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Saturday, January 27, 2024

Film Composers And Me!

Poster. Fair Use.

 Recently I have been buying music in downloads, to add to my  vast CD collection. I have classical, Renaissance, early music, folk of various kinds, which I play when writing, to put me in the mood - for example, Irish music when writing about bushrangers. 

But most inspirational for me in recent years is film music.

Actually, I’ve been a lover of film music from childhood on. When I got a kid brother, he joined me in the love of film music. He still has his double album from the first Star Wars movie, only it’s called The Star Wars. I found myself able to identify a composer when I heard a snippet of music that I hadn’t heard before. I’m not kidding! 

I would be surprised at anyone who didn’t know John Williams, composer of Star Wars, three Harry Potter movies, Jaws and much more, but if you have seen Lost In Space as a child, you heard his music before any of those. In those days his credits showed him as Johnny Williams. 

In the 2000s we got Howard Shore, whose music for the Lord Of The Rings movies was the closest we got to John Williams in style. 

However, in my early years, I was loving the work of Miklos Rosza, a Hungarian composer who came to Hollywood in the 1940s, to score The Thief Of Baghdad, and stayed. Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis were his, as was King Of Kings and El Cid. I’ve even found some of his music was used in the 1950s Adventures Of Superman!

I grew up with the epics and their composers. I loved Alex North’s score for Spartacus, but only later found out he wrote one for 2001: A Space Odyssey, before it was decided to keep the temporary classical music score that was just supposed to give the composer an idea of what they had in mind. I have to admit, however good Alex North’s music was, there is just nothing like the beauty of Thus Spake Zarathustra as the opening theme.

I discovered Ennio Morricone not through the spaghetti westerns for which he is best known, but through a telemovie, Moses Lawgiver, for which he composed tunes I’m still humming to this day. Of course, I also love the more famous tunes. I’ve heard them played by orchestras on YouTube and they are glorious. 

There are so many amazing composers from the earlier years of cinema, such as Elmer Bernstein and Erich Korngold, but we will leave it there for now, because I want to talk about some more recent ones, especially those who have been composing for Marvel films and TV. I’ve bought some to play over and over.

Christophe Beck and Michael Paraskevas wrote a delightful score for Hawkeye, the Christmas themed mini series, in which superhero Hawkeye - archer Clint Barton - has to come out of retirement to help Kate Bishop, a fellow archer who might be killed without it. In the course of the series, we have character themes, but also adapted carols and Nutcracker music. I couldn’t help laughing when the villains’ van drove along to a sinister version of “Dance Of The Sugarplum Fairy”. I discovered that Christophe Beck also wrote for Buffy The Vampire Slayer

In the same show, there were two more composers, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who created a delightful song, “Save The City”, supposedly from a show called Rogers: The Musical. You can see a 37 minute complete version of the show on YouTube. It has half a dozen songs. 

British composer Natalie Holt wrote some gorgeous music for Loki, including a string quintet version of the main theme, and all the music except the main theme, for Obi Wan Kenobi - that was by John Williams, of course. 

I’ve recently discovered Laura Karpman, who did the music for The Marvels, Ms Marvel and What If…? I particularly enjoyed The Marvels, which had some very over the top themes and music to match. One scene had our heroines, Carole Danvers, Kamala Khan and Monica Rambeau arrive on a planet where people communicate in song, so you have a Broadway musical world and they are welcomed with a massive chorus. Carole is actually married to the Prince and has to dress as a Disney Princess and dance with him, singing along, to be able to warn him about the coming villain. 

A totally hilarious scene in that film showed alien kittens chasing down the crew of a space station and swallowing them so the entire crew can be evacuated in one small shuttle. And what was the music here? “Memory” from Cats! Sung by Barbra Streisand. I suppose the composer could have created her own tune here, but this one truly worked. 

The first woman to score a massive superhero movie was Pinar Toprak, who composed the score for Captain Marvel, in which we first met Carole Danvers. 

So, why do I enjoy film music so much? It adds to the story I’m watching and when I play the score by itself, it takes me back to the film. These days, so many film scores are mostly existing songs that don’t require a composer to interpret the story. Sometimes that works, as in 2001, but I mostly prefer those that are created especially to help tell the story. 

What about you? Do you have preferences? A favourite film score or composer? Let me know in the comments. I may consider writing about this theme in the A to Z this year.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Just Finished Reading…The Nubian’s Curse by Barbara Hambly. UK and US, Severn House, 2024


December 1840. Surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January is looking forward to a peaceful holiday with his family. But the arrival of an old friend brings unexpected news - and unexpected danger.

Persephone Jondrette has found Arithmus, a Sudanese man with extraordinary mental abilities who January last saw in France, nearly fifteen years ago, during a ghost-hunting expedition to a haunted chateau. January and his friends survived the experience , but Arithmus' benefactor, the British explorer Deverel Wishart, did not. He was discovered dead one morning, his face twisted in horror, and shortly afterwards Arithmus vanished, never to be seen again.

Did Deverel succumb to the chateau's ghosts - or did Arithmus murder him and run away? January is determined to uncover the truth about the tragic incident from his past, and clear his old friend's name - but even he isn't prepared for what happens next . . .

This is the twentieth novel in the Benjamin January series of historical crime fiction. There are also shorter stories in this universe, self published by the author on Smashwords. Benjamin is an African American living and working in New Orleans in the 1830s and 40s, making his living mostly from music, but also as a sleuth. He has a cop buddy, Abishag Shaw, and a fellow musician friend, Hannibal Sefton, an Irishman with a Stradivarius violin, telling us his family background is more than we might think.

There is still a murder mystery lingering from 1825, and people who were there are in America, still suffering. When the Vicomtesse he knew as opera dancer Persephone Jondrette approaches him, Benjamin agrees to travel to Natchez to see his old friends and find out what happened. Meanwhile, his niece Zizi-Marie is about to get married and there is about to be another murder…

This is one of a number of novels in this series that has flashbacks to Benjamin’s time in France, and we meet his first wife, Ayasha. 

It’s amazing how this series is still going strong, after twenty novels and several short stories and novelettes. I have been thoroughly enjoying all of them. Most of them have historical events in the background and some even have historical figures, such as Edgar Allan Poe(Good Man Friday) and P.T Barnum(House Of The Patriarch). There aren’t any historical figures or events in this one, but the Nubian’s Curse title refers to a scholar who has a manuscript and a goddess figure proving the existence of the Nubian Dynasty of Egypt, something most whites really don’t want to believe. There is also mention of this new thing called chloroform…

If you haven’t read the series, it’s probably best to begin with the first two books, but you don’t need to read all of them in order. They have regular and semi regular characters, but, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, can be read more or less stand alone.

Highly recommended! 

The series is available in both Apple Books and Kindle, also in Kobo, audiobook and print. 

Monday, January 01, 2024

Just Finished Reading … The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett

Here’s my first review for the year! 

This was my Jolabokaflode reading for Christmas Eve 2023, and it was great fun, perfect for Christmas Eve reading.

The Fairway Players, an amateur drama group, are performing their annual Christmas pantomime. This year, it’s Jack And The Beanstalk, and they have managed to borrow a Beanstalk prop from another drama group. Actually, the Fairway Players had performed this show before, about thirty years ago, using the same prop. 

And during this performance, a skeleton in a Santa Claus costume tumbles out of the Beanstalk. 

All this while all sorts of crazy things are going wrong. The plan is to end the show with Santa Claus handing out sweets to the children in the audience, as the company does every year, but the sweets they have ordered turn out to be something else, not remotely suitable for children. 

Mind you, the children in the audience seem to think the show is hilarious, just what they want to see.

The title is based on the fact that they are trying to raise money to fix the roof of the church where they are performing, because it was wrecked by bat poo during their last show. 

The novel is entirely written in emails, text messages and extracts from police interviews. It feels very real, because everyone is slanging off and backstabbing everyone else in the company, whether it’s over getting to play a plum role or over who gets to make the decisions on what plays are chosen. The author has done amateur drama herself, and I suspect she has experienced at least some of this behaviour. 

And meanwhile, they have a skeleton to deal with. Who could have done it? Somehow, that is less important than who gets to play the lead in the next production, or even what the next show is going to be - farce is so out of date…except, maybe, the farce happening around them?

Definitely worth a read, if you enjoy your cosy mysteries funny - which I certainly do. 

The novel is easily available from any good book web site. If you want it in ebook, it’s available in both Apple Books and Kindle. You can also buy it in Audible audiobook.