Friday, 11 October 2013

KM Show, 14 Oct 2013: 1981

This is the script to my slot in Kevin Markwick's weekly film & music show on Uckfield 105 FM, Mondays at 9pm

Well, this could get confusing, couldn’t it? Kevin is going to talk about 1982 with particular attention to the top ten films in the UK. Me, I’m going to exhaust last week’s year,  1981. In addition I’m also playing catch-up and really need to mention one or two from the decade’s opening year.

So before I get tangled up in a Back To The Future plotline 3 years early, let’s just remind ourselves about a couple of the other big films from 1980. The outstanding releases that dropped off the bottom of the UK list – or were they too far off the top?! -  feature a couple of real crackers, Stanley Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s verismo boxing flick Raging Bull. Both directors use a wide range of extant music. Scorsese’s Italian American-cup runneth over with popular music from the period but also extracts from no fewer than three Mascagni operas, including the familiar Intermezzo from Cavelleria Rusticana over the titles.


Kubrick was determined to use more Ligeti and Pendercki after its success in 2001: A Space Odyssey. However the most memorable music in The Shining is to be found in the spare sonorities of Bela Bartok’s Music for strings, percussion and Celesta to really put the creeps on in the Overlook Hotel.


Whether it was esoteric Hungarian Modernism or a 1930s cylinder recording of Ray Noble’s Orchestra playing ‘It’s All Forgotten Now’, seeing The Shining on its release carried serious bragging rights for the older boys on the school bus.

There was fun to be had in 1980 though. In a unique precursor to the catalogue musicals which now clog up London’s West End, The Blues Brothers served as a vehicle for a jukebox-worth of popular hits. My favourite is the irresistible Everybody Needs Somebody To Love which Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi use to create a crowd frenzy and so evade the law.


There are many reasons to dwell on 1980 and these films are just a few of them. It was also the year in which I first visited a cinema, being taken to Kevin’s Uckfield Picturehouse to see Flash Gordon. It also puts off the inevitable, which is moving on into 1981, generally less good for the movies.

However, if the music for the previous year’s best was co-opted from an existing classical or popular repertory, then there’s some really good original music to be found in 1981’s films. Kevin has already looks at totemic John Williams and experimental Jerry Goldsmith. I really like the Tangerine Dream soundtrack to Michael Mann’s first feature Thief, a broody vehicle for post-Godfather James Caan.  Mann has always been an uncompromisingly stylish director and got the band to produce an album of similarly purposeful music. You can hear some of the Vangelis style synths that popped up in Chariots of Fire, which Kevin also covered last week. Thief has no romance though, only existential sobriety


Probably the most original soundtrack of 1981 wasn’t really music at all. Brian de Palma’s Blow Out is a loose adaptation of Antonioni’s 1966 masterpiece Blow-Up. John Travolta’s sound engineer captures an accident on tape (it’s on camera in the 60s original) and sets a conspiracy thriller in motion. de Palma had Pino Donaggio write music for the film which belongs in the Mantovani-like romance of the previous decade. American critic Pauline Kael famously loved Blow-Out, but, unsurprisingly, I can’t find any explicit reference to this slush anywhere.

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