Tag Archives: soundtrack

Raising ravens

A Spanish drama

I recently had the chance to watch Cría Cuervos (‘Raise Ravens’), a 1976 drama film by Spanish director Carlos Saura. The film, which won the Special Jury Prize Award at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, was shot as Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was lying on his deathbed. While it deals with themes like childhood and loss, one can also find subtle allusions to the contemporary political situation and the changes Spanish society was undergoing at the time.

Cría Cuervos left quite a strong impression on me. As the story unfolds Saura manages to create a miniature, fragile universe of emotional intensity and introspective -almost claustrophobic- atmosphere (most of the film is shot inside a single house).

In the center of this universe lies Ana, the little girl protagonist, played by 8-year-old Ana Torrent whose performance is absolutely mesmerizing. Ana’s father (a general in the Spanish army), her mother and two sisters (together with the rest of the characters in the film) all seem to revolve around her, like planets in orbit that occasionally draw nearer or get farther away from little Ana.

 Jeanette meets Frederic Mompou

The film’s exemplary direction and great performances aside, I was also intrigued by its music. Jeanette’s pop song Porque te vas recurs throughout the movie, adding a bittersweet feeling to the film’s imagery.

What is more, the film’s main music theme is Cançó No.6 in E-flat minor by Catalan composer Frederic Mompou (1893 – 1987), a wonderfully melancholic and haunting piano piece. Originally dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein, it was also a favorite of celebrated Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

PS: The film’s title comes from the Spanish proverb Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos, which literally translates as: “Raise ravens, and they’ll take out your eyes”.

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Theme from an imaginary soundtrack

This is the first recording I’ve made in quite a while. I came up with the main theme (which opens the piece and appears again in the end with a slight variation) several years ago and I started working on it again recently, adding a middle section and arranging the strings.

I always thought of this piece as the background music of some -yet unrealized- film. The title was inspired by Jack Bruce’s Theme for an imaginary western from his wonderful album Songs for a Tailor.

A pianist amidst the ocean

“You’re never really done for, as long as you got a good story and someone to tell it too.”

(Max Tooney in The Legend of 1900)

In his theater monologue Novecento Italian writer Alessandro Baricco gives a fascinating account of the life and times of Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900, a fictional piano wunderkind born on the ocean liner Virginian who was destined never to set foot on land.

Baricco’s relationship with music is intimate (he has published a book on Gioachino Rossini and worked as a music critic for La Repubblica) and his Novecento is a joy to read. I particularly enjoyed his reflections on the nature and limitless possibilities of music making:

“We were playing because the Ocean is vast and scares you, we were playing so that people could forget the passing of time, forget where they were and who they were. We were playing so as to make people dance, because if you dance you feel like God and cannot die. And we were playing ragtime, because that’s the music God dances along when nobody watches.”

“So think now: a piano. Its keys start somewhere. And end somewhere. You know they are eighty-eight, nobody can tell you otherwise. They are not infinite. You are infinite, and so is the music you can make on these keys.”

Baricco’s story was made into a film in 1998 called The Legend of 1900, starring Tim Roth and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. The film’s magnificent soundtrack is composed almost entirely by Ennio Morricone and it contains some truly captivating piano music. Alongside the Italian maestro, Roger Waters also contributed to the film’s soundtrack by performing and writing the lyrics for the piece Lost Boys Calling.

In the story’s  heartbreaking finale, leaving the Virginian and facing the immensity of real life proves too overwhelming for the legendary pianist. Still, his unique music lives on, if only in the memories of all those who were once blessed to be among his audience.

Quintessential Quentin

Regardless of whether you love or hate Quentin Tarantino (there are valid reasons for both), there’s one thing you can always count on when it comes to his films: music.

Tarantino

Tarantino’s use of music is an integral part of his creative process. Much of what’s best in his movies has to do at least as much with what we listen as with what we see. Take for example the “Misirlou” scene from Pulp Fiction or the lap dance scene from Death Proof.

His cooperation with celebrated composer Ennio Morricone has only helped to further enhance the powerful audiovisual effect of Tarantino’s movies. In his latest film Django Unchained one can hear a variety of music genres, however the Maestro’s touch is a crucial one. Tarantino could have hardly wished for someone better to work on the score of his American epic western, other than the man who composed the music for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.

In case you already watched Django and were intrigued by its theme, I would like to point you to a 1971 Italian film by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi called Goodbye Uncle Tom (original title: Addio Zio Tom). If you thought Django was somewhat shocking, then brace yourselves! And, by the way, you may well be familiar with the film’s theme song (originally written by Riz Ortolani), as it was also used by Nicolas Winding in his recent film Drive.

Loan and re-contextualization of pre-existing material have been, after all, commonplaces for the creative process in all art. Tarantino’s mash-up approach of mixing  a wide range of very different elements in his films is no exception: combined with his eclectic choice of music, it constitutes the quintessence of his art.