Iconic film and TV soundtracks – an endangered species

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I grew up during a time when I took for granted that popular TV shows and movies would have memorable intro music or theme songs.

My particular favourite was the intro for The Six Million Dollar Man, composed by Oliver Nelson. Combined with clips of astronaut Steve Austin’s crash and transformation into a bionic man, along with the grim voiceover by his mentor Oscar Goldman, the entire package was thrilling and I never tired of sitting through it each week. At school, 8- and 9-year olds (myself included) would run around the playground in slow motion humming the tune as their personal background soundtrack. Another tune that gives me goosebumps to this day is the Hawaii Five-O opening theme, composed by Morton Stevens and performed by the famous instrumental rock band The Ventures. I can still recall the montage of surf waves, buildings and faces that was perfectly synced with the track, made so dynamic through zoom, jump cuts and shaky cam shots. And the theme music of the original Star Trek, composed by Alexander George and bonded with that opening monologue by William Shatner, is surely one of the most recognized around the world.

I discovered a few years ago while researching old TV tunes that Lalo Schifrin was the genius behind two other iconic intros – the Mission: Impossible theme which has been kept alive by the feature films over the years (loved the version that U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton concocted for the first movie in 1996) and the minimalist intro for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Schifrin also composed the original theme for Starsky and Hutch, but it was replaced from the 2nd season onwards by Tom Scott’s groovy synthesizer-based piece which is the version that pretty much everyone remembers.

Another favourite was M*A*S*H*, the tune became even more poignant for me when I discovered later that the accompanying theme song was titled Suicide is Painless. Of course, when it came to songs, it’s the happy ones that I would sing along with; and the two that lift my heart to this day are the intro songs of Happy Days and The Greatest American Hero.

There weren’t that many British shows that I watched, but of course the opening theme for Doctor Who remains well known to this day, with the show having been revived in 2005 and introduced to a whole new generation.

Later on in the 70’s as I got to around the age of 10, I started watching movies. This was mostly on grainy VHS and occasionally on TV – we didn’t have dedicated movie channels back then. And so it was that I came across the amazing Superman and Star Wars themes by John Williams, the quirky intro for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone, the playful Pink Panther theme by Henry Mancini and of course, the theme for James Bond which has remained popular over the years even though it is built around the very dated surf rock sound of the 60’s. Many years later, as I watched other films from the 60’s and 70’s, I came across many more memorable themes such as Nino Rota’s evocative (and so Italian) soundtrack for The Godfather or Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score for The Magnificent Seven and John Williams’ scary score for Jaws. I think the last iconic theme from this era was John Williams’ signature tune for Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981.

In comparison, the only contemporary TV show themes that I consider memorable or iconic are Mark Snow’s theme for The X-Files and Ramin Djawadi’s complex and multi-layered theme for Game of Thrones. Sure, I watch very little TV these days, but even when it comes to movies, I can’t think of anything memorable or instantly recognizable that has been written in the past decade. I would have to go back to 1993’s surprisingly mellow and evocative Jurassic Park theme by John Williams and James Horner’s work for Titanic; I think these are the last of the ‘classic film tunes’. Howard Shore’s music for The Lord of the Rings is also very good, but frankly I had to go online and search for the tune on YouTube because I couldn’t remember what it sounded like, just that I liked it a lot. I do have some personal favourites from recent years like Ramin Djawadi’s entire OST for Pacific Rim, or John Powell’s work for The Italian Job and The Bourne Identity both of which I have written about previously; but I doubt very much that you could classify these tunes as widely popular or iconic.

One of the reasons that the quality and distinctiveness of soundtracks has reduced over the years (especially in movies) is that film makers increasingly rely on existing pop and rock songs to fill out the film soundtrack. I call this lazy composing and have a real problem with it. It was innovative when the Bee Gees composed an entire album of hit songs for Saturday Night Fever in 1977 and nostalgic when Cameron Crowe injected a bunch of rock classics into Almost Famous in 2000 and of course, we all love director James Gunn’s mixtape selection for Guardians of the Galaxy. But now I feel that every movie (starting with the trailer) is using popular songs rather than coming up with catchy original compositions. How nice it would be to once again fall in love with a piece of music and have it stay with you for the rest of your life as a part of the memory of a beloved movie or TV show…


Love & Mercy – individual performances sparkle in the story of a tortured musical genius

Although I love the music of the 60s, I never latched on the Beach Boys during my formative late-teen years. Perhaps the group peaked way too early in the 60s to fall into my musical catchment zone. Perhaps they weren’t as big in the UK, from where most my musical influences come. The first time I heard one of their songs was a cover version of California Girls sung by David Lee Roth in the mid-1980s; I didn’t even know it was a cover. In 1990, I heard a song on the radio called Hold On by a new girl group called Wilson Phillips; the DJ mentioned that two of the singers were the daughters of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The band was a one-hit wonder and the Beach Boys again faded from my mind. In 2005, I started hearing rave reviews about a Brian Wilson comeback album – an unfinished project now completed; I listened to a couple of songs from the album SMiLE in 2007 and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Today however, I watched a movie that made me want to go back and discover all his music.

Love & Mercy tells the story of a musical genius who after many years in social and musical wilderness rediscovers himself and his music, with a help from a new love. The story jumps between two segments of his life – the 60s when he began his descent into madness and the late 80’s when he started climbing out of his personal hellhole. As with all these biopics, I am sure there are differences between what happened in real life and what is portrayed on screen.

Nevertheless, the movie is worth watching for the remarkable individual performances of Paul Dano/ John Cusack (as the younger and older Brian Wilson respectively) and Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter, the car saleswoman he met in the late 80s and is credited with helping him back to recovery.

Comedic actors frequently turn in powerful dramatic performances – Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, Whoopie Goldberg in The Color Purple, Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and Jim Carrey in The Truman Show are the well-known cases. Of course, John Cusack would not be ranked in the same league of comic genius as the above names, nor has he restricted himself exclusively to comic roles in his career. Even so, I was surprised and very much affected by his believable and understated performance. Equally impactful was the chemistry between him and Elizabeth Banks, who after The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect movies is fast emerging as an actor and filmmaker to be reckoned with.

While the 1960s scenes offer fascinating glimpses into the recording process and studio dynamics involved in the production of the iconic Pet Sounds album, it is the 1980s scenes between Cusack and Banks which provide the real emotional heart of the movie. The prolific and ever-reliable Paul Giamatti turns in an almost frightening performance as Dr. Eugene Landy, the psychiatrist who exerted such an all-encompassing control over Brian Wilson for about 15 years.

While most of the soundtrack naturally consists of Beach Boys music, British composer Atticus Ross does a good job of filling out the gaps with music which is organically built out of snatches of Beach Boys compositions.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman is the man who works on all Wes Anderson’s films and was Oscar-nominated for. For the 1960s portions in Love and Mercy, he used a traditional 16mm camera which gives you the feeling that you are really watching clips from that time.

While Straight Outta Compton has broken records this summer as the highest grossing musical biopic of all time, it is worth checking this under-rated and little seen gem for a different view of how art trumps over adversity.

They’ve got the moves: best dance scenes from movies

I just finished watching the movie Le Week-end, directed by Roger Michell with screenplay by Hanif Kureishi; a British couple decide to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, hoping to rediscover their love for each other and perhaps also their own self-esteem. It’s a wonderful little film which falls into that same sub-genre of ‘bittersweet marriage drama’ and includes movies like Hope Springs (2012, *ing Meryl Streep & Tommy Lee Jones) and of course, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013, *ing Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy). I was pleasantly surprised by the uplifting final scene in which the three main characters – played by Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent and Jeff Goldblum – re-enact the ‘Madison dance’ from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 classic Bande à Part. It made me think of all the other occasions an unexpected dance sequence in the middle of a regular movie has gone on to become the signature scene in the film. Here are my favourites in no particular order:-

Bande à Part (1964): The film chronicles the planning and execution of a robbery by 3 friends – Odile, Franz and Arthur, but it’s just as much about their unstructured and impulsive lifestyles. In the ‘Madison Dance Scene’, the three characters perform an impromptu dance routine in a Paris café; the music cuts in and out and we also have the narrator adding some voice-over commentary.

Pulp Fiction (1994): Quentin Tarantino’s 2nd film features multiple interrelated storylines, an approach which suddenly became popular several years later in films like Amores Perros, Babel, Traffic and Crash. However, Pulp Fiction is probably just as well known for John Travolta and Uma Thurman doing the twist. There is a very brief scene at a party in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, with two actors dancing the twist which looks exactly like this. Many film fans have commented on the similarity. Anyway, Pulp Fiction made Travolta an A-list star again after nearly two decades in movie wilderness.

Be Cool (2005): Audiences couldn’t forget the couple, so nine years later in the sequel to Get Shorty, the filmmakers contrived to get Travolta and Thurman on the dance floor once again; this sequence is less ‘for show’ and sexier. Thurman has the curves and the moves. The song they are dancing to is being performed live by the Black Eyed Peas.

Come September (1961): A dance scene which is somewhat similar in terms of setting, tone and actors’ chemistry is from one of my all-time favourite romantic comedies. Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida light up the screen with this night club sequence; could there ever be a more heart-stoppingly good looking on-screen couple? (Alain Delon and Monica Vitti in L’Eclisse perhaps, but they didn’t dance! Indian viewers will immediately see where Shammi Kapoor learned his patented dance moves.

Beetlejuice (1988): This film introduced me to the music of Harry Belafonte through this absolutely hilarious and oh-too-short dinner time possession sequence. The song of course, is Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), also performed memorably by Mr. Belafonte on The Muppet Show.

Enchanted (2007): This mild send-up by Disney of their own princess films is not really my kind of movie, but there’s no denying that this impromptu song sequence in a park – Hindi movie style – is both catchy and entertaining.

(500) Days of Summer (2009): Two years later, this quirky romantic comedy copied the same setting and got JGL and Zooey Deschanel to dance to the sounds of Hall & Oates’ Make My Dreams Come True. Would be nice to see Marc Webb would go back to directing these kinds of movies, now that he’s done with the Amazing Spider-Man movies.

Top 10 albums: 2001-2010

Three years ago, I wrote this Top 10 album list for the period 2001 to 2010. Somehow I never posted it and have just re-discovered it. All Top 10 lists are bound to fail, because no one will ever agree with the list and the person who writes it will inevitably have second thoughts soon after finishing the list. Fortunately, when I read through it today, I am happy to say that I still largely agree with it. I noted with interest that all the albums are from before 2006. I don’t seem to have discovered any new albums that I really love between 2006 and 2010. I have a few favourites since 2010, but that’s for another list, isn’t it? So, here we go:-

Sufjan Stevens: Illinois, aka Come on feel the Illinoise (2005)

This was perhaps the most highly acclaimed album of 2005. Released on Stevens’ own Asthmatic Kitty label (his stepfather housed a stray cat named Sara which suffered from asthma), it is an incredible achievement by the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. His music in general reflects his strong spiritual beliefs and this album in particular sparkles with the bright sounds of trumpets, strings and choir vocals. The most well-known single from the album is ‘Chicago’, which is his signature song and was featured in the film Little Miss Sunshine. Other standout tracks include ‘Jacksonville’, ‘The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts’ and ‘Come On! Feel the Illinoise!’.

Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002)

I had heard great things of prog-rockers Dream Theater since the early ‘90’s, but somehow had never got my hands on one of their albums until late 2006. And the album I picked up turned out to be this 2-CD epic, which in my opinion is their best album ever. It is a ‘concept album’, thematically strung together around various forms of ‘personal turbulence’, such as alcoholism, mental illness and so on. The stand out song is the multi-part title track which occupies the entire 2nd disc, with my favourite segments being ‘About to Crash’ and ‘Solitary Shell’. ‘Misunderstood’ is the other great track which appears on the 1st disc. It is difficult to describe what is so good about this album…it’s just the entire package, from the lyrics, the storytelling, the vocals and of course, the incredible musicianship of guitarist John Petrucci, drummer Mike Portnoy and keyboardist Jordan Rudess. If you can find the concert DVD, it is definitely worth picking up too. Their other concept album, Scenes from a Memory comes a close second.

The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (2006)

This album represents all that I love about ‘indie bands’. The focus is on songwriting and musicianship. There is no commercial angle at all, I haven’t even seen a music video of any of the songs, nor do I know what the artists look like. This is not eye candy masquerading as music, but musicians working together for the love of their craft. Nevertheless, the music is very accessible and the songs are catchy and infectious; particularly ‘Yankee Bayonet’, ‘O Valencia’ and ‘The Perfect Crime’. The title track is based on a Japanese folk tale, which many of us have probably come across in children’s books. The variety of instruments used on this album is mind-boggling. For example, guitarist Chris Funk also plays the bouzouki, the dulcimer, the banjo and the hurdy-gurdy. Together they give the music a lush, layered feel that goes very well with Meloy’s somewhat melancholic vocals.

Mastodon: Blood Mountain (2006)

Since the mid-90’s, I have been desperately searching for the next big metal band after Metallica, but to no avail. Then, in 2006 I started reading rave reviews about Mastodon’s 3rd album Blood Mountain and soon after, one of its tracks ‘Colony of Birchmen’ was nominated for a Grammy. At that time, the band was classified as a sludge metal outfit, based on the slightly muddied/ distorted sound of their earlier releases Remission (2002) and Leviathan (2004), but they went with a cleaner sound in Blood Mountain. This is a concept album with a fantasy storyline, revolving around a person trying to get hold of a Crystal Skull and climbing the Blood Mountain with it. Today, after two more outstanding albums Crack the Skye (2009) and The Hunter (2011), I like to think that they are the most inventive and melodic metal band in the world…reaching out well beyond narrow categorizations like sludge or stoner metal.

Kate Bush: Aerial (2005)

Sometime in the mid-‘80’s, I tuned in to a series on BBC World Service, which told the story behind classic albums of the past 20 years. One of the albums covered was Kate Bush’s 1978 debut, The Kick Inside. I was completely bowled over by the unique sound of songs like ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Them Heavy People’. It was not until a visit to London in 2004 that I actually purchased a copy of the CD, but during all those years in between, her output was sporadic and I wondered if she ever would scale the heights of her debut work. The answer came in 2005 with this double album, the 2 discs subtitled A Sea of Honey and A Sky of Honey. And what a return to form it was! Compared to the soaring vocals and theatrics of The Kick Inside, the sound of Aerial is mellow and thoughtful.  I would recommend listening to this album with a pair of headphones on and no one to disturb you. It’s a truly rewarding, almost emotional experience. A bit of trivia…Australian entertainer Rolf Harris (of ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ fame) provides guest vocals and plays the didgeridoo on two of my favourite songs, ‘An Architect’s Dream’, ‘The Painter’s Link’. Not such a great association anymore given the recent court case about his sexual attacks on minors.

Coheed and Cambria: Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005)

In much the same way that Mastodon answered my search for the next great metal band after Metallica, Coheed and Cambria answered my search for the next great prog rock band after Rush. The similarity in sound between C&C and Rush is uncanny, although they claim they had not even listened to Rush until well into their career. The album with the long name listed here contained some of their most commercially accessible songs up to this stage of their career…songs such as ‘Wake Up’, ‘The Suffering’ and ‘Welcome Home’. As with all their albums till date (they just released Afterman: Ascension a few weeks ago), the songs deal with the characters and storylines of the scifi graphic novel series The Amory Wars, written by C&C leader Claudio Sanchez.

System of a Down: Toxicity (2001)

SOAD were perhaps the most inventive, innovative rock/ metal band since Metallica. No doubt, their unique sound came from their ability to blend music from their Armenian roots with the classic heavy metal sound. In particular, their 2nd album Toxicity became famous for its signature rapid fire vocals from Serj Tankian and for its politically charged lyrics, especially in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. The stand out songs from this album include ‘Science’, ‘Deer Dance’ and of course, the famous ‘Chop Suey!’. What a pity this group folded up a few years ago.

Coheed and Cambria: In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (2003)

My 2nd C&C album in the top 10 is their 2nd studio album. I discovered all the C&C albums at around the same time and to be honest, it is quite difficult for me to rank them in order of preference, because I like so many songs from each of the albums. Given a choice, I would have probably put their first 4 albums into this Top 10, as they were all released during the last decade. This title track from this album is perhaps their signature song and I was lucky enough to hear them perform this live at KL Live, where they were the main act in July 2010 and then again in Singapore the very next day, where they opened for Slash. It was an emotional experience when the small but fervently loyal crowd at KL Live went wild as the opening guitar lines played out and roared “Man your own jackhammer, man your battle stations” during the chorus. The album is filled with other great songs such as ‘Blood Red Summer’, ‘A Favor House Atlantic’ and ‘Cuts Marked in the March of Men’.

Daft Punk: Discovery (2001)

Sometime in early-2001, I switched on MTV and saw a really cool looking video in ‘80’s-scifi-anime-style featuring a blue-skinned pop group, spaceships and a futuristic city. The vocals were altered using Auto-Tune which had become popular after Cher used it for her hit single ‘Believe’ a couple of years earlier. The song was ‘One More Time’ and was the breakout mainstream hit for French duo Daft Punk; the album Discovery went on to become a global phenomenon, featuring other great tracks such as ‘Digital Love’, ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ and ‘Aerodynamic’. The music videos for these songs were all part of a feature-length animation film titled Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem which was released a couple of years later. Actually, their album from last year, Random Access Memories is good enough to displace this album from the list, but Discovery came first!

Incubus: A Crow Left of Murder (2004)

This album was my introduction to Incubus. Although their previous album Morning View sold more copies, I prefer A Crow Left of Murder of all their releases. Brandon Boyd’s pleasing vocals blend well with their uncomplicated pop-rock sound, particularly on songs like ‘Agoraphobia’, ‘Talk Shows on Mute’ and ‘Southern Girl’. Their follow-up album Light Grenades (2006) was a close contender to get into this Top 10 as well, particularly since ‘Dig’ is my favourite Incubus song. But this album has much greater depth with 5-6 very radio friendly songs.


Favourite soundtracks – Serendipitous Songs Part 2

Concluding my post about hidden gems from movie soundtracks that I bumped into the past one year. Two of these songs introduced me to the rich Brazilian music scene, encompassing rap, funk and rock. The third one comes from a very engaging indie drama called Laurel Canyon.

In 2010, British filmmaker Asif Kapadia released a widely acclaimed documentary titled Senna about the legendary Brazilian Formula 1 driver. The film traces Senna’s Formula 1 career from 1984 until his tragic death in the San Marino Grand Prix ten years later. For fans of Formula 1 and of Senna, it is a visual pilgrimage, an emotional journey. As the credits roll, we see various cuts of Senna the man – enjoying himself in the midst of crashing waves on a beach, in a garage celebrating with friends, racing his car, popping champagne and ultimately driving away smiling in his Porsche road car. And all the while in the background plays the end credits song – Maracatu Atomico by Chico Science & Nacao Zumbi. Chico Science (aka Francisco França) was a co-founder of the ‘Mangue Bit’ movement for social change which originated among disaffected youth in the Northeastern Brazilian city of Recife in the early 90s. It expressed itself through a new form of music fusing the Western genres of funk, rock and hip hop with an Afro-Brazilian musical genre called Maracatu. Chico Science’s vocal delivery is edgy and raw, but the funk and the hip hop elements give the music a natural groove which just seems to penetrate your body as you listen to it. Ironically Chico Science died in a car accident in 1997 (3 years after Senna) at the age of 30. His band Nacao Zumbi (Zombie Nation) continues to perform and release albums. The song Maracatu Atomico was originally composed by another group in 1974, then re-recorded in the Mangue Bit style and featured in Chico Science’s 1996 album Afrociberdelia. The version in the Senna documentary is a new version recorded by Nacao Zumbi for the film. In the 1996 album, there are also reggae and trip-hop versions of the song…all pretty cool. I liked a bunch of other songs in the album too; really grateful to Senna for helping me serendipitously discover this really interesting genre.

In August last year, while researching about the Brazilian director Jose Padilha who had been tapped to direct the upcoming remake of RoboCop, I ended up watching Padilha’s breakout movie Elite Squad (2007). As I wrote in my post at that time, this movie (and its equally successful sequel) tells the fact-based story of BOPE, an elite anti-narcotics squad in Rio who have to deal with corruption and internal moles while trying to take down drug lords operating out of the slums of Rio. The film opens with a night-time raid that takes place in one of Rio’s shanty towns. The raid takes place during a street party/ concert and the song being sung is the super-catchy Rap das Armas (Rap of Weapons). This song is part of the Brazilian ‘funk carioca’ movement that originated in the late 80s and went mainstream in Brazil through the 90s. Rap das Armas was originally written in the early 90s as a protest on urban violence, but because the lyrics featured the names of a number of firearms, it became popular among gangs for the wrong reasons. It was re-recorded by another group soon afterwards with even more weapons’ names added in and there are lots of European remixes of this song which have added heavier beats for the dance floor. A decade later, it stirred up lots of controversy when it was used in this movie and the filmmakers had to remove the song from the official soundtrack of the movie soon after its release. For those of us who don’t understand the language, you can simply enjoy the groove of the music and the infectious refrain “pa ra pa pa…” which is supposed to imitate the sound of a machine gun. Equally interesting is the origin of this tune, which was copied from the opening lines of The Outfield’s 1985 hit Your Love…the lyrics “Josie’s on a vacation far away” is replaced with “pa ra pa pa…”. Check out the original version by MCs Junior and Leonardo and the more extreme version by Cidinho and Doca.

Lastly, I want to talk about a really nice song called Shade and Honey which appears in the 2002 indie drama Laurel Canyon, directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Ms. Cholodenko was recently nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the excellent The Kids Are All Right (2010) which she also directed. Laurel Canyon features an outstanding performance from Frances McDormand as Jane, a free-spirited hippy-type record producer living in the Laurel Canyon area of L.A. In the film, she is working on producing a record with her current boyfriend (played by Alessandro Nivola) and his band. After several frustrating attempts at crafting a catchy pop song, Nivola’s character writes and records this wonderful piece called Shade and Honey. Nivola does his own singing in the film, but on the soundtrack album, the song is performed by the group Sparklehorse and was actually written by Sparklehorse founder Mark Linkous (who sadly committed suicide in 2010). I couldn’t find a clip of the scene from the film, but this clip at least shows you the lyrics. The movie itself is very absorbing and stars some other big names like Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsdale. Definitely worth watching.

Favourite soundtracks – Serendipitous Songs Part 1

Many films are famous for their extensive use of pop or rock songs, integrating them so well into the script that they are part and parcel of storytelling – Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Almost Famous and Pretty Woman are good examples of this. Some films films hit songs even when the songs just appear at the end or in one scene – think Titanic (My Heart Will Go On) and Rocky II (Eye of the Tiger). These songs have sometimes become more famous than the movie they were featured in. For every such hit song, there are as many great movie soundtrack songs that go completely under the radar. In the past year, I have stumbled upon 5 such tracks that are worth listening to in their own right, but also utterly suited to the films they have appeared in. I am covering 2 of the 5 songs in this post:-

The Fighter (2010) is an Oscar-winning boxing drama continuing the Hollywood tradition of emotionally powerful films like Rocky, Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby. Directed by David O. Russell, it stars Mark Wahlberg as boxer Micky Ward and Christian Bale as his half-brother and coach Dicky. The film chronicles Micky’s tortured attempt to rise up the boxing ranks, battling with several family related issues involving his over-protective mother, brood of ever-present sisters, a crack-addicted and frequently unreliable brother and his combative girlfriend who is intensely disliked by the rest of his family. Ultimately, they set aside their differences and come together to help Micky deliver an upset victory and claim the world welterweight title. Although a boxing film, it is really a story about family dynamics and blood ties. The film ends with the two brothers sitting on a sofa being interviewed; Dicky talks into the camera, so very proud of his brother, struggling to contain his emotions. The scene then cuts to the 2 brothers walking down the street while Ben Harper’s Glory and Consequence plays in the background. I am not a fan of Ben Harper’s vocal style, but I love the arrangements and musicianship on this song and the lyrics. It is the perfect uplifting, inspiring song to end an emotionally draining 2 hour film. Sadly, the song seems too complex to reproduce live; I have listened to a few live recordings and the song always comes across half-baked or rushed. Best listened to on the original The Fighter OST recording or on his 1997 The Will to Live album.

Earlier this year, Richard Linklater released the 3rd film in his ‘Before trilogy’, titled Before Midnight. The films brings back Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as the soulmates who met by chance in Vienna in 1995, then reunited in Paris in 2004 and are now married with kids and on vacation in Greece in 2013. The film deals with the inevitable anxieties and regrets of a couple entering middle age, who feel they have sacrificed a fair bit for each other but are not receiving the expected appreciation or support. The climax of the film features an extended and bitter argument between the couple in a hotel room, which is almost too painful to watch. It seems impossible that there could be any reconciliation after such a showdown, but somehow they find a way to sit together at the restaurant downstairs and tentatively start a conversation. As the credits roll on this hopeful scene, a soulful love song called Gia Ena Tango plays out. Sung by Greek songstress Haris Alexiou, famous for her earthy voice, it creates a heartbreaking coda for an outstanding film and an outstanding trilogy of love stories. I don’t think the song is featured in any of Alexiou’s albums, I see it listed only as a single or as part of the Before Midnight soundtrack.

In Part 2 of Serendipitous Songs, I will talk about two Brazilian songs and one from an American indie film.

Favourite soundtracks – for those about to rock…

Today, I am writing about 3 soundtracks with strong rock influences.

Pacific Rim is perhaps my #1 movie of this summer. Giant monsters battling giant mechas…if only all movies had this plotline…sigh! Right through the film, I was more aware of the music than I usually am, feeling that it really added to the intensity of the scenes, especially in the run up to the battle scenes – both inside the Shatterdome and out in the open. I loved all the little touches like the foghorns and choral chants. As the credits rolled at the end, the main score reappeared, this time a darker variation played in a lower key, leading with trombones, but with that familiar hook. It stayed in my mind throughout the drive back home and soon enough I was listening to the entire soundtrack. The main theme has Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) on guitars, with a mix of electronics and orchestral elements that all works very well together. Of particular note in the main theme are the 3 blasts of the foghorn at 1:23 and 3:06 and the 4-note stomps at 1:12 and 2:13. I love the way these components are adapted and repeated throughout the film; no wonder that hook stayed in my mind after the film. Kudos goes to 39-year-old Iranian-German composer and Berklee College of Music alumnus Ramin Djawadi, who also created the memorable theme music for HBO’s Game of Thrones. I didn’t think much of his score for Iron Man, but I will certainly be watching out for his next composition.

Another piece of film music built around a killer guitar performance is Battle Without Honor and Humanity, by Japanese guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei. Anyone who has watched Kill Bill: Vol. 1 or even watched the trailer will be familiar with this track. What I didn’t know was that the instrumental originally appeared in a Japanese yakuza film titled New Battles Without Honor and Humanity (aka Another Battle) back in 2000, in which Hotei also acted. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised that this was not an original composition; Quentin Tarentino is well known for his use of other people’s music in his films…something I am not a big fan of, but at least viewers get to listen to a whole range of fantastic songs when they watch his movies. Since then, this instrumental has become very popular, appearing even in Transformers and is parodied in Shrek the Third soundtrack (Princess Resistance). It is also used by various sporting teams for their home games. I think this live version is the best rendition of the track.

The last piece which has rapidly become a favourite is ‘Magneto’s theme’ from X-Men: First Class composed by British composer Henry Jackman. At one end of the spectrum, Jackman has composed for violent action films like Kick-Ass, and GI Joe: Retaliation; at the other end, he has done a number of animation films like Winnie the Pooh, Puss in Boots, Wreck-It Ralph and Turbo! But coming back to Magneto’s theme, this is a beautifully composed piece of music which is perfectly matched with Magneto’s sinister personality. The main musical elements, particularly its rising structure, initially appears in the soundtrack sections Pain and Anger and Frankenstein’s Monster before coming out in full force at the end of the movie in the piece titled Magneto. Just like the Pacific Rim theme, this is a great combination of guitars, low-end brass and synthesizers.