Soundtracking 4: Haunting Sounds
You can tell a John Barry score in three notes. His haunting music seems to stand the test of time better than most – John Williams, for example, wrote great sweeping soundtracks but appears to have lately fallen from favour in the lists of best scores.
Meanwhile, David Arnold has made a decent fist of mimicking John Barry, to the point where his romantic theme for ‘Die Another Day’ seems to stem from Barry’s own hand, but he seems to have no character of his own. There are now only a few composers whose scores you can recognise as being identifiably theirs.
Paul Ferris (who sometimes worked under the pun-name Morris Jar) confounded audience expectations with a lush, lyrical score for ‘Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General’, probably because director Michael Reeves confided that he was making a English western. His score has been debased by having been used in a hair shampoo commercial, in the same way that one associates the William Tell overture with the Lone Ranger.
Last week I went to a Secret Cinema gig where they showed ‘Diva’ at the Coliseum, home of the English National Opera, and had a soprano perform the film’s arias live on stage (they also restaged the motorbike chase outside, blocking half of St Martin’s Lane to do so). But that score has been a victim of its own success, and has been overused on commercials.
One of the most consistently surprising scores of all exists on the full-length version of ‘The Wicker Man’. The director’s cut is sown with ancient dances and folk motifs that almost twist the horror-thriller into a musical, but there are repeated notes and phrases that subtly undermine the wholesome back-to-nature themes with something ungodly and disturbing.
Sadly, this was one of only two scores by the talented Paul Giovanni, who, like so many members of the creative community, was lost to AIDS in the early nineties.