Evoking the brassy, funky tone of seventies crime thrillers is a tough endeavour because the composers who left their marks on classic films like The French Connection (Don Ellis) or Dirty Harry (Lalo Schifrin) or The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (David Shire) were writing in their own style that was also in vogue at the time, and some of these composers were giants and major players in both jazz and the crime genre they worked in.
A good example of filmmakers wanting a score to resemble the tone of a seventies classic occurred when Chris Boardman had to mimic the funky, chromatic theme of Pelham for Mel Gibson’s Payback (1999), and it hurt the film because Boardman’s theme variation was far too close to David Shire’s; musical mimicry can easily destroy one’s attention from a film’s drama because one’s familiarity with an iconic score, and that’s one of the reasons Payback was such a wobbly movie.
Having not seen how Gast Waltzing’s score works in JCVD (2008), it’s still possible to admire the cleverness with which this near-perfect retro score captures the spirit of the aforementioned composers. Waltzing’s own JVCD theme is a punchy, groovy work with a repeated phrase played by banks of sharp brass over a thick electric bass.
The JVCD theme does appear a lot throughout the album, but the composer changes the instrumentation for obvious mood shifts. The staccato brass fanfares and smooth chromatic laments are still locked to the theme’s structure, but there’s an intriguing version with flutes and vibes (“Family Card”), as well as the bopping “JVCD Theme II,” with pounding timpani and heavy drums boosting the pacing in what’s essentially the bass groove transposed for lower brass.
In “State of Siege,” the theme’s main harmonies are stretched out in a slow and easy tempo, with curvaceous slides between notes. The focus on flutes, sax, and bass nicely recalls vintage blaxpolitation scores, with their beautiful harmonies and fine orchestrations that gave brass instruments incredible power and colour.
More dramatic cues like “Get Him,” with wood taps and chromatic tone scales evoke Shire’s early seventies writing, and one senses a bit of Schifrin in “Family Card” because of the sustained dissonance and increasingly tense recapitulations of Waltzing’s ‘villain’ theme.
There’s also “Discovered,” which is a gorgeous bluesy lament on solo trumpet. Psychedelic ping-pong echoes affect the cresting high notes, and add some self-effacing humour in a cue that mostly encapsulates solitude, confusion, and absurdity. It’s one of the album’s longest cues, and shows the emotions a single musician can nail in a thoughtful, free-form solo.
MovieScore Media’s album is crisply mastered to show off the dominant brass instruments, and while the score may have been conceived to evoke seventies crime scores, Waltzing’s specific colours – brass, bass, and a driving rhythm with occasional embellishments from chiming vibes – are perfectly suited to the film’s lead character: a former hero toughened by the realities of life’s hardships, and the humility that strives to survive amid chaos.
Or maybe it’s seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme kick ass again after a long career slump.
Gast Waltzing's George and the Dragon (2004) is also available from MovieScore Media.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan