Tag Archives: Tangerine Dream

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten original scores from Tangerine Dream

The 80’s are coming back in a big way within film and television and with them comes the always awesome sonic synth sounds of that era. One of the pioneering musical influences and inspirations in this movement is German electronic group Tangerine Dream, consisting of group members Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger and a whole host of others who contributed over the years. They literally have hundreds of albums due to the simple fact that they loved to experiment with sound and release all sorts of eclectic material, first on tactile vinyl and these days strewn across the internet like hidden treasure. They also worked heavily in film, lending their pulsating, ethereal, gorgeous and incomparable aesthetic to many genre cult films throughout the 80’s. They are my favourite film composers of all time and it’s hard to pick but I narrowed their work down to ten of my favourite original compositions for film! Enjoy:

10. Rainbow Drive (1990)

This is admittedly an unspectacular film, an L.A. noir starring Robocop’s Peter Weller as one tough cop caught up in your garden variety political conspiracy complete with extortion and murder. The score here is driving, grungy while still airy with just the right hints of menace and murky danger. Favourite track: the moody, slow crawling opening theme.

9. Flashpoint (1984)

Another noirish conspiracy flick, this is set in the New Mexico desert and sees two opportunistic border guards (Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams) run afoul of dark forces headed by a cynically corrupt federal agent (Kurtwood Smith) and apparent ties to the Kennedy assassination. The work here is arid, dusty and atmospheric, accenting the remote, lonely locations well and swelling up portentously when danger looms over the sun n’ sand drenched horizon. Favourite track: Highway Patrol, a clap of rolling backroad thunder that suggests the danger to come.

8. Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985)

This old school fantasy is mostly remembered for a young Tom Cruise as the hero and Tim Curry as evil itself with a demon getup that puts the Devil from Tenacious D to shame. Dream composes a lyrical, melodic playlist here that holds the beautiful imagery and special effects onscreen nicely. Favourite track: ‘Loved By The Sun’, a particularly lovely passage of ambience.

7. William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977)

This fierce, arresting adventure film sees several lowlifes and hard-cases from around the world transporting giant trucks loaded with volatile nitroglycerin through the South American jungle. You can imagine the fun that Dream would have composing this score and they don’t disappoint, their score doesn’t properly kick in until we first see the trucks nearly halfway through the film, but when it does you feel it like a sonic boom. Favourite track: ‘Betrayal’, an intensely affecting, dark hued composition.

6. Michael Mann’s Thief (1981)

The elemental group goes decidedly more urban in Mann’s early career crime masterpiece about an expert safecracker (James Caan) taking one one last heist. The music is moody, dark and nocturnal to suit Mann’s blooming aesthetic we know so well today. Favourite track: ‘Final Confrontation’, a sweeping piece that plays overtop a blisteringly cathartic slow motion shootout and carries over into the end credits with epic grit and grace.

5. Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore and David Keith battle nefarious government forces in this thrilling Stephen King adaptation, made more so by Dream’s rhapsodic score, which suits the supernatural, trippy tone of this story so perfectly. Favourite track: ‘Charley The Kid’, a layered, star speckled composition that has a forceful edge appropriate for the character but also a playful curiosity that reflects her childlike mind.

4. Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988)

A film about a potential nuclear attack on Los Angeles seems like it would have a traditional Hollywood-esque score but this is the brilliant, unconventional cult classic that is Miracle Mile and it greatly benefits from the talents of Dream to make it so. Their proverbial surname fits like a glove here because there is an overall dreamy aura to this nocturnal neon nightmare, I’ve had a few dreams myself about impending, inevitable nuclear or otherwise inflicted disaster, probably why I connect so well with this material. The score may seem counterintuitive but there’s a momentous drive to it and lighter, brisk areas to underscore the very sweet romance at its core. Favourite track: ‘Running Out Of Time, which sets the ‘anything can happen’, pins and needles apprehensive mood just amazingly.

3. Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)

Any hardcore GTA fan knows that the main musical component that everyone looks forward to and remembers are the car radio soundtrack choices, but there’s also original scores deftly layered into the action, missions and cutscenes. Everything from heists to shootouts to plane rides to car chases to boat derby’s and every spectacle in between is outlined here in a California-lite series of compositions that see Dream slightly evolve out of their 80’s synth sensibilities yet still retain the essential soul that says ‘this is our work.’ Favourite track: ‘North Yankton Memories’… because I couldn’t count the amount of times this brilliant piece kicks in the minute I do something naughty, that two star wanted level pops up and the LSPD come careening down the highway after me.

2. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987)

Atmosphere haunts this cult vampire western about a young cowboy (Adrian Pasdar) seduced by a gorgeous waif (Jenny Wright) and swept you in the brutal nomadic lifestyle of her roving clan. Desert sunsets, blood on chrome, choking smoke, hurtling police vehicles and the occasional moment of nocturnal solitude, it’s a rigorous, ravishing aesthetic and Dream gives it their all with an intermittently droning and ariose work. Favourite track: ‘Mae’s Theme’, a low key, hovering piece that accents the tragic nature of her character.

1. Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983)

This film is something of an artifact, hacked to pieces in the editing process by the dipshits at Paramount, causing Mann to disown the film and yank any distribution rights. One day he’ll cool off and we’ll get a decent Blu Ray. It’s a stunning piece of pseudo Lovecraft WWII supernatural horror and one of my favourite films. Dream’s score echoes throughout the halls of this Romanian structure as German soldiers, metaphysical warriors and Jewish historians try and piece together the meaning behind this ancient place. Favourite track: ‘Gloria’, a synth laden piece with orchestral strains and beautiful vocal work, full of mystery and reverence.

-Nate Hill

Flashpoint

What do corrupt Texas border guards, missing cash, a Kennedy assassination conspiracy, buried bones and a long derelict crashed Jeep in the desert have in common? Check out Flashpoint to find out, a dusty, forgotten old 80’s thriller with a dope cast, diabolical story and one kicker of a score by Tangerine Dream that only makes the vast desert of the Southwest seem more eerie, and the dirty deeds done under its sun seem dirtier. Treat Williams is the cocky young hotshot patrolman, Kris Kristofferson his salty superior, and after the discovery of the Jeep and it’s dangerous cargo, they’re embroiled in a scary attempted coverup that includes murder, lies and a careful political smokescreen. It doesn’t help that a greedy fellow colleague (Miguel Ferrer) sets his sights on the cash too, heralding the arrival of Kurtwood Smith’s Carson, a pragmatically evil Fed with big plans for anyone who knows about the discovery. Throw Kevin Conway, Jean Smart, Guy Boyd, Tess Harper, plus Rip Torn as a local sheriff and you’ve got a diamond of a cast. Kristofferson is great as the wily veteran who knows a cautionary tale in the making when he sees it, but Smith steals the show and is downright scary as the worst type of guy to be in that position of power, who isn’t even above arguing the twisted morality of his job. This film is as lost to the sands of time as that Jeep sitting out there in the middle of nowhere, but like the Jeep its waiting to be rediscovered. A powerful morality play, a taut thriller with a killer good script and one certified forgotten gem.

-Nate Hill

Steve De Jarnett’s Miracle Mike

Ever had one of those clammy nightmares where you’re dead sure that some catastrophic disaster is imminent, but are next to powerless to do anything about it, run or escape what’s coming? Steve Dejarnett’s Miracle Mile captures that feeling uncannily well, and is now one of my favourite films for that as well as many other reasons. It’s not that that sensation is pleasant or at all enjoyable to relive outside of a dream, but it’s so hard to tangibly recreate on film that what Miracle Mike achieves is a rare commodity among mood-scapes. The film is disarmingly benign as it opens: a young man (Anthony Edwards) and woman (Mare Winningham) meet and fall in love outside a neon adorned diner in dreamy, pastel hued Los Angeles. They make plans for later that night, and a whimsical note takes hold. We’re treated to some of the most inspired foreshadowing I’ve ever seen involving a pigeon, a lit cigarette and an open power line. As night descends on the Miracle Mile neighbourhood of LA, Edwards finds himself back at the diner when the pay phone outside rings. He answers it, and a frantic voice warns him that nuclear attack is coming to the city in just over an hour. What would you do? Who would you tell? He races right back into the diner and, panicked, informs the rogues gallery of oddballs you’d find at such an establishment after midnight. Naturally they all freak out too, and as soon as that cat is out of the bag, it’s a feverish, mad dash to exit the city before the threat arrives, if indeed it is a credible danger. That’s part of the beauty here; whether or not this is a hoax is not clearly revealed until the absolute last minute of the film, but would you risk not taking it seriously? These characters react in a variety of ways, but Edwards just wants to find that special girl he met earlier when things felt so sunny and full of possibility, to find her and escape together. It’s one of those ‘real time, one night in the crazy city’ films that unfolds over a short period of time but couldn’t be more full of instances, encounters and the kind of strange occurrences only the witching hour has to offer. The romantic angle, usually played to the hilt of melodrama in these kinds of films, is somehow so frank and truthful that we buy it, we care about these two kids and it makes the thought of apocalypse all the more dreadful. For all it’s focus on death and potential destruction, this is a beautiful film that is so full of life and character, a sly cross section of LA’s invisible working class under the nocturnal skies and a bubble gum, eye popping display of colour, design and eccentricity. The cityscape is populated by an ever present cast of brilliantly used character actors including O Lan Jones, Robert Doqui, Kurt Fuller, Mykelti Williamson, Edward Bunker, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Denise Crosby, Kelly Jo Minter, Allen Rosenberg, Earl Boen, Brian Thompson, Peter Berg and a quick but badass cameo from Aliens’s Janette Goldstein, once again waving around a big gun in exuberant fashion. A film needs a good score, and whenever Tangerine Dream is hired to compose, unfiltered magic happens. Their music here is a driving force to the action, an atmospheric lullaby that exudes both beauty and danger in its synth laden, melodic pulse. This is such a unique film, such a deft melting pot of genres that the recipe can’t really be defined as anything but a flavour all it’s own, an experience that makes you feel primal fear while wowing you with cinematography, editing and one shots that practically pull you right into the action. Points also awarded for bravery in pulling off that ending without compromise. The very definition of a forgotten gem, and a film that should be on every shelf.

-Nate Hill

Hoping for resurrection: Michael Mann’s The Keep

It’s a shame that Michael Mann feels the way he does about The Keep, and although I can’t really blame him after the Leatherface worthy hack job the studio inflicted on his original three plus hour cut, it’s a heartbreak and a half that we may never see a director’s version because what is left is still one of the most haunting, beautifully done Lovecraftian horror fever dreams one can find in VHS-land. Based on a brilliant novel by F. Paul Wilson, Mann employs a legion of smoke machines, a troupe of eclectic character actors all cast against type and giving marvellous work, and a drop dead gorgeous original score from Tangerine Dream that remains in my top OST’s to this day. Somewhere deep in the Romanian mountains, a squadron of German soldiers led by weary Captain Woerman (Jurgen Pröchnow) comes a across a tiny hidden village that harbours a dark secret: just beyond the township is a looming, mysterious structure built to keep something locked inside, and has lain dormant for centuries. Their gravest mistake is setting up camp in this unholy basilica, for soon they’ve awoken whatever resides within, and it really wants out. Cue the arrival of sadistic SS officer Kaempffer (a very young Gabriel Byrne) and his Nazi bastard crew, as well as a professor of ancient languages (Ian Mckellan) with his daughter (the late Alberta Watson). Elsewhere in Europe, otherworldly stranger Glaecken (the great Scott Glenn) is stirred by the happenings at the Keep and treks across the war torn continent towards an unknown end. What follows is an entrancing supernatural fusion mixup of old school prosthetic effects, genocide metaphors, lovingly creaky production design and synth music that will scorch your soul. Glenn plays the shadowy warrior better than ever here, with a paranormal gleam in his eyes and the stone-faced, gravel voiced resolve to see his strange quest through to a brutal conclusion. McKellen emotes fiercely both in and out of some well done old age makeup, sometimes almost unrecognizable but always spirited and present. Pröchnow rarely gets non villain roles with depth but this might be his best ever, early in his career too. He turns the Captain into a sorrowful picture of regret and compassion that one doesn’t often see in Hollywood based German army roles from WWII. Watson is a doe eyed beauty whose loss of innocence and discovery of love is portrayed wonderfully by the actress, who sadly passed away long before her time. Byrne is evil incarnate, with a startling cropped haircut that would be right at home in this day and age it seems. Mann favourite Robert Prosky also shows up as a local priest with knowledge of The Keep. Somewhere out there in someone’s garage there lies a full cut of this film, just waiting for an extended Blu Ray transfer, complete with tweaks on sound design (its fuzzy commotion at times), special features and the redemptive treatment that a sterling genre addition like this deserves. There’s so much quality to be found in it, from the alluring atmosphere that’s so thick it finds its way into your dreams after, to the aforementioned Tangerine Dream soundtrack that haunts the film’s visual landscape like an auditory phantasm to the silver and purple hued neon production design, resplendent in its tactile, tangible glory, it stands as a flawed classic with the potential to be so much more, if Mann mans up and makes the effort to give one of his very best efforts that care and time it deserves to rise from the void and soar again. If only. Oh and one more thing: there’s one more scene before the credits that isn’t in the actual cut, but go find it on YouTube because it’s really worth it and adds a lot to the story.

-Nate Hill

Episode 28: Michael Mann’s THIEF with Special Guest FRANCINE SANDERS

FRANCINE POWERCAST

We covered Michael Mann’s 1981 neo noir Chicago crime film, THIEF, that starred James Caan, Tuesday Weld, James Belushi, Dennis Farina, and Willie Nelson.  We’re joined with Frank’s former film professor, Francine Sanders, who teaches classes at Columbia College of Chicago.  Frank took her Studies of the Films of the 1970’s.  Francine teaches film courses at Oakton Community College’s Emeritus Program, and has served on the faculty of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy and Roosevelt University.  Not only is she a published and awarded writer, but she worked for the Chicago Police Department for eight and half years as a civilian investigator for the Office of Professional Standards and helped uncover police torture and corruption under Chicago Police Department’s former Cmdr. Jon Burge.  Francine is a key component for Frank’s love of film, and there wouldn’t be a Podcasting Them Softy (at least from Frank’s end) without her!