Characterized by Hans Zimmer as "our little movie" during their "Leviathan" films, Matchstick Men was intended as a more relaxing project between the visually and emotionally epic films that have had Scott working steadily since 2000, directing a film almost every year.
Noted as their seventh collaboration, Warner Bros.’ DVD includes a fairly substantial featurette on the film’s production schedule, with almost a third of the post-production segment exclusively devoted to the scoring stage. Beginning with test screenings, Zimmer was actively involved in the regular, open discussions that characterized the film’s completion stages; and the composer is represented in the featurette as part of the production team, appearing at test screenings with the executive members, and nervously gauging audience reactions to a film that went through a post-production schedule much longer than some of Scott’s previous films.
To Scott and Zimmer, Matchstick Men is a charming comedy, a view the American crew found uniquely British and European, since the writers (which include Ted Griffin, the ill mind behind Ravenous) found the story to be far more serious. That delicate balance became a tough sell for test audiences, and during the scoring phase Zimmer found himself under heavy criticism for what Griffin quickly recognized as a Nino Rota-styled score.
Scott, always the refined visualist, went for clean geometric angles in the film, using open concept homes with shearing divisions of rock and glass, uniform carpet, and triangular arches; even the airport in the film is photographed as an ordered series of geometric steps rising towards a clean blue sky. That retro texture no doubt inspired Zimmer’s music, and the use of Rota’s rhythmic patterns and carnival-like tonalities suits the film extremely well. Between Zimmer’s better-known bombast for epic films, Matchstick Men offers a humorous shading that’s also evident in Zimmer’s interview segments; where the composer touches upon his own perceptions of why, and where in the film, the score was creating problems at test screenings.
Seven is also the magic number for collaborations between James Horner and Ron Howard. The Missing forms their latest work, and while absurdly brief (and once again blushing with treacly sentimentality), the featurette at least gives Horner some room to discuss the use of Native American ceremonial instruments within the realm of a western score. The balance in maintaining the cinematic needs of the film while infusing a score with authentic sounds is a tough assignment, and it’s a shame the DVD producers felt the usual montage of recording session footage and brief sound-bites were deemed enough for viewer interest.
Print interviews and industry publications may delve into the technicalities of ethnic-flavoured scores, but given so little of Native American instruments are known by mass audiences, a proper examination of Horner’s challenges in researching, adapting, incorporating, and recording unique instruments (some meant to play just a handful of notes) would have boosted the DVD’s musicological and educational content. With the potential of DVDs already used to exploit the creation of visual effects, stunts, early script drafts, the editing process, and other production apocrypha, it makes no sense why the music and its creator can’t get a little more room.
Elmer Bernstein fares a little better in Paramount’s new version of The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille’s rather kitschy but highly entertaining chronicle of Moses and his heavy legal notepads.
Previously available in a 2-disc edition, Paramount’s new incarnation includes a running commentary by Katherine Orrison, and several featurettes covering the film’s own epic production schedule. Though he appears in a tightly edited segment (2:50) regarding his score, Bernstein also pops up in several additional featurettes, mainly commenting on DeMille’s character and legendary persona as a perfectionist. Introduced with heavily melodramatic narrator (quite in tune with the film’s own tone), Bernstein touches upon meeting Victor Young, and getting what remains for him the most exciting picture assignment of his life.
In 1956, DeMille was Hollywood’s oldest working director (then 75), and the final portrait of the pioneering force of the epic genre is a moving montage of comments, from the film’s actors, the director’s friends & family, and Bernstein. Again, more time should have been spent on the score – still a landmark for the composer and the genre – but Paramount’s features tend to be briskly paced impressions of the filmmaking process; in this particular release, however, the diversity of interviews boosts the substance level from fluff to archival.
Neither fluffy nor archival, the composer of Battle Royale appears in a (9:46) featurette on the 2-disc Korean, British and Japanese DVD editions of the Director’s Cut. Running slightly longer than the theatrical cut (that lacked some important flashbacks, and a vague coda), both versions have yet to receive a North American release, making Asia and Europe the only countries to enjoy domestic home video issues of this notorious satire.
A violent, outrageous poke at Fascism, Battle Royale was directed by Kinji Fukasaku (better known to sci-fi fans for Virus / Day of Resurrection, a 1980 mini-epic that sported a huge orchestral score by jazz legend Teo Macero). Based on the excellent novel by Koshun Takami, Fukasaku went for a similar operatic musical tone, this time employing composer Misamichi Amano to write original material, with classical material and traditional march music saved for the film’s more grotesque moments.
A hugely engrossing score, Misamichi is seen conducting 6 cues with the orchestra and choir in the featurette, and while short on background information and a direct interview, the session snippets are nicely edited, with very crisp sound for the diverse score samples. The scores for Battle Royale and Battle Royale II – the latter film begun by the director but completed by his son, Kenta Fukasaku, after the elder’s death before filming – are commercially available on CD, and well worth seeking out.
For the diverse DVD releases, buyers should research available reviews, as not all DVD versions contain English subtitles for Disc 2, which has substantial Japanese-language featurettes.
When originally released in 1972, Superfly became a huge, controversial hit, aided no doubt by a superb score from Curtis Mayfield. Whereas Warner Bros.’ early DVD for Shaft contained just a vintage promo featurette, Superfly is given the deluxe treatment by the studio, sporting numerous featurettes on the cast, style, the loud and flashy clothes, and the film’s stature as one of several key African-American film works that revitalized Hollywood’s production arm when revenues from more standard fodder were once again ebbing low.
The lead character’s small victories and the film’s conclusion are sometimes cited as glorification of the drug dealer lifestyle, but Warner Bros. have done an excellent job in using extras to place the film in its historical context. Curtis Mayfield’s music is also a central issue; particularly since his lyrics crisply address the film’s conflicts, frequently reflecting the dreadful social and economic issues captured by director Gordon Parks Jr. Mayfield’s appearance in a club scene in the film is also discussed in the making-of featurette.
There’s also an audio-only interview (7:03) with Mayfield, previously issued in Rhino’s 2-disc 1997 soundtrack album, that has the composer describing his close connection with the film’s themes, and writing music for his first motion picture. Recorded in 1995, the comments often veer into more humanistic observations, and his own musical tastes (with a brief nod to Henry Mancini); but overall the DVD’s extras make clear the importance of Mayfield’s involvement with the iconic film.
Released late in 2003, the third installment of the Godfrey Reggio-Philip Glass ‘qatsi trilogy had a rather brief theatrical run, but the loaded Miramax DVD contains a substantial set of extras that place the composer on par with the director’s importance.
Titled Naqoyqatsi, it’s a visually extravagant work that combines layered images with a lot of digital manipulations. The film’s tone, however, is much more somber than the previous entries, Powaqqatsi (1988), and Koyaanisqatsi (1983). Incorporating and manipulating modern corporate logos, images of political figures, and reams of commercial TV footage for an elaborate finale, Naqoyqatsi is a pretty dour work. Divided into chapters using gentle fades, the film score reflects the gripping images, and the most powerful moments include a dizzying montage of fractal patterns and the simplistic yet foreboding opening shots of a massive, abandoned railway station at the film’s beginning; when underscored with Yo-Yo Ma’s cello, it’s a remarkable fusion of sound and picture.
There’s a brief Q&A (6:00) between Glass and the renowned cellist, and one gets the impression the camera was simply allowed to run, while the two gentlemen began a fluid conversation, frequent peppered with effusive comments for each other’s contribution. Yo-Yo Ma’s involvement adds a human element to an otherwise cold film, and the nuances of both Glass’ writing and the cellist’s performance were clearly absorbed by the team of animators for the film’s intricate, intermeshing textures.
Often composers are seated to the far extremes in panel discussions and are largely forgotten. It’s therefore refreshing to see Glass and Reggio at NYU (54:00), with the composer involved in many of the topics discussed by the panel, and an enthusiastic audience.
Before Starship Troopers (1997), Basil Poledouris scored director Paul Verhoeven’s first English-language film, Flesh + Blood (1985). Designed by the director and his longtime screenwriter Gerard Soeteman as a medieval romp with Verhoevian indulgences, Flesh + Blood also re-teamed the pair with actor Rutger Hauer, who began his career playing a swashbuckling archetype in the 1969 Dutch TV series Floris.
An uneven film to say the least, the film’s most notorious aspects remain its graphic nudity and a rape scene that drags on for a long, detailed time span. In the DVD’s featurette, "Composing Flesh + Blood", Poledouris comments on the unsettling nature of the scene, and the challenge in writing music that cannot glorify such a brutal assault. Much like Jerry Goldsmith’s comments on Basic Instinct, Poledouris echoes tales of Verhoeven’s epic, Selznick-styled notes on musical ideas which, at a whim, were sometimes dispensed by the director. Verhoeven, however, had great trust in his composer, and ultimately let Poledouris’ instincts craft a lively score that manages to echo the filmmakers attempt at ribaldry, brutality, romantic love, and seething hatred.
When Varese released the soundtrack album years ago, the selected cues offered a seriously limited scope of Poledouris’ score. Less hard-edged than Conan the Barbarian but similarly propulsive, Flesh + Blood came off as a fairly monotonous collection of minor theme variations, and MGM’s lovely DVD reveals how much good stuff didn’t make album’s cut. Though a fairly standard surround mix, fans of the composer’s work will find a better representation of the score in this well-mastered DVD, which also includes a typically manic commentary by the film’s entertaining (and somewhat loony) director.
When it comes to family films, DVD producers tend to edit the extras – namely featurettes and documentaries – into short montages of images and keywords. While not a dumbing down procedure, the results may entertain the younger set, but offer very little for older or keener fans wanting extras of greater substance and intrigue.
A good example of this trend is Universal’s The Cat In The Hat, which contains an elaborate but navigable menu system. Eventually you’ll get to the featurette "Music to a Cat’s Ears," which intercuts interviews with director Bo Welch and composer David Newman between scoring session snippets and film clips. The real focus is on the wild, Seussian instrument modifications meant to capture the film’s loud, brash objects, colours and nutty inventions. The actual music, however, is literally reduced to a background element; as for Newman’s composing skills, the facts are pretty thin.
To close on a higher note, Warner Bros.’ disc for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up ports over the isolated stereo music track previously available on the old laserdisc, which offers some tracks not present on the original Verve LP, nor Rhino’s 1996 expanded CD.
Though the film uses the pop-styled first half of Hancock’s "Main Titles" for the original English language mono mix, Antonioni, or perhaps an executive, chose to substitute Hancock’s livelier "End Title" music in place of the more subdued variation, which was slightly edited and placed over the film’s End Credits. (Hancock’s original "End Title" music, however, is present on the commercial CD.) Oddly, the French language mono mix, present on the DVD, retains both halves of Hancock’s original "Main Titles" as it appears on the CD, and the DVD’s isolated score track.
In terms of new material, the DVD offers a brief source cue (:15) that plays when David Hemmings turns on the car radio after fleeing two wannabe models (perky naifs Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills). There’s also a track we can call "Jane’s Departure" (1:08) that plays as Vanessa Redgrave inscribes a telephone number on paper for Hemmings. (The album contains an unused track called "Curiosity," so it’s possible the aforementioned may be an alternate version used in the finished film.)
An alternate version of "The Thief" also appears on the DVD, with a different (and more groovin’) organ solo, and a mix emphasizing different instruments; the same also applies to an edited version of what seems to be an alternate take of "The Kiss." (The marvelous bass playing is very prominent here.)
Some of the solos in other cues also appear flipped; either the right and left tracks were swapped for the album, or the miking was changed for certain cues. A few tracks also have more abrupt beginnings and ends, due in part to Antonioni’s insistence that all music be source-oriented. In the case of other cues, like "Thomas Studies Photos," the cue runs much longer on the isolated track, offering a comparison between the composer’s original length, and the film’s director-supervised sound mix.
When placed beside the CD, the isolated score tracks are more bass-friendly and robust, but given several cues on the DVD were edited to fit specific scenes, the soundtrack album is still the definitive source for Hancock’s superb score.
Mark R. Hasan (2004)