MMM: The Day The Earth Had Vertigo In The Taxi

James here with Movie Music Monday!

I love Bernard Herrmann.  There’s not much more I can say.  I do find it a little odd that he decided to change his physical form and become John Williams, but different strokes for different super-intelligent alien entities, I suppose.

‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ is a classic film, but for me the most impressive aspect will always be the music.  This piece, which helps the film segue along from overture and titles to the flying saucer’s approach, is unforgettable.

I know I’m a stodgy old coot for saying this, but in my learned opinion, composers these days tend to horribly fail at writing music that evokes a specific film.  Never mind that films from earlier eras and their attached composers had the same general problems — that would undermine my premise and prevent me from ranting uselessly.  Like the previous track, this is unforgettable stuff, truly iconic.  Is it derived from previous material?  Yes.  Does it get away with it by elevating the raw material?  Yes.

For a film about psychopathy, ‘Taxi Driver’ has one chill score.  This is classic Americanus Urbanus.  It’s what we called jazz, baby.

Signs

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary: A terrifying but hopeful film that suffers from a cultural divide but benefits from an incredible musical score.

Review:  There are some movies that stick with you.   Little bits of soundtrack, snippets of dialog, memorable images that excited or traumatized you.  Since before I can remember, I’ve had a bit of a problem with aliens; well, the pop culture conception of them as home-invading demons with psychosexual tendencies.  When I first saw Shyamalan’s ‘Signs’, it scared the hell out of me.  It was the sum of all my nightmares.   It didn’t end when the credits rolled; I kept seeing the monsters in my living room and in blank television screens, I heard their voices over my shoulder while that awful, brilliant music heralded their arrival.  ‘Signs’ was nightmare fuel unleaded.

It wasn’t until recently that I began to realize that, even though it has some peculiar flaws, ‘Signs’ is one of my favorite films.   It’s because of the way that M. Night skillfully turns a horror story into an uplifting parable of the divine hand.  It’s my greatest fear and my greatest hope combined.   It still chills me at the right moments, but my newfound affection for it has dimmed the alien monsters in my peripheral vision.

‘Signs’ has a major flaw, a storytelling hiccup that defines the latter half of Shyamalan’s career thus far.   That is, he doesn’t speak the same language as most filmgoers.   He has a distinctly Eastern worldview, one that remembers the power of folklore and allows, in a childlike fashion, for leaps of logic.  A filmmaker risks it all on an audience’s capacity to understand the story he or she tells.   Shyamalan tells stories from another time and place, and doesn’t bother to explain the philosophy; probably because he can’t.  It’s a communication breakdown.  I grew up in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where I breathed in Eastern philosophy along with the incense.   Shyamalan’s storytelling resonates with me.   He speaks a language I’m lucky enough to understand.   Most critics of his work, it seems to me, come from a Western, rationalist background, which values logic and clarity above all else.   The problem with ‘Signs’ is that it’s a Western movie with an Eastern soul, and that disconnect prevents the story from reaching everyone that it could.

The film’s cinematography is superb.   It feels like a Hitchcock film with a more dynamic camera.  The frame bleeds suspense.   But, of course, sound is half the picture; much like Bernard Herrmann’s score for ‘Psycho’ and John Williams’ score for ‘Jaws’, James Newton Howard’s jaw-dropping music is insanely good and exceeds the film’s own quality.  It is equally wonderful and twisted.   The mark of a good score, such as this one, is that it fires the imagination on all cylinders, even without the film.

M. Night Shyamalan has fallen out of vogue, but I’ll always think fondly of his distinct style, and I’ll continue to revisit this film again and again.

James’ Top Five Film Composers

Sound, as the saying goes, is half the picture.  It’s a critical part of any good movie, and I’ve got my list of favorite composers here, once again in no particular order.

Sound good?

John Williams

Unleashing the bald power of music.  (Somebody stop the puns!)

Unleashing the bald power of music. (Somebody stop the puns!)

Here’s the why. Anybody who can write ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Superman’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jaws’ etc. etc. without a serious degradation in awesome is too awesome to degrade.  I’m sure the man is a saint.  God bless him.

Howard Shore

Ssh.  Mr. Shore is listening to the music of the angels.

Ssh. Mr. Shore is listening to the music of the angels.

Here’s the why. Mr. Shore was so kind as to provide us with the operatic and extremely leitmotif-errific ‘The Lord of the Rings’ scores for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the trilogy, but you should listen to it as much as you can, because I’m pretty sure it’s on loan from the seraphim.

Danny Elfman

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Here’s the why. He’s fantastic, and suitably whimsical to enhance the heck out of everything Tim Burton (or anyone else) does.  His ‘Batman’ score is beyond the impossible.

Bernard Herrmann

The dog could be a bomb, and Bernard Herrmann's music could subtly tip you off either way.

The dog could be a bomb, and Bernard Herrmann's music could subtly tip you off either way.

Here’s the why. He was one of the greatest film composers ever to grace our ears, and helped train a young John Williams. Noted for his Hitchcock scores, among many others. Currently a part of a black-on-black ops team of superhero celebrities. R.I.P., Bernard Herrmann.

John Barry

The one on the left, standing trial for knowingly breaking the awesome limit in thirty countries.

The one on the left, standing trial for knowingly breaking the awesome limit in thirty countries.

Here’s the why. He composed 11 out of 22 James Bond soundtracks, and though he may or may not have written the James Bond theme, he’s still well ubiquitous with the secret agent. He’s just an all around master.