Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: 'Kubrick’s Music—Selections from the Films of Stanley Kubrick'


Stanley Kubrick’s work is often more like world’s you visit than movies you watch. The galactic emptiness of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The grimy yet candy-colored near-future dystopia of A Clockwork Orange. The cavernous, ice-encrusted hotel of The Shining. The opulent dream vision of NYC in Eyes Wide Shut. The oil painting landscapes and chiaroscuro interiors of Barry Lyndon. Even the desolate suburbs of Lolita are inhabitable environments that engulf you, shutting out any trace of our real world for two or three hours. Kubrick put an absurd amount of thought into how to best create these fully dimensional worlds visually, but he put a great deal of thought into the sounds swirling between their borders as well. He’d spend hour upon hour researching music, and the fruits of his labors are clear to anyone who cannot separate the visuals of great spacecraft tumbling through the cosmos without hearing “The Blue Danube Waltz” or a tiny car traversing a treacherous path swarmed by foreboding forests without hearing Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s “Dies Irae”.

Much of the music to which Kubrick bestowed additional dimensions can be heard on El Records’ Kubrick’s Music—Selections from the Films of Stanley Kubrick. This set is both fascinating and frustrating. It is frustrating because so many essentials are not present. The Shining’s sprawling soundtrack is largely reduced to the jazz-age tracks Kubrick used to stir the ghosts of the Overlook’s bloody past. “Dies Irae” only appears within Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”, a stirring piece of bombast far removed from The Shining’s brooding tone. Carlos and Elkind’s chilling synth production is not present. The same is true of the synthesized music from A Clockwork Orange: the pieces only appear in traditionally orchestrated versions. While we get an eerie prelude by Ralph Vaughan Williams that Kubrick considered using in the stargate sequence of 2001, we do not get the more transformative and disturbing Ligeti piece he ultimately used in the film. While pop songs are present in the use of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” (Dr. Strangelove), Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” (A Clockwork Orange), and a non-soundtrack song Sue Lyon sang on the B-side of the “Lolita Ya-Ya” single, none of the great pop songs used in Full Metal Jacket appear. In fact, that film, as well as Killer’s Kiss and The Killing, is completely unrepresented.

However, some of these issues also point to one of the more fascinating aspects of Kubrick’s Music since we get to hear much of what inspired Kubrick to use the music he ultimately used, and the inclusion of discarded ideas such as the Ralph Vaughan Williams prelude makes Kubrick’s Music a sort of enlightening look at Kubrick’s musical sketchpad. So while this is hardly a definitive collection of Kubrick soundtracks, it is an educational one, and with such great pieces as John Coltrane’s “Greensleeves”, Nelson Riddle’s “Lolita Ya Ya”,  Rimskey-Korsokav’s “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” (incidentally, a piece shut out of the original Clockwork Orange soundtrack), and several movements from Ludwig Van’s glorious “Ninth”, there is quite a lot of gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh to slooshy, o my brothers.

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