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Posts Tagged ‘Friday Feature

Friday Feature: “Lost Horizon” (1973)

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Have you ever dreamed of a place far away from it all?  Where the air you breathe is soft and clean, and children play in fields of green?  And the sound of guns doesn’t pound in your ears anymore?

Hal David’s lyrics expressed a sentiment shared by many of the optimistic generation who hadn’t yet felt their ideals vanquished by the reality of Vietnam and growing dissension under the White House of President Richard M. Nixon.  David’s words were captivatingly sung by folk artist Shawn Phillips, signed at the time to the A&M label, and set to a haunting melody from Burt Bacharach that’s removed from both the exuberance of “I Say a Little Prayer” and the soul of “Walk on By.”  Bacharach and David composed the song for producer Ross Hunter’s 1973 motion picture Lost Horizon, described at its release by The New York Times’ Vincent Canby as a “big, stale marshmallow.”  Canby continued to call out the film’s “surprisingly tacky…appearance,” asserting that “the second rate auspices just about destroys everyone in the film, with the possible exceptions of [Peter] Finch, [Bobby] Van and Michael York.”  And Canby was one of the kinder critics.  Lost Horizon became one of the costliest flops and most notorious disasters in film history.  What happened?  Where did it go wrong?

Yet against all odds, Lost Horizon is finally arriving on DVD on October 4 courtesy of Columbia Pictures’ MOD (Made on Demand) DVD-R program.  But this won’t be a bare-bones release; the studio is promising that it will be “packed with extras” and fully remastered; in other words, the kind of treatment usually reserved for a classic, cult or otherwise.  If the time hasn’t come and likely won’t for Lost Horizon to be reappraised as a cinematic masterpiece, we can still appreciate it without irony for its one unmistakably terrific element: its music by Burt Bacharach.  Today’s Friday Feature celebrates the music of Lost Horizon.

The saga of Lost Horizon began in 1933 with James Hilton’s novel, imagining an idyllic Shangri-La tucked away in a Tibetan valley where illness, age and poverty are unknown.  One year later, after the success of Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, readers discovered Lost Horizon, and it became a bestseller.  In 1937, Frank Capra adapted it into a well-regarded film version starring Ronald Colman, which won two Academy Awards out of seven nominations, and in 1939 the paperback edition of the original Hilton novel became Pocket Book No. 1.  Both the novel and Capra’s film can be interpreted as explicitly anti-war; when a 1942 re-release of the film cut one of Colman’s speeches in which he mocked war, Capra balked.

The story remained in the public consciousness, and was first musicalized in 1956 with a book and lyrics credited to Hilton (who had died in 1954), Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (the team behind Auntie Mame) and music by Harry Warren (42nd Street).  Despite this pedigree and a cast including Jack Cassidy, Alice Ghostley and Carol Lawrence, the musical expired after a mere 21 performances at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, now the home of Mamma Mia!.  Hallmark Hall of Fame resuscitated the Warren/Lawrence/Lee musical for television in 1960, and Ghostley even reprised her role.  But Shangri-La (with song titles including both “Lost Horizon” and “Shangri-La”) was destined for obscurity.  The next chapter of the Lost Horizon story, though, would make a splash in every respect.  Hit the jump, and I’ll meet you in 1973!  Bring your popcorn; we’ve provided the clips! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 9, 2011 at 13:06

Friday Feature: “The Transformers: The Movie”

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That crunching, crashing sound you hear is another Transformers movie rolling out into theaters. The series’ third installment, Dark of the Moon, features Autobots and Decepticons yet again pummeling each other into scrap metal with the fate of the Earth at stake.

While it remains to be seen – at least by this author – if the new film is any worse than the abhorrent Revenge of the Fallen from 2009 (which featured an enemy with a crotch made of wrecking balls, hereafter referred to as “Decepticles”), it did provoke some thoughts on the lengthy history of the first Transformers film, released some 25 years ago, and the lengthy list of albums that have been released to commemorate it.

At the end of this post, one shall stand and one shall fall – so pull up a chair, maximize your Energon cubes and read about some of the most endearingly silly music to come from a soundtrack of the ’80s! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 1, 2011 at 12:27

Friday Feature: Indiana Jones

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This Sunday, June 12, marks the 30th anniversary of one of the best films of all time: Raiders of the Lost Ark. For three decades, Harrison Ford’s iconic, fedora-clad hero, Indiana Jones, has become a touchstone of film heroism for the whole world. The brilliant visionaries who created Jones, producer/directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, reinvented blockbuster cinema on their own time; together, they created what may be the perfect Saturday afternoon flick, one that pushes all the right buttons to make you laugh, scream and cheer in the perfect order.

Like so many of Lucas and Spielberg’s own projects, the music of composer John Williams greatly added to the mystique of Raiders and its three sequels. The iconic “Raiders March” can be hummed by kids and adults across the globe, and it’s become musical shorthand for adventure. There’s no better time or place than in this week’s Friday Feature to honor the musical magic of Indiana Jones.

Like so many other Spielberg-Williams collaborations, the march began as a series of piano sketches that the composer played for his director. Interestingly enough, Williams had two separate themes in mind for the character, and proceeded to play them for Spielberg: first, the familiar, melodic march – then, a rollicking, repetitive counterpoint. Intrigued, Spielberg suggested he use both, and they became the “A” and “B” sections of the march.

There’s really only so much anyone can say about the impact of the music that hasn’t already been said. (As always, though, I turn to my friends at Popdose for some great work; Jeff Johnson’s piece on Raiders brings up some excellent points about the film’s music and its presentation both in the film and on disc.) Hit the jump, though, for more musical tales from the Indiana Jones series, including the long, bumpy road to (almost) CD perfection.

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Written by Mike Duquette

June 10, 2011 at 09:59

Friday Feature: “White Nights”

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Quick! What’s the last big hit you can name from a soundtrack?

It’s not easy, is it? The world of music and movies used to be so intertwined, with chart-topping hits spinning off of blockbuster movies like nobody’s business. 1984 was a great year for that, with Purple Rain, Footloose, Ghostbusters and even The Woman in Red yielding high-selling, award-winning singles. Today, though? The most recent soundtrack hit I can think of might be Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway,” and nobody remembers it came from the soundtrack to 2004’s The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement before Clarkson put it out on her album of the same name.

Today’s Friday Feature – the first in far too long – focuses on an ’80s soundtrack that yielded a pair of great hits…although only one of them appeared on the accompanying album. It’s not a classic by any means, but it combines the artistry of modern dance – too often overlooked in contemporary film – with political topicality of the age.

Read on for always about White Nights after the jump. That’s the way it should be. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 3, 2011 at 11:00

Friday Feature: “Night Shift”

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Fate works in mysterious ways.  Dionne Warwick was home one evening, half-asleep while the 1982 film Night Shift played on her television set.  “I didn’t really pay attention to the names that were going up on the credits,” Warwick recounted, “but I knew that was Burt Bacharach’s melody.  There was no way in the world it could be anybody else’s.”  She was speaking of “That’s What Friends Are For,” an all-but-forgotten song written for the 1982 film Night Shift, Ron Howard’s major big screen directorial debut.  “Friends” set lyrics to Bacharach’s main love theme for the film, and was performed by Rod Stewart.

Warwick had recently reconciled with Bacharach after a decade-plus of estrangement; the catalyst was producer Aaron Spelling, who wished to have a Bacharach/Warwick collaboration as the theme to his 1984 television drama Finder of Lost Loves.  The very next day after hearing “Friends,” Warwick phoned Bacharach and his then-wife and principal lyricist, Carole Bayer Sager.  She let them know that she wished to cut the song herself.  “And they were thrilled,” said Warwick.  “They figured that nobody had heard the song, except the two of them – and Rod Stewart!”  Warwick then hit upon the idea of inviting some of her famous friends to join the recording sessions, and a groundbreaking No. 1 record (both pop and R&B!) was born.  “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne and Friends (Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder) would be the biggest hit of Warwick’s career, a feather in the cap for Bacharach and Sager, and perhaps most importantly, a major rallying cry and fundraiser for AIDS awareness.  Arista Records, the artists, producers, publishers and respective unions all donated their proceeds to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR).  When Rhino Records included the song on its 1998 box set The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection, Rhino followed suit.

“That’s What Friends Are For” is the major musical legacy of Night Shift.  The original soundtrack version remains a hidden gem in Rod Stewart’s deep catalogue.  But for today’s Friday Feature, we look not only at the original “Friends,” but the soundtrack contributions from Quarterflash, Al Jarreau, The Pointer Sisters, Marshall Crenshaw, Talk Talk and more!  Hit the jump to join Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton and Shelley Long on the night shift! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 22, 2011 at 12:10

Friday Feature: “The Graduate”

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“Just one word…plastics.”

With that one word, spoken to the disaffected Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) by an associate of his father’s, the audience viewing 1967’s film The Graduate, could both laugh and sneer along with Benjamin. After all, “plastics” stood for all that was superficial and fake in society. Mike Nichols, directing only his second feature film after a successful Broadway career, was anything but subtle as he masterfully threaded the film’s themes throughout every aspect of the production. To represent Benjamin’s most inner thoughts on the film soundtrack, Nichols called on Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. To represent, well, “plastics,” the composer Dave Grusin was enlisted, and turned in a number of faux lounge compositions. There’s much for which The Graduate is remembered today. There are the cherished lines like “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me…aren’t you?” or screenwriter Buck Henry’s droll cameo as a hotel clerk: “Are you here for an affair, sir?” There are, of course, Anne Bancroft’s stunning legs that go on forever. You could recall the hypnotic swimming pool sequences or the climactic, comedically unexpected use of a cross to jam a church door. But more than any other one facet, The Graduate may be best remembered today for its music.

To cap off a week on which Simon and Garfunkel are being celebrated for the 40th anniversary of their epochal Bridge Over Troubled Water album (Sirius/XM is even offering 24/7 Simon and Garfunkel Radio for a limited time!), today’s Friday Feature celebrates a cinematic landmark, and a film that still vividly conjures the generation gap that existed in 1967: The Graduate. Hit the jump to join Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Dave Grusin, Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 11, 2011 at 13:34

Friday Feature: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”

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More than 30 years ago, Dave Cameron walked through the halls of Clairemont High School in San Diego. He had a colorful collection of friends: a middle-class, business-oriented guy, his sexually naive sister, her sophisticated best friend, the jock and nerd duo that lusted after the girls and a colorful surfer dude. What none of them knew at the time was that Dave Cameron wasn’t really a high school student. He was 22, and had already graduated high school seven years prior, at the age of 15. In the time since, he wasn’t known as Dave Cameron – but Cameron Crowe, a Rolling Stone writer and editor who interviewed The Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Eagles, Led Zeppelin and others, all before he could legally drink.

The story of Cameron Crowe’s ascendance is insanely captivating – one needs no further proof than his roman a clef film Almost Famous (2001) – but this chapter of his life, after Rolling Stone and before his foray into film, was just as intriguing. It kind of had to be; Simon & Schuster already had the rights to publish his accounts of what he saw in high school. That account was released in 1981 under the title Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story. The book hadn’t even been published when Universal snatched up the film rights. The film, released a year later, became a critical and cultural touchstone for its stellar cast and flawless soundtrack.

With ’80s nostalgia still in full gear thanks to movies like this week’s Take Me Home Tonight, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the magic of Fast Times after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

March 4, 2011 at 14:49

Friday Feature: “Catch Me If You Can”

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It’s hard not to be skeptical over the fact that Catch Me If You Can, the amazing “true story of a real fake,” is coming to Broadway. Modern musicals based on existing properties either hew too close to their original musical source material (if they were already rooted in song, like Footloose) or not close enough; consider Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, for instance. (Or don’t!)

The few songs this author’s heard from the Catch Me musical score, sent on a promotional disc, are jaunty and fun enough – score writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the duo behind Hairspray, certainly know how to make you bob your head – but there’s a soft spot in my heart for the music of the original. Of course, the film wasn’t a musical, but the flick has a rich and underrated musical legacy, as you’ll read in today’s Friday Feature.

Fasten your seatbelts, bring your seat backs and tray tables to the locked and upright positions and read on after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

February 18, 2011 at 15:16

Friday Feature: “Born Free”

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Remembering his great friend John Barry upon the composer’s recent death, lyricist Don Black regaled the press with stories of the “blunt-spoken Yorkshireman” with his divine gift of music. Black relished the tales of Barry’s epic battle with Barbra Streisand which led to the mercurial composer’s departure from Streisand’s The Prince of Tides and his succinct rebuke to producer Harry Saltzman on the producer’s criticism of his theme song for Diamonds Are Forever: “What the f–k do you know about songwriting?” Yet one of John Barry’s most unhappy experiences was also one of his most successful, and audiences were the clear winners when Barry accepted the assignment to write the score to Born Free, which we’ll look at in today’s Friday Feature.

Joy Adamson’s 1960 book Born Free was a natural for the Hollywood treatment. In the novel, Adamson described her life in Kenya caring for an orphaned lion cub named Elsa, eventually releasing the lioness back into the wild. Adamson’s memoir spawned two sequels and was reportedly read by over 50 million people before 1965. A sale of the movie rights was sealed in 1963 by Sam Jaffe and Paul Radin, but the ball wasn’t rolling until Carl Foreman entered the picture as the executive producer or “presenter.” Foreman was a multiple Oscar nominee with credits including High Noon, and a survivor of the Hollywood blacklist. Joseph McCarthy’s long shadow loomed over Born Free; while Foreman had refused to name names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Radin had done just that. Lester Cole, signed to write the screenplay for Born Free, actually served prison time as one of the Hollywood Ten for his refusal to answer HUAC’s questions. Foreman vigorously defended Cole, with the end result being that his screenplay was credited to one “Gerald L.C. Copley,” with Cole not receiving credit under his own name until 1997.

John Barry makes his mark on Born Free after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 11, 2011 at 12:07

Friday Feature: “Almost Famous”

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Thank you, Cameron Crowe.  You had me at “hello.” You cost me plenty, but my record collection has long been grateful for the education!

The integration of popular song and cinema has been around as long as the talking film itself, since the day Al Jolson prefaced his performance of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goodbye)” with the epochal dialogue “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” These lines from 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length “talkie” in which synchronized spoken dialogue was used dramatically, sent ripples through Hollywood and America. (Jolson actually performed “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” earlier in the film before speaking any dialogue, for those keeping track of such things.) Directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols and Woody Allen, to name a mere few, have indelibly altered the way we hear certain songs, those songs now accompanied by images which may be romantic, comic or disturbing.

In the modern era, though, has any filmmaker perfected the art of the song score in the way Cameron Crowe has? In many ways, crafting a film around existing songs is even more difficult than doing so with an original score. With an original score, the music is being created to complement the action on screen or comment on it. With popular songs, a filmmaker gains the advantage of being able to play on viewers’ existing history with a particular song, but also must combat against the dangers of those preconceived notions.

Crowe’s directorial debut, 1989’s Say Anything, introduced the prototypical Crowe soundtrack, a hip and eclectic blend of styles from artists like Living Colour, Joe Satriani, The Replacements and Peter Gabriel. Of course, Crowe’s then-wife Nancy Wilson of Heart was present. Crowe followed Say Anything with 1992’s Singles, widely credited as having exposed the mainstream of America to the Seattle grunge scene, and had his commercial breakthrough with Jerry Maguire in 1996. In addition to spawning catchphrases like “Show me the money” and “You had me at ‘hello’,” Maguire spawned a hit soundtrack album stretching back to include Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and The Who, while the film also included tracks by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, Merrilee Rush, Tom Petty and Charles Mingus. Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” charted two years after its initial release thanks to its exposure in the film. But Crowe hit his sweet spot with his next, arguably most personal film, 2000’s Almost Famous.

Based on Crowe’s experiences as a teenaged journalist working for Rolling Stone, music permeates every frame of Almost Famous. Over 50 songs are heard in the film, which follows 15-year old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) as he follows the band Stillwater in pursuit of a cover story for the magazine. Danny Bramson and Crowe co-produced the soundtrack album, which went on to be certified gold, and was rewarded with a Grammy. While that album hasn’t been the recipient of a reissue (yet!), it’s derived almost entirely from catalogue music, making it ready-made for today’s Friday Feature. The time is right to celebrate; the acclaimed film makes its long-awaited American Blu-ray debut as a Best Buy exclusive on Sunday (yes, Sunday!), January 30. Hit the jump to explore the sounds of 1973 as filtered through the lens of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 28, 2011 at 10:09