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Review by Brad Green:
Shame on those egocentric cinematographers – allowing their turgid images to distract attention from a film’s main purpose. Surely it’s time for DOPs to start appreciating the rightful place of pictures in the cinematic scheme. Not that there’s any need for them to feel irrelevant. A little less self-indulgence, and a movie’s visual elements can do worthy service supporting and embellishing the all-important soundtrack.

Putting aside the facetiousness, I have never been a subscriber to the notion that scores should be seen and not heard – that an audience’s conscious awareness of the music in a film signifies a score’s failure; or that a soundtrack’s raison d’etre is inevitably to amplify the images. The truth of the matter is, of course, that music plays very different roles in different films. Somewhere between indispensable star turns in films as diverse as Chariots of Fire and Star Wars, and purposeful sparsity in Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre, lies the potential for great, notable music (as distinct from well-crafted, serviceable music) to add an extra-dimension to films that are already powerful in other respects. Shrewd directors like Peter Weir and Francis Ford Coppola have allowed exceptional music to carry scenes in some of cinema’s finest achievements: Gallipoli, Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Godfather Trilogy. 

So plenty of kudos to whoever titled this compilation of Australian-composed film music. The fact that a particular piece of music might have been inspired by image or screenplay doesn’t mean it can’t be appreciated in its own right. In fact, some of these tracks are credited as “cinematic moods”, which I gather means they aren’t grabbed from scores at all; they just sound like they might have been. 

One advantage of this kind of anthology is the automatic culling of the subliminal, ambient and repetitive elements that prevent many soundtracks from working as stand alone entities. A prime example is the selection from Paul Kelly’s Lantana score. Although the music was highly effective in the film, the simple chord progression over which guitar, piano and rhythm section doodle ad infinitum simply doesn’t develop enough to work as an album. Here we can breathe in the atmosphere and comfortably exhale by the time the track concludes.

The CD also includes a couple of re-harvested pearls that make you long for the whole necklace. Although its fauna might have informed his theories, I doubt Charles Darwin ever spied quite as extraordinary a creature on the Galapagos Islands as Australia’s own Galapagos Duck. In this selection from The Removalists soundtrack, they serve up a funky compost of rhythm, riffs and inspired drum breaks: just the sort of thing that might have fomented the primordial soup into the cosmic spin of evolution. The wah-guitar places the piece squarely in the 1970s but the musicianship is timeless. 

There are also a lot of groove-style cues here from lesser known artists. These have glossy production and some clever ideas, but they do begin to settle into lounge ambience after a while. On the other hand, August by the string quartet FourPlay sounds as fresh and energetic as anything offered by their electrified neighbours. This is a composition to make the great Michael Nyman battle a bout of envy. A Nyman-esq semiquaver pulse marches relentlessly, while fascinating contra-bass lines are plucked below and violin soars above. It shares the honours as the CD highlight with the intriguing In The Car by the ever-brilliant Paul Grabowsky. 

Other worthy mentions include a short but suspenseful burst of strings and explosive keys in the aptly titled opening track, Prelude, by Barry Hales; and Coda’s La Chasse which has enough variety in its swelling, overlaid strings to stand out from the other “groove” tracks. 

So there’s plenty of good value here and perhaps a valuable lesson as well. The next time you find yourself 20 minutes into a cinematic turkey, wondering why you spent good money to sit in a darkened theatre and be assailed by some cretinous creation of a depraved director (and assessing how you can discreetly extricate yourself without leaving behind your gigantically-sized and titanically-priced popcorn and Coke), pause a moment. Close your eyes. You just might get your money’s worth from the music. 

Published February 13, 2003

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TITLE: Silent Soundtracks
ID: 330970 000436
Undercover Music/Groovescooter
ARTISTS/COMPOSERS: Barry Hales; Coda; Wanderlust; Galapagos Duck; FourPlay; Majella O’Shea; The Necks; Soma; Amphibian; Single Gun Theory; Paul Grabowsky; Prop; All India Radio; Don Meers; Paul Kelly; Cam Mackellar

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