Barry Adamson’s Film Jukebox

Barry Adamson

For the first Film Jukebox compiler of 2012, who better than Barry Adamson, writer of imaginary film soundtracks (see 1988’s Moss Side Story) and a musician who’s long been associated with cinematic sounds. Known for his work with Magazine, The Bad Seeds and other luminaries of various music scenes as well as having written the score for an award-winning ballet, Adamson has also garnered a nomination for the Mercury Prize, won prizes for his short stories and even written and directed a movie. His new album I Will Set You Free is released on 30 January 2012 and he plays the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 9 February 2012. Download the taster track ‘Destination’ from Barry Adamson’s website. Delia Sparrer

1. Taxi Driver (1976)
Director Martin Scorsese’s 1976 urban masterpiece begins with Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) taxi emerging into the cinema frame, all fire and brimstone; cruising through the ‘foul’ landscape that will see him set out on a deranged crusade. This movie is the ultimate depiction of alienation, obsession and perverse desire, where reality is played out as an insomniac nightmare of rejection and racial hatred and the need to save mankind’s angel/whore as Travis’s angst builds into an apex of horror. An amazing study of ‘God’s lonely man’. The screenplay by Paul Schrader and the score by Bernard Hermann begin and finish one of the greatest films ever made.

2. Seconds (1966)
Arthur Hamilton becomes Tony Wilson but regrets it, too late, before meeting a surreal, eerie fate. Extraordinary 1960s black and white paranoia movie bearing depressing truths about today, with its theme of transformation through plastic surgery. Using distortion and exaggeration, cameraman James Wong Howe and director John Frankenheimer reveal the mind of a man who is struggling to break free from an emotional straightjacket, by painting a frightening picture of a dehumanised and controlling world, where, ultimately, fulfilment cannot be found by changing the outside.

3. Humanity (1999)
A beautifully mundane film displaying director Bruno Dumont’s trademark cinematographic blend of lush widescreen landscapes, glossy-eyed close-ups and clinically objective (and graphic) staging of sex to personify his idealised vision of ‘the ordinary people, who don’t speak a lot, but who experience an incredible intensity of… Emotion’. Pharaon de Winter (Emmanuel Schotté) is an incompetent detective, who longs desperately to connect with humanity but is frustrated at every turn. This is intense tedium observed with clinical precision.

4. Enter the Void (2009)
Gaspar Noé shocked everybody with Carne, Seul contre tous and Irréversible. With Enter the Void, he creates a magnificently deranged melodrama that surrounds the tragic and strange relationship of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta). This is a tripped-out journey into and out of hell: drugged, neon-lit and with a fully realised nightmare-porn aesthetic that has to be seen to be believed. Unlike anything seen before, it has a vitality and originality that are at once bold and strikingly inspiring.

5. Mirror (1975)
Stifled by the Soviet Union due to its ‘confused narrative’ and therefore not getting a proper release at the time, Tarkovsky’s Mirror, indeed appears at first to be a hotchpotch of ideas thrown together. In this dreamlike and evocative film, childhood memory is pitted against newsreels of war and left open for the viewer to pin their own childhood onto. Mirror represents the closest Tarkovsky would ever come to total abandonment of what many people would consider the most important aspect of any film – a coherent story! There are sequences in this film that are breathtaking and it deserves watching again and again.

6. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is haunting and magical. It’s a deeply strange film, constantly subverting narrative clarity and demanding that its images be taken as metaphors rather than at face value. It charts the story of Valerie’s (Jaroslava Schallerov&#225) transformation from child to adult through the onset of puberty, which is expressed as a nightmarish fantasia, a dreamlike fairy tale populated with vampires, grisly violence and lurid sexuality. A genius tripped-out tale of innocence kept, with one of the great film scores by Lubos Fischer.

7. Performance (1970)
Performance stands out as being (at the time) the most visually daring major studio film dealing with questions of sanity and identity rarely touched on in mainstream filmmaking. A gangster on the run (James Fox) hides out in the home of a reclusive rock star (Mick Jagger). Co-directors Nicolas Roeg (who also photographed) and Donald Cammell (who wrote the screenplay) explore self-discovery through sex, drugs and violence. The film’s madness unfolds in a bizarre unconventional examination that many baulked at but that suits its themes perfectly, giving them real cohesion and truth. The score by Jack Nitzsche is brilliant too.

8. Mother and Son (1997)
Alexander Sokurov’s extraordinarily lyrical film is a beautiful and tender exploration of the deep affection between an ailing mother and her devoted adult son. In a hauntingly beautiful landscape, which Sokurov’s camera transforms into stunning cinematic canvases, the pair recall happier times as the dutiful son lovingly nurses his mother in her final hours. Often this movie feels like watching paint dry in a most exquisite, almost narcotic way. Slow, ponderous and genius.

9. In Cold Blood (1967)
I came to this story written by Truman Capote and directed by Richard Brooks via its Quincy Jones score. It’s the story of Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson), who, after a botched robbery, kill a whole family, are caught, and then tried. Capote wrote the whole thing from memory after befriending Smith on jail visits and then interviewing the townsfolk. Four Oscar nominations later, this remains a great re-telling of something truly awful.

10. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock was a sly genius who scared audiences out of their lives (and showers) with Psycho. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals from her boss and goes on the run, ending up at The Bates Motel, where Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) takes her in. The nightmarish, disturbing film’s themes of corruptibility, confused identities, voyeurism, human vulnerabilities and victimisation, the deadly effects of money, Oedipal murder and dark past histories are realistically revealed through repeated uses of motifs such as birds, eyes, hands and mirrors. Bernard Hermann scores a motif that would end up (at Scorsese’s request) in his Taxi Driver score too!

Barry Adamson and band play the QEH, London Southbank, on 9 February 2012.