2021 May 10 • Monday

Leonard Rosenman's score for Fantastic Voyage is the 673rd Soundtrack of the Week.

First up is the main title, of course, which is actually mostly sound effects: heartbeats, typewriter, some bleeps and bloops. Visually this sequence is, I think, more than coincidentally similar to the opening credits for The Six Million Dollar Man, but there isn't really music per se here.

Rosenman had an idea not to use any music at all in the movie until the voyage of the title actually commenced. Certainly an effective choice and one that required considerable courage, as that means that about 38 minutes of of the film pass before we hear any music.

The first music is the modern and fascinating "The Proteus", which lets the string section handle most of the musical statements while horns and percussion punctuate with interesting additions here and there, occasionally making statements of their own.

The general feel of eerieness and other worldliness continues in "The Chart", again contrasting smooth and long sonorities with sharp, jagged and agitated expressions, the orchestra bubbling over with different moods.

The horns and basses get to say more in "Pulmonary Artery", creating an atmospher that's more stable but also more ominous.

"Group Leaves" has some exquisitely precise writing for harp and percussion, set off perfectly by orchestral backgrounds. This is followed by the very short "Pleural Cavity" cue, which is almost like a tag for the previous piece.

The sense of danger and adventure resumes with "Proteus Moving Through Sac", which modulates energy level and density while continuing a motif of building triads with wind instruments, suggesting a dissonance that isn't really there.

The string section busily suggests the tension in "Channel to Ear" while flutes indicate the forward momentum of the characters before the mood changes to a more spacious and cautious one, with more space and resonance.

"Cora Trapped" is one of the tensest parts of the movie and Rosenman provides stabbing, clustering, soaring and diving string parts, frequently accompanied by the three-note motif that's become more familiar as the score proceeds.

The biggest suspense scene is "Proteus in Inner Ear", which here gets a short (less than a minute) cue that lets a few notes both rise and fall while Rosenman's orchestration adds various colors and moods.

More mystery and menace using the same techniques create "The Human Brain", which has the strings exploring some higher frequencies while the horns explore something that sounds like avant-pastoral.

At almost seven and a half minutes, "Get the Laser" is the longest cue in the score. Perhaps it goes without saying that it covers a lot of territory. Rosenman certainly outdoes himself, varying moods and intensities and coming up with a brilliant suite of excitement, tension and suspense. Really, this could almost be like a cheat sheet for film music composers. Here in this one cue alone are at least a dozen ways to use an orchestra for a dozen different powrful effects.

Finally things wrap up with "Optic Nerve/End Cast", not the huge climax you might expect but instead a move in the other direction, using even more space and being even quieter in places, so that when the horns and strings burst into sound it has even more of an impact.

The second half of it, for the cast, is the only part of the score that sounds "normal", that is, familiar and reminiscent of more conventional movie music. It's an ingenious way to resolve all of the tension that was previously built up.


2021 May 07 • Friday

The October 1964 issue of Mobile Home Journal is the only one we have—so far.

Of course we were intrigued by Debbie Reynolds's $50,000 mobile home. That's about $427,000 once you adjust for inflation.

At 34' by 10', it's bigger than Elizabeth Taylor's 9' by 22' mobile home, which had been covered in the September 1962 MHJ.

The Reynolds unit has Regency double doors, French Provincial decor, two 1750 French costume prints that were once the property of Rudolph Valentino, a gilded antique Dresden wash basin set off by a crystal chandelier and gold fixtures and ceiling-height cut glass mirrors in the dressing area.

Her "powder palace on wheels" was given to her by her husband, the second out of three, Harry Karl, described in MHJ as a shoe manufacturer and on Wikipedia as a "millionaire businessman". He was probably both.

Since Reynolds divorced her first husband, Eddie Fisher, after learning that he was having an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, the comparisons of the Taylor and Reynolds mobile homes might have carried a bit of extra charge for readers at the time.

At the end of the article they ask you to choose which one is better, though it seems clear which vote the article's author, Jeanne Harrison, will cast.

She says that Taylor's unit "was considered only so-so by American mobile home standards" while the Reynolds's is "more mobilificent than any home we've ever seen".


2021 May 05 • Wednesday

It is not quite a truth universally acknowledged, that any discussion of Shelley Katz's Alligator must mention its placement on David Foster Wallace's list of ten favorite novels.

It's a weird top ten list, composed almost entirely of books I don't want to read and books I didn't think were very good.

So it wasn't Wallace that led me to Alligator but it's not easy to encounter Katz's novel without also picking up this factoid.

What about Alligator? For its publisher it was probably one of many post-Jaws works and you could make a case for it. The book opens with the giant alligator killing two men in deftly gory prose.

But the alligator isn't visible for most of the story, which is really about hard-nosed, rich, powerful, self-made tycoon Rye Whitman who nurses secret tortures and traumas, and teenaged Everglades swamp guide Lee Ferris, who might be Whitman's illegitimate son.

A big hunting party sets into the swamp only to be thoroughly pummelled by rapids and then a hurricane. (One unlucky fellow gets impaled by a tree branch.)

It's at this point that a "man against nature" theme which has been threaded through the book since the beginning, asserts itself quite strongly.

As Rye and Lee continue after the alligator they and their environment seem to revert to a prehistoric time, a world once populated by giant reptiles and no people.

There's even some kind of bond between these two humans and the alligator that they're obsessively pursuing. They even have an airboat called a Saurian, just so you won't miss it.

Is this like Moby Dick as has been suggested? I don't know but I kind of doubt it.

It really is a good book with very good writing—good enough that I found the characters' ordeal to be exhausting to read about. The closer I got to the end, the less of it I could read in one sitting. A handful of pages would wipe me out.

As I neared the end I started to worry that there couldn't possibly be a satisfying ending to this book and that turned out to be a fairly accurate prediction. The ending isn't a disaster but it is anticlimactic.

Another criticism concerns a character named Trancas, who comes out of nowhere and is extremely colorful but also contrived and unbelievable. I suspect he's shoe-horned in here both as a solution to a problem but also to make a point about society and civilization and human sanity/insanity and perhaps even materialism and capitalism and, you know, maybe that's also a problem, sicne there's already a lot going on in this book already

But definitely read it for the brilliant descriptive writing, the ruthless pacing and cask-strength suspense.

The first line is "It was a primeval night, dark and calm".


2021 May 03 • Monday

Jazz soundtracks get some attention, but it often seems to be the same scores every time around. And they're definitely great, the ones you always hear about. But there are many, many others deserving of attention. Mal Waldron's music for Sweet Love, Bitter, our 672nd Soundtrack of the Week is one.

If it's a jazz soundtrack, you'll want to know who's playing. Mal Waldron is on piano, of course, in addition to writing the music. Then there's George Coleman on tenor and alto saxophone, Charless Davis on baritone saxophone, Dave Burns on trumpet, Al Dreares on drums and bass handled by either Richard Davis or George Duvivier, depending on what tune it is.

The main theme for the movie is called "Loser's Lament" and it's a late night, unhurried, bluesy and poignant sort of piece with some Duke Ellington feeling to it.

A similar mood and tempo is continued in "Della", but the form of the piece is different, more contained and with some more urgency from the drums.

A lighter and sprightlier energy manifests itself for the nimble "Hillary", an infectious and breezy piece in 6/4.

"Espresso Time" is another light and breezy tune, with great soling by Coleman.

After that comes a return to the bluesier and slightly heavier feel of the main theme with "Keel", which showcases the trumpet especially.

Up-tempo modern jazz—post bop? I don't know—is perhaps a good description of "Smokin'", which should really be played by whoever is playing Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz tunes.

Waldron himself kicks off "Della's Dream", a jazz waltz for piano trio.

Then it's time for just drums and bass (George Duvivier) in the somewhat avantgarde and very percussive "The Search".

The percussive intensity increases with the hard-driving "Candy's Ride", another piano trio piece with machine-gunning snare drum.

The horns then return for "'Bread'", another bluesy, jazzy number which should get your toe tappins.

"Eagle Flips Out" has the horns laying back over a really fast rhythm section part, with some thick, long tones and occasional staccato parts.

This is followed by the piece that sounds the most like dramatic underscore, with Duvivier bowing his bass and Dreares mostly sticking just to cymbals while leaving lots of space. Coleman solos first and the piece ends with Dreares alone.

The record ends with "Sleep Baby Sleep", which has a melodic structure similar to a lullaby but with strong and solid horn lines that give it an anthemic quality.

This one is really great. Check it out!