Saturday, 7 May 2011

On The Desk IX

You don’t get more classy than Holly Golightly, or more classic a film than Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Blake Edwards’ sassy, comically romantic and ultimately moving film created an icon in Audrey Hepburn and in the process confirmed that the director’s creative partnership with composer Henry Mancini would go on to be one of the most colourful and listenable in Hollywood history. The score for Tiffany’s came a few years before the quintessential Pink Panther scores and in a way put the composer more firmly on the Hollywood map, thanks in no small part to the title song ‘Moon River’ which Manicini composed with Johnny Mercer. Both won Oscars for their work on the swooning little number and the composer took home a second statue for his dramatic score.

I say ‘dramatic’, when really it’s more of a glittering, toe-tapping underscore representative of the period and most of it coming out of Holly’s record player. So the majority of the music on this new ‘50th Anniversary’ release of the music from the film, by Harkit Records, is source music, but what a fabulous selection of ditties it is. The real drama comes from the ‘Moon River’ melody which appears in the opening ‘Choral’ version and Hepburn’s vocal rendition – itself full of sultry emotion. The likes of ‘Something for Cat’ and ‘The Big Blow Out’ make perfect 60s party music – as they did in the film – and the quasi striptease music of ‘Hub Caps and Tail Lights’ raises a smile for sure.

The title track is a romantic, misty-eyed number with light percussion, cool piano and strings, not to mention the ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ choir. Mancini’s trademark swooping strings, brass vibraphone add a touch of 60s glamour. There’s something utterly wonderful about this style of music, so of its time, full of warmth, romance all played out with a wink and smile I expect.

‘Holly’ is another breezy walk in the park, with trumpet, percussion and guitar playing out a lazy melody. Those swooping strings again whisk you up off your feet and carry you away with them, while ‘The Big Heist’ pre-empts the mould that Mancini would turn to for The Pink Panther in a few years time… Priceless.

A final rendition or two of ‘Moon River’, including a very camp ‘Cha Cha’ version brings this glittering little album to a close. I can quite honestly say it’s a bit of a joy and it makes me want to seek out more music of this period… I’ve a load of Williams’ music from similar ‘screwball’ romances, comedies and alike, so I think I’ll dust them off. Time to re-embrace my copy of The Pink Panther as well I think… Kudos to Harkit Records though for making this music available; notes by Randall Larson are, as always, informative and expertly written, while the packaging – replete with faux crystals in the spine casing – is creatively considered.

Now to Silva’s release of Gustavo Santaolalla’s Biutiful, his latest collaboration with visionary director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Following on from the likes of Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, Biutiful stars Javier Bardem as a dying man with a shady past who wishes to redeem himself before death claims him.

Music appears to be of great importance to Inarritu and like their previous films, Santaolalla was involved from an early stage. Indeed for Biutiful the composer researched the styles of music that might work and went so far as to record tracks before the film’s production was complete. According to the director, some 150 tracks were created, not all ending up in the finished film as you’d imagine. In fact some of the early ideas thought to be what they needed, ended up not working at all with the film and a whole different approach was undertaken. As a result the two discs of the soundtrack album represent both the original soundtrack of cues heard in the film, with the second disc (called ‘Almost Biutiful’) carrying a selection of the otherwise worthy pieces that didn’t make it. A nice touch.

The music then, like all of the Inarritu/Santaolalla productions is a diverse collection really, with the composer’s original music – as usual based on guitars and ethnic instrumentation. This composer looks to eastern and African music for some of his inspiration, as well as his latin roots. Some of the early selection isn’t easy listening, the cues being quite stark and imposing, contrasting greatly to later cues of some beauty. The finale of the first disc is a gorgeous rendering of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G (aka 2 Adagio Assai) performed by Zoltan Kocsis, Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orhestra; truly ‘Biutiful’.

The second disc, with its ponderous pre-production musings intact offer again a variety of ideas. ‘Seedz’ has an overtly African flavour, while the likes of ‘Maler’ and ‘Davis’ are hypnotic and engaging, the former arranged by Osvaldo Golijov. ‘Tin Can Gitar’ is certainly the most unusual entry, with its oddly entrancing repetitive metallic sound, while ‘Elegaic’ – the closing track - is a piece for piano, reverberating and pensive.

Another Silva album to land on my desk in recent weeks was something of a surprise. ‘The Symphonic Celtic Album’ should probably be called ‘The Symphonic Celtic Film Music Album’ given that that is exactly what it is, bar one track… A gathering then of some of film’s quintessential Celtic musical motifs, some obvious, others spurious… It is though a pleasant listening experience, with Carter Burwell’s Miller’s Crossing opening the selection and Sean O’Riada’s ‘Women of Ireland’, used in Barry Lyndon, one of the truly Celtic offerings. The likes of Horner’s Braveheart and Titanic, Williams’ Far And Away and Burwell’s Rob Roy are the meat of the piece, while two selections from Shore’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring are given an Emerald glow thanks to the presence of Enya’s ‘May It Be’ in the first instance and the Celtic-flavour of the Hobbiton music I suppose.

I may be missing something, but Trevor Jones’ The Last of the Mohicans and Newman’s The Shawshank Redemption, are only faintly Celtic in their general hue, while the inclusion of ‘Now We Are Free’ from Gladiator is just filler surely… It was set in Rome, he was a ‘Spaniard’ and… need I go on? Anyway, it’s still a fine piece of music.

Victor Young’s The Quiet Man and Michael Kamen’s Highlander complete the package, though the likes of Jarre’s Ryan’s Daughter might have been a welcome addition, not to mention Horner’s The Devil’s Own. Obviously these things depend very much on what’s in the Silva catalogue to begin with and to be fair to them they haven’t done badly at all with this album. It’s all listenable stuff… Not sure I can forgive the glaring mistake in the sleeve note though, where Howard Shore is credited with Braveheart… Woops. Oh and the album ends with Bill Whelan’s ‘Riverdance’… not in a film, as far as I know? But it’s a cracking piece an anthem if you like to all things Celtic. And why not.

Finally James Horner’s Testament was a welcome release from Film Score Monthly recently and while it’s a short album – just a little over half an hour – it’s worth it. His take on the morbid, but dramatic family tale of life after a nuclear holocaust is quite simply moving and beautifully achieved. With a small ensemble, Horner weaves emotive lines of music for solo, duo and trio, including woodwinds and an imposing French horn. The brief vignettes on the album, plus a couple of pieces by Mozart make for a short but wholly satisfying experience, proving Horner’s ability to move with the simplest of means. This is a must have CD for any Horner collector.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is available from Harkit Records – – while both Biutiful and The Symphonic Celtic album are available on CD or to download from Testament can be found at, along with all the other fine releases from FSM and more besides. As ever.