Archive for March 17th, 2011

Dick Powell is a glutton for punishment. More specifically, Powell’s Philip Marlowe is a glutton for punishment. In the 1944 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farwell, My Lovely, renamed Murder, My Sweet, Dick Powell played the part of the famous private detective as if it might be the last acting gig he ever got. He is funny, strangely charming, clumsy and a joy to watch even as he’s repeatedly beaten over the head, drugged, tossed in an insane asylum, and temporarily blinded by gunshot fire. Powell doesn’t simply play Marlowe as the typical tough-guy detective—there was always more to Chandler’s character than that—his version is fully formed; vulnerable, really vulnerable, which makes him more likeable, certainly more sympathetic. Much of the unintended glee in watching this film are Marlowe’s dealings with the somewhat sociopathic nitwit, Moose Malloy played deftly by Mike Mazurki. Moose is all blunt, dumb menace and is constantly annoyed by the wise-cracking Marlowe; his first instinct always violence.  As twisted as the plot can sometimes become, the interplay between these two actors helps to ground the film.

Many consider Humphrey Bogart’s take on the seminal literary figure in Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep to be the best rendition of Marlowe (Elliott Gould’s turn as Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is certainly odd, not bad, just odd), but Dick Powell is my personal favorite; his reverence for the hardboiled dialogue comes through in every scene and really, truly, he looks and acts the part. In my mind, this is Marlowe, sinking into the seedy shadows of old Los Angeles, waiting for the next case to walk through the door.

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Purveyors of the sinister. Raconteurs of the strange. Crawling, twisting music that threatens to make its way into my nightmares, lying in wait for me each time I return. The Italian prog-rock band, Goblin made a name for themselves scoring many Italian movies, but it was Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and George Romero’s international version of Dawn of the Dead, Zombi  (1978) that accounted for some of their most inspired work.

The soundtrack to Suspiria was as much a part of that film’s utter feeling of dread as Argento’s colorfully decadent visuals. It  is delirious and bizarre and wonderful and baffling and endlessly listenable. From the opening track, Suspiria—which sets the mood brilliantly—using music box chimes that underpin creepy vocals, a staccato rhythm section and period keyboard flourishes (John Carpenter had to be influenced musically by Goblin), Goblin lays the foundation for a score that is so linked to the film, that one cannot exist without the other. It’s King Crimson gone the way of Ennio Morricone, the wide variety of experimination within this one soundtrack is staggering. The track Blind Concert sounds as if it would fit in nicely with some Grindhouse gem, while Black Forest is haunted by early 70s Bowie. Sighs, in comparison is so brazen in its dissimilarity to the other material on the soundtrack, that I’m not sure what to make if of it; it’s lurid and infectious all at once.

The soundtrack to Zombi develops some of the same musical cues, but reaches even further into other genres than the latter album. The FilmWorks series by composer John Zorn comes to mind, with its sheer variety of genres and its willingness to take chances. The track Zombi is great 70’s chase music, almost clichéd decades later, the undercurrent of stinging keyboards and disturbed layered vocals elevates it beyond the standard. In comparison, Torte in Faccia with it’s Ragtime musical tropes, is so silly so deceptively out-of-place, one can only think of Zombies in fast motion, Keystone Cops style, bashing one another on the heads with brooms, while Zombi (Sexy) is smoky and seductive, music that lingers in the air as you drain a watered-down martini in some crummy 80s lounge. There is less of the creep and more of the camp with Zombi, but the experience is fascinating nonetheless.

Goblin creates ominous mood music to be sure, the stuff of dreams and nightmares.

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