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CD Reviews 9/14/00


The Infernal Trio *** 1/2

ENNIO MORRICONE

Screen Trax CDST 320

14 tracks - 42:35

Ennio Morricone has never exactly followed convention, and for this1974 Francis Girod film, he wrote one of his most unexpected scores. The liner notes describe the film thus: "A lawyer and two German refugee sisters contrive, to make ends meet, to cheat insurance companies through person exchanges until to commit several murders and then melting the bodies of their victims in sulphuric (sic) acid." It sounds like a jolly good barrel of laughs [great translation too]. This new album opens with "Acid and Charm" which is an old-fashioned waltz. (It also features Edda dell'Orso, albeit briefly, adding her touch over the melody.) What follows is simply disturbing: "Rag Nuziale" begins as a piece of ragtime swing, before it develops in to one of the most bizarre, synthesized concoctions Morricone has ever dreamt up. Various layers of peculiar, dashing synths build to create one of the most peculiar sounds imaginable. And in case the listener is not yet scratching his head in pure bewilderment, Morricone does the sensible thing and adds the sound of a woman's orgasmic moans (three minutes into the track, if you're in a hurry).

The most conventional thing in this score is the main theme, first heard in the six-minute third track, a pop-flavored piece more representative of what Morricone was writing at the time. Again, it doesn't exactly conjure up images of lawyers drowning insurance salesmen in sulfuric acid, but it's an enjoyable piece with a hint of mystery. The best cue title is certainly "Sinfonietta - Requiem for Sulphuric (sic) Acid."

This album represents the first time this impressive score has been available on CD. It dispenses with two cues from the original vinyl album (which were composed for a different film in the first place), but more than compensates by adding seven new, previously-unheard cuts (though these are, admittedly, mostly variations on the existing material). Morricone fans will love it, since it sounds like Morricone was actually on acid while writing the music for the acid-drowning scenes -- but to the rest of the world, be warned: Once Upon a Time in America, it ain't! -- James Southall


Running Free ** 1/2

NICOLA PIOVANI

Varese Sarabande 302 066 157 2

16 tracks - 57:18

Nicola Piovani's Running Free isn't the exultant spectacle-fest that one might expect from the film's pedigree (i.e., cowriter-producer Jean-Jacques Annaud); if anything, Piovani's somewhat queasy, drunken-Rota style seems to lend itself more easily to a story with themes of sadness and uncertainty. Those two emotions are what Piovani's music tends to generate, and while the score has its quiet, soft moments ("A Sky Heavy With Sun"), it leans in large parts towards those ambiguous ends.

Give Piovani credit for not leaning heavily on ethnocentric instrumentation for effect; he manages, through straightforward orchestrational techniques, to establish a tone and feel with a more universal quality. What little ethnic material there is is sparsely used, and limited mostly to occasional percussion effects. The seven-minute "Running Free (Main Title)" cue introduces his theme, a wistful little motif that he develops in the Morricone style of constant re-use and development. It proves to be flexible enough, but listeners interested in more variation would be better advised to seek other waters. "Lucky's Long Journey" takes an undulating ostinato for low brass and pushes it into the strings, eventually letting it weave in and out with his main theme, while the brief "A Wide Sky" places the theme against a sprightly guitar backing.

Piovani even stretches out a little with "Lucky's Escape," setting the ostinato from "Lucky's Long Journey" against tense strings and percussion effects. "Friends of the Wilderness" though, treads over more familiar territory, as do "Hoofbeats" and "Richard and Lucky." The album concludes with a music-box-esque take on the main theme with "Running Free," basically another arrangement of earlier material. Fans of this European style of scoring will most certainly eat this up; others in the mood for a little diversity should beware. It's an awfully long haul for so little in the way of development; for its kind, it's not bad, but there's not a tremendous amount going on, and there are few surprises. -- Jason Comerford

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