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Category — French

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

Stop Motion Bliss – A TOWN CALLED PANIC

A TOWN CALLED PANIC is madness, plain and simple.

Told from the assured heart of a child, 2009’s A Town Called Panic explodes across the screen with a purity of imagination and creativity that’s rarely seen. Hard to pin down (nor should one try), the film contains a kaleidoscope of genres within its bag of tricks – action, adventure, comedy, mystery, and love story – lending the whole affair a truly rubber-band-like quality. This film eats glass, man. Watch out. Big words for a stop-motion animated feature about a horse, a Cowboy, and an Indian – aptly named Horse, Cowboy, and Indian – and a plot just as simple: You see, it’s Horses’ birthday, so Cowboy and Indian decide to build him a brick barbecue pit. But only requiring a scant fifty bricks to complete the task, the bumbling duo order fifty million bricks by mistake. Realizing their mistake and seized with panic (sorry), Cowboy and Indian decide to hide the bricks, but choose the worst spot imaginable, practically razing the entire town. In so doing they set in motion the weirdest, most imaginative series of events ever to befall their neighbors. Co-directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, who bring so much detail to what at first seems simple, A Town Called Panic began as a French television show, gaining a cult following and allowing the creators time to cut their teeth and master their style – which truly shows in the full-length feature. The creators are so in control of the absurdity that they can warp and bend their animated space and time like the worst road on a rainy day – yet by the time we arrive at our destination, we’ve fallen head over heels in love with not only our animated trio but also the creators who breathed life into them – for they represent the child in all of us.

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September 16, 2010   2 Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 3 (of 15)

130.) I Want to Live! (1958) – Johnny Mandel

Johnny Mandel’s soundtrack to the great Robert Wise’s film about a wayward woman whose life spirals out of control is jazzy with a Latin tinge, full of bongos and flutes and sudden changes in tempo and tone, meant to represent the protagonist’s low-class lifestyle, which back then meant jazz. Here’s track 4, “Henry Leaves”:

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129.) Coffy (1973) – Roy Ayers

Jack Hill, one of the greatest b-movie filmmakers of all time, gave Pam Grier her first leading role as Coffy, a nurse who’s kid sister is hospitalized after shooting some contaminated heroin, and who hits the streets in search of revenge. This contribution to the world of Blaxploitation soundtracks comes courtesy of jazz-turned-R&B vibraphonist Roy Ayers, and is an altogether funky affair. Here’s track 4, “Aragon”:

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128.) Elephant Man (1980) – John Morris

David Lynch’s first feature film after Eraserhead was produced by Mel Brooks, starred Brooks’ wife Anne Bancroft, and was composed by Brooks’ frequent collaborator John Morris, who had scored Brooks’ parodies and comedies – not the composer you’d pick for a dramatic art film about a disfigured side-show freak in Victorian England. But the soundtrack is magnificent, with dark segments played against lighter, carnivalesque ones, lending the soundtrack as creepy a feeling as anything Angelo Badalamenti would compose for Lynch’s later films (in fact it sounds like Badalamenti lifted entire segments for Jeunet and Caro’s City of Lost Children). Here’s the title theme:

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127.) Mickey One (1965) – Stan Getz & Eddie Sauter

Like many of the directors of the American New Wave, Arthur Penn was influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague, who themselves were inspired by American film noir. So it figures that when Penn made Mickey One, a crime film about a comedian (Warren Beatty) on the run from the mob, that he’d dive deep into the New Wave handbook and emerge with a movie full of jarring cuts, inventive camera angles, atmospheric lighting, and moody JAZZ! It’s a fantastic soundtrack, melodic at times and challenging at others, marked by Stan Getz’s West-Coast-Cool tenor stylings. Here’s track 5, “The Succuba”:

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126.) Daimajin (1966) – Akira Ifukube

Akira Ifukube composed the soundtracks to many of Ishirō Honda‘s most memorable movies – including Gojira (aka Godzilla) – but his score for Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s haunting film about giant stone God-statue rising to protect a nearby village from an evil warlord is his best, filled with rumbling bass clarinets hitting unbelievably low notes, traditional Japanese drumming, and an orchestra of strings, which fuse to create the perfect ominous, otherworldly atmosphere you want out from your kaiju eiga. Here’s the main title theme:

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125.) ¡Mátalo! (1970) – Mario Migliardi

Cesare Canevari’s western, also known as Kill Him! is reportedly one of the trippiest of the genre, a psychedelic mood-piece filled with wild camera angles, heavy use of slow motion, and a climax which features boomerangs – all which place it firmly on my list of “must-watch Westerns.” And if it’s anything like the soundtrack, which is filled with acid-tinged fuzz guitar and weird discordant sounds, then I’m sure it will not disappoint. Here’s the theme song:

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and here’s track 6, “Old Town”:

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124.) Beat Girl (1959) – John Barry

Edmond T. Gréville’s beat-era film about strippers, divorces, and rock and roll is nothing to write home about, but the soundtrack, by Mr. James Bond himself, John Barry, is instantly recognizable, a guitar riff that immediately transports you to the era. Here’s the main title:

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123.) Z (1969) – Mikis Theodrakis

Costa-Gavras’s political thriller is the true story of a Greek cover up, and Mikis Theodrakis’ soundtrack mixes folk music heavy on the Bouzoukis with passages of tension-filled atmosphere, a smattering of jazz, and even caps it off with a couple of traditional songs. It’s a fantastic soundtrack. Here’s track 2, “To Yelasto Pedi”:

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and track 7, “Batucada”:

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122.) Donne-moi la Main [Give Me Your Hand] (2008) – Tarwater

I’ve read mainly negative reviews of Pascal-Alex Vincent’s movie, which I have not seen, but the soundtrack is amazing, composed by Tarwater, the German post-rock/electronic band comprised of Bernd Jestram and Ronald Lippok. Here’s track 3, “The Blacktop”:

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and track 9, “Wednesday’s Child”:

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121.) The Belly of an Architect (1987) – Wim Mertens & Glenn Branca

I’ve never really been a fan of Peter Greenaway’s films, with their cold theatricality and inflated self-importance, but of all of them, Belly of an Architect is by far the one I can almost say I like. Perhaps it’s because of Brian Dennehy, an actor who brings some passion and conviction to the otherwise pretentious affair. Or maybe it’s the soundtrack, which features compositions by minimalist composers Glenn Branca and Wim Mertens, and is chock full of swelling, twirling piano motifs, driving flutes, and even the occasional oboe. Here’s track 7, “Time Passing”:

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30 down, 120 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 countdown.

And be sure to leave feedback!

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September 6, 2010   No Comments

SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 2 (of 15)

OST = Original Soundtrack.

We continue our countdown with numbers 131-140…

For the first installment, including my self-imposed guidelines, check part 1.

140.) Omega Man (1971) - Ron Grainer

Boris Sagal’s take on Richard Matheson’s classic I am Legend stars Moses himself – Charlton Heston – and reeks of 70’s sensibilities. The soundtrack is a fun affair, alternating between Ron Grainer’s quirky atmospheric score and jazz-tinged muzak, reminding us that an unpopulated Earth is much like an empty department store. Here’s track 2, “The Omega Man”:

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139.) Yol (1982) - Sebastian Argol

Directors Serif Gören & Yilmaz Güney wrote and directed this award-winning Turkish film about prisoners on furlough which starred James Bond himself – Sean Connery – in a movie I’ve often confused for the sword and sorcery epic Yor, The Hunter From The Future, released a year later, and the old Atari 2600 title Yars’ Revenge, released a year earlier. Regardless, it’s a powerful soundtrack for a movie I’ve never seen, combining middle eastern elements with ambient electronics. Here’s track 6, “Horsemen in the Wind”:

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138.) Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) – Eric Serra

Since 1983’s Le Dernier Combat Luc Besson has been employing Eric Serra as his composer of choice, and this soundtrack, their most recent collaboration, is their best – with a kooky, kitchen-sink approach that features cacophonous car horns, discordant electronics, a dramatic chanteuse and sweeping themes that capture the spirit of high adventure. Check out this target=”_blank”>trailer and tell me you don’t want to see the movie. You liar. Here’s track 2, “Hiéroglyphes”:

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137.) Naked Angels (1969) – Jeff Simmons

Don’t know much about this Bruce D. Clark biker flick, except that that cover is absolutely sick and the composer, Jeff Simmons, would later become a Frank Zappa collaborator. And that the music is rocking, with fuzz guitars and a steady rock beat.

Here’s track 1, “Naked Angels Theme”:

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and track 5, “Cop Out”:

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136.) Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (1958) – Miles Davis

Louis Malle’s suspense noir might be a tad dated, but this Miles Davis soundtrack sure isn’t – it’s his best score for a film, though Kind of Blue is still the greatest soundtrack he ever wrote to a movie never made. Here’s track 5, “Florence sur les Champs-Elysées”:

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135.) High Noon (1952) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Fred Zinnemann’s classic western gets a fantastic old-era-Hollywood score courtesy of Tiomkin, who also scored The Alamo, Guns of Navarone, Giant and countless other classics, and who later wrote the TV theme song for Rawhide. Here’s track 1, the main title, sung by Tex Ritter (John Ritter’s dad), which won the 1953 Academy Award for best song:

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134.) Avalon (2001) - Kenji Kawai

Anime director (Ghost in the Shell) Mamoru Oshii directed this live action sci-fi movie about a destitute future where virtual gaming determines financial reward-or death by catatonia. The film’s unique flavor stems from its Japanese-Polish production, heavy referencing of Arthurian mythology, and muted sepia-tone cinematography, and is carried over into the soundtrack, where Kawai’s haunting score features Polish language chanting and tons of murky futuristic melancholy. Here’s track 2, “Log Off”:

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133.) Heathers (1989) – David Newman

Michael Lehmann defined a generation with his smart, satirical high school revenge flick, which took John Hughes’ high school comedies and ramped ‘em up to high black-comedy heaven. The cold, electronic soundtrack enhances the feeling of detachment which Winona Ryder and Christian Slater feel in their popularity-obsessed high school. Composition runs in the family – Newman is the cousin of Randy, the brother of Thomas and the son of Alfred. Are any other Newmans gonna make this list? Are all of them? Do me a favor – Wait and find out. That way I can stop asking rhetorical questions. Here’s track 3, “JD Blows Up”:

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132.) Institute Benjamenta (1995) – Lech Jankowski

The Brothers Quay deliver a vivid black and white dream of a movie, based on Kafka-predecessor Robert Walser’s Jakob von Gunten, a surrealistic 1909 novel about a mysterious institute where men learn to become servants. Lech’s sparse, haunting soundtrack, complete with strained strings, lonely trumpets, rumbling bass, haunting voices and intermittent silences makes it a perfect accompaniment, which also stands on its own as an eerie listening experience for fans of challenging music.

Here’s track 6, “Introdukja Liliowa”:

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and track 8, “Kolysanka wg Erika S”:

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131.) Didn’t You Hear? (1970) – Mort Garson

Not many people have seen Skip Sherwood’s college film about a daydreaming teen, which not only features a young Gary Busey, but also a score by the legendary Mort Garson. Here is a review of the movie. A friend once bequeathed unto me an entire DVD full of Garson’s albums, including this one, and I’ve been a fan ever since (both of Garson and my friend).

Here’s track 5, “Kevin’s Theme”:

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and track 9, “Walk to Grange Hall”:

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20 OST’s down, 130 to go! What’s your favorite soundtrack? Will it make the cut? Check back next week, and be sure to leave feedback… it’ll make us stronger here at the isle!

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 2, 2010   No Comments

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