Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Tragedy, I take straight."

It seems ridiculous for anyone with a blog to say that they don't like the Internet. Obviously, I love the Internet. But there are aspects of it that I have a love/hate relationship with.

In my teens, one of my greatest pleasures was the thrill of the geek hunt. Myself and my friends were obsessive about the stuff we liked - movies, music, comics, books. We would learn about albums we knew we had to hear, comics we should read, movies we must see by reading about them in magazines and books, by seeing references on television. The web was in its infancy then. Our only hope of finding these sacred objects was in actual, old-fashioned physical shops. We trawled Dublin's second-hand record shops, comic shops and book shops. We went to obscure suburban video shops looking for VHS copies of films we needed to see. I used to stay up until ridiculous times to watch and record 50s B-movies and old Westerns off TV. Many of these Quests (that was what we called them, too, in our self-conscious, no-girlfriends way) were resolved in those years. Like 5150. Van Halen's 5150 on vinyl was found in Freebird Records on the Quays for a few quid. 5150 had been extremely hard for us to find on vinyl, for some reason. When we found it, even though only one of my friends wanted it, the three of us shared in the glory of the discovery. Because it promised that all such quests could be ended, that anything could be found.

We heard about a video rental place in the City Centre (in the far reaches of the southern edge of what could realistically be called the City centre, at any rate) above a Dry Cleaners. It was called Metropolis. The name alone suggested a classier operation than most of the Video places we frequented, which bore names like "Fast Forward" and "Hollywood Video".

And Metropolis was the perfect Video shop for us at that time. It stocked copies of arthouse films, hundreds of foreign films I had never heard of, blaxploitation stuff, classic filed certain films by Director. By Director. Imagine. On my first visit I rented "Big Wednesday" and "The Wild Bunch", both of which had eluded us for a long time. Metropolis put an end to a lot of our quests (I still used it when I was studying at University, then one day I dropped in and it was closing down and the owner had sold off most of his stock at silly prices, including all the stuff I would have bought, like "Rolling Thunder" and "Flic", causing me much bitterness).

The internet has killed off the Quest, though. I still go to second-hand shops because I love the unexpected nature of it, the opportunity to come across something I never would have gone in search of, but when I really want something its invariably available online. Back then, one of my friends endured a long-term quest for the first issue of the third Silver Surfer series, by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers. Not hard to find, you might think. But in Dublin in the early 90s, where there were only 3 comic shops and 2 stocked barely any back issues, it was like finding a decent film directed by Michael Bay - impossible. I just checked eBay for the same comic. £7.50, NM.

Now part of me loves that aspect of the Internet. If I want to buy a Mexican or Serbian or Taiwanese film thats unavailable in the UK on DVD, I can do that, and it won't cost the earth. But another part of me hates it, and misses that thrill, the beauty of the hunt, the unparalleled satisfaction at its conclusion. The Internet has made it far too easy for me.

But then occasionally pop culture defies the Internet. Occasionally I can't find something because it doesn't exist, really. Take this, for example: Perhaps my favourite film score of all time is not available in any way that I can find. That would be "Cutter's Way" by Jack Nitzsche. It has never been released on cd, never on cassette, never even on vinyl. Its not on iTunes, I can't find it on Limewire, I don't/can't do Soulseek or another form of downloading. I've got the film on DVD, because its a great film - one of the best of the 1980s - and I can put it on anytime and listen to the music, but I'd rather just have a cd or mp3 of the lot.

Nitzsche was a Composer, arranger, producer and session musician who played a crucial role in the creation of many of the key records of the 1960s. He orchestrated "River Deep, Mountain High" and was the arranger on many of the classic Phil Spector tracks from that decade. He played keyboards on a couple of Rolling Stones albums. He arranged the choral parts on "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and also arranged Buffalo Springfield's "Expecting to Fly" and the Monkees "Porpoise Song" alongside songs for Doris Day, the Turtles, Bobby Darin, the Everly Brothers, Tim Buckley and PJ Proby. He wrote a handful of minor surf instrumentals, as well as the absolutely awesome "The Lonely Surfer" and the hit "Needles & Pins". He began working on soundtracks in the late 60s when his rock connections lead him to score "Head" and "Performance". His success with these assignments lead to work on films like "The Exorcist" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest", and he completed two soundtracks a year during the 1980s, for films like "Cruising", "Starmen" and "Breathless". He won an Oscar in 1982 for Best Song for "Up Where We Belong" from "An Officer and a Gentleman". (Over the last few years, a pair of brilliant compilations of his work as a producer/arranger/composer have been released by Ace : "Hearing Is Believing" (vol 1) and "Hard Workin Man" (vol 2))

"Cutters Way" had been released the previous year to little commercial success. A pitch black adaptation of Newton Thornburg's bleak and cynical noir novel, "Cutter and Bone" it follows a crippled Vietnam veteran (John Heard) and his best friend, a beach bum gigolo (Jeff Bridges) as they attempt to prove that a local politician was responsible for the murder of a young girl. Directed by the exiled Czech Ivan Passer, "Cutters Way" is one of those films from the 80s that is really the last breath of the previous decade. Informed by a world where Watergate and My Lai made the news seem a daily list of acts of official horror and corruption, the doomed characters search for redemption by bringing down an evil they recognise and despise. If the film's climax is not as unbelievably bleak as that of the book, it is still shattering. The script, direction and performances all unite to bring this about. Playing an equal part to any of these elements, however, is Jack Nitzsche.

Nitzsche had a unique approach to instrumentation in his soundtrack work, which is evident to anyone who knows the wonkily off-kilter sound of his "Cuckoo's Nest" score. He liked to utilise obscure, little-heard instruments, and he combined them with orchestrations and rock arrangements to frequently devastating, haunting effect. "Cutters Way" is perhaps the peak of such a trend in his work, and the best thing he ever did in any capacity, I think. There is not a single clip from the film on Youtube, which is an outrage, but heres a clip of the opening credits with their first mournful run-through of the main theme from a Dutch website, and this is part of the accompanying blurb : "The score was written for a quixotic and terrifyingly effective ensemble, comprising glass harmonica, harpsichord, bowed saw and the Armin Family's electric string quartet. Recorded by a then-unknown Daniel Lanois at his Grant Avenue Studios, the sessions for Nitzsche's score introduced Lanois's name to a larger public before Brian Eno entered the picture. Between the cloudiness of a Harry Partch tone poem and a mariachi band's brassy sentimentality, Nitzsche carved a space in which courage, tragedy and suicidal pluck could coexist". I couldn't have said it any better.

As a little bonus, Nitzsche's "The Lonely Surfer" :

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Blogger Beezer B said...

I'm always amazed out how much stuff still isn't available anywhere online.

Film soundtracks still throw up a lot of quests for me. If you want a Japanese soundtrack, even for 80s and 90s films theres a fair chance its never been made available. "Shogun Assasin" was a promo only LP. A lot of 50s Hollywood film soundtracks have never been made available. I think theres still a long way to go before the internet so comprehensive that theres no quests left.

Dyou know DJ Cherrystones? He puts out Psych comps and stuff. Him and I think Andy Votel have been trawling through library records finding all the music the Shaw Bros used in their films so their soundtracks can be reassembled. Crazy.

I got a bunch of quests still on the go. Completing artists back catalogs can still be really hard. Even with ebay and Musicstack and blogs.

2:29 pm  
Blogger David N said...

Soundtracks are definitely the worst for me. So many soundtracks for major films unavailable, or never available. Its criminal.

1:01 am  

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