLAVES OF 'THE THING' FROM OUTER SPACE!

Director –Jack Arnold

Music – Van Cleave

The score (especially the intro) sounds like the beginning of a Yes album from 1973 (or substitute any 70's solo Rick Wakeman album). It gets a 7.5 on the “All Great Works of Art Boarder on Being Awful” meter. It’s a retro-progressive score!

Director Jack Arnold produced the classic 50's sci-fi films like "This Island Earth", "It Came From Outer Space", "The Amazing Shrinking Man” and "Tarantula" to name a few (He later helmed the “Minnow” directing numerous "Gilligan's Island" episodes), and had the good sense to hire the extremely the prolific composer Van Cleave.

A word about the composer Van Cleave (or should I say Nathan Lange Van Cleave). Though born into an era somewhat unfathomable to us today (May 8, 1910), he was still enough of a modern “stud” to know that his “aura” would certainly be improved by the dropping of “Nathan and Lange” and leaving behind the “Composer” with a big “C” name of Van Cleave (I’ve always thought that “Van” was a great first name, for example film star/matinee idol Van Johnson, that’s a name always seemed to have a define sexual overtone!… and Van Cleave…. Van Johnson… Van Cleave…wait a minute!). Anyhow… In 1945, Van Cleave moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical career. His film credits, as a composer and orchestrator, include "Cinerama Holiday", "The Colossus of New York", "Easter Parade", "Funny Face", "Robinson Crusoe on Mars", and "White Christmas". But Van really hit his stride working on many of the classic Twilight Zone episodes!

The Incredible Shrinking Man - 1957 - B+W

Tagline: Almost beyond the imagination . . . A strange adventure into the unknown!

Director - Jack Arnold

Music Super Vision by Joseph Gershenson -Trumpet Soloist – Ray Anthony

While out on the ocean with his wife, Scott Carey's boat drifts through a strange mist that leaves a metallic residue covering his body. He thinks nothing of it at the time but within a few weeks he begins to notice that he is losing weight. A visit to the doctor also confirms that he is getting shorter. As he gets smaller and smaller, doctors determine that his exposure to insecticides followed by what must have been a radioactive mist has caused a genetic mutation. Basically he gets smaller, the plot gets bigger and chaos ensues!

This score is on the list primarily because of the truly bizarre/unique vision of the director in choosing to put a “quasi- Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass” soundtrack to this classic sci-fi film. Trumpet Soloist – Ray Anthony (dig it!) is featured prominently in the opening credits as well as the score (maybe it because he was married to sex symbol actress Mamie Van Doren… obviously a point of pride! Note: to this day, Ray Anthony, maintains a close friendship with Hugh Hefner, leading him to make numerous appearances on the reality show, The Girls Next Door with Hef… What a player!). This one's a real head scratcher, a funny trumpet/film noir/Tijuana Brass at an over the top bullfight score that illustrates the “little” story in the “big picture”… I don’t know… My suggestion is as follows: adjust the ears on your bunny, heat a burrito, dim the lights, and get small!

The Blob - 1958 – Color

Tagline: Beware of the Blob!

Director- Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.

Music – Ralph Carmichael

The Blob is a sci-fi bor-o-rama film from 1958, depicting a giant KY-jelly/booger-like alien that terrorizes the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, starring Steve McQueen.

The amazing opening song garners “The Blob” it’s spot on the list. A young and unknown Burt Bacharach composed the opening novelty song with lyrics written by Hal David's brother Mack. This song scores a perfect 10 on the “All Great Works of Art Border on Being Awful” meter. It’s hard to believe… but it’s true… evidence you want… well here’s your stinking evidence…

Beware of The Blob, it creeps
And leaps and glides and slides
Across the floor
Right through the door
And all around the wall
A splotch, a blotch
Be careful of The Blob

Those were and are the actual lyrics to the opening song! Too rich says you? Never says I!

And in an ironic twist, the background score for The Blob was composed by Ralph Carmichael. Known as "The Dean of Contemporary Christian Music," it was one of just a few film scores that Carmichael wrote. What a legacy!

The Trollenberg Terror a.k.a The Crawling Eye - 1958 - B+W

Tagline: A man dissolves...and out of the oozing mist comes the hungry eye, slave to the demon brain!

Directed – Quentin Lawrence

Music - Stanley Black

The film begins with shots of the Alps and no score. Two men are kneeling at the edge of a small ledge, a third, connected to the others by a safety rope, is ascending the cliff above them. A terrible scream and the climber plummets off the mountain. The other two climbers attempt to pull him back up only to find their comrade’s head missing!

Cut to:

A speeding train enters a dark tunnel, the opening credits and score slam onto the screen. In particular, I like the Hammond organ/orchestra mix, it’s interesting and what I would technically classify as “far-out”. It’s a sort of 60's before the 60's soundtrack. Stanley Black is probably most remembered for writing the theme for “The Goon Show” and his theme tune for the Pathé News, written in 1960. Well in this ”Goo Show”, strange electronic beeps accompany run-away-train styled music (which match the cuts). Over all, the music is the best part of the film, bringing real character to this “Lovecraftian” sc-fi/horror flick!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Here I go again on my own" or "Judge me not lest you be judged by others"

Everyone these days is putting up top ten lists of likes and dislikes etc... My own personal opinion of this trend is paradoxical. I would certainly put top ten lists as one of my top ten dislikes when reading blogs but... I would also put top tens as one my top ten likes. Why? Well that's an easy answer... it's fun to judge others by their choices! You know... when you read a list you agree with you get that self satisfied feeling of "I have good taste" or "this list confirms my mastery of popular culture!" or lastly and certainly not least "great, now I have something to spout off about the next time someone wants talk about the top ten greatest abstract expressionist painters of the twentieth century, Ya! I'll look smart!" (of course I'm paraphrasing here and any number of substitutions can be made for the former examples...softest toilet paper etc...). Now, on the other hand, if you don't like a list that's where the fun really begins. Demonic incantations filled with declarations of "pedestrian taste" and "secretarial insight" flow like wine at the last supper! Now, that's not to say all types of lists engender the same kind of response. For example I've long noted the interesting phenomenon of films vs music. And what is this phenom you ask? Let me try to explain. A person will generally, if they start watching a movie, even if the don't like it, watch the movie all-the-way- through and then comment or criticise or debate the merit of the said work-of-art. While on the other hand it sometimes only takes seconds for someone to dismiss, deride and despair over music, often putting a CD or play list to rest extremely prematurely. How many times have you gone out on a date with someone, gotten back to the apartment, had candles lit, wine poured, pupils dilated only to sneak-a-peak at his or her music collection and thought "what am I doing here?" (don't get me started on books!). All lists are not equal, nor are they judged equally. It's a fact and in fact I think music lists leave their authors most vulnerable! But in the words of the immortal 80's hair-metal band Whitesnake (see I made you flinch!) "Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I've ever know".

Here are my top ten pics for the greatest film scores by Bernard Herrmann.

10) Vertigo - 1958 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

A haunting score. Poignant, quiet, painful music frames the film's melancholy motif.

9) Psycho - 1960 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Herrmann could of had it easy on this film, being that Alfred Hitchcock's instructions for the score were simple: ''Do what you like, but only one thing I ask of you: Please write nothing for the murder in the shower. That must be without music. Thankfully Herrmann agreed, took the job, cashed the check and then did what he wanted! In the process altering film history and scoring.

8) Taxi Driver - 1976 Directed by Martin Scocesse

Herrmann's final score. It's all horns, muscle and harp. Ya harp! Herrmann died the day after finishing the score.

7) The Day the Earth Stood Still - 1951 Directed by Robert Wise

This 1951 black-and-white sci-fi classic that tells the story of a alien visitor who comes to Earth with a stern warning "surrender or die" ( wait... no... that was Ghingis Khan). Herrmann used two Theremins (early proto-synths) in the score. And in my opinion the instrument was never used more effectively in a film score. With perhaps the exception of Jimmy Page in the Led Zepplin concert film "The song Remains the Same". Jimmy got points for using a violin bow and pretending to be a wizard in a purple jumpsuit whilst playing his single Theremin.

6) The Snows of Kilimanjaro - 1952 Directed by Henry King

I pick this one because of the interesting and ever shifting score which moves from frivolity to drunken dark swagger to African Gothic! Herrmann really enhanced the gangrene and whiskey soda bubbling just beneath the surface!

5) The Magnificent Ambersons - 1942 Directed by Orson Wells

Again frivolity clamoring toward strange empty hollow tones. Herrrmann made sure the film got it's "comeuppance"!

4) North by Northwest - 1959 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

A triptych of musical suspense, whimsy and rhythm brought together by Herrmann in with a moody perfection.

3) Cape Fear - 1962 Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Herrmann conjures up terror, obsession and the sound of nightmares .

2) Fahrenheit 451 - 1966 Directed by Francios Truffaut

Paul McCartney nicked the marcato string style for 'Eleanor Rigby' from the Herrmman score.

1) Citizen Kane - 1941 Directed by Orson Wells

Ok... is this really the best score by Bernard Herrmann? Let's put it this way, Citizen Kane, is an exemplar of Herrmann unique insight into: character, irony, framing, pacing harmonic structure and most of all his ability convey unspoken emotional content.

I'm done. Just one last word, "judge me not lest you be judged by others" (of course I'm just paraphrasing).

Friday, March 20, 2009

EastWest/Quantum Leap Orchestral - Viva la Update!

Everyone in the "know" already knows that EastWest/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra is famous for the warmth and detail of its sounds. The story of how founders Doug Rogers and Nick Phoenix accomplish this by separately recording the natural hall ambiance of each instrument is now close to legendary! The tools they've created have put the "digital" baton in the hands of tens-of-thousand of would be conductors (without them having to shell out tens-of-thousand of dollars...well maybe). Oh the sweet satisfaction of having 11 Violins, a perfectly tuned cello and the sheer joy of having an English horn always available for that perfect cinematic texture, pure ecstasy. How do I know all this about Symphonic Orchestra users... it's simple....I'm one of THEM!

Now nothing is perfect and I've had to live through a few upgrades and a nearly traumatizing switch to the dual processor-intel-mac world (that was an interesting week!). But all and all I have been quite happy to share my time on this mortal coil with my East/West Symphonic Orchestral library. But now life has gotten a lot better! It first began to improve when I realized that I qualified for the free Play upgrade (woohoo!). I had been using Kontakt 3 to manage my library before that, this is no diss on Kontakt 3 but the fit of the glove was let's say...more O.J. than OK, anyhow about a week ago I opened a email from East/West Quantum Leap and there it was the next leap or should I say Quantum Leap... within was a link to the new Play update version 1.2.0. The list of it's fixes was impressive and were as follows:

* improved save times for instrument files on windows
* improved streaming engine
* voice limited expanded to 1024 for 64-bit version
* new micro tunings for QL Silk and QL Ra
* extended streaming setting dialog with reset engine functionality
* resolved mute bug issue
* fixed sustain pedal threshold
* improved fonts for Stormdrum 2 and Orchestra
* hard limit to 0dB on the audio output for standalone
* implemented poly aftertouch automation
* product libraries entries in the browser now can be changed/added/deleted
* fixed portamento and first silent note issue
* resolved FL Studio GUI issue
* fixed voice swapping issue
* improved installer

Looks good right... but who cares about how it looks. How does it sound and more importantly does it work? Well friends I'm here to report that I'm just about to finish my first commercially produced project with the new update installed and I can give it an unequivocal four star rating. Here's the bake, the work flow, CPU usage, general finickiness and yes I'll say...the "feel" is better. I don't know exactly why but the whole GUI is just that much more friendly. I use Play with logic 8 and I thought that the two programs might need couples therapy but now I'm sure that the romance has returned. And if that isn't enough I'll put it simply, I used to 'like' Play but now I've learned to "love"! Viva la Update!

Fashion Week Milan

I recently finished a project for designer Matthew Cunnington's "Fashion Week Show" in Milan. Here's a little background; Matthew was the 2008 Hyeres Grand Prize winner and this year was his Milan debut and word had it the the "whole of the fashion world" was going to be showing up for a look, so as you can imagine expectations were high! Matthew rung me up in Paris, he was here with Sandy (that's John Sanderson Matthews design partner), putting together their collection at their studio in the 7th arrondisement near San Sulpice. He said that what they needed from me was a soundtrack to accompany their show at the "Museo Della Permanente" in Milan. I was glad to get the call because I was impressed by Matthew's collection for Hyeres and was really excited to see this years line. So after running over a few details, I happily agreed to put the soundtrack together for the show and we were off and running!

Now it's always interesting and challenging to put together a score, sound design or even an arrangement for a live show but in this case I had to do all three. You see Matthew had already picked out a few pieces of music he wanted to use in the score and wanted me to find ways to link them together. Not the most daunting of requests but not without it's ticks. The first of the two main pieces he wanted in the program was a Linkin Park track called "The Shadow of the Day", the second was a piece of music by Yiruma called "River Flows in You". Doesn't sound to hard right? Well maybe not.... but the two pieces are in completely different keys and tempo, one is in a modern classical piano style and the the's linkin Park. I took a deep breath opened up logic 8, fired up the midi controller and dug my snout in. Well that said, the rabbit was out of the box and after a few late-night tuning sessions with Sandy and Matthew and 48hrs of "cracking the spine" I had found "a way in". I'll save you all the gory details but suffice it to say that the key to the whole project was a simple piano refrain that was reflective of the Yiruma piece that morphed over about 12 bars into the structure and rhythm of "Linkin think'n" and another 8 bar outro morph back into Yiruma and it was "Bingo Time!". Some reediting and remixing the original music (thanks Fat Camel Audio!) and the tracks were in Sandy and Matthews hands and on there way to Milan! And what happened? Here's the email I received the following week:

Hi David.

Hope you are well. Finally we arrive back in Paris. The Music worked perfectly for our collection.

Thanks again for your help.


Matthew and John.


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