2018 September 24 • Monday

The 536th Soundtrack of the Week is Thriller 2, the second superb re-recording of Jerry Goldsmith's music from the television show Thriller, brought to life by conductor Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

On the CD are thirteen tracks of music from six episodes of the show, each episodes getting a longish suite of cues in addition to a "Prologue/Roll Call" and, in one case, a nocturne for violin and piano.

The sound quality is absolutely stunning, as with all the Tadlow releases, and the performance itself is brilliant.

"There are obsessively repeating guitar and piano strikes, tape delays, saxophone that comes barreling out of nowhere, strange wordless vocals, looped figures, numerous layers and textures.."God Grante That She Lye Stille" has the flute as its main voice and there are moments that might remind you of Lalo Schifrin.

The arrangement of the suite itself has a definite dramatic shape and pull and is mesmerizing to listen to.

"The Bride Who Died Twice" also makes a lot of use of the flute but this time there's a lot of accompaniment from acoustic guitar and percussion and the feel is more exotic, eerier, with more space.

Prepared piano, energetic percussion and modern figures alternating kick off the prologue and roll call, which ends with a more relaxed and melodic statement.

The suite begins mysteriously with percussion and bells and proceeds to tenser, spikier places, making welcome use of the harp and reminding me of some of my favorite Masaru Sato cues.

"The Weird Tailor" uses what sounds like bowed basses and celli with piano and overblown flute to create an atmosphere of suspense and dread. The suite has a lovely romantic section, an excruciatingly gentle and pretty cue surrounded by sonic menace.

“Masquerade" begins in a restrained fashion, with some horn and harp writing that sounds a bit like Herrmann. Harp and horns continue to tell a lot of the story in the suite, as does the flute, perhaps the most important instrument overall here. Again there are touches of what sounds like exotica, and of course always tension and excitement.

For "The Terror in Teakwood", we start with dissonance and space, with modern stings and pounces. The suite makes a lot of use of the lower register for all the instruments, like subterranean clouds. The percussion sounds are particularly effective, and some of them sound like fast scrapes on the piano strings.

The disc ends with the very lyrical and moving "Teakwood Nocturne for Violin and Piano", showing that Jerry Goldsmith could do classical just as sell as modern.

These re-recordings of music from Thriller are perfect and exactly the kind of thing that we should be seeing more of.
2018 September 21 • Friday

The comics medium often seems at its best when dealing with subjects otherwise found in history books or biographies or any other kind of reference book or text book.

The number of ways writers and artists can create and assemble words and pictures together on pages has enormous potential, and lucky for us, people are tapping into it.

Economix was one such book, being an extremely informative and illuminating guide to economic history and the recent global financial crisis whose effects have not yet vanished.

With a similar title and tackling even more daunting subject matter is Logicomix, a brilliant presentation of, more or less, the life of Bertrand Russell and the ideas (from the worlds of mathematics, logic, philosophy, etc.) and people (Wittgenstein, Gödel, et al.) woven into his story.

The writing is credited to Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitrou and the art to Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna. In a book like this I imagine everybody to be contributing to everything and the creators themselves are part of the story.

There are two framing devices, one being Bertrand Russell giving a lecture to an audience that incldues anti-war protestors who want Russell to sign on to their campaign that the United States not enter World War 2. (Russell was a pacifist who was jailed for his opposition to World War 1.)

The other is the creators themselves, as they discuss the book they're making and argue among themselves about details and directions, serving sometimes as annotations, others as a Greek chorus, a theme that's developed at the end of the book as the Oresteia is used as an epilogue.

Right away I felt that I was in extremely capable hands. This panel was my first clue.

Here you have one of the writers confessing that he needs someone to help him find his way through this territory. And in the right corner you see a backpacker, studying a map. We all need help finding our way sometimes.

Maps themselves are also a theme that returns and becomes important to the story. Having it foreshadowed like this (assuming that it was intentional, as I do) is a great touch.

Elsewhere the combination of word and image are used as simply, elegantly and impressively as a pirouette.

A book like this can't get to everything, of course. Russell's second wife was a very interesting person but not much of a presence here. She probably needs her own book.

But the creators fearlessy dive into very complicated ideas that people spent decades smashing their brains against and manage to convey—I think!—what they're about and why they were considered so important to these specialists.

More relatable and accessible is Russell's personal life, his sad marriages and the plight of his children. More uplifting is his consistent stance against war, the ultimate irrationality.

Apparently this book was a bestseller. It took me years to get around to reading it but I'm very glad I did.


2018 September 19 • Wednesday

On the way to picking up some more Dan J. Marlowe titles, I came across a whole book about him! Charles Kelly's Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe is the kind of very specific reference book that I love, an attempt to discover, arrange and present all the relevant information about a not especially well known author.

The first line is "The headaches seemed to well up from the green hell enveloping him, pounding pain emerging from the sticky heat pungent with saw grass, moss, cypress and brackish water".

Right away we're off in new territory. I didn't know that Marlowe suffered these headaches and that they led to eventual amnesia, most likely the result of a stroke. This almost gives him the chance to enact one of his own novels, Never Die Twice, about an amnesiac, though the parallel pretty much ends there.

Another revelation was his long relationship with convicted bankrobber Al Nussbaum, who got in touch with Marlowe after being impressed with The Name of the Game Is Death, the first in a long-running series about a bank robber eventually known as Earl Drake.

Nussbaum and Marlowe traded practical advice, about crime and writingm respectively, and Marlowe helped Nussbaum to get published and paroled.

Later in life Nussbaum returned the favor, helping the amnesia-stricken Marlowe to write and publish again. The two even lived together in Los Angeles.

Kelly relates the characters and their settings very well and does an excellent job conveying the texture of Marlowe's life: his work, his politics, his sexual activities and turn-ons, his friendships and travels. It's a better biography than most, despite the limited amount of information that can be known.

Sometimes Kelly has to take a guess at the title of a story or pick between two conflicting accounts of an event and he's always upfront about his sources and decisions.

As a book that's a window onto an extinct species of professional writing and one of its more interesting practitioners, Kelly's must be one of the best.


2018 September 17 • Monday

Joe Greene’s music for On Her Bed of Roses, apparently also known as Psychedelic Sexualis, based on Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, is the 535th Soundtrack of the Week.

The record opens with a full blast of some of the most exciting, forward-looking and avantgarde music I’ve ever heard composed for a score.

How to describe it? The liner notes indicate that the first fourteen minutes of the movie have music but no dialogue and Greene apparently felt that a strong impression and some very strange moods and atmospheres were needed.

There are obsessively repeating guitar and piano strikes, tape delays, saxophone that comes barreling out of nowhere, strange wordless vocals, looped figures, numerous layers and textures...

That mostly describes the first track, “Main Title & Walk to Hell”.

Things get even more interesting as the record proceeds to “Walk to Hell—Destruction”. Here Greene combines the aforementioned techniques with abrupt cuts between different musical ideas and genres. It very much seems to anticipate John Zorn pieces such as “Spillane” and “Godard” and, as electric guitar, cello and drums come to play more important roles and country and jazz idioms recur, particularly the Zorn-arranged Bill Frisell piece “Hard Plains Drifter”.

After all this comes “Rose Theme”, a lush and romantic piece of music that suggests swelling passion and stirring emotions. Near the end it lightens up and sways a bit.

The album side concludes with “Melissa Pensive”, a lovely theme handled mostly by flute backed by electric guitar and what sounds like glockenspiel or some similar instrument.

Side Two opens with “Melissa Glad”, a pleasant and breezy jazz swinger that continues the theme heard previously in “Melissa Pensive”, though with a much different feel, as you might expect.

“Mother’s Blues” starts out with just saxophone, electric guitar and bass. The drums come in only when the tune changes to a different section and the addition of percussion is very dramatic. There’s also a great guitar solo. I’d love to know who’s playing here. The notes and the tone are great.

After this comes what sounds like the same combo playing “The Boozer”, an uptempo number with unusual chord changes and some great and frantic and even skronky guitar playing. Unexpectedly there’s the addition of piano and what sounds like xylophone. It’s a really interesting piece, high energy and off kilter.

The record closes with “The Bar Fly”, a jazz waltz with a drunken edge and a lurching sort of feel to it.

The music throughout benefits from very strong ideas that sound ahead o f their time. I imagine that Joe Greene took some risks with his compositions and arrangements and the musicians fearlessly went all the way with him.
2018 September 14 • Friday

Here's another ephemeral item, Metallurgy and Wheels: The Story of Men, Metals and Motors by Technical Data Department of the General Motors Research Laboratories Division, published in 1938.

There are "Other Booklets of a Similar Nature" advertised in the back and they include Electricity and Wheels, Optics and Wheels and Chemistry and Wheels.

The cover alone was enough for me to risk five dollars on it.

Inside I found some dynamic illustrations that are like a cross between woodcuts and Charles Burns.


2018 September 12 • Wednesday

Here's another bit of ephemera from Oceans of Books by the Sea: Driver and Pedestrian Responsibilities, the second in a series of five "Sportmanslike Driving" books printed by the American Automobile Association. This is from 1936.

A quick perusal seems to reveal a lot of sound advice mixed with some colorful observations of human nature.
With his normal psychological make-up, the baby would make the worst possible driver. He would consider nothing but his own interests and immediate desires.

The babyish adult makes a miserable driver for the same reason. He has never outgrown his babyish egotism. Sometimes this is not his own fault. He may have had the kind of training that makes a grown person act like a baby. But if he realizes his own infantile egotism, it may not be too late for him to acquire a social point of view.


Realizing one's own infantile egotism doesn't seem to be a popular idea these days. Was it ever?

The theme is picked up later, when they discuss "The Show-off".

Like the egotist, the man who shows off discloses that he has never properly grown up. He has never managed, no matter what his age, to get both feet on the ground and to see himself in his proper place among men and women. He is exactly like the child who enjoys dangling his lolly-pop in other children's faces! He is unduly competitive and boastful. Often he is suffering from a half-recognized sense of inferiority which he is trying to cover up by false appearance of superiority.


There's a vivid metaphorical illustration for warding off traffic accidents.

And an even more vivid illustration of how centrifugal force can work on a car, trading in illustration for either photo montage or a blend of photography and illustration.

And finally and perhaps most touchingly, near the end of the book comes a hand alteration of one of the illustrated figures. Was this done by a high-school student in 1936?

The illustrations are by "Mrs Iris B. Johnson", perhaps the Iris Beatty Johnson who illustrated the Ginnie and Geneva books.
2018 September 10 • Monday

It was my birthday last month and for a present I bought myself a collection of soundtrack music by Edward Artemiev.

My friend Mikael told me about it and after mulling it over I decided to go for it, which meant wiring money to a Russian bank and hoping for the best!

It took maybe about two weeks but eventually a package with many Russian stamps on it showed up here and inside was an 11-CD box set. It seems to be a limited edition of a thousand copies and I got #425.

So onto the music! The 534th Soundtrack of the Week is Edward Artemiev's score for The Detective.

The opening and end credits both make use of a dual-electric guitar line, in a funky, percussive, wah-wah sort of way that should immediately make you think of the 1970s.

On top of this, though, is a soaring and inspirational line for horn that changes the character of the piece as soon as it enters.

"A Forest Park" is a melody with some similarities to the credits music but it's handled by acoustic guitar and flute with some textures and backing provided by what sounds like a synthesizer.

This is followed by "Lyrical Theme with Variations", which lives up to its title as it presents different arrangements with different feels of the same composition, one in waltz time, one in 6/8, one very open yet cloudy and so on.

My favorite cue is probably "The Bog", which seems influenced by early-'70s Miles Davis and is a slow-burning, slinky, funky piece of music with some very nice sonic textures, particularly a fuzz guitar sound.

"A Dream" makes use of a vocal chorus intoning wordlessly and sliding notes up and down to create an eerie and otherworldly atmosphere.

This is followed by "A Nightmare" with flute and another wind instrument handling the melody while a staccato keyboard instrument recalls the score to The In-Laws and snare drum and some other instruments fleshing out the piece. It ends with an unexpected organ and drums entrance.

"A Drive" is another interesting mixture of tones and textures, drums and electric guitars and organ and synthesizer all simmering together and creating another moody funk piece.

After this comes the placid "The Watcher's House", which is almost all solo flute, with a bit of support from some other instruments. It's a very lonely sounding cue.

The last cue presented here from this movie is "Tricks", which is another funky one, a bit more up tempo and straightforward with electric bass guitar or tuned-down electric guitar taking the lead. This is similar to some of Goblin's work and is likely to please fans of that.


2018 September 07 • Friday

A funny thing happened to me on the way to middle age. I appear to have abandoned the whole "so bad it's good" approach to things.

There's almost always something good in a movie even if the movie itself is bad. And if it's really, really bad, I'll just stop watching it.

But appreciation of so-called camp value no longer exists for me, except perhaps for some trace elements still lurking in my system.

What I love about Mystery Science Theater 3000, for instance, is how they re-write the movie to make it funny. They could do this with any movie. Way back when, they gave their treatment to movies that were nominated for Academy Awards, and were just as funny as they were with any obscure, low-budget, drive-in trash.

Which is why I wasn't flabbergasted or howling with laughter when I sat down to watch Godmonster of Indian Flats.

It'sa movie about a giant sheep monster and admittedly there isn't much to work with as far as the monster effects go, but the story and characters are good and the movie consistently delivers great images. This shot of a fortune teller, for instance, is beautifully composed.

One of the appeals of movies is the virtual travel element and Godmonster of Indian Flats delivers in a big way, bringing the viewer to 1973 Nevada and an orgy of local color.

Those folks are drinking Olypmia beer, a regional lager once brewed in Tumwater, WA, not far from Olympia. Apparently this beer still exists but, according to Wikipedia, is "contract brewed by MillersCoors in Southern California".

We also get a look at the Bonanza Days celebration.

But my favorite bit has to be this bachelor pad set with its reel to reel tape machine that's either mounted on the wall or sitting on its own dedicated shelf.

That guy has to have been a proto-hipster.


2018 September 05 • Wednesday

A couple of months ago on Cape Cod I picked up one of Dan J. Marlowe's "Drake" novels and was so taken with the opening paragraph that I anticipated paying some attention to Marlowe in the near future. I had read a few of his books back in the 1990s and didn't remember much about them.

The place to start seemed to be a return to the origin of the Drake series, The Name of the Game Is Death, which had been reprinted as part of Vintage's Black Lizard line and is thus fairly easy to find.

Conveniently enough I found a used copy on Cape Cod when I was there again a few weeks ago.

The Vintage edition has a terrible cover. It could be improved tremendously simply by removing the photograph and not replacing it with anything.

The original Gold Medal cover is quite nice, as Gold Medal covers tend to be. It also depicts a scene from the book.

After reading it again, I was extremely impressed. It's pretty much a perfect hardboiled crime novel, following a professional criminal as he improvises in the aftermath of a bank robbery gone wrong, while cutting back to his childhood and young adult years so we see where he came from and some of the events that formed him.

He kills without remorse. He does pretty much everything without remorse. As a child he encountered cruelty and corruption and abuse of power and in each case hit back at it as hard as he could and suffered massive pain and abuse in retaliation.

All of that just made him harder.

He loves animals, though, and they love him. The defining moment of his early life concerned a kitten and in the adult thread of his story, a dog plays a major role. (He's about to murder the person who hurt the dog but stops himself because it's too risky a move in the game he's playing.)

A quick trip to Wikipedia shows that Marlowe had an interesting life which included a friendship with an actual bank robber, which presumably informed some of the details in this book, such as the main character's having got useful information from subscribing to "Banking, the Journal of the American Banking Association".

There was a time when the most common advice parents gave to their children was to have both a skill and a trade. The protagonist of The Name of the Game Is Death indeed has both, his skill being robbing banks and shooting guns—he's an ace shot—and his trade being, unexpectedly, tree surgeon.

It's another nice detail, the kind of thing that really animates a book like this. After his one and only time in jail, Drake, as he's not called in this book but will be called in subsequent ones, worked in a lumber camp in the Pacific Northwest. "The work damn near killed me at first, but I grew to like it. When I came out of there I could handle a crosscut saw and a double-bitted axe with the best of them, and I could do things with a handgun people pay admission to see."

And this man likes guns better than anything, better than sex or money or gambling, all things he spends a lot of time with. It's his real turn-on but he's also an artist and a craftsman, not an addict or thrill-crazed trigger-puller.

It's a crime novel, a mystery, a vicious coming of age story, a delivery system for action, violence, sex and sadism. And also a story of someone who gives up on justice after colliding with cruelty and corruption, yet who retains some compassion, particularly for the true innocent creatures of the animal world. It has everything!

The first line is "From the back seat of the Olds I could see the kid's cotton gloves flash white on the steering wheel as he swung off Van Buren onto Central Avenue".
2018 September 03 • Monday

Most horror movies wouldn't work without a lot of help from their music. Psycho and Suspiria are obvious examples and when I recently re-watched The Shining I was struck by how much the music does in that movie.

Another case in point is The Changeling, whose score, mostly by Ken Wannberg and Rick Wilkins, is our 533rd Soundtrack of the Week.

The movie is okay. Much of it doesn't really make much sense, as is often the case. And the climax lacks suspense since by that point it's been established that the vengeful spirit can just straight-up murder if it wants to, so if our main characters are still alive, it's because the ghost doesn't want them dead.

It is handsomely photographed, though, and the music is a big part of its watchability.

The score veers from melodic and romantic to pure ghost story menace and suspenseful atmosphere.

Howard Blake contributed some music as well, including a theme that begins one of the main character's compositions and also the tune played by a music box belonging to the ghost.