OST – original soundtrack

For most of my life, I’ve been a keen collector and appreciator of film soundtrack music.

Yeah baby! It’s Thunderball

There was this slow dawning, as I went into my mid-teens that, while other kids were following the charts and raving about David Bowie, Hot Chocolate and the Bay City Rollers (I know), I had my head in the scores to Thunderball , Close Encounters, Earthquake  and  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

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Saturday Night Fever

Don’t get me wrong; I liked the popular hits too. I liked all sorts of bands, but they were something entirely apart from the film scores. Incidentally, I’ve been a big ELO fan for most of my life. Jeff Lynne’s work has been a bright spot for me over the years; but that’s the subject of another post.

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Jeff Lynne

Something that used to bug the hell out of me was the way soundtrack LPs (yeah, back in the days when vinyl reigned) often seemed to use cues that didn’t sound the way they had at the cinema. I later learned that scores were often re-recorded for an LP release. This allowed them to iron out any bugs or perhaps to fatten up the arrangements and make them “more listenable”. At this point, there was still some snootiness  amongst musos about the validity of film music.

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John Williams

I was lucky enough to be around when some of the greatest names in film music history were working their magic. I’d find myself reading that fine print they put on movie posters, to see who’d done the score. If it was James Bond, it would most often be John Barry. If it was a disaster film, John Williams (the American composer, not the Australian guitarist). If it was sci-fi, then Jerry Goldsmith. Films about WWII always sounded great if Ron Goodwin had done them (Where Eagles Dare anyone?). And Hitchcock was always best when backed by Bernard Herrmann (check out North by Northwest!).

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Ron Goodwin
Bernard Herrmann. He of the shrieking violins in Psycho

It wasn’t until the 1990s that filmmakers realised there was an audience out there who wanted to hear exactly what they’d heard on the big screen and not some mocked-up version of it. There was also a burgeoning realisation that  film music was a good thing in and of itself; that it had a valid place in musical history and was something people wanted to hear.

Yoda conducts the LSO with his midget lightsabre

The soundtrack market exploded and I was in heaven. All of a sudden, there were re-releases of film scores going back into the 1950s and 60s. Gone were the CD releases which just carried the limited selection of the vinyl release. A CD could hold twice as much material, so in most cases you could get every single cue from a film in there.

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Jerry Goldsmith at work

I still collect soundtracks, but am quite selective about which ones. Contemporary films seem to be pervaded by generic-sounding cues which you could transfer from one film to another and never know the difference. This is because the turnaround time is much shorter now and it’s harder for composers to catch and express that original sound which travels with the audience as they leave the cinema.

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John Barry

For me that’s the hook. A film needs its own special sound and you can’t achieve that by just vomiting off-the-peg musical cliches all over it. John Barry always used to build his work around two or three themes and you’d get fragments of them woven into the whole film. It made the story cohesive and provided an emotional ground upon which to stand and view the images before you.

Indecent Proposal. A real balancing act for composer John Barry

There are those who still put out work with strong themes; themes you can hum and remember. Michael Giaccino’s work on Jurassic World was something else. Not only did he work in John Williams’ themes from the Jurassic Park series, he added stirring motifs of his own and produced something wonderful in the process.

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Jurassic World

Another superb modern film composer is Alexandre Desplat (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and II and Zero Dark Thirty). Desplat is probably one of my modern favourites. He never turns in anything shoddy or without merit.

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Alexandre Desplat

The list of available film composers is massive now. There are university courses in scoring for film and it has almost become institutionalised as an art form. For me though, the names which really shine are the ones whose style you can recognise and who counterpoint the action or tell you something about what’s going on inside a character’s head without flagging it up too obviously. It’s a delicate balance and not everyone can do it. That’s what separates the men from the boys in film composition.

 

Edge of Darkness (1985)

Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve revisited the BBC’s excellent 1985 miniseries, Edge of Darkness. This six-parter was the work of writer Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes) and director Martin Campbell (who would go on to introduce two new James Bonds to us – Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale).

If you haven’t seen it before, or have only seen the lesser film version with Mel Gibson (again, directed by Martin Campbell), then I would recommend this series. One caveat – it’s not easy viewing…


 Bob Peck – he’s got a teddy bear and a gun. Not a man to be trifled with.

In the first three parts, the action centres on Ronnie Craven, a policeman whose 21 year-old daughter, Emma, is gunned down in front of him on the steps to their house. Craven is no stranger to pain; a few years before, he watched his wife fade away from cancer. Now, the one remaining light in his life is snuffed out, but Craven soon discovers that Emma was neck-deep in some very sinister stuff.


Joanne Whalley as Emma Craven, murdered environmental activist. Official cause of death, gunshot wounds. But why is her body radioactive?

The series certainly looks and feels “of its time”, anchored as it is in the deep political divisions of the Thatcher era and presented in the old 4:3 format. However, this makes no odds in a powerful and at times surreal Cold War drama.

Edge of Darkness carries a pervading menace and doom. After I’d seen it back to back, I really felt like I needed a breather. Like all good drama, there’s no one thing that creates the atmosphere. In part, it’s the score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton (as I write this, I am into my second full day of that bloody guitar line going round and round and round in my head!) There’s also a highly intense performance by Bob Peck as the grieving father. Then there’s the underhandedness of powerful antagonists, portrayed by a superb supporting cast. And finally, the mystery of just what the hell went on at Northmoor.

Oh and then there’s Darius Jedburgh.

 Joe Don Baker as loose-cannon black-ops man, Darius Jedburgh

We first find Jedburgh in London. It’s closing time at a restaurant, and there he is with two American military pals. All are mullered, having spent the evening celebrating their return from doing God-knows-what, God-knows-where. Jedburgh is just sober enough to badger Craven out of his hotel room for a drink and from there, an already intriguing plot gets really engrossing.

Jedburgh’s a Langley man alright, but quite the oddball. He’s uncompromising and dangerous, but enjoys Come Dancing with childish glee and wears a poncho to breakfast.

A favourite scene is when, returning from El Salvador, Jedburgh empties out his golf bag. Out tumble golf clubs, tees, clothing, shoes, several empty bottles and an AR-15. Jedburgh draws Craven deeper into the looming mystery of what happened to Craven’s daughter and her organisation, Gaia.


“Millions of years ago when the Earth was cold, it looked like life on the planet would cease to exist. But black flowers began to grow, multiplying across the landscape until the entire surface was covered in blooms…” Emma explains it all to her dad. 

Edge of Darkness is a real one-off. It’s environmental activism (as it was in the 80s), blended with spy mystery, highly focused personal drama and revenge thriller.

It all leads miles underground, to a secret facility called Northmoor. In the film version, Northmoor was just an American corporation with dirty secrets. In the TV series, it’s much more sinister – a massive underground complex, known only to a few powerful people and hiding an ugly secret. There’s something about the way the characters get drawn into this grim, irradiated chasm that harks back to Dr Who of the 1970s or Quatermass before it.

Northmoor. Not exactly the place for a great night out… or is it?

Craven and Jedburgh retrace Emma’s steps and find their way to the heart of what’s going on. It’s a tough scramble down into the bowels of the earth and you find yourself sharing Craven’s astonishment at the secrets his recently deceased daughter must have been keeping. “This is the most dangerous business in England run by the most dangerous men”, Craven remonstrates with Emma’s ghost.

Yes, Emma’s ghost. That’s another element of this series; the enigmatic and supernatural side. Is she really appearing to him? Is he just imagining it due to grief? Is it prophetic?

Lobster omelette, asparagus tips, a cellar of the best vintages AND its own stash of weapons-grade plutonium. Northmoor – book now!

From then on, there is a tragic inevitability to the action, but it’s never predictable. All sides want a piece of what lurks deep in the caves under northern England but the truth can never be allowed out.

When it was first shown, Edge of Darkness aired on BBC2. Within days, it was rerun on BBC1 and quickly became a massive hit. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the most outstanding and influential pieces of TV ever broadcast and has influenced countless other productions.

The atmosphere of this series is so strong that I think it may be some time before I revisit it. It’s well-crafted, well-acted TV drama, but by heck it’s potent.