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Salt Lake City Weekly Savoring Soundtracks

Replay your own movies with a little help from their music.

By Mary Dickson

AUGUST 4, 1997: 

SHINE
How can you miss with the soundtrack of Scott Hicks' Oscar-nominated film, inspired by the life and music of Australian piano prodigy David Helfgott? The real David Helfgott actually performs most of the works on the soundtrack, including Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C# Minor," Chopin's "Polonaise in A flat major, Opus 53," "Prelude No. 15," Liszt's "La Campanella," "Sospirao" and "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C# minor," as well as Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee" and Vivaldi's "Gloria and Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera." Also featured are performances of Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Opus 30," the work that sent the young Helfgott careening into madness during a pivotal scene in the film. David Hirschfelder, who acted as musical director and performs several of his own works, composed original music for the film. It's a glorious soundtrack that combines the music of the masters with Hirschfelder's own interpretations.

MADAME BUTTERFLY
American conductor James Conlon conducts the Orchestre de Paris and the Choeurs de Radio France on the soundtrack of Frederick Mitterand's film version of Puccini's classic opera. The 23-year-old Chinese soprano Ying Huang is the ill-fated geisha Cio-Cio-San. Huang, virtually unknown just a few years ago, was born and raised in Shanghai, where she still resides. Lovers of Puccini's sublime opera will delight in Huang's pure coloratura voice. American tenor Richard Troxell sings Lieutenant Pinkerton, Chinese mezzo-soprano Ning Liang is Suzuki and American baritone Richard Cowan is the American consul to Nagasaki. Mitterand, by the way, is the nephew of the late French president.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT
Gabriel Yared's absorbing score is every bit as lyrical as the Oscar-winning film for which it was written. Traversing time and terrain as does Anthony Minghella's rhapsodic film, the soundtrack blends Hungarian folk tunes with Baroque themes, Romantic orchestrations and swing era tunes such as Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," performed by Fred Astaire and Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman's renditions of "Wang Wang Blues" and "One o'Clock Jump" and the Shepheard's Hotel Jazz Orchestra's re-creation of "Where or When." Harry Rabinowitz conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with piano soloist John Constable and Hungarian vocalist Marta Sebestyen, the lead singer of a popular Hungarian folk revival group called the Musikas. The result of this eclectic mix is a haunting album you won't soon tire of hearing. Yared is the same composer who wrote the scores for Betty Blue and The Lover. The film opens with Sebestyen's mesmerizing lament as the camera pans the desert from the air. It's easy to mistake the refrain as Arabic, but it's Hungarian. The Musikas version of the traditional song, "Szerlem, Szerlem," ("Love, Love") figures prominently in the score as does the "Aria" from Bach's "Goldberg Variations." You'll recognize it as the piece Juliette Binoche's character plays on the piano in the monastery. Turn out the lights, sit back and let Yared's evocative score conjure all the film's emotions.

GRACE OF MY HEART
Allison Anders' film following one singer/songwriter through the corridors of the famed Brill Building during the doo-wop heyday of the late '50s and '60s features a wealth of original songs written by past and present songwriting teams. Those teams include Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach; Dave Stewart and Carole Bayer Sager; Los Lobos, Gerry Goffin and David Baerwald; Larry Klein and Lesley Gore; and Joni Mitchell and J. Mascis. Musical artists include Shawn Colvin, J. Mascis, Jill Sobule, Flea, the Williams Brothers, Mike Johnson, Juned, For Real, Portrait and Liz Cox. Musician/writer/producer Larry Klein pulled the music together for the film. Songs include "Blues Ain't Nothing but a Woman Crying for Her Man," written by J. Mayo Williams and performed by Wendy Williams; "Hey There," by R. Adler and J. Ross, performed by Kristen Vigard; "I Do," "In Another World," "My Secret Love," "Heartbreak Kid," "Born to Love that Boy," "Unwanted Number," "God Give Me Strength," "Man from Mars" and others. This CD is a guaranteed walk down memory lane.

THE COMMITMENTS
Alan Parker's 1991 film about a band in Dublin turned out one of the best soundtracks in years. Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Dave Finnegan, Branagh Gallagher, Felim Gormley, Glen Hansard, Dick Massey, Kenneth McCluskey, Johnny Murphy and Andrew Strong are the Commitments, who perform everything from "Mustang Sally," to "Try a Little Tenderness" and "Chain of Fools" with such incredible energy, you can't listen and sit still at the same time. Crank up the volume and move.

KANSAS CITY: A ROBERT ALTMAN FILM
Jazz is more than a leading character in Robert Altman's film, it's the film's soul. The soundtrack is filled with current renditions of old swing tunes that symbolize the heyday of jazz back in 1930s Kansas City when jam sessions went all night long and Count Basie, Lester Young and Jimmy Rushing ruled. Robert Altman paid homage to those days by recreating the Hey Hey Club as the setting for his film and bringing together 21 of today's hottest young jazz musicians, like Nicholas Payton, Kevin Mahogany, Geri Allen and others, to stand in for their famous predecessors. The contemporary musicians capture the essence of the music created at the Hey Hey Club. The soundtrack features "Froggy Bottom," with pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, guitarist Mark Whitfield, tenor saxophonists James Carter and Craig Handy. Basie's "Blues in the Dark" features James Carter in the sensational sax solo that was the highlight of the film. The slow blues on "Pagin' the Devil" and "I Left My Baby." Other numbers include "Queer Notions," "Yeah, Man," the romantic ballad, "I Surrender Dear," the melanchology "Lullaby of Leaves" and "Solitude." "Lafayette" and "Moten Swing." Listening to these effortless re-interpretations is like getting a primer on jazz standards.


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