Today I have two soundtracks in mind, both with strong jazz influences.
I watched Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) about 7 years ago. The simplicity, intelligence and subtle humour was a revelation to me. Tati is perhaps the first director since the days of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Chaplin to create humour so effectively without spoken words. And while the early silent classics got their laughs mainly through slapstick (although of course, there were strong elements of satire and social commentary), Tati’s films lean more towards gentle social satire. His humour is not likely to give you a stitch in the side, but rather a quiet chuckle in appreciation of his orchestration of sight and sound. The absence of dialogue in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday brought to the fore a truly memorable soundtrack by jazz composer Alain Romans, particularly the theme music ‘Quel Temps Fait-Il A Paris?’. This relaxed, though rather repetitive composition appears to have all sorts of instruments in it – piano, electric guitar, trumpet, sax and even a xylophone, I think. His subsequent work for other Tati films like Mon Oncle and Playtime has similar musical themes, although I feel they became progressively complex, conversely more generic and therefore less memorable.
Henry Mancini’s Oscar-nominated theme for The Pink Panther (1963) is universally known and liked. Even kids who haven’t seen or heard of the Peter Sellers comedy franchise are familiar with the animation series. For me, the sax-based composition’s brilliance lies in how it seems to cue someone cool, smooth and suave, but equally also sounds like it’s describing a pompous, bumbling idiot.
This ageless piece has survived and evolved, well beyond the popularity of the films themselves. The Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) had a funky bassline and even some electric guitar (at 3:06) thrown in. Bobby McFerrin did an a capella version for Son of the Pink Panther (1993). Outside of the films, it’s been covered countless times. There is a tango version by Cuarteto Almagro called Pantera Tanguera (sounds like the Twelve Monkeys theme, which is also tango-based) and a mambo version by Colombian group La 33 called La Pantera Mambo.