Fantasy Festival Line Up – Day Two

Wake up, rise and shine – it’s another jam packed day of music and fun! No, you don’t have time to wash, and I don’t want to hear any crap about hangovers – grab another cider and keep her lit! Check out Part One here!

9.30 – 11: Basil Poledouris

Keeping with the instrumental start to the morning as exemplified in Day One, we kick off Day Two with the greatest underappreciated composer in Hollywood History. Poledouris sadly passed away a few years ago, but as this is fantasy he has been resurrected say thank ya. I’ve talked about his Conan The Barbarian score being the best movie score ever written, but he is also known for many other personal favourites and classics – Robocop, Starship Troopers, The Hunt For Red October, Free Willy, Lonesome Dove – all of which would sound epic on stage with a full orchestra.

Have I Seen Them Live: No

11 – 12: Lene Marlin

Lene Marlin is primarily known for her late nineties hit Sitting Down Here, which many people probably view as a quirky one hit wonder. While she is in no way prolific, she has released several superb albums – Sitting Down Here is not the best representation of her music, sounding light and fun. The vast majority of her output is dark and what the average fool on the street would consider depressing – highly melodic but often horribly sad. Who said festivals needed to be a superfunhappy time? Nevertheless, her songs introspective quality balanced against the hooks would set the scene for an intimate, emotional gig.

Have I Seen Them Live: No

12 – 1: Mika Bomb

We’d need something faster and more upbeat after Lene – who better than a bunch of punk ladies from Japan with songs rarely going beyond three and a half minutes. With only two (great) albums in almost twenty years, the band remain essentially unknown, but a big festival performance could be what they need to fire them into the spotlight – songs like Bettie Page, Super Sexy Razor Happy Girls, Contact Tokyo, Heart Attack, Shut Your Mouth, and more, these would get the crowd pumped up and ready to smash the place up. Possibly the most fun, buck nuts gig of the weekend.

Have I Seen Them Live: No

1 – 3: Tori Amos

It’s a bit of a jump about day – with Tori we’d return to a more settled calm. Naturally, the super fans will clamour to the front while others may want to grab some lunch and keep an ear out for the songs they know. There are few artists now with such an eclectic and long history as Tori – you never know what you’re going to get from one of her shows. Performing since the 80s and still going today, you can be sure to get a range of angry piano led alt rock classics, tempestuous epics with orchestral backing (maybe Basil would like to join in), and ballads to poke holes in your soul.

Have I Seen Them Live: Yes – Belfast

3 – 5: Alice In Chains

As a grunge kid, I never managed to actually see any grunge bands live. Alice In Chains are still going today after a lengthy hiatus following the death of Layne Staley – they’re still a great band today but if we’re seeing them live then it has to be the original line-up. Normally I’d have them nearer the end of the night, but as you can see from the rest of the night – we’re jam packed. On a Summer afternoon, the band’s blend of fury and despair is a great lead in to the coming darkness.

Have I Seen Them Live: No

5 – 7: The Doors

It’s The Doors. If you like music and writing and poetry like me, then you fall in love with The Doors at some point. I was never the most obsessive fan in the world, but I do have all the albums, a bunch of bootlegs, and I’ve visited Jim’s grave. I feel like they are a band best experienced in the dark but having them slightly earlier in the evening might allow them to hit that pre-sunset reflective atmosphere – the day winding down while the band knock out the hits. Having been born after most of these bands were done, there are always a handful that you wish you’d had the opportunity to see – The Doors are going to be high up on most lists.

Have I Seen Them Live: No

7- 9.30: Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd are more than just a band – seeing them live is more of an experience than a concert, what with the lights and sets and everything else. Two and a half hours doesn’t seem like enough for them, but in that time they could play large chunks of The Wall, Dark Side Of The Moon, Animals, Wish You Were Here, along with some of their earlier Syd era stuff and later material. They’re a band you want to see in the dark, the full effect of their stage show taking on a transcendent quality once the sun sets.

Have I Seen Them Live: No, but I did see the Roger Waters show at Glastonbury which was essentially Pink Floyd’s hits with a few solo efforts thrown in.

9.30 – 12: Led Zeppelin

Who else but Zeppelin to close the night? Again there are so many songs that two and a half hours doesn’t seem enough, but after hours of standing up and jumping around to great music I think we’ll need a kip by midnight. Two hours should allow for songs from each of their albums (maybe not Coda) and sufficient room for their instrumental freestyling which often stretched the songs to two or three times their original length. This being a fantasy festival, we’d have Bonham back behind the kit and kicking ass. This would be a thunderous, spiritual way to end the second day, and send the punters back to their tents knowing they’ve just been part of something special.

Have I Seen Them Live: No, but I have seen Robert Plant play at Glastonbury.

Let us know what acts you would stick in your dream festival line-up!

 

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Top 10 Tuesdays – Sad TV and Movie Themes

Warning – if you don’t want to cry today, turn away now.

You all know the sound
You all know the sound

Indulge me. Grief is the great equalizer; Everyone will experience it, and all of us will hate it. We are all born, and we all die. Years from now everyone who ever knew your name will be dust, forgotten and unspoken. Yet, if we all realized the absurdity of the needless causes of grief – murder, war, hatred, then grief itself would recoil and become less of a leather-winged, human-condition encompassing wound, and instead be a mere arbitrary necessity. When we hurt, others hurt. When we kill, we kill ourselves. If we can truly empathize, then we will learn to avoid all causes of grief. If we all knew sadness every day, then there would be no more pain; if we were all depressed, maybe then we’d all be happy.

Nothing makes me so overwhelmingly sad as hearing music which evokes memories both beautiful, happy, and tragic. As much as I love listening to songs, writing songs, it’s always instrumental music from TV and movies which destroy me the most. I have deeply rooted issues with the passing of time, with not doing the things I used to do, and most importantly not being with the people I used to be with, as I suspect many of you reading this do. Listening to any of the pieces below (and many more besides) is always a heartbreaking experience for me, but it’s also cathartic – sometimes we need to scream and hurt or curl up in a ball. So, just for a change from my usual silly posts and ‘comedy-based’ musings, here are some pieces of music which are extremely important in my life, and which also happen to be some of the most beautiful, touching pieces I have ever heard – I may do a second list some time because there are so many. One final note – there will be SPOILERS below so if you haven’t completed and of the films or shows listed below, you may want to skip those entries.

Departures

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I got the list down to twelve, but I couldn’t get it any lower than eleven, so here we are. Departures won the Oscar for best Foreign Film at the 2009 Academy Awards, but didn’t pick up a nomination for Best Music. Composer/God Joe Hisaishi creates a stunning soundtrack based heavily around the cello (which is an important instrument within the story), with several recurring motifs that recall several fragile moments from the film – love, grief, aging, guilt, loss are all covered in the story, and while the music evokes similar feelings it veers towards a more hopeful tone.The twinkling pianos, the swell of strings, and the lonesome cello in tracks such as Goodbye Cello, Shine Of Snow 1 and 2, and in the best example Beautiful Dead 1 and 2 tend to make me feel warm inside, but when watched alongside the movie never fail to cause tears to well up. Like most, if not all of the pieces on this list, they work perfectly as wonderful standalone pieces, but are all the more powerful if you’ve seen the movie/show. Here’s a link to Beautiful Dead 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TCpeGf3U58&index=10&list=PL93A4C925ACB5984C

Airwolf

People forget what a poignant show (and movie) Airwolf was. Lumped in with other successful action shows of the 80s such as Knightrider, The A-Team, Streethawk, etc it by far had the most heart and depth of storytelling. It’s a show about a man who believes that everyone he ever gets close too emotionally will die, and the series seems to suggest it’s all true – his parents died when he was young, his first real girlfriend died in a car crash, and then he lost his brother in Vietnam (MIA). The movie shows Stringfellow as a tragic figure, capable only of distancing himself from people and sometimes serenading the local wildlife from his cabin in the middle of nowhere, but when he falls for Gabrielle we know it isn’t going to end well. Sylvester Levay wrote the kick-ass theme music we all know, but he also created Gabrielle’s Theme, a piece so sad that it doesn’t even need us to remember her final scenes and death. It’s a piece that will strike a chord with anyone who has ever lost someone they love – it’s incredibly simple, short, and while many will balk at the synth original, if you can find yourself an orchestral version you’ll spend the rest of the day looking for hugs. Here’s a decent version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm1npa_2DhI 

The Simpsons

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Jesus, just reading the comments on the YouTube videos for this post is hurting me. A few of you may be thinking ‘when was The Simpsons ever emotional, but any hardcore fans will know the piece of music I’m about to talk about – one so tender and simple and fitting to the episode it ends. I have a looping of this track on as I write, but I have to keep stopping to think, remember, or wipe away a tear. It’s the specially written end credits for the episode Mother Simpson where Homer finally gets his mother back, only to lose her again. The episode explains much of Homer’s childlike character, and that final shot of him sitting on his car watching the stars while this music plays is one of the all time great Simpsons moments – it’s all the more tragic now that the show has become so butchered over the last decade and more that moments like this are forgotten. If the show had ended here, it would have gone down in history as one of the finest Television endings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6su0Jgwhb4

James Bond

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I’ll cheat a little here and include a few entries from a few films. I’ve always maintained (I may be the only one) that 007 is a tragic figure, not the misogynist killer, womanizing sociopath many think he is. There are a few moments throughout the Bond canon which highlight the fact that he wants to quit, to put it all away and think about himself and the person he loves, but the nature of his work and life will never allow him any stability or lasting relationship. My favourite Bond films feature these moments – For Your Eyes Only, Goldeneye, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale to name a few. In Goldeneye we see this revelation quite clearly, with Eric Serra’s aptly named That’s What Keeps You Alone – named after Natalya’s response to James’s stoic ‘That’s what keeps me alive’. For a film that has a lot of metallic and industrial sounds in its soundtrack, this piece is a standout, shocking in its richness. Haunting in its honesty rather than any sentimental soaring of strings, it’s a brilliant, thought-provoking piece never far from my mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebtj1hjFoYI&list=PLBYN0G9h_13HeGW1sFbrc2mvDMzdyZjQF&index=12 (nerd bonus – I always used to listen to this in tandem with the Resident Evil 2 game end credits theme as they felt very similar to me)

Perhaps even more obvious from a tragic standpoint is Casino Royale, which sees Bond lose someone he cares deeply about, like he did previously in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. David Arnold gives us old school Bond tones with a harder 21st Century edge, offsetting the melodic mystery of tracks like Solange with the painful piano and string hooks of Vesper and of course Death Of Vesper. This one doesn’t give me as many real life feels as others in this post, but it brings me back immediately to Vesper’s sacrifice and Bond yet again covering up his pain. When contrasted with the gorgeous City Of Lovers, those softer moments are brutal – such potential, hope, and love, crushed in a few inevitable moments. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upamEEDq2XM&list=PLIVs6sKfvkuQP6znMZFux3OF2g2gtRuix&index=14

My final Bond track is from Tomorrow Never Dies – not a film which is remembered for being all that sad, but Teri Hatcher’s character is another who pays the ultimate price for getting too close to the man we’re all supposed to want to be. The Last Goodbye, but particularly the swell in Paris And Bond (by David Arnold again) are both effectively tearjerking pieces which remind us of our own painful memories. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_s4S6ynvcg&index=5&list=PL3CD06F1ABB7B659C

The Stand

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King’s opus is probably my favourite book and adaptation, packed with characters you will fall in love with and whose deaths will leave a hole which will never be filled. WG Snuffy Walden’s guitar-laden, folksy, all American soundtrack is superb from start to finish, with perfect journey music – many of the tracks instantly fill my head if I am heading out for a walk when there is no-one else around, when the streets are empty. There’s that sense of swinging a bag over your shoulder and lighting out, of not looking back, but never forgetting. Moreover, we know the road ahead will be nigh-on impossible, that we, all of us as individuals, as a species, are ill-equipped to deal with what we are dealt, that there will be unforgivable, unimaginable anguish, grief upon grief, and joy so unspeakable that words become absurd – there will be a future we don’t want, we know that, but when it comes we do not give up, we do not break, we overcome, and we stand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCYb3lX9g4g&list=PLAsfPvIbzO_sKDnDkI13NG9Zxg7dG-COD&index=12

Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks to me has always been a show based on horror, featuring some of the most frightening and upsetting scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Much of the show is rooted in comedy and in ironically twisting the over the top sentimentality of the TV soaps of the time, but in the real moments of sadness there is frustration, sadness, anger, fear, and perhaps most of all, confusion and detachment – two feelings that most people who have not been near death for a while, or ever, overlook. When someone dies, or even when someone leaves, our actions and the actions of those around us seem bizarre and alien, ghostly and purposeless. In these moments it is utterly impossible for the person suffering, or those on the sidelines to understand the loss, because none of us truly understand mortality. Badalamenti’s jazzy score is dreamlike, airy, slow, and soft and while it pulls at the heartstrings as well as any weepie, it is the understanding of the confusion – the understanding that we cannot grasp what has happened, that makes it stand out. There is a void, a literal, sickening void, and we can do nothing about it aside from skirt the rim and vaguely feel aware that the abyss beyond is somewhere we should not be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQg5WUhMP90&list=PL413F2BBFBCDD6C43&index=2

Conan The Barbarian

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If you know me via this blog, or if you know me in reality (whatever that is) then you must be aware of my love for both Arnie, and for Conan, more specifically the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack which is so obviously the greatest movie soundtrack ever made that any argument otherwise is akin to arguing with a bullet. While Poledouris fills every scene with bombastic, thunderous epicness, he creates a number of more emotional tracks, from Funeral Pyre to The Leaving to Orphans Of Doom. I think the most impactful for me, from a darker place, is Wifeing – even though it’s the love theme of the movie, it is rent with doom and blackened with inevitability. When we all finally give ourselves up to the dust, and when Crom decides he is finished with us, it would be the utmost reward to have a piece such as this played to our memory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMxamoHkAbY&list=PL6559658E698E288D&index=15

T1/T2

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Inevitable, eh? Brad Fiedel’s score for both T1 and T2 are distinct from other movies of their period, and from each other, though both stem from an industrial, darkly technological place. While we all know and love the main themes, which deserve to top any movie music list. Instead, I’m going to pick two other pieces, a piano track from The Terminator which is arguably the track which set me out on this path at an early age, and the intro from T2, the true intro. Yes yes yes, the piano track is basically the main theme readjusted for piano, and yes yes yes it’s a sex scene, but it’s essentially the reason for the story existing – a love story and a story of survival, survival of a couple who barely know each other but are already deeply in love, and the survival of our species. The way the track, and the scene start out, with Reese admitting his feelings (a struggle for a man who only knows pain and death), the realisation that he travelled through time to be with Sarah, and the soft, single piano notes slowing morphing, liquid metal like into melodies, until Sarah joins Reese by the window as the familiar theme comes into view and they tumble into pain. Sometimes I think I’ve never heard a more perfect piece of music, especially when played to that scene. It hurts every single time I hear it, and my love of it only grows. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaUomynGeao&list=PL5C555376D7A573AD&index=13

My pick from T2 is difficult to describe and difficult to find as it doesn’t appear on the movie soundtrack. In the link below it starts at around 23 seconds. When I say it’s the intro scene, people will likely think of Sarah’s monologue over the future war scene, before the glorious, fire-scorched title sequence begins (God, even typing that makes me want to scream ‘T2 is the best film ever’ and watch it again). That’s not what I’m talking about – before that, the very first scene, of traffic heading in and out of LA, and kids playing on swings – it’s roughly 30 seconds long, and the music takes up slightly less than that. The music is basically six notes, and can barely be called music, but it is awesome – I must have listened to it hundreds of times, and watched those 30 seconds over and over, to the point that I often see those cars when I close my eyes. It seems like a throwaway scene, but to me it conveys a billion feelings – one of which is the loss of civilization and humanity. There’s something more otherworldly about those cars than there is in the juxtaposed image of a skeleton sitting in a nuked shell of a car which comes moments later. The message is obvious, showing the before and after effects of war, but it may be the most poignant example of this ever filmed, and those dreadful, plodding six notes, are so dark and bleak that Fiedel and Cameron seem to be saying that there’s no hope for us. Obviously the rest of the film is one big hope-fest, but that opening minute or so it absolutely crushing to me. When that scene eventually merges with the title sequence, I get shivers every time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4hY9BdG6SA

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The Incredible Hulk

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No list such as this would be complete without The Lonely Man by Joe Harnell, possibly the SADDEST piece of music ever written. Now, I’ve loved this theme my whole life, long before Family Guy ripped the arse out of it. The original Hulk series and the accompanying movies with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were a massive part of my childhood, and I already have my girls watching them (they may call it ‘Greenboy’ instead of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ but they get it). Hulk will always be David Banner to me, and Banner will always be Bixby. This piece is so haunting and soul-rending that only a crab would fail to tear-up while listening to it. It’s all the more effective now, knowing about Bixby’s life and feeding your own experiences into the notes; it isn’t just about a man who can never possibly fit in, and will never be able to love or escape his demon, but it’s about all of us, the roads we travel, and the people we must leave behind whether we choose to or not.

Lost

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Shannon. Boone. Ana Lucia. Charlie. Locke. Rousseau. Alex. Michael. Daniel. Juliet. Sayid. Sun. Jin. Jack. Repeat those names while listening to Life And Death by Michael Giacchino. Remember what they did, the good and the bad. Remember the smiles they gave each other and the ones you unashamedly gave in response. Replace those names with the friends and family you lost. Never forget. This track, and its variations are all extremely evocative for those who watched the show from start to finish, but as a standalone piece of music it blends all of the feelings and responses we endure from the point of life slipping away, through all of the memories and the shock, and finally into the acceptance and acquiescence where the pain is never dulled but where we may learn to smile on occasion rather than hollow ourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twHXrNtG-7c

Buffy

Throughout his run on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Christophe Beck wove some spectacular music to chart the battlefield of adolescence and the tribulations of adulthood. Each episode is packed with music, incidental and otherwise, and while most of the music showcases and enhances the comedic and action scenes, it is his reflective and emotional creations which do the most damage. In Season 2, the Buffy and Angel love theme would pop up infrequently during a particularly romantic moment, always sounding haunting and in hindsight so gut-churning that it’s a wonder none of us knew at that point that so much would end in heartache. Once it gets the full rendition as Close Your Eyes in the Season Finale, anyone who isn’t a quivering mess on the floor must have fallen asleep during I, Robot…You, Jane and never emerged again. But before we get there, lets recall some of the other tracks which I listen to at least once a week as a punishment and cleansing. Waking Willow (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rhg8WOy3Csalso appears in the Season 2 Finale (possibly the greatest two-parter in TV history) and is strong enough on its own to be the main tearjerker theme for any series with its lilting piano seguing into string middle. Move immediately from that to Remembering Jenny (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NjXEDyzFskand I lose all power to type until the track has ended. It’s such a simple piece, made all the better (worse?) by the fact that Anthony Head provides the male vocals. It’s the sound of a funeral, the funeral of a life stolen, with all the bitterness and hopelessness one would assume to find. I’ve always said that, had Buffy ended at The Gift then it would have been a perfect, apt place to finish. Then again I’ve said the same about Graduation Day. Sacrifice (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMktTe3VlE0), which sees the return of Christophe Beck, closes the final episode of Season 5 (again I’ve listened to it twice already while trying to type this) is a flawless piece of music and another flawless example of how music can mirror and enhance what is happening on-screen as Buffy gives a final speech, hugs her sister goodbye, and leaps to her death to save the world.

But back to Season 2’s Close Your Eyes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5C92qy7mX8). My words to describe my feelings for this are futile. Is it the best piece of instrumental music I’ve ever heard? Probably. Does it reduce me to tears at the slightest provocation? Yes. It will always kill me and I’ll always come back for more. All of the many dark moments in this silly thing we call entertainment I recall with this track in my mind, and many of dark moments I’ve experienced in reality are sombered (unborn words are the best), purified, increased, and beaten back by it. It’s a piece that deserves to be heard by millions more than those who know it, but it is of course best experienced by watching Buffy to get the full impact.

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Let us know in the comments below which pieces of instrumental music break your heart, and which tracks have brought you through tough times. Remember folks, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.

Conan The Destroyer: Original Soundtrack

Touch My Loin Cloth At Your Own Peril
Touch My Loin Cloth At Your Own Peril

While the second film was a complete letdown, a camp abomination, the soundtrack stands out. People who were never fans of the first film mostly can agree that the music was nothing less than brilliant and while this soundtrack doesn’t quite reach those heights, it’s still better than most. With a great theme of its own, owing much to Westerns from previous decades Conan The Destroyer is at its best when it replays classic pieces from the first film, merging them with the new and giving them a unique flavour. Again the score is expansive and evokes both images from the film as well as caressing the imagination muscles. A few of the tracks lack the melodic or imaginative qualities of others, but considering how repetitive most soundtracks naturally are (central one or two themes recurring over and over between tuneless strings and dramatic pieces). While not as essential as the first, this is still worth a listen.

`Riders Of Tamaris’ opens the soundtrack and film in dramatic style, instantly recalling the epic nature of the first. The instruments used
and the structure remind the listener of the first one and when the main theme quickly burst in you know that this is more of an adventure than the first. The tone is lighter, more akin to a Western and there is less of a threatening and foreboding feeling. The track breaks off into several different pieces, unintentionally and ironically conveying the messy plot and jumbled nature of the film, but accurately showing the diversity of characters, places, and themes. With a better script, acting, and if the story had been taken more
seriously the film could have been a greater success – certainly the first track suggests greater things.

`Valeria Remembered’ shows that as much as the first soundtrack conveyed the epic nature of the first film, it was the emotive
and tragic moments which raised its status to great heights. The second track drives the central plot – Conan believing he can bring his lost love back from the dead. His character has been lost since losing her and no amount of revenge and carnage has been able to fill the void. The track has a slightly different arrangement here as well as a few new instruments added. The tragedy here is re-iterated by the fact that we know Conan is being tricked and that there is no way he can reclaim Valeria.

`The Horn Of Dagoth’ opens with a sense of mystery and wonder, twisting harpsichord style strings merged with lower brass notes. Halfway through the track there is a quick shift to wind instruments before returning to the strings. These move together for the final part of the track creating a memorable ending although the melodies themselves are not too strong.

`Elite Guard Attacks’ is the first battle theme, employing the main title theme again. Like the first, Poledouris ensures that we can imagine what is happening without actually seeing it – two ranks of opposing warriors racing towards each other, good and evil, and crashing together in deadly combat. The stings slither around, climbing and falling and there are a few moments taken from the first soundtrack. This is a strong track but lacks the edge of Riders Of Doom from the first.

`Crystal Palace’ continues the mystical theme evoking images of magical places, characters stumbling around in wonder at sights never before witnessed. About a minute in fans of both the Robocop film and soundtrack will notice a very familiar section. There are a lot of similarities between those two soundtracks, both films focus on themes of betrayal and amazement at new encounters. The timing suggests crawling ever onwards in a wary fashion. Towards the end though there is a break to the more heroic theme which sounds like something from a Spaghetti Western before a crescendo of strings. The conclusion brings back the love theme from the original as Conan catches dreamlike images of Valeria.

`The Katta’ is a short track which I wish was longer. It begins with diamond like twinkling sounds and hurried violins before another newly arranged theme from the original is brought in. This fades away softly as if it had never been.

`Dream Quest’ is another fairly short track, especially as the first part is almost completely silent. After that is a mix of smaller pieces – a heroic brass burst, a peaceful flute interlude, a crashing return to the battle theme.

`Night Bird’ returns to mysterious and unnerving sounds, other worldly composition with instruments coming and going in a ghostly manner. There isn’t much of a melody to speak of, just lots of pieces revolving around each other and a couple of motifs.

`Approach To Shadizaar’ is another re-arrangement of one the tracks from the original, this time with the jangly percussion added. It sees the group of warriors and adventurers approaching Shadizaar, and evokes images of tall towers, bazaars, bustling crowds, and excitement. The final minute is completely new though, with a quieter melody showing that Conan has learnt from previous experiences to be more guarded.

`The Scrolls’ is a led by horns over a long sustained string note before a new theme of tragedy and loss begins. This is one of the more emotive moments of the soundtrack and speaks of the sadness of the character. Possibly the best track here it seems all too short and feels like there was more to say and play.

`Dualing Wizards’ is basically the recurring heroic theme arranged in a more subtle way; two wizards fighting rather than two gladiators. Again it seems like this track was cut short when there was plenty more which could have been given.

`Illusion’s Lake’ is another all new track and sounds unlike everything else on both soundtracks. It is a couple of pieces weaved together and repeating to give the impression of mirrors, repetition, mirages, and becoming trapped.

`Conan And Bombatta’ is the main theme with variances accompanying the two men battling. Evenly matched warriors, the fight on-screen is epic and the music matches it. It is a rather abrupt end to the soundtrack and they really should have included a closing credits sequence featuring the highlights from the soundtrack. The film may have been messy but the score is great but this release doesn’t give it the full credit it deserves.

Poledouris again gives his audience some wonderful pieces of music, although not quite reaching the greatness of his first foray into Cimmeria. The moments of brilliance largely come from the recurring moments from the first soundtrack, while there are a couple of equally strong new themes. Unfortunately many of the good moments feel as if they have been cut cruelly short – this is as almost as annoying as the way the film turned out considering how good the first was. The film feels rushed and as such Poledouris probably was not given much time or freedom to create, but again he does more than simply provide a film with some ambient background noise – he lets the music tell a story of its own and raises a poor film to heights it wouldn’t have otherwise achieved. If you’re a fan of the first this is definitely worth getting.

(Originally written in 2009)

Conan The Barbarian: Special Edition Soundtrack

Loin
Loin

I’ve always felt that the greatest travesty in the history of the Oscars is the fact that this did not win Best Soundtrack; it wasn’t even nominated. If you ever needed proof that the whole ceremony is a shambles then surely that is it. Better than ET, better than Star Wars, Conan The Barbarian is the greatest movie soundtrack of all time. While others like the two I’ve already mentioned may have a superior or more memorable stand alone theme, Conan is consistently brilliant. Each track stands as a wonderful piece on its own while taken as a whole it is epic and flowing, telling a hundred stories without words. While each piece evokes images and moments from the film they go further and open one’s own imagination; like the best music, the best albums, you can drift away into a world of your own making very easily after a few seconds of this. Massively influential on every fantasy and action movie soundtrack since it is rousing, thumping, tender and emotional, written with every last ounce of love and skill from an artist at his peak, and played sublimely. This should be on every music fan’s shelf.

`Anvil Of Crom’ opens the score with ominous, loud drums and horns, foretelling a great battle and sounding like ten thousand horsemen galloping forwards. As it is the first track it wants to tell the entire story of the course of it’s two and a half minutes. The middle section is a rousing, emotional violin piece giving the listener visions of glory and wonder. The track builds up again towards the end with further brass blasts and percussion before ending suddenly.

`Riddle Of Steel/Riders Of Doom’ begins in a quiet, mystical fashion and immediately those who have seen the film will remember the young Conan watching his father and hearing about the riddle of steel which would go on to shape his life. This doesn’t last long though as the peace is broken by marauding warriors, introduced by steadily growing horns, timpani and monk like chanting. The melodies here are as good as any song you could imagine, every section of the orchestra used to perfection, all melding together as one. The pace picks up to signify the fury and confusion of the attack before launching into a final two minutes of charging, brutal, beautiful music. We can see the battle raging on, the good guys struggling to overcome their enemy, and the introduction of several motifs which will recur throughout the entire score.

`Gift Of Fury’ starts with a slow, downbeat marching rhythm before the mournful, cult like chanting begins. Given that the first 20 or 30 minutes of the film has little or no dialogue the music needs to powerful enough and noticeable enough to carry the plot itself, here we notice the change from Conan’s tough but innocent childhood into one of slavery and revenge. The last minute of the track is quite bewitching, hinting at the wizardry and mystical powers of Thulsa Doom and how even his gaze was enough to lead people to their deaths.

`Wheel Of Pain’ is the track which accompanies another major turning point in Conan’s life- from boyhood to manhood. The famous scene in the movie is of Conan and a bunch of other children and men pushing a giant wheel in a desert for reasons unknown. Seasons change, months pass, and one by one the prisoners fall by the wayside. Months turn into years and soon Conan is the only one left; he looks up at the camera and we see what he has become. This track follows the scene flawlessly, beginning with the creaks of the turning wheel, the steady rhythm growing to signify his change.

`Atlantean Sword’ is another mystical, eastern styled track, beginning softly with unusual instruments building and fading to give the impression of uncertainty and discovery. It may be one of the less memorable tracks on the score but is still expertly constructed. For such an epic score, subtle, more quiet tracks like this give a different edge to the more violent parts. The soothing violins recall Conan’s childlike wonder and his memories of what his father taught him.

`Theology’ is full of eastern charm, with thoughts of dripping jewels and opulence as well as some semblance of peace and belonging. The track is in two pieces, the same music played slow, then fast. This signifies both the glory of what Conan and his gang have achieved along with the knowledge that it is not real- that their real reason in life is to be nomadic, constantly on some adventure. The melody here is one of the most upbeat in the film, fast, fun, and youthful and free of the warlike percussion of other tracks.

`Wifeing’ on the other hand is quite a somber theme, potentially hinting at coming tragedies, possibly portraying how serious the love between Conan and Valeria was felt. The track flows and soars with an epic string section, the high notes aimed at your most sensitive emotional nerves, and the gentle inclusion of the harp in the final melody is tenderness amongst chaos.

`The Leaving/ The Search’ continues the quiet middle part of the soundtrack as Conan has temporarily forgotten his thoughts of revenge and massacre, taken over by wealth, friendship, and love. The familiar, soft love theme repeats here on both string and flute style instruments. This theme peaks before descending back to the tragic love them on horn. This merges into The Search, another emotionally charged softer piece which sees Conan remember his mission. The sad strings show that Conan’s friends want him to stay safe and wealthy as they are rather than going on a suicide mission, but that they will follow him regardless into hell and back. For the final minute the speed shifts and the trumpets sound as if they are being blown in announcement of something, hinting at a clue in Conan’s quest.

`Mountain Of Power Procession’ accompanies one of the both disturbing and funniest scenes in the movie. Disturbing in that we see the hundreds of snake cult followers dressed in a hippy style following their master blindly, funny in the way Conan earns his disguise. The music sounds like a march, the drums hit in a steady rhythm and each section having a turn at the main melody one after the other. Like many tracks here the final minute offers something different, breaking off into a separate piece.

`The Tree Of Woe’ is quite a hypnotic piece and evokes memories of movies set in deserts with mirages, snakes, and a dry and barren landscape. There are sounds and instruments and themes used in this track which do not appear anywhere else in the score, showing this is a situation unlike any Conan has face before. Of course we know that Subotai finds and rescues Conan, echoed by the sudden change in theme which returns to the friendship of Theology. This in turn breaks back into the tragic love theme as Valeria realizes the pain of seeing your loved one in agony is almost as bad as what they are experiencing.

`Recovery’ echoes Valeria’s strongest scene in the film. The love scene is played in a more tender, less tragic sounding way as she proclaims her love for Conan to the Gods, challenging them if they dare take him from her. Rather than the intense monk chants we get choral female voices singing in the background to signify a different kind of strength. This is the next turning point in both the film and soundtrack as Conan realizes that steel may not be strong enough to overcome every enemy, and the pace of the music picks up as we race towards conclusion.

`The Kitchen/The Orgy’ is one of the most famous scenes and tracks from the movie. It begins as Conan’s gang stealthily infiltrates Doom’s lair. The music has a brooding subtlety, the chanting voices are both more quiet but more pronounced than before, taking a greater role than the instruments. This fades into the orgy theme, one which mirrors the opulence of `Theology’ but takes it to extreme levels. We see people gorging themselves on each other, intoxicated, blinded by worship and false power. This may be the most catchy theme in the score, deliberately so to signify how tempting and addictive it is to be part of Doom’s following. There is also an addictive nature to the slaughter which occurs, a blood lust which always inevitably leads to tragedy.

`Funeral Pyre’ is the final turning point in the movie. Conan has been too focused on personal revenge and on the riddle that he has lost what was closest to him. The tragic love theme returns here, sounding more lonely than ever with just a single instrument. The realization for Conan has come too late and this is the moment which will haunt him for the rest of his days. The tone shifts from sadness to agony to rage as the entire orchestra comes crashing in. Much of the pain here comes from the smaller characters in this scene, just as much of the emotion comes from the addition of lesser noticed instruments in smaller parts. As the orchestra fades we know that Conan has accepted what has happened and knows exactly what must be done.

`Battle Of The Mounds’ is one of the most famous pieces of film music ever, yet not many know precisely what it is. To clarify, it is frequently used as a trailer for other movies such as Gladiator and often mistaken for being in a different movie or even computer game. The track sounds like it is a standard for war films, for battle scenes but it is never more appropriate than the scene it was written for. All the emotional from previous scenes and tracks builds up as the enemy charges towards Conan and Subotai, the two stand as one against many, and the music rises to its most epic. It recalls the opening themes as Conan’s life comes full circle, once again encountering his enemy though this time he is able to fight.

`Death Of Rexor’ is a softer theme for the one on one battle between Conan and Rexor. For the first time both the male and female voices collide and there is a sense of nobility. The female voices may be that of Valeria who returns to Conan’s recue in spirit form and spurs him on to victory. The battle is won and Conan can return King Osric’s daughter, but he isn’t finished yet with Doom. We know that Conan will be King at some point, but this is underplayed in the music the mirror his reluctance at such a notion. Some of the lesser melodies here sound almost like what would come later in Robocop (many parts of Conan The Destroyer are very similar to parts of Robocop).

`Orphans Of Doom/ The Awakening’ is the final track, a beautiful harp and voice led piece in which Conan speaks to Doom’s orphans now leaderless and without direction. The spell over them has been broken, but when they were enchanted they had a purpose. They may now have freedom, but they have nothing to do with it. Similarly Conan is now free from his memory and vengeance for Doom but now has little to live for. With Valeria gone and purpose of his life up to this point completed, he is as lost as the children. The sad music echoes this loneliness but it shifts towards a more hopeful, uplifting tone at the end; Conan has discovered the riddle and can choose to be a king over many, or to continue travelling to some new purpose. He has seen magic and believes there is a chance Valeria can return. The climax builds with horns and strings, bells and drums and we understand that Conan’s adventures will continue.

Whatever your thoughts of the film are, whether you have seen it or not, this is still a great soundtrack. Taken by itself it is theatrical, operatic, epic and tales a tale of its own. Taken with the film and it raises what most see as a cheesy, silly Arnie film to levels which many claim it doesn’t deserve to reach. True fans of the film all agree that while the movie itself is superb, it wouldn’t have anywhere near the impact it does have if it did not have this music. Each track fills each scene with underlying emotions, completes the gaps in the dialogue, speaks things that are unspoken in the script. It is a benchmark for all cinematic scores, not just for this genre- the love, the research, and the skill on show is sadly lacking in most movies before and after with only a few exceptions creating something monumental; this is exceptional; this is monumental.

Conan The Barbarian

Before Arnie became The Terminator he was Conan the Barbarian in this visually stunning fantasy film based on the books of Robert E. Howard. An endlessly influential film, withe recent films such as the Matrix and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy taking elements from it, a film with much greater depth than most give it credit for, clever, emotive, with a smart script, one of the best soundtracks of all time, strong performances and great action. Conan the Barbarian is an underrated classic, but one which all Arnie fans love, one which deserves to be recognised for what it is rather than criticising it as brainless violence.

John Milius, director of Big Wednesday, writer of the Apocalypse Now screenplay and famous sections of Jaws and Dirty Harry decided to turn Howard’s classic stories into a big screen adventure. With a script by himself and Oliver Stone, they found Schwarzenegger, convinced actors such as Max Von Sydow and James Earl Jones to join the cast, and made the definitive fantasy film. Along with Basil Poledouris making the score, and a host of talented set designers and effects guys, Conan the Barbarian should not be taken lightly.

Conan The Barbarian

Conan tells the story of a man whose entire village was slaughtered when he was a child, and taken into slavery until he became an adult. During the period of slavery he pushes a giant wheel until he has grown, become strong, and everyone else has died. He is then taken and trained as a fighter and killer in small arenas, soon becoming the famous and bloodthirsty warrior in the land, forgetting his past, and becoming an emotionless machine. However, when he is released his past soon comes back to him and he seeks vengeance for the man who killed his family-Thulsa Doom. On his travels he rescues Subotai, played by surfer Gerry Lopez, a thief and they become friends. Soon they encounter Valeria, a beautiful young warrior thief who is infiltrating an evil tower owned by Doom. They go in, butcher the bad guys, steal a diamond, and Conan and Valeria fall in love. Her attitude towards life overpowers him, and the three go around the land stealing. However, the draw of the past is too much and they search for Doom who is taking over the land with his hypnotic powers, believing flesh to be stronger than steal. He is a powerful wizard and sacrifices many innocent young people who succumb to his ways, much like a modern religious cult. Doom and Conan meet again, and Doom is too strong, teaching Conan about his power, much like Conan’s father spoke of the riddle of steel. Conan is left for dead, but his friends find him, and with the help of a magician restore him in a very touching and powerful scene. Renewed, Conan once more seeks Doom, but this time it is not him who is killed, enraging him further.

Arnold’s performance here is one of his best, the kind of role he should be given and proving that he is the best at what he does. Sydow is good in a smaller part, Jones is awesome-just watch his eyes. Mako is very good as the Wizard, Gerry Lopez is superb, and Sandahl Bergman is excellent in a performance which should have sent her on to greatness. The score is easily among the best ever, perfectly complementing every scene, heightening the emotional impact whether it be a battle scene or funeral. The action is also very impressive, before masses of CG beasties, with heads sailing off and swords clashing. It is also one of the most beautifully shot films of the decade, the camera panning over wide areas much like Kurosawa in movement, a technique used again by Peter Jackson. The script is full of quotable dialogue, mixing serious ones with typical Arnie one-liners, Nietchze is referenced and other philosophical issues are discussed with an odd amount of skill for an action movie. Rather than discussion, a few one-liners are given, but they are to good effect. Certain scenes are highly emotional, and they are dealt with skilfully, and Conan is a tragic figure rather than a murderer. No-one can ever get close to him again, anyone who does dies. It is not only a great action and fantasy film, but a great love story. Worthy of Oscar nominations, but of course this type of film is always regarded as pointless. Even if you are not an Arnie film, if you are not someone with a closed mind who has made a decision as to whether you will like a film or not before you see it, then you should see the many merits here. One of the best films of the early 80’s, though unfortunately it is mostly discarded.

Try to get a 2 disc special eidition of the movie- although no matter which you choose the classification boards have done it again, cutting parts of the film which may destory our souls if we were to view them (again), but there are lots of worthwhile extra features to make this version the one to buy over others. Deleted scenes, handy commentaries, interesting documentaries. A must-have.

As always, feel free to comment on my review and the movie. Is the movie unfairly lost in the archives? Does Arnie look his toughest here? How strong an adaptation did you find the film?

Big Wednesday: A Poignant Tale, and all too familiar

This movie is it all; everything; it has something for everyone, including a tanned and toned Young Michael Vincent. There is action, a romance, funny moments, some action, good script and stunning surfing footage, as well as plenty of action, but not too much. Yes, Big Wednesday is a classic ‘coming out age’ story set in Vietnam era America involving a group of school friends who love to surf. As is typical of these types of films we get a group of friends on the verge of growing up, setting off on their own path, possibly parting ways, and having one last kick ass summer. It reminds me of my own last kick ass summer with my friends. There was me, Neville, Bobert, Shawsy, Wee Scott, Bunter, Fitz, Simon, Murph, Stoat, Biggles, Rodger, as well as a few girls like Jem, Lee, Gree, Corky and of course my little brother Andy tried to tag along. That fool Brendan and his scumbag mates tried to spoil it on us, wherever we went, he was there too, looking at us with his eyes. Sure enough the exams were done, we knew that we would all be getting jobs or going off to university, or being mauled by bears, or moving away. None of us were going to fight in Vietnam (though Neville claimed he had already been and would have frequent flashbacks), and none of us were into surfing, but you can see the comparison.

Jan Michael and Co- they just wanted to ride one last big wave, but the real wave (the Tsunami of life) was washing towards them at an unstoppable rate, unavoidable and inevitable. Crazy Gary Busey also stars in this Milius film (Milius would go onto wide spread acclaim and fame with Knightriders, having already made a name writing The Godfather), and Vincent would go off to become TV’s biggest star in Airwoof. The army comes to town to draft any young, fit men into the army- any injured or crazy types had to stay at home (this is based on actual events) so Busey stayed and got a job stealing motorcycles, all the smart guys could go to college or become a military strategist. The remainder of the gang, including Vincent go off to War and experience some terrifying events- being locked in cages filled with water and rats, but no surfboards, and being forced to play Vietnam Roulette with each other. The game is thus: 5 cups are presented, each filled with same coloured liquid. The treat is that one of the liquids is actually so disease filled that as soon as it is swallowed the drinker begins to convulse, blood pours from every orifice and they eventually melt. Later they escape and before they go home they ask one request of one of their friends (a young Freddy Kruegger) who has now become their commanding officer- will you surf before we go home. He has however succumbed to the madness of war, wishes to stay, and heart breakingly replies ‘Charlie Don’t Surf!’ This proved to be one of the pivotal moments in 70s cinema, and indeed in American History, signifying loss of innocence, tainting The American Dream, and squirting out the final puff from the spliff of the Hippy Movement and Freedom.

I was fortunate enough to go off to University and subsequently get a 6 figure salary, some of my friends came along too, more went further afield, or stayed at home and began to fade away, losing the beautiful fire of youth that once burned ever so brightly. I sometimes wander through my home town now, and occasionally see one of the old gang across the street. I wave to them, but time and circumstance has been unkind to us, fate conspiring to gouge an impenetrable void between us. They don’t wave; they barely look; in fact, they don’t even recognise me. Who would have though that all those jokes we shared, all those lazy days walking through the forests together, all the sunsets we watched and the nights we hoped would never end, all those great times which would never come round again; who would have thought that now it is as if they have never happened at all? I refuse to give up though- I still chat with a few of them, those who made it. Some are married, heck- some even have kids! I know when we have a few drinks, I see the old glint in their eyes that our youth is still alive and well inside, it’s just having a lie down. Sure I have new friends now, but it’s our oldest ones that count most, those we shared our defining moments with. We don’t say anything; we don’t need to. We may have lost some along they way, but as long as there is at least one of us, we know we’ll be okay.

Best Scene: The flashback to the group of friends hugging and laughing- when times were good. The slow motion, the smiles, the memories, the music. It is my life. I wish I could jump in, take off my shirt, and hug them too.

It Was The Best Of Times It Was The Blurst Of Times