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Category — crime & noir

Gritty Pulp Filmmaking – COCKFIGHTER

COCKFIGHTER is a great film about a brutal sport, and one of character actor Warren Oates‘ finest performances.

Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop) adapts Charles Willeford‘s novel to the screen with help from the author. And though it holds the dubious distinction of being one of the few Roger Corman-produced films to ever fail at the box office (perhaps due to being banned in England), 1974’s Cockfighter (aka Born to Kill) is a fantastic movie which offers a rare glimpse into the seedy underbelly of Southern society. When we first meet Frank Mansfield he’s a loud-mouthed braggart slicing the beak on a bird to increase the odds against him in an upcoming fight. When he subsequently loses his trailer, girlfriend and entire fortune to Harry Dean Stanton, he vows to keep his big yapper shut until he wins the coveted Cockfighter of the Year award. So off he goes in search of adventure and earnings, in gambling dens across the South, where with the help of old acquaintances he attempts to rebuild his cock army (one of the best sentences I’ve ever written). The novel’s incredible attention to detail may be missing, including instructions on how to prepare your bird and strategies during fights (do you use the short spurs or long spurs? How do you tell if your cock is a gamer? Do you pick a Kentucky Dom or a Tennessee Gray, etc), but Frank’s silent journey, full of personal demons and Quixotic determination, translate to the screen perfectly, thanks in large part to Warren Oates, who delivers a performance on par with his turn in Sam Peckinpah‘s Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. As much a tale of the fight raging inside Frank as it is about the birds (which are captured by Hellman with a dreamlike lyricism belying their inherent brutality), Cockfighter emerges as a universal tale of redemption, as satisfying on the screen as it is on the page. I recommend you experience both for maximum effect.

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October 14, 2010   2 Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 6 (of 15)

100.) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Elmer Bernstein

Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel stars Gregory Peck and benefits from a fantastic score by the great Elmer Bernstein, who also composed The Man with the Golden Arm, The Magnificent Seven, and Walk on the Wild Side. Here’s track 3, “Atticus Accepts the Case”:

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99.) Savage! (1973) – Don Julian

I somehow missed this blaxploitation flick directed by Cirio H. Santiago, one of the many produced in The Philippines by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which stars James Inglehart as a mercenary who becomes leader of a rebel faction. The flute-heavy funk soundtrack is awesome, as is Don Julian’s other obscure score, for Shorty the Pimp. For more on movies made in the Philippines keep your eyes peeled for the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Here’s the title theme, “Savage!”:

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and track 2, “Lay it on Your Head”:

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98.) The Trip (1967) – The Electric Flag

Roger Corman directs Peter Fonda as a commercial director experiencing a mid-life crisis who turns to an LSD guru (Bruce Dern) for help. Dennis Hopper costars, in a flick written by none other than Jack Nicholson. The Electric Flag, fronted by Mike Bloomfield & Nick Gravenites and featuring the legendary Buddy Miles, provide the mind-altering psychedelic soundtrack.

Here’s track3:

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and track 5, “Hobbit”:

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and track 7, “Green & Gold”:

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97.) Yakuza (1975) – Dave Grusin

Sydney Pollack’s movie, written by screenwriting legends Paul Schrader and Robert Towne, tells the story of a businessman who travels Japan to rescue his friend’s kidnapped daughter from the Japanese mafia, also known as the Yakuza. The easy listening soundtrack comes courtesy of Dave Grusin, who also composed the soundtracks for Three Days of the Condor and The Goonies.

Here’s track 4, “Tokyo Return”:

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and track 18, “Bows”:

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96.) Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) – Ryûichi Sakamoto

Nagisa Ôshima directs Ryuichi Sakamoto, the soundtrack composer himself, opposite David Bowie, in this period war drama in which Japanese discipline, honor and glory clash with Western sensibilities. Sakamoto’s score for The Handmaid’s Tale and Pedro Almodovar’s High Heels are also worth seeking out.

Here’s track 4, “A Hearty Breakfast”:

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and track 19, “Forbidden Colours,” which features singer David Sylvian:

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95.) Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) – Yeong Wook Jo

Chan-wook Park’s film is the final installment in a trilogy including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy and stars Yeong-ae Lee as a woman trying to put her life back together after 13 years in prison for kidnap and murder, who happens to also be arranging her revenge on the real killer who framed her. The black humor in the film is offset by the elegant soundtrack, which is dramatic and beautiful, incorporating harpsichord and baroque guitars and borrowing from Vivaldi’s “Ah ch’infelice sempre,” a song about, appropriately enough, revenge and betrayal.

Here’s track 2, “The Gold Letter, Which It Intends”:

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and track 16, “First It Was Wicked From The World”:

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94.) Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) – Riichiro Manabe

Jun Fukuda directs the giant rubbery lizard in this, the 13th film of the franchise, which features Gigan, Megalon and Jet Jaguar, creatures sent by the underground kingdom of Seatopia to destroy us pesky above-ground Earthlings. So it’s one of those times when Godzilla is with us rather than against us. Manabe’s music is always weird and amazing – check out the equally incredible Godzilla vs. Hedorah if you’re into it.

Here’s the main title:

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and track 4, “Highway Road”:

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93.) Man and Boy (1971) – J.J. Johnson

E.W. Swackhamer’s film stars Bill Cosby (who also produced) in his dramatic debut as a former cowboy and Union soldier who sets out with his 12-year-old son (George Spell) to retrieve a horse and plow stolen from him by white bigots in this G-rated Western re-imagining of The Bicycle Thief. Costarring Yaphet Kotto and Henry Silva, the film benefits greatly from a fantastic soundtrack by J.J. Johnson, filled with the wonderful sound of target=”_blank”>bass harmonica and the familiar voice of Bill Withers. Trombonist Johnson also composed the scores for Cleopatra Jones, Willie Dynamite, and Across 110th Street (with Bobby Womack – featuring the greatest title song of all time!), as well as tons of releases on the Blue Note and Impulse! labels, all worth seeking out.

Here’s track 1, the title theme, “Better Days” sung by Bill Withers:

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and track 4, “Pull, Jubal, Pull”:

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and track 6, “Theme from Man and Boy”:

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92.) City of the Living Dead [a.k.a. The Gates of Hell] (1980) – Fabio Frizzi

In Lucio Fulci’s free-form gore-fest, a priest commits suicide and opens the gates of Hell, and it’s up to a psychic and a reporter to close them before the malevolent zombies take over the world. The music is top notch, full of creepy “ahh”-ing voices, weird moog, and swanky bass-lines, which lend Fulci’s over-the-top apocalyptic tale an appropriately epic – and slightly pornographic – feel. Here’s track 3, “Irrealta Di Suoni”:

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and track 5, “Verso L’Alba”:

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and track 6, “Apoteosi Del Mistero”:

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91.) A Pugni Nudi [Naked Fists] (1974) – Franco Bixio

Marcello Zeani’s film about a juvenile delinquent-turned boxer who throws a fight to pay for an operation for his friend is full of melodrama, backstabbings, and is set to the sounds of Bixio’s funky grooves. Here’s the opening track, “With Bare Fists”:

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and track 3, “Where They Reform You”:

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60 down, 90 to go!!!

Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

September 27, 2010   3 Comments

Influential Heist Flick – RIFIFI

RIFIFI means Trouble! And by “Trouble” I mean one of the coolest heist films ever made.

In 1950 American director Jules Dassin (The Naked City) was blacklisted and exiled from Hollywood, whereupon he fled to France and agreed to helm a low budget adaptation of a seedy French pulp novel, “Du Rififi Chez les Hommes.” Disgusted by the novel’s racism and lurid subject matter but desperate and needing money after five years of unemployment, Dassin took the job on the condition that he could make changes to the story. Thus the stereotypical African and Arabic gangsters became Europeans and a queasy subplot involving necrophilia was jettisoned, Dassin choosing to shift focus to character development and the details of the heist itself, and to infuse the script with a sense of bitterness and themes of betrayal still fresh in Dassin’s mind after being named by friends and coworkers during the McCarthy witch hunts. Rififi’s antihero is ex-con Tony le Stephanois, played by Jean Servais with a world-weary charisma befitting a Gallic Humphrey Bogart. When we first meet Tony he’s just returned to Paris after a five year stretch in the pen, with little money, few prospects and slowly dying of consumption. It’s only a matter of time before he decides to pull the proverbial “last job” – a daring jewelry heist. So let’s see: One last job? Check. A charismatic leader who assembles an eclectic team of professionals, each the best at what he does? Check. An ingenious plan to break a security system designed to be unbreakable? Check. Plans that go awry, double crosses and the inevitable blowback? Check, check and check. While Rififi has much to recommend it, the film’s reputation rests largely on Dassin’s deft handling of the heist sequence, among the most influential and imitated scenes in all of cinema. But for all its influence, its most distinguishing characteristic is the least imitated: its use of silence. Dassin shoots the lengthy heist sequence without a word of dialogue or musical accompaniment (unless you count the nerve-rattling jangle of an accidentally struck piano key). For 33 minutes, over a quarter of the film, not a single word is uttered. The men communicate with gestures; a hand signal, a nod of the head or a knowing glance. By stripping the sequence of sound Dassin ratchets up the tension, as each breath, every footstep, even the faintest sound of tapping could trigger the alarm. It’s an ingenious way to build suspense and one wonders if Dassin had seen Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s earlier The Wages of Fear, in which the slightest jostling of a truck threatened to set off an explosion of nitroglycerin. Like John Huston‘s The Asphalt Jungle before it, Rififi helped cement the tropes common to every subsequent heist film: whether it’s the studied cool of crime films by Jean-Pierre Melville and Michael Mann or the breezy capers of Grand Slam, Ocean’s 11 and Mission Impossible, the impact of Jules Dassin’s 1955 classic Rififi continues to be felt, which is a profound testament to the man’s directorial vision.

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September 23, 2010   1 Comment

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 5 (of 15)

110.) Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – John Lewis

Another Robert Wise crime film, this one revolving around racial tensions within a group of bank thieves. And if you thought the cast of Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, and Shelly Winters was jam-packed, just look at the players on the soundtrack: Milt Jackson on vibes, Bill Evans on piano, Jim Hall on guitar! Conductor John Lewis later released a studio version of this album with his small combo group, The Modern Jazz Quartet, that’s well worth seeking out as well!

Here’s track 9, “Skating in Central Park”:

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and track 12, “Games”:

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109.) Bugsy Malone (1976) – Paul Williams

Alan Parker, who also directed Pink Floyd’s The Wall – not eligible thanks to my strict self-imposed guidelines – is responsible for the cinematic oddity that is Bugsy Malone, which is either one of the worst ideas ever conceived or one of the best, depending on your perspective. A gangster movie where all the gangsters are played by children, the guns shoot some sort of cream filling, and Scott Baio stars alongside Jodie Foster is a bit hard for me to swallow, but the music isn’t – written by pop musician and hit songwriter Paul Williams, who also wrote and composed songs for the equally entertaining Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack for Brian De Palma.

Here’s track 3, “Tomorrow”:

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and track 7, “So You Wanna Be a Boxer”:

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108.) Dune (1984) – Toto

David Lynch returns to our list with his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, Dune, scored by Toto, the band that brought you the soft rock hits “ target=”_blank”>Africa” and target=”_blank”>”Rosanna”. It’s a surprisingly listenable affair, though when I think of Dune I can’t help but imagine the film that might have been: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version, which was going to be written by Dan O’Bannon, was going to star Salvador Dali and Orson Welles, be designed by H.R. Giger and Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius), and be scored by none other than Pink Floyd. Wow! Read more on the failed super-project here, and Jodorowsky’s account here. But back to Toto – very nice, very electronic score. The opening track, “Prologue,” lays out the basic plot:

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and here’s track 17, “Take My Hand”:

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107.) Kamasutra (1969) – Irmin Schmidt & The Inner Space

For the American release of Kobi Jaeger’s documentary, American-International Pictures removed some footage it considered ho-hum, added psychedelic drug-inspired scenes of wife-swapping and body painting, and marketed the whole thing as a dramatic film rather than a documentary. If that’s not the definition of sexploitation I don’t know what is. At least they left the soundtrack intact, by Irmin Schmidt and Inner Space, who would soon form the legendary Krautrock band Can. Here’s track 1, “Indisches Panorama I”:

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106.) Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) – Nora Orlandi

Sergio Martino’s target=”_blank”>crazy giallo stars Edwidge Fenech as a woman stalked by several sadists at once, the least kind among them being a razor wielding slasher. The soundtrack is just as stylish as the film, composed by one of the only female composers in the world of Italian horror films, Nora Orlandi.

Here is track 14, “Edwige In Dodici Ottavi”:

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and track 27, “Body Fox”:

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105.) La Marche de l’empereur [March of the Penguins] (2005) – Emilie Simon

Luc Jacquet’s Oscar winning documentary shows the life cycle of penguins (and when Orca whales are around, it shows the gory death cycle too). Their twenty day march to the safe haven where they will select their mates, procreate, protect and feed their offspring was set to the safe, predictable (though pretty) score of Alex Wurman in the US version, but in France it was set to an experimental soundtrack by Emilie Simon, a Björk-like chanteuse with a penchant for fractured electronica. Check out track 4, “Song of the Sea”:

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and track 11, “To The Dancers On The Ice”:

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104.) Around World in 80 Days (1956) – Victor Young

Michael Anderson’s wonderful technicolor adventure based on the novel by Jules Verne tells the tale of pompous Phileas Fogg, who bets his entire fortune on his claim that a man can travel around the world in 80 days, and then sets out to prove it. So off he goes, with butler in tow, from country to country, followed by an inspector who suspects him to be a criminal a man named Mr. Fix trying to sabotage his journey. Good old fashioned entertainment all the way around, with a fun soundtrack that quotes the traditional musics of the countries visited.

Here is track 2, “Paris Arrival”:

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and track 20, “Prairie Sail Car”:

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103.) Brave Story (2006) – Ben Watkins

Kôichi Chigira’s animated tale about an eleven-year-old boy who enters a magic world in order to change his fate and save his terminally ill mother sounds like a vintage tearjerker, along the lines of Grave of the Fireflies with a slight influence from Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Ben Watkins, the key figure in the ever-changing, international band Juno Reactor, composed the soundtrack, which shifts between styles and instrumentation, and is filled with fantastic moments. Here’s track 3, “Mitsuru Theme 2″:

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and track 10, “Hare and Heather Part 1″:

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and track 12, “Aerial Ballet”:

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102.) Cat People (1982) – Giorgio Moroder

Paul Schrader’s remake of the Jacques Tourneur-directed, Val Lewton-produced 1942 horror film may not be the classic the original was, but it does have two things going for it: the sexy shapeshifting Nastassja Kinski and the score by Giorgio Moroder, a key figure in the 1980’s music scene who also composed The Neverending Story, Scarface, Midnight Express, and American Gigolo. Here’s track 5, “Leopard Tree Dream”:

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and track 6, “Paul’s Theme”:

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101.) Dark of the Sun (1968) – Jacques Loussier

Jack Cardiff’s movie about a band of mercenaries battling through the Congo in search of $25 million in uncut diamonds is pure machismo. And can we talk about that cover for a second? A guy with a chainsaw charging a shirtless soldier while battles, explosions, and romantic embraces rage around him? Why is Hollywood not jumping at the chance to remake this album cover!?!?? Scored by Jacques Loussier, a jazz musician of the first order, the soundtrack delivers on the cover’s promise, sounding like a fusion of Spaghetti Western and Crime film. Awesome.

Here’s the opening track, the main theme:

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and track 10, “The Mission”:

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50 down, 100 to go!!!

Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

Check back in the coming weeks to see the rest of the soundtracks, as we head past the century mark into the meat of the countdown!

And be sure to leave feedback, even if it’s incredibly petty or negative!

September 20, 2010   No Comments

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