IF THE Summer of '82 is remembered for its blockbuster films, it follows that it may also be remembered for the sound tracks of those films, right?
Wrong. Of the sound tracks from 10 films currently occupying 125 of the metropolitan area's 230 screens, only four ("E.T.," "Poltergeist," "Diva" and "Diner") bear up to repeated listenings. Two, "Annie and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," are undistinguished adaptations of successful Broadway hits with new songs that offer no improvements on the ones that were dropped. Three are so-so remakes or sequels--"Rocky III," "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "The Thing." Then there's "TRON," with a sound track as unusual as the film from which it's derived. And summer is far from over.
What's interesting is that most of the current sound tracks feature original scores, as opposed to a recent fascination with electronic scores or the pastiche/pop anthology technique that began with "The Graduate" and reached epidemic proportions with "Saturday Night Fever" and "Urban Cowboy." No one is predicting a return to the classic movie music tradition of Erich Korngold, Bernard Herrman, Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, hardened romantics all. But there are fewer easily assembled sound tracks these days, and even the rock or synthesizer-oriented ones (like Giorgio Moroder's spooky "Cat People" and Vangelis' glorious "Chariots of Fire") are more fully developed concepts. Vangelis' most recent score, for "Blade Runner," apparently won't make it to record, though; he doesn't feel it can stand on its own.
The two dominant names in film scoring over the past 10 years, of course, have been John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, and they've each come up with a distinctive sound track for Steven Spielberg's new blockbusters.
Goldsmith's contribution is "Poltergeist" (MGM 1-5408), which, like the film, begins with a genteel fascination with paranormal phenomena and slowly turns to fear and loathing before concluding with an impending sense of doom and, ultimately, redemption. Goldsmith ("Patton," "The Omen," "Star Trek," "Chinatown," "Alien") is a master of rich orchestral textures, a strength particularly evident in his use of strings. "Carol Ann's Theme," a simple yet lush melody augmented by a wordless children's chorus, evokes the haunting innocence of a Howard Hawks pastoral. But, as Spielberg warns in the liner notes, "don't trust Goldsmith's melodies. The moments of greatest tension arise not from brilliant off-rhythm ostinatos but from soothing tonal beauty." Nerve-wracking undercurrents start coming to the front as darker themes overtake familial harmony, leading to confusing juxtapositions of raucous and quiet passages. Some of the wildness seems indebted to Stravinsky, and those depths of internalized tensions are not only universal but timeless.
John Williams' score for "E.T.--The Extra-Terrestrial" (MCA-6109) is intimate and subdued, particularly when you look back at previous Spielberg-Williams collaborations ("Jaws," "Close Encounters" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). Williams may be the most traditional and classically oriented of the modern scorers, though he tends to use brass and woodwinds a bit more than the Korngold school. He has restrained himself on "E.T.," totally avoiding the bombast of his most recent "Star Wars" adventures, relying instead on broad, lush strokes with a decidedly romantic edge.
Williams' pop symphonic approach, sly humor and ability to sculpt a tantalizing melodic theme come together in "Flying," which must be considered the film's theme because of its heroic statement and feeling of liberation and renewal. Like the "message theme" in "Close Encounters," "Flying" insinuates itself into the viewer's psyche, instilling a sense of hope and salvation. "E.T. Phone Home" and "E.T. and Me" are also charming, while the 15-minute "Adventure on Earth" seems tailor-made for the Boston Pops repertoire. Like the movie, the sound track to "E.T." is soothing and inspiring and will bear repeated hearings.
"TRON" (CBS SM37782) has a fascinating score by Wendy Carlos, who in the past has done commendable jobs on Stanley Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange" and the opening sequence of "The Shining." Although Journey's "Only Solutions" is being touted as the "theme" from "TRON," it's nothing more than a commercial device subtly used in the film itself and totally apart from Carlos' contributions.
Carlos creates and then plays off the film's built-in conflict--the "real world" represented by the 105-piece London Philharmonic Orchestra--while synthesized music represents life in the "computer world." But it's not that cut and dried: Carlos, whose synthesizer music has always contained heavy symphonic overtones, manipulates the electronic and the orchestral elements so that subtle shifts and turnarounds in dynamics and timbre let neither dominate. There are a dozen moody currents evident, including some sprightly chase and conflict passages, but no clearly discernible themes. The prevailing spirit is appropriately futuristic, and were it not for the brevity of some sections, much of "TRON" could stand alone as a flawed but fascinating piece of electronic music. One off-note: Because "TRON" is so overwhelmingly visual, much of this music makes practically no impression during the film.
Bill Conti's score for "Rocky III" (United Artists/Liberty LO-51130) is somewhat like the movie: It relies upon reprises, not only of Conti's original and thoroughly heroic "Gonna Fly Now" (done badly this time around, by kids, no less), but of "Take You Back (Tough Gym)," the new, supposedly inspirational song performed by Frank Stallone, Sylvester's little brother. There are some nice sketches ("Reflections," "Mickey" and "Adrien"), an absolutely silly disco song ("Pushin' ") that belongs on the "Car Wash" sound track, and an overblown finale, "Conquest," that seems to have strayed from the 25-year-old "Spartacus" score. Oh yes, there's also the inescapable AOR hit single, "Eye of the Tiger," performed by Survivor on the sound track and on their own album (on Columbia). As is the case with Journey's contribution to "TRON," it stands alone (i.e., if that's what you like, get the single).
Vladimir Cosma's music for "Diva" (DRG SL9503) won this year's French Academy Award for best original motion picture score. Like the movie, it's a compendium of disparate styles and influences: There's the elegiac piano of Erik Satie ("Sentimental Walk"), the noncycled mystical romanticism of Steve Reich ("Gorodish"), The Mysterious East meets the synthesizer sounds of Paul Beaver and Bernard Krause ("The Zen in the Art of Bread and Butter"), modernist soundscapes ("Metro Police") and a basic New Wave rhythm track ("Dead End"). Cosma must have listened to the same films that director Jean-Jacques Beineix watched because there are so many recognizable elements (particularly from Antonioni's "Red Desert").
The obvious treat, of course, is soprano Wilhemenia Wiggins Fernandez, who in fact has not been well represented on disc and who makes a powerful impression with the Aria from Alfredo Catalini's "La Wally," supported by the London Symphony Orchestra under Cosma's baton. The major disappointment: The "Ave Maria," so powerfully rendered in the film, is not on the record.
On the down side, Ennio Morricone's music for "The Thing" (MCA-6111) may be the most turgid thing he's ever done. Perhaps because the film's action is narrowly contained, Morricone is content to drag things out without instilling any sense of dynamics. This creates a catalogue of aural cliche's, from the jumbled confusion of "Contamination" to the suspicious-cello-laden-with-strings of "Bestiality" to the church-like organ swells of "Eternity." But too many of the musical scenarios, with their grand/obvious titles like "Solitude," "Sterilization" and "Despair," seem barely sketched out, with unfinished ideas denied the time or the energy which they demand.
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (Atlantic SD19363) is a crack at the big time for composer James Horner, coming as it does after "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper," "Deadly Blessing," "The Hand" and some Roger Corman bloodcurdlers. He plays it safe by echoing both the bombastic and elegiac elements of Williams' "Star Wars" and Goldsmith's original "Star Trek" scores, with a contractual nod to the original television theme. Like the movie, Horner's score is obvious and kind of fun, nothing to sneeze at--or get excited about.
"The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas" (MCA-6112) features two new songs by Dolly Parton, several old ones written by Carol Hall and an undistinguished, sterile production. The musical's original enthusiasm is buried under Gregg Perry's ponderous guiding hand, though Parton's distinctive warble can still cut through the gloss. "Sneakin' Around," her duet with Burt Reynolds, confirms his acting ability, while "I Will Always Love You," the other Parton original, sounds like a lift from "Unchained Melody." One must struggle through Jim Nabors' introductory "20 Fans," two songs "sung" by veteran character actors Dom De Luise and Charles Durning, a dull "Courtyard Shag," and the protracted and now defused "Aggie Song." Whatever life may be in the movie is nowhere to be found on the sound track.
"Annie" (Columbia JS38000) is, like the movie, so overblown and deliberately cloying that you wonder why anybody would ever want to hear it. The only two good songs from the original, "Maybe" and "Tomorrow," are overproduced (and run out of sequence). In their dubious wisdom, the filmmakers have dropped a half-dozen songs from the original, and added four new ones, all thoroughly undistinguished (including the execrable "Let's Go to the Movies," which may just be wishful thinking on their part). At least the film makers went to the original source, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. While Aileen Quinn is everything one expects from an Annie, Albert Finney is quite pathetic as Daddy Warbucks; he simply can't sing. The rest of the cast is similarly misused, from Ann Reinking and Geoffrey Holder to the lovable moppets, who sound like they were borrowed from the "Pringle Potato Chips" ad currently on television.
And, finally, the only summer film to utilize the "American Graffiti" approach of period music is the wonderful "Diner" (Elektra E1-60107E), a two-record set that has much more stylistic breadth than most such efforts. The period is the late '50s and so we not only hear Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Dion and the Belmonts, Eddie Cochran, the Del Vikings and the Fleetwoods, but Lowell Fulson, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Dick Haymes, Jane Morgan, Jimmy Reed, Bobby Darin and the "Theme from 'A Summer Place,' "--and there's even an Elvis Presley cut ("Don't Be Cruel"), the first time RCA has licensed a Presley song to another record company. The one inexcusable drawback: There is an average of only 12 minutes of music per side, which is somewhat, but not completely, mitigated by a $9.98 list price. There are 20 songs here, versus 41 on the first "Graffiti" sound track. Maybe that's what they mean by inflation.