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Musician and filmmaker Barry Adamson on Bernard Herrmann’s dizzying score for Hitchcock.
Vertigo is without doubt, Hitchcock’s masterpiece. A masterpiece because Hitchcock lets us into his (and our own) universal truth. He shows us his longing. A longing that can never be satiated. A longing that merely leaves us up in the air, frozen in time and space forever.
He dismisses conventional story telling structure. (Conventional film structure is three acts. You put a person up a tree. You throw rocks at them. You watch them try to make it down. Most first acts are over with pretty quickly so we can get on with the business of throwing rocks. Hitchcock putting Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie up a tree is to have him fish Kim Novak’s Madeleine, the woman he’s been following at a distance, out of San Francisco Bay, take her home, strip her naked and put her in his bed… after 46 minutes.) He then masterly creates his trademark suspense. In the last few acts, the audience knows something the protagonist doesn’t, after a remarkable disclosure of the film’s plot. Up until that point, there’s so much tension, intrigue and seduction manoeuvring. We’re watching a man watching a woman who’s keeping an eye on herself while observing another woman…
Bernard Herrmann said that whereas he wrote character music for Orson Welles, Hitchcock wanted place and situation and to feel the tension building. The music throughout the opening titles tells the whole story. The film is set in San Francisco. Herrmann builds a geographical, dreamlike and suspenseful motive around ‘contrary motion’. One motif plays six notes up and down the scale as the other motif (same notes) comes down and up the scale and this alludes to the idea of physical vertigo as well as a kind of teetering on the edge, both emotionally and mentally.
He then adds the ‘doomed love’ theme in four notes, ending the phrase with a dissonant death chord. It would seem to be the end, and of course later in the piece it really is BUT… he then arranges for ‘trilling’ violins to animate and rise from a pit of desire, into omnipotence. They begin skipping carelessly as if to mock the idea of death as finite. This is short-lived, however, as again doom now plays out before the final death knell rings.
This happens over swirling graphics and close-ups of a woman’s mouth and eyes. What’s this film about again? A fear of heights? No. Fear of falling… in love.
The other part of the score is the brilliant Carlotta Valdes theme, which Herrmann uses as a link to the past and then turns it into a hallucination, another kind of vertigo for Kim Novak. Scottie’s toxic seduction is played out over a stealing of Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. Herrmann uses the ‘love/death’ theme, which he rewrites and extends as mere metaphor, gluing together the idea of Madeleine’s obsession with the past and Scottie’s idea that the dead can be brought back and made alive again…
The Soundtrack season at HOME Manchester has been co-curated by Barry Adamson and HOME’s Artistic Director of Film Jason Wood.
Black and white and enigmatic, Suture was one of the most singular debuts of American independent cinema at the time. Jason Wood talks to directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel about identity, improbable gestures and ‘Ring of Fire’.
Jason Wood: What was the starting point for Suture? The synthesis of film noir and avant-garde cinema suggests that you are both keen cineastes, but the film also expresses an interest in issues relating to identity and wider philosophical concepts.
Scot McGehee/David Siegel: More than anything, Suture grew out of the films we were watching together at the time: some Japanese art films from the 60s, and also American paranoid thrillers, and every twin film we could get our hands on. We were thinking a lot about identity as a construct, and how film constructs identity; and certain narrative tropes started interesting us: hypnosis, twins, amnesia. Out of that stew, the basic plot sort of emerged fully formed.
Was it always your intention to have Clay and Vincent portrayed by actors who were black and white? Your tone here is often quite playful, but it also introduces an interesting take on racial politics that was considered quite potent for its time.
Clay and Vincent being portrayed by actors who were black and white was an idea we had while we were writing. It was an idea that we started out loving but not taking completely seriously. But it stayed in our heads. The humour of it, the ways in which it let the story be a little out of control. And the more we lived with it, and the more we worked on the script, the less we could imagine doing the film any other way. People tried to talk us out of it, of course.
The cinematography by Greg Gardiner is striking. How did you come to work with him and what instructions did you give him in terms of the look and tone you wanted to achieve? Was it always your intention to shoot in black and white?
We decided while writing that we were making a black and white film. More specifically, we decided we were making a black and white Scope film. At the time, we couldn’t think of one that had been made (in the United States, at least) since Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979). All the Japanese films we had been watching were black and white Scope, and we loved the look of it, and loved the idea of using a very graphic wide-screen frame to shoot a fairly intimate drama.
Greg Gardiner was one of many people who interviewed for the job, but he talked to us from the beginning as though we were already working together. And though he hadn’t shot many films at that point, he’d had a very successful career as a gaffer. That experience was very appealing, because the light in the movie was something we hoped could really contribute to the emotional feel of the story. We spoke with Greg a lot about shooting the film in ‘white and black’, trying to capture a world of confidence and analysis rather than a more traditional ‘noir’ world of mystery and shadow.
One of the other aspects of Suture that most impresses is Kelly McGehee’s production design and the general use of locations and interiors. Can you say something about the buildings in which you shot (Vincent’s apartment is particularly striking) and what sense you wanted these locations and mise en scène to communicate?
We shot the film in Phoenix Arizona at a time when the city was very depressed financially, so the central downtown area was quite eerie and deserted, but it still had that crisp, clean, arid feeling of a desert city. The location we used for Vincent’s house was a vacant Savings and Loan office. We shot many of our interiors in vacant office spaces, which had a nice anonymous quality and were available at a very good price. We wanted the film to exist in a psychological space more than a realistic one, so the gestures could be big, graphic and improbable.
We had worked with Kelly on both of our short films, so we all kind of grew up together and our creative collaboration was already a number of years old when we began Suture. And she had been involved in the thinking for the film as we were writing, so a good deal of the design foundation had been laid long before we ever got to Phoenix.
The final face-off between Vincent and Clay is brilliantly realised. Was this a difficult sequence to execute?
Most of the sequence is fairly straight-forward shooting, with the exception of the last overhead shot in the bathroom. That’s an image that we’d written quite precisely into the screenplay. Despite our low budget, the bathroom was the one set we insisted on building, just to be able to realise that shot. To do it, we had to fix-mount the camera on scaffolding about 20 feet above the stage, rigging it quite precariously in a way that didn’t allow for any direct looking through the viewfinder. It wasn’t until the video tap was attached that we could actually see the shot: Vincent walking towards Clay, separated by the shower curtain, each with his gun drawn. We were both kind of flipped out by how intact the original written shot had remained, and how connected we both still felt to it. It became this very emotional moment for us, and is still one of our fondest production memories.
The song ‘Ring of Fire’ plays a prominent role. You use both the Johnny Cash and Tom Jones versions. What was the thinking behind this?
Johnny Cash is The Man in Black. Tom Jones is a Welsh soul singer. We loved both versions of the song, and liked the pun of the car-phone bomb transforming Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ into Tom Jones’s version, much as Clay was about to become Vincent. Chalk it up to the juvenile sense of humour of first-time filmmakers, but it all felt right. In the end, we probably paid more for the rights to the various versions than we actually earned making the movie. But it still seems worth it.
Steven Soderbergh came on board as an executive producer. What function did he perform and how beneficial did it prove to have his name attached to the project?
We had brought the film to a rough-cut state and were in the process of trying to raise money when we met Steven. We knew someone who knew someone who was close to him, and that person managed to convince him to come to a screening. The screening turned out to be a technical disaster: reels projected out of order, the wrong gate in the projector. Afterwards, Steven suggested we meet for coffee the next morning, and we were sure we would get a polite, collegial brush off. Instead, he told us he had spoken to his accountant about mortgaging his house to help us finish the film. The accountant had apparently talked him out of that scheme, but Steven adopted us anyway, and stuck with us for months as we continued cutting. We finally raised the finishing funds through a contact of his in France. He was an invaluable and tireless supporter, and a true friend.
Is the climate in which you made Suture very different to the one in which you currently find yourselves working? Looking back on the experience, what do you most recall about the making of the film and its critical and commercial reception?
The whole experience of making and releasing Suture was a series of firsts for us. Reviews, festivals, publicists. Though it didn’t perform well at the box office in the US, we had been to Telluride, Cannes and Sundance. It was all gratifying and fresh, and ultimately it opened doors to people within the industry who were interested in helping us make more movies. Looking back, we can see that we were lucky to have had that first experience within an independent film world that was considerably smaller than today (and friendlier, in a way). No independent film had made $100 million at the box office at that point (or anything even close), so the expectations were lower and the approach to independent filmmakers was, perhaps, less restrictive.
Neither of us had gone to film school or had any real training or apprenticeship in the film business. We had only made two short films when the production began, and so, often, we found ourselves learning how to do things only one step ahead of actually doing them. Sometimes less than a step. But the people we worked with during the making of the film, and the people who helped us get it out into the world, were for the most part incredibly open, generous and collaborative. Looking back on Suture, we find it hard not to remember how much fun we had.
Jason Wood, Artistic Director of Film at HOME, Manchester, will introduce a screening of Suture at the ICA on 7 July 2016.
The soundtrack to John Landis’s much-loved horror comedy inventively subverts the clichés of the genre.
John Landis’s 1981 classic horror film An American Werewolf in London was something of a pet project: the script was written by the director many years before but the studio thought it either too funny or too scary to green light. Following the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), Landis found himself with a carte blanche for his next project. Despite its odd comedy/horror mix An American Werewolf in London became yet another box-office smash. In 1981 it was a film everyone was talking about – particularly horror makeup man Rick Baker’s first-rate gore and the great man-to-wolf transformation scene. Landis and Baker would team up again in 1983 to zombify Michael Jackson in Thriller.
After all these years the inventiveness of the film remains striking. It is clearly in the horror genre and yet sidesteps cliché at every turn, and nowhere more memorably than with the soundtrack. There’s no scary music; instead we get mood music so subtle it is hardly noticeable and handful of pop songs with the word ‘moon’ in the title. All great songs and used with irony and humour.
The film opens with a shot of the moors, but not the foggy storm-battered moors of horror classics. These hills are pleasant and green and lit by a slowly setting sun. These shots are accompanied by the first of the film’s three moon songs, Bobby Vinton’s classy 1963 version of ‘Blue Moon’. It was recorded for his ‘blue’ concept album along with his hit records ‘Blue on Blue’ and of course ‘Blue Velvet’. This smooth, sweet, almost sugary confection stands as a paradigm of American pop music between rock’n’roll and the British invasion. With its lush production complete with subtle tasteful instrumentation and backing vocals whispering ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, this is perhaps the piece of music with the least tension ever to open a horror film.
There is a gap of an hour featuring a visit to a pub, a wolf attack and a few dream sequences before the next song accompanies the young lovers: the werewolf attack survivor and his nurse take a shower to Van Morrison’s 1970 ‘Moondance’. Although less obviously ironic than the other songs its light jazzy swing is certainly at odds with the typical wailing saxophone that usually enhanced such scenes in 1981. The third moon song follows shortly after. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s apocalyptic stomp ‘Bad Moon Rising’ (1969) accompanies our lycanthrope as he spends a weekday afternoon battling boredom (he even tries British daytime television), a strange restlessness and lack of appetite. It is a truly great song and a great stripped-down production with one of the best drum sounds ever recorded, and it is completely at odds with the scene. Boredom never seemed so much fun.
Two more versions of ‘Blue Moon’ follow. Sam Cooke’s unique soulful phrasing plays over the painful transformation scene. And after the heartbreaking ending, the end titles are accompanied by the famous ‘bom-di-di-bom’ of The Marcels’ upbeat doo-wop version. It is now the most famous version of the song written in the mid-30s by show-tune specialists Rodgers and Hart. The joyful ending seems so perfect for a film imbued with the love of making movies. Landis’s career went from strength to strength and many more box-office successes followed. Those subsequent films were tight and entertaining but his love of cinema was never again so obvious.
Viewers with untrained ears might watch Belgian directing team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s dazzling neo-gialloThe Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013) and wonder why Ben Power (Blanck Mass, Fuck Buttons) would be so bold as to want to re-score it. The heady mix of slick psychedelia, early synth and ambient grooves are a perfect fit and certain signature pieces are used repeatedly throughout. However, not one of the compositions was originally scored for the Cattet and Forzani film. Instead they lifted their music straight from the 1970s giallo films that inspire them.
The directors have said they like to assemble their soundtracks as they write their script, embedding the fusion of audio and visual into the early stages of the development process. So it was no doubt an unusual experience to watch their film with Power’s retrofitted score laid over it. Thankfully and unsurprisingly, the new music comes with the Belgian duo’s approval. It features contributions from Stockholm’s Roll The Dice, London’s Helm, Moon Gangs, Phil Julian, Glasgow’s Konx-Om-Pax, and New York’s C. Spencer Yeh, as well as Mr Blanck Mass himself. Each artist was assigned a scene and given the freedom to score it how they wished. Furthermore they were doing this without prior knowledge of what was planned by anyone else. Their combined efforts have come together to form a brooding cinematic morass of electronica. In particular, Helm’s ‘Silencer II’ is a hyper-tense 11-minute epic of suppressed emotion and pent up frustration whereas Moon Gangs’ ‘The Apartment’ or a couple of the C. Spencer Yeh tracks are far less brutal – allowing your fast-beating heart and fragile mind a chance to relax. Note that the shrill attack of Phil Julian’s ‘End Credits’ makes sure there’s a shot of adrenalin for anyone flagging when the film fades to black.
The re-score of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is put out by Death Waltz Records. It’s a double vinyl release, housed inside a 425gsm reverse board jacket and comes in two versions. There’s the ‘exclusive splatter combo’ as Death Waltz’s Spencer Hickman describes it – limited to 500 only worldwide. Not entirely sure what exact colours that means, but it will not be black – that’s reserved for the regular shop version of it.
The East End Film Festival are showing The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears with the brand new score on 10 July at Red Gallery. After the screening there will be DJ sets from Blanck Mass and friends, including Spencer Hickman spinning some rare giallo records of his own.
For more infos about the event and to buy tickets visit the EEFF website.
Bernard Parmegiani (1927-2013) was one the most formidable composers to emerge from Pierre Schaeffer’s music research group the GRM in the 1960s. Parmegiani’s work abounds with a vivacious corporeality. His compositions are extremely animated and dynamic, and the sounds he composes with are especially distinctive for their kinetic physicality and visceral presence. They meld environmental noises and impulses with electronic sounds and enhancements in a way that, as clichéd as it is, can best be described as alchemical. Yes, there is much in the way of transmutation or, to evoke Catholicism, trans-substantiation. A sound event or impulse without discernibly doing so becomes another event or impulse, or becomes redolent of something else, and one starts to question the nature of what one is hearing. One becomes an active listener. It is true acousmatic music. There is also a great sense of humour and a genuine sense of motion in his work. Interestingly, Parmegiani trained to be a mime artist with Jacques Le Coq in the late 1950s.
His album De Natura Sonorum (1975) is the defining musique concrète LP, a masterpiece. Notable for its exquisite timbral richness and dynamic interplay, it is also very percussive and physical. When you hear what sounds like a woodblock being struck it sounds and feels like it’s happening six inches away from your head. Although it is part of the musique concrète canon and was composed in 1975 it still radiates a sense of being sui generis and extra tempus.
Parmegiani was also a prolific composer for television and cinema, working notably with the Polish auteur Walerian Borowczyk. In Daniel Bird’s short documentary Eyes That Listen, he discusses his soundtracks for Borowczyk’s animations: ‘It’s a type of music which on purpose doesn’t exaggerate distance from the sound to the image… what you see and what you hear… is as in real life… when something falls down the chute it falls down… da, da, da…’ I think he’s underplaying just how unique his sounds actually are.
Parmegiani wasn’t the only composer Borowczyk worked with. Indeed, the Polish director was something of a pioneer in using electroacoustic music in animation. In collaboration with animator Jan Lenica, he had already worked with composers like Andrzej Markowski and W?odzimierz Kotoński, both members of the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio. It was after Borowczyk came to France in 1959 that he started working with Parmegiani on a number of films, including the macabre 12-minute animation Les jeux des anges (1964).
Perhaps Parmegiani’s most widely heard but little known work is the ident for announcements at one of Paris’ major airports, Indicatif – Aéroport Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle. This stunning, glistening micro-composition is full of mystery and magic and excited the ears of travellers for 34 years between 1971 and 2005.
I met Parmegiani once. It was at a London Musician’s Collective concert at the Institute of Contemporary Art. He was sat drinking wine with his wife, relaxing before he diffused some of his work through a monster sound system. I’d recently released a 20-minute composition on a 3” CD published by the Spanish label Oozebap. I gingerly approached Parmegiani and offered him a copy of the CD. He asked me what was on it and I said ‘It’s a collage…’ He looked back at me doubtfully and said with a slight rising inflection and hint of incredulity, ‘You like collage?’ I don’t recall my reply.
Richard Thomas will be part of a musical response to Walerian Borowczyk’s film scores at Café Oto, London, on 10 June 2014: Octothorpe presents Borowczyk: Mise-en-scène, featuring Aleks Kolkowski + The Dufay Collective (Vivien Ellis, Jon Banks, Paul Bevan & William Lyons) + Secluded Bronte (The Bohman Brothers & Richard Thomas) + short films.
Original title: L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps
Cast: Klaus Tange, Jean-Michel Vovk, Sylvia Camarda, Sam Louwyck
Belgium, France, Luxembourg 2013
French directing duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have developed a style in which they take elements of the giallo and use them to compose intensely sensual cinematic experiences. They made their feature debut with Amer in 2009, a near-experimental exploration of a woman’s troubled psyche set in the south of France. Their follow-up, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, moves north to Brussels and into the obsessive mind of a man looking for his missing wife.
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani talked to Virginie Sélavy at the London Film Festival in October 2013 and told her about using the language of giallo to give audiences a filmic orgasm.
Virginie Sélavy: How do you see the relationship of your films to giallo? Are they homage, distillation, artistic commentary?
Bruno Forzani: Definitely not homage. It’s more that we reinterpret and re-use the giallo language to tell our story.
Hélène Cattet: We use it as a tool, especially because there are strong iconographic elements whose meaning we can subvert, for instance, the figure of the assassin, which is a very striking, shocking figure. We change its meaning so it takes on a personal significance in our story.
You do the same thing with sound: you’ve used extracts from giallo films for your score. It must be difficult to re-use music that was originally composed for something specific in other films. How did you choose the tracks?
BF: Initially most of them were in the script.
HC: They inspired us as we were writing the script.
You mean that as you were writing the script you were thinking about those pieces of music?
BF: Yes, exactly. We want to use music 100% and give it all of its original power, not just compile a jukebox. So we have to find the right balance in relation to a modern film. A couple of the pieces didn’t work because they made the scenes too kitsch. One was the music for the inspector’s story at the beginning, and the other was for the opening credits. As the scene is cut all the time, it interrupted the rise of the melody and it ruined it.
Does the story inspire the music or is it the other way around?
HC: The music inspires the way a sequence develops. It gives us a rhythm, and ideas too. We listen to music as we write, and all of a sudden there’s one track that strikes us, so we play it again and again, and it inspires the rhythm.
BF: And images too.
What is the most remarkable music for you in the film?
BF: ‘Maddalena’. That’s the one when Dan goes inside the walls. It comes from the film Maddalena by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, about a priest who falls in love with a woman, and is lost between faith and passion and doesn’t know which to choose. I was very keen to have this music in the film because it’s representative of a period in Ennio Morricone’s career, and it works with the film’s themes, in relation to fantasy – we hear all these women sighing. There’s also the use of the organ that you find in the music he wrote for Westerns. For me it was the most important music. It was the hardest to get but we managed it in the end.
HC: For me it was the music from the opening credits that we didn’t keep! It was the very first piece we thought of for the film and it had inspired the first drafts. It was from Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. It created the atmosphere there was at the very beginning. We started writing in 2002 and the film was very different then. It was more like a whodunit, and through the years it turned more into a ‘who am I’. The whodunit aspect of Seven Blood-Stained Orchids was really present at first.
The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh also seems to be a major influence.
BF: Yes, completely. The sequence when Barbara explodes on the glass body is like the flashback in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. It’s a scene that really struck me and we tried to magnify it – not to redo it because there’s no point, but to be inspired by it as if we were dreaming it in a different way. And there’s also a note on the bunch of flowers, and it’s the note that Edwige Fenech receives in the film. Sergio Martino’s films are always about vice, fantasy and sado-masochism, so it fit the subject matter perfectly.
Amer, and your contribution to The ABCs of Death, O for Orgasm, even more so, were already concerned with pain and pleasure, and sex and death. What draws you to those themes?
BF: We see the films we make as an experience. We try to give our viewers a filmic orgasm. There is definitely that aspect, to give pleasure to people.
HC: It allows us to approach the story in a sensual, physical way, to play with very strong feelings of attraction and repulsion.
BF: They are two instincts, two impulses, and as we’re trying to do something sensorial, connecting those two impulses strengthens the audience’s involvement in our sensorial experimentation. And audiences are confronted with their own impulses, which they may reject – violence, desire – and that places them in a slightly ambiguous position. For me, a film is not like a motorway, it’s about getting a bit lost among primitive things. We try to play with that, embrace that side of things 100% and not have any moral judgement in there, just connect with the impulse, whether it’s fear or love.
You seem more interested in the sensory experience than in the narrative.
HC: It’s a little as in Amer. We use all of those filmic elements to tell the story. To tell it sensually first, but there is a meaning in the end. The story is told by what is experienced through the sounds and images. We try and convey the ambiguity of a character through stylistic effects. The split screen, for instance, may look nice, but it’s there to actually show something.
BF: We construct the film in two ways. The first is the sensorial way, which corresponds to the first viewing of the film: you experience the film physically, then it sinks in. We wrote the film so it could be seen several times and people would discover different layers each time. We’re very influenced by Satoshi Kon. There are several levels of interpretation in the way he writes, and each time you see one of his films you discover new things. We wrote our film in the same way. We were also strongly influenced by David Lynch when we were teenagers. The first time we saw his films, we didn’t understand them, but the experience of them was very strong. It was a very powerful world. And gradually his films have become clearer and clearer. It’s a similar principle.
There seems to be an intense concern with seeing inside of objects, buildings and bodies in the film.
BF: Yes, there is definitely something obsessive about it. We are obsessed with close-ups, with trying to be very close to the viewers and penetrating them. We want the film to penetrate people. In the sound, we worked a lot on the bass frequencies, because bass goes into you. This film is really obsessed with penetration!
HC: And with intrusion too. That was already the case in Amer.
It’s a very baroque film, with this fascination with surface illusions, with doubles, mirroring and artifice, and of course the luxuriance of motifs.
HC: Yes, completely. That’s how we saw it. We were very inspired by Art Nouveau, and as we live in Brussels there’s a lot of that. We really wanted to film inside those Art Nouveau houses, with all those lavish motifs that fit so well with the labyrinthine aspect that we wanted for the film. It inspired us, not only in the visual motifs, but in the space and the mise en scène too – you get really lost.
Architecture is very important in giallo, but you have really found your own architectural world here. I loved the idea that the building is alive.
BF: For us, the question was always, is the building the main character, or is the main character inside the building? Where is the inside, and where is the outside?
HC: We played with the idea that the building is like a Rubik’s Cube, and the walls move, everything moves, and in the character’s mind something is triggered.
How did you choose the locations for Amer and Strange Colour?
BF: It was very natural. Amer was shot where I grew up in the south of France, on the border with Italy. And we made this one where we met, in the city where we live. So in each case it came from something personal.
It looks like every single shot has been carefully composed, with the same obsessive mindset as your characters. Do you feel there is an obsessive quality to your filmmaking?
HC: That’s the way it was visually, but also sonically, and that was even worse because we had no sounds at all – we shoot without sound – so we had to recreate absolutely everything. So, for instance, things like breathing, things that audiences don’t even notice, but will notice if they’re not there.
How long did it take you to make the film?
BF: All in all, 11 years. We started writing in 2002.
HC: Then we started the preparatory work in 2010.
This film felt closer to O for Orgasm than Amer.
HC: We made O when we were waiting to find out if we’d be able to make Strange Colour. It had been a few years since we’d last shot something, so it was perfect to get back into things. We tested things for Strange Colour in O, things like the slow-motion ghost-camera, so maybe that’s why.
What influenced the title of the film specifically?
HC: It refers to the themes of the film, while being surreal. And it brings to mind The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (aka The Case of the Bloody Iris) and All the Colours of the Dark.
That’s another major reference in the film.
BF: Yes, we use the music from All the Colours of the Dark in the credits. There is a gorgeous nightmare scene in that film. And it’s about a woman who is bored, alone all day while her husband is at work, and our film is like the other side. She goes into this sect to discover pleasure because she has no pleasure with her husband, and our film is a little like…
HC:…the husband’s point de view!
BF: I hadn’t thought of that, but yes, exactly!
Have you thought about how you are going to develop the form you have created with Amer and Strange Colour in the future?
BF: I don’t know. After Amer there were people who said, ‘I don’t know what you can do after this, it can’t be renewed’. But then we made this. It’s the same themes, the same world, but it’s different. There is a third part, but we won’t do it straightaway. We’ll try and do something else in between. We’d like to do something that doesn’t come from us, because this film took so much energy, so much life. And then we’d like to go back to something personal to conclude Amer and Strange Colour.
All the Colours of the Dark ( Tutti i colori del buio) is surely one of the greatest soundtracks ever recorded and a holy grail vinyl for many collectors, yet for some reason Bruno Nicolai still doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves outside of the circle of giallo fans and hardcore soundtrack aficionados. For many years he was the right-hand man to Ennio Morricone and maybe that’s the problem: the wider world sees him in Morricone’s shadow or doesn’t even know the valuable contributions he made to Morricone’s scores before a mysterious falling out left them parting ways on bad terms. They were never reconciled, and sadly Nicolai passed away in 1991.
Although I’m a fan of nearly all of Nicolai’s scores, this one towers over the others. Throughout its runtime it can be jarring, difficult, dreamlike, hallucinatory, and yet it’s always strikingly beautiful. Recorded with the help of Alessandro Alessandroni on sitar and Edda Del Orso on vocals, the score can be split into two distinct sections.
Tracks such as ‘Sabba’ are beat-driven affairs with Alessandroni’s piercing psychedelic sitar almost working against the track, threatening to derail it. Add to this Del Orso’s terrifying wordless screams and moans, which sound out of time and place, and the whole thing almost becomes a car crash of the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ kind. In lesser hands this would be unlistenable. But such is the masterful ear of Nicolai that he manages to focus the whole piece on what is very nearly an uplifting ‘chorus’, and the whole thing eventually makes you want to dance around your room like a lunatic.
And then you have tracks such as ‘Magico Incontro’, which are simply beautiful avant-pop with gorgeous orchestration and wailing vocals. I say ‘simply’ but nothing Nicolai does is simple. There is always something going on under the surface that pulls you back in for multiple listens.
As much as I love this score I had a hard time writing about it. It’s difficult to pin down what makes it great and it’s best experienced through a rumbling sound system where it can almost overpower you. The original goes for big money (if you can even find it ) so kudos to Andy Votel and Finders Keepers for not only releasing it in its original library sleeve but also loaded with extensive liner notes and a poster.
Spencer Hickman is the founder of Death Waltz Recording Company, the leading soundtrack label specialising in horror and cult films. Forthcoming releases include the scores to House of the Devil and City of the Living Dead.
Watch the US original trailer for Tutti i colori del buio:
Abel Ferrara’s 1981 rape-revenge movie Ms.45 is all too often forgotten by film fans. Maybe it’s because, in the UK, it never made it onto the Department of Public Prosecution’s final banned list in the early 80s, like Ferrara’s iconic video nasty Driller Killer (1979). Or maybe it’s because, for exploitation fans, it’s just not as grisly as Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978). What is certain is that Joe Delia’s score has never received any real appreciation outside the context of the film because, up until now, it has never been released.
The Ms.45 LP sleeve artwork by Alice X. Zhang and sleeve notes by composer Joe Delia.
Ms. 45 is the New York tale of Thana (the late Zoë Lund), a mute seamstress who survives not one rape attack, but two: first in the street, and then, when she gets home, a burglar, waiting in her apartment, repeats the ordeal. What follows is a shocking one-woman rampage against all male chauvinists.
Joe Delia started out in music in the late 60s, touring in backing bands for the likes of Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers. In the 70s he studied composition, and got his big break with Ferrara’s first feature, Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976). His career in film and TV now spans almost four decades.
The score of Ms.45 was his third feature-length effort. He had the tough job of jamming out the real sounds of New York, as well as making up for the glaring silence of our mute anti-heroine. For example, down-tuned guitars cling to a racing post-punk rhythm, intensifying the horror as Thana is dragged from the street in the first attack. Whereas, when the burglar points his gun at her, the shrill of a saxophone, like a crazed seagull, pleads: not again, because she can’t. When her transformation into Ms. 45 is complete, Delia subverts this saxophone motif to signify Thana’s rebirth as a woman of vengeance. Her full red lips take centre stage as the music demands you know she’ll no longer be a victim. These dramatic, broad musical tones are complemented by gentler, stripped-down piano compositions.
Everyone who knows this movie knows ‘Dance Party’, and its Liquid Liquid/ESG-type disco-punk groove. On screen a band performs it at a fancy dress party as Thana – in a sexy nun’s habit – bides her time before her final, fatal act of vengeance. [SPOILER] For this climax Delia switches, on the first gun shot, to the haunting Gregorian sounds of ‘Voices’ as Thana shoots every man she finds in her cross hairs at the party – only to be halted when one of her fashionista colleagues (literally) stabs her in the back.
Delia recorded four other tracks for Ms. 45, but they only featured as snippets in the final film. He doesn’t consider these part of the score so they do not appear on the Death Waltz record. However, they are included as digital extras when you buy it, together with two elements tracks – 25 and 45 minutes long – thrown in for good measure.
I have a confession to make. I haven’t seen the movie that this score is taken from. For one reason or another Kiss of the Damned has just eluded me…
I first heard the score when director Xan Cassavetes emailed me asking if I’d like to release it. She sent me the (then unfinished) music and I instantly fell in love with it. I wanted to release it on my label, Death Waltz, but schedule-wise I couldn’t make it work.
Kiss of the Damned is released on DVD in the UK on 27 January 2014 by Eureka Entertainment. Watch the trailer here.
It’s interesting to review this because I have none of the usual markers in place (the piece of music fits this scene perfectly, etc, etc) but this is a record I listen to all the way through, from start to finish, several times a month. Steven Hufsteter (Repo Man) delivers a quite frankly gorgeous, sleazy and sexy music that conjures up blue and orange-lit rooms, writhing bodies on beds viewed through fish tanks and all manner of things you shouldn’t do in public – in fact, Jess Franco would most definitely be using this if he was still alive. It’s beautifully orchestrated and delicate too, with flashes of Bruno Nicolai and Ennio Morricone, and some very cool smokey jazz stylings thrown in there for good measure. This alone is enough to recommend it, but music supervisor Dina Juntila also dropped in tracks from HTRK, Jane Weaver and German punkers Der Fluch, who all add a contemporary edge to the score, bringing it right up to date.
Its inspiration is obvious, of course, but it’s the execution that makes this a step above a simple retro nod to the great masters. The ‘KOTD Love Theme’ has a break so crisp you can imagine Ghostface Killah spitting a verse over it; ‘Vapeur’ stands proudly with any experimental electronica of the 1970s; and ‘Bath of Tears’ is a beautifully down tempo baroque piano piece.
The score works so well as a stand-alone record that I don’t know if I’ll ever see the film. When I listen I conjure up my own images and story, and it is so vivid that I’m not sure anything would live up to it. This is the perfect example of a soundtrack you can listen to without knowing anything about what it accompanies – this is no putdown of the film either; in fact, it’s testament to all the creative talent involved in it.
All in all, Kiss of the Damned is a rare instance of a contemporary score standing proudly with its inspirations and holding its own with very little effort indeed. It also manages to be very fucking cool and aloof doing it.
Spencer Hickman is the founder of Death Waltz Recording Company, the leading soundtrack label specialising in horror and cult films. Forthcoming releases include the scores to Ms. 45 and The House of the Devil.
Johnny Marshall is an awarding-winning, Texas-based sound designer with a background in music, who has worked in the industry for over three decades. His work on Upstream Colour won him the Special Jury Award for Sound Design at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The latest film from the director, actor and composer Shane Carruth, Upstream Colour joins Berberian Sound Studio as an ambitiously cinematic exploration of sound and vision with sound taking on a role as both an on-screen character and off-screen protagonist. The sense of a noise drawing characters on, sounds both heard and unheard and a beautifully hypnotic – and never has hypnotic been more literally applied – score make Upstream Colour one of the richest cinema experiences you’re likely to see this year.
John Bleasdale spoke with Johnny Marshall about what it was like to audition for Shane Carruth, and the process behind the creation of the film’s unique and remarkable sound design.
John Bleasdale: How did you first get involved in the project?
Johnny Marshall: The process of being hired for Upstream Colour was unlike any other project I had ever been involved with. I received a call from producer Casey Gooden who told me about a film he was producing with Shane Carruth. Although Shane and I had never met, I did know him by reputation and was very interested in the possibility of working with him on his second film. Casey proceeded to tell me they were looking for a sound designer for the film as well as a place for Shane to do some ADR, and were considering a number of sound designers and facilities. The unusual part of the process was, for lack of a better term, ’auditioning’ for the role. Casey asked if I’d be willing to take one scene from the film and sound design it in whatever way I deemed appropriate, non gratis. The scene that was shot had no dialogue, so it was wide open for a complete sound design treatment, including atmospheres, full foley coverage, hard effects, etc., as well as some sonic texture beds to underscore the scene. In addition he asked if I’d be willing to let Shane come by and ADR one scene to get a feel for working with me in my facility. I agreed and was told that once they had compiled the scene treatments from all those being considered they would make a decision. A week or so later I received another call from Casey with the news that they wanted me to be the sound designer. The ’audition’ scene treatments for the sound design and the ADR ended up being the actual elements used in the final mix of the film.
Sound is a protagonist in the movie. Did it change your approach knowing that sound was going to be so foregrounded?
That’s a great question. When I began working on the film everyone involved was moving fast to complete a final picture lock, sound design, and temp mix for a Cannes submission. Since the final editing and the sound design were being done simultaneously at separate locations, I was receiving one reel at a time in sequence as each reel was locked. I never read a script and didn’t really know where the film was going when I first started working on it, but I knew there was something very special about Upstream Colour in that not only was the film very ’outside the box’, but also unlike any film I’d ever seen. Consequently I approached the sound design with that in mind. It was more like sound designing from an audience perspective, in that I would receive a reel and emotionally react to it with sound design, not knowing where the next reel would take me. I remember getting occasional calls from Casey saying a new reel was ready and words to the effect of ‘You won’t believe where this one goes!’ Perhaps it was one of those ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ but I don’t think I was ever really cognizant of the foregrounding of the sound until I sat in the Eccles Theatre and watched the film at the Sundance 2013 world premiere.
How did you work with the music? Was this something you had discussions about?
As a whole there were very few discussions about anything during the post audio process. As Shane was concentrating on the final edit and the score, I was left to my own devices to do my work. Although the score was ever evolving during post, I would always receive OMFs with Shane’s music cues, so I always had a sense of the sonic emotional content of each scene. I am very proud of Shane’s musical work on Upstream and think the score is not only phenomenal but proved to be very conducive to the style of sound design I brought to the table.
Did you use much live sound?
As far as location audio I’d say considerably less than in most films. There’s not a great deal of dialogue and a good amount of it was ADR. There were scenes in the hotel and on the trains that were just way too noisy to be cleaned up and used. From a sound design perspective we were able to utilize some great wild audio from the pig farm and the trains.
How did you deal with the dialogue? It seems to be intentionally behind the sound.
Although that’s more of a question for the re-recording mixer at Skywalker, Pete Horner, who did an incredible job on the mix, I know that the opening lines of dialogue in the film between the boys and the thief were intentionally pulled back in the mix as a creative decision. Shane didn’t feel that those lines needed to be as discernable as other dialogue in the film, and rather be just audible enough to give a sense of what is going on. Aside from that scene I never had a sense the dialogue was intentionally behind the sound per se. That said, I do feel there is a great deal of dynamic range being used in the film, which is one of the many elements of Pete Horner’s mix that I really love.
What was the nature of your collaboration with Shane Carruth?
Interesting that you would ask that, since overall there wasn’t a great deal of actual collaboration between Shane and me during the sound design process. I have a sense that after my ’audition’ scene Shane felt we were both on the same page as to the sonic direction of the film and subsequently left me to do my part unsupervised while he concentrated on his. He did, however, give me a bit of direction on one scene where the Sampler places speakers on the ground and plays a cassette tape to the worms. Shane asked me to create a low frequency, pulsating sound-design treatment that would be playing from the tape, through the speakers, and into the ground. With that I created something I thought worked for the scene, Shane approved it, and I moved on. In the final mix Pete added some reverb and delays into the surround channels which really brought that sound design element to life.
Could you say something about the character of the ‘Sampler’, who is in effect a sound designer? Was his practice informed by your own?
When I tell someone I was the sound designer for Upstream Colour I sometimes get this look like ’Wow, you look a lot taller and thinner on screen’ and I’m like ’No, wait, I’m the sound designer ‘on’ Upstream Colour, not the sound designer ‘in’ Upstream Colour!’
There are many days when what you see the Sampler doing is exactly what I do, that is, walk around with mics and a portable digital recorder to record sounds to use in the films I work on. It’s fun to think that somewhere down the road my grandkids could be watching Upstream Colour and during the scene where Kris (Amy Seimetz) returns to her home after her long ordeal, slowly pushes open the front door, it creaks, hits the wall and their mom or dad could say ’Hey kids, what you just heard was the creaky front door of the house we grew up in!
Interview by John Bleasdale
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews