Mini Moguls + Tangerine Dream’s Legend
This is sort of a recap of what’s been uploaded at KQEK.com, what’s in the works, and what’s imminent after I took an impromptu break to organize the remaining weeks of summer so September will yield a new schedule that’ll combine both reviews and short films.
Anyone who grew up watching B-movies in TV has seen at least one Roger Corman film, and it’s easy to see why the eightysomething auteur and mini-mogul is still working, and still smiling. In every interview I’ve seen with Corman – going back to Elwy Yost’s early eighties Q&As for TVOntario’s Talking Film series – he’s always calm, articulate, and clearly content he’s doing what he loves.
Corman’s had periodic flings with the major studios, but when he finally came close to making a studio picture, it resulted in a mangled experience that reaffirmed Corman’s determination to stay independent. I admire the calm – even if it sometimes comes off as a smooth façade – where he simply grabbed his suitcase of experience and instinct and set up a new company each time he felt it was time to move forward.
He probably wishes in some small degree that he was making the odd film with some social meaning, but he’s been producing exploitation flicks for so long that his troubleshooting skills aren’t refined for shepherding an Ingmar Bergman film through theatres and finicky audiences, but making sure there’s vivid colour, breasts, and dino maws chasing bikini-clad beach bunnies through Mexican tourist resorts with gusto.
Corman found his own as a filmmaker in the early sixties with the Edgar Allan Poe films for American International Pictures, and they still hold up as classy, fun, and engaging dramas, even when later films tended to be satirical towards the source material, and towards the cast of elder thespians (usually Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone). He also made one great social drama that was more verbally shocking and emotionally raw than the equivalent studio message picture: The Intruder (1962).
Unlike other mini-moguls, Corman not only set up his own indie production & distribution corporations, he also directed the films during the early years. It was out of need to feed the screens – somebody had to make the giant crab movie – that he furthered his skills so his was ready to make more personally rewarding, creative productions like the Poe films.
Corman wasn’t fully independent during his golden period as director – he still had to please the whims of AIP bosses and make more Poe films, straight or satirical, than he wanted – but his C.V. is astonishingly vivid as producer and director. It’s no wonder film school grads like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola flocked to his little nest and worked cheap to learn skills and rise faster within the filmmaking ranks than they ever could at the major studios.
Jumping ahead a few decades, a variant of the Corman formula is France’s Luc Besson, who’s similarly been able to make films as well as develop in-house projects, but unlike Corman, Besson makes sure there’s a certain stylistic continuity with all of his Eurocorp productions – namely that they have a certain Tex Avery tone.
Besson gained the attention of audiences and studios with the success of Subway (1985), and followed up with the critically acclaimed La femme Nikita (1990) and The Professional (1994), after which he sort of settled back and became a mini-mogul, developing his own ideas and snappy concepts which sometimes were spun off into franchises of diminishing quality.
Lockout [M] (Alliance / Sony) is a perfect example of his own high-concept style: a bit of Corman, a bit of John Carpenter, and some cartoon sensibilities and overt satirical pokes at the action genre. It’s not wholly successful, but it is a few notches above in-house junk like Taxi 4 (2007), which is indicative of Besson simply green-lighting a project because it’ll add a few more dollars into the Eurocorp coffers for (ideally, but unlikely) better projects. Also included with the review is a link to Prey Alone (2004), the short film that undoubtedly brought filmmakers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger to Besson’s attention.
The Aggression Scale [M] (Anchor Bay) isn’t the product of a mini-mogul, but it’s indicative of an indie team led by director Stephen C. Miller trying to make their mark while working with familiar tropes of the exploitation genre. It aspires to be edgy, gritty, a little controversial, evocative of more iconic revenge films, and offers the novel casting of two actors who previously shared screen time on an iconoclastic cult TV series from the early nineties: Ray Wise and Dana Ashbrook. It’s a flawed and ultimately frustrating film, but it has a few moments which alongside the casting make it worth a peek for Twin Peaks fans.
Tangerine Dream’s Legend (1985)
BSX Records recently released a recording of Tangerine Dream’s replacement score for Ridley Scott’s shape-shifting Legend [M] (1985), a film like Blade Runner (1982) that was edited and re-edited by its director before a new definitive edition was released. Unlike BL, Legend will likely never get its own multi-disc Blu-ray edition with every available cut because it’s often considered dated, hokey, and perhaps a bit of a precious effort to create a literary fantasy tale through the eyes of a commercial filmmaker.
I won’t get into the multiple film versions that exist, but suffice it to say, like a proper CD release of Vangelis’ Blade Runner, there has yet to be a release that Legend fans can claim as definitive.
Legend is trickier than BL because the original score by Jerry Goldsmith was junked from the North American release and replaced with TD’s score, and technically the restored version on Universal’s DVD and recent BR is still the British Cut with small restorative tweaks.
Goldsmith’s original score was always available on some format, but TD’s score – released by MCA – was a re-recording, and its brief length and the inclusion of both a vocal track featuring Jon Anderson plus Brian Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough” song was never fully satisfying. Besides a few compilation bootleg CDs, there is no complete original score release.
BSX’s CD features a new interpretation of the score + album, and it’s unlikely it’ll satisfy fan hunger, but it does bring attention again to that vast archive of unreleased scores the band’s just sitting on for reasons unknown.
Is it a sense their film work was straight work-for-hire and lacks the merit and skill of non-film albums? Are there lingering riffs among band members preventing the release of a full score CD? Do the studios own the rights to the scores and their indifference is preventing a restorative release? Or have members of the band been distilled to an aging few, of which current members & management simply lack the time and interest to revisit old material?
The best scenario that comes to mind, in terms of mining the TD archive for releasing restored albums, is to let indie an soundtrack label / producer into the picture, because they’ll bring both a fan’s interest & respect as well as a third party view that’s free from studio, label, and band politics. Their goal is to release a definitive edition that reflects the best of the band and meets the demands of fans so everyone can shut up for a few generations.
Rhino’s 2-disc release of Pink Floyd’s Zabriskie Point (1970) is a perfect example of what can happen when the right personnel work with labels & composers to produce a long-desired special edition (although a longer& more exhaustive set would’ve been preferred, but let’s not go there).
Rather than poke holes into the new Legend CD, fans ought to use its release to ignite a smart dialogue about the band’s archives, the purposelessness of letting some of the band’s best work breed dust for another decade; and the need for TD’s current makeup to reassess their position about opening the archives to niche producers willing to invest time and care in crafting definitive releases.
What never to do again: The debacle of The Keep (1983) – an elitist, egocentric CD production limited to a few hundred buyers featuring a lot of music by mostly one band member who used the album to showcase rejected cues that bore little stylistic relation to the group-crafted score. End result: fan edits & bootleg CDs of which the band gets nothing.
What ought to be done: a deluxe library style release of music and literature, ideally of the kind pioneered by Mosaic Records. Basically, everything fans could ever want, plus exhaustive written & visual narratives that form a bio-chapter in the life & history of music pioneers.
Given I’ve now used up the day’s blog time, I’ll detail further personal production exploits and new reviews in the next blog.