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Vinyl en Vogue

Commedia Sexy All Italiana

Though the soundtrack music of a film often escapes serious consideration in most formal film criticism, anyone who has made a film and had the luxury of an original soundtrack is well aware of the importance of the music that lends itself to the image. I found this to be particularly true for myself with regards to my last feature, scored by Stephen Mercy. Luckily, with vinyl in vogue again, there are a number of labels issuing the official debuts of soundtracks as well as reissuing established favorites and cult classic soundtracks. The overwhelming majority of these releases is catered to the latter genre of cult films. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the ample opportunities for profit permitted by special and limited editions of novelty items in any collector’s market.

Perhaps the strangest novelty release, that I am aware of, is Commedia Sexy All’ Italiana (published by Mediane Libri in 2007). This is a handsome hardcover book of stills from Italy’s “sexy comedy” genre that also comes with a CD that anthologizes a number of the themes from the most notable of these films such as Bora Bora, Loving Cousins, Prickly Pears, Chaste and Pure, etc. The music is varied, covering a number of genres but always with that distinct Italian sound that those familiar with the Crippled Dick Hot Wax label’s Beat Of Cinecitta Vol. 1-3 will certainly enjoy. Most of the films covered in the book’s single essay by Gordiano Lupi are unavailable in the United States. So this “document” of film stills and musical themes is really the only extensive insight we have into this genre of Italian filmmaking available in English. Though it may not seem essential to the study of Italian cinema or world cinema as a whole, the once enormously popular films referenced in this book speak to a nation during a specific period. Not to mention the role this release could play in expanding the surveys of sexuality in the cinema.

Bobby Beausoleil's Lucifer Rising soundtrack

Another impressive release of this re-issue frenzy is the boxed set The Lucifer Rising Suite: The Music Of Bobby Beausoleil. Released by The Ajna Offensive in 2009 and again in 2013, this release collects not only the final score for Kenneth Anger’s last epic, but also a number of alternate versions and outtakes. The set, pressed on colored vinyl, also includes an in-depth booklet charting the evolution of the Beausoleil score as well as two full color posters of original artwork by the composer. Anyone interested in the history of Lucifer Rising’s production or Kenneth Anger in general will find this release essential. Not only does it do a thorough job of casting the now infamous production of Lucifer Rising, perpetuated by Kenneth Anger and his unauthorized biographer Bill Landis, in a new light, it also dispels the notion that Beausoleil was an opportunistic hack.

A similar package was put together by Blue Jazz Records in 2015 for the release of Kailash. The music contained within this set is composed of solo piano versions of music for the film Kailash (directed by Florian Fricke and Frank Fiedler) and the Popol Vuh versions of the same compositions. This release also anthologized a number of related piano recordings by Fricke made between the sessions for the soundtrack in 1978 and as recently as 1989. So like The Lucifer Rising Suite: The Music Of Bobby Beausoleil, Kailash is a compact history of a musical document and its relationship to the images that inspired it. It is also worth noting that a DVD of Kailash is included in this double album set.

Florian Fricke

Kailash, in the Blue Jazz Records package, pinpoints succinctly the aesthetic exchange at work between filmmaker Werner Herzog and the band responsible for the scores to such films as Aguirre The Wrath Of God, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht and Heart Of Glass. Fricke and Fiedler’s film, Kailash, functions as a meditative travelogue of their pilgrimage to the far east. But their choice of images, and the duration with which they confront us with them, all signify an opening up and expanding of Herzog’s aesthetic treatment of place. In this way Kailash is far more comparable to Herzog’s own Fata Morgana than it is to his more traditionally narrative features. For Fricke and Fiedler the emphasis is the effect of space on man within a context that requires far more in terms of audience participation than Herzog’s own films which are in many respects often hindered in this mode by their narrative which permits a notion of removal in its spectator. Fricke’s compositions, spartan and ethereal, reflect this sense of space and duration, obscuring and abstracting the musical themes that came to define his work with Herzog.

The last release that I think is worth discussing in-depth is the Death Waltz Recording Company release of Joe Delia’s soundtrack to Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 in 2014. Despite the popularity of Ferrara’s film, Delia’s score had never been pressed to vinyl before. Here one can hear the original soundtrack remastered under Delia’s supervision in a clear, crisp mix. This pressing also includes extensive liner notes and comments by Delia, as well as an original poster by Alice X. Zhang. Fans of Ferrara’s work will find all of this to be great fun as well as an excellent tool for dissecting and re-evaluating Ferrara’s first truly successful feature.

Previously I have discussed at length Dagored’s re-issues of Claudio Gizzi’s soundtracks for Paul Morrissey’s films Blood For Dracula and Flesh For Frankenstein. I’m happy to say that Dagored has maintained their output of high quality soundtrack reissues. Similar labels have also put out equally impressive editions. Doxy Cinematic has released the soundtracks to Orson Welles’ The Trial and John Cassavetes’ Too Late Blues while the label Finders Keepers has issued releases of Andrzej Korzynski’s score for Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession and Jean-Bernard Raiteux’s score for Jess Franco’s Les Demons; to name just a few that I have been most excited about.

Ms.45 gatefold

This is not merely a renaissance of sorts solely to be enjoyed by avid record collectors. The information and insights provided by releases such as those mentioned above provide serious and compelling insight into these comparatively obscure films. For the first time, the soundtracks to films are being released with the same care and attention to detail as the films from which they have originated. This affords new frontiers in many respects for the critical discourse surrounding these films. I believe it is essential not to allow such opportunities to slip away (especially when so many pressings are in limited editions).

-Robert Curry

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Claudio Gizzi: A Record Review

This last April Dagored, a record label based out of Florence Italy, re-issued in limited editions the soundtracks of two Paul Morrissey features, Blood For Dracula (1974) and Flesh For Frankenstein (1973).  Dagored has specialized in such releases for some time now, re-issuing a number of soundtracks for cult and exploitation films on prestige vinyl.  Dagored’s treatment of Blood For Dracula and Flesh For Frankenstein is consistent with the high mark of quality they have set.  Blood For Dracula comes in a limited edition of red transparent vinyl while Flesh For Frankenstein comes in a limited edition of red and white colored vinyl with the colors swirled in the pressing.  The jackets for these two releases present some wonderfully restored promotional art.

Flesh For Frankenstein

Despite all of these fancy trappings what is truly deserving of any attention is the music on these two albums.  Composer Claudio Gizzi’s scores for these two films is lush, romantic, and highly expressive.  When taken on their own apart from Morrissey’s images, one begins to appreciate how much Gizzi’s compositions underscore the emotional vitality of these films, punctuating the high-drama at play in Morrissey’s two features that provides the necessary contrast to their superficially “camp-comedy”. Typically Morrissey’s films are categorized and labeled as “camp” or as comedies.  The best examples of Morrissey’s more personal statements on the emotional world of his characters can be found in Mixed Blood (1984), and Beethoven’s Nephew (1985).  Why this component is so buried in the readings of these films can be summed up rather easily, the Andy Warhol brand.  It’s been this brand that sustained Morrissey early in his film career but ultimately damned it to obscurity in the eighties.

Interestingly, Gizzi’s work with Paul Morrissey is a singular phenomenon in Claudio Gizzi’s career.  Gizzi’s reputation and renown is due to his work as an arranger for European pop starts Loretta Goggi, Loy & Altomare, Andrea Antonelli, and Alvaro Guglielmi.  Claudio Gizzi’s work on seven inch recordings in the sixties and seventies seems to have prepared Gizzi for the more involved task of scoring two feature films, but may also explain, by way of the very nature of “pop”, his ability as a composer to play to the emotional subtexts in Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula with such dramatic flare.

Blood For Dracula

All of that said I will admit that these limited pressings are very much suited for collectors, in price and presentation.  But in reviewing this product I hope to have, once again, drawn attention to the work of Paul Morrissey and encouraged a more intelligent conversation about his contribution to the cinema.

-Robert Curry

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The Music Of The Schoolgirl Report

Collecting movie soundtracks is a pastime shared by both film and music aficionados alike.  It’s true that for any collector it is a rare thrill to find something obscure or unique at a reasonable price.   I’ve written in the past about the first vinyl pressing of Chico Hamilton’s score for Sweet Smell Of Success, but now I am going to write about a different kind of movie soundtrack; the “blue” film.

In 1970, Ernst Hofbauer brought Wolfgang C. Hartwig’s book to the screen with Schoolgirl Report Part 1: What Parents Don’t Think Is Possible.  Hartwig’s book followed a trend in West German journalism that was popular in the seventies.  Journalists wrote about the corruption of youth, often interviewing a number of subjects.  This was the case for Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck who published a series of controversial interviews with girls who performed sex acts for heroin in Stern magazine (later made into the Uli Udel film Christiane F.).  Hofbauer’s film adaptation smacks of sleaze, and the stiff two-dimensional performances of soft-core porn movies.  Though the film and its subsequent sequels are easily dismissible, its soundtrack is not.

Like Xavier Cugat in the forties, Wilden combined contrasting styles of music into a hybrid that optimized the mood and content of the film.  Wilden successfully crosses jazz with acid rock in a cabaret vernacular; creating music that is as sexual as it is distinctly German.  Wilden scored not just the first Schoolgirl Report film, but also all of it subsequent sequels, revising his musical aesthetic along the way with the introduction of vocals and a big band sound.

For years Wilden’s music had been unavailable in the U.S., surviving as an obscure “import only” item.  That is until Crippled Dick Hot Wax Records released an anthology of his Schoolgirl Report pieces to CD and collectable vinyl a few years back (they also released the soundtrack to Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos).  Since then, we’ve been very fortunate to have his music readily available.

-Robert Curry

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