By Gregg Shapiro
On Easter Sunday 2018, as part of its ongoing live musical series, NBC presented Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar, starring John Legend. When it comes to Webber, you’d think there’d have been more movie versions of his musicals than there are, but you’d be wrong. In fact, the only theatrical movies have been Norman Jewison’s 1973 adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar, Alan Parker’s 1996 take on Evita starring Madonna and gay filmmaker Joel Schumacher’s 2004 rendition of The Phantom of the Opera. Supposedly, there is an animated version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as well as a movie version of Cats (directed by Tom Hooper), in the works. For the record, Sunset Boulevard would also adapt well for the big screen. Unmasked: The Platinum Collection (Polydor/Really Useful), a four-disc compilation of works by Webber, includes original motion picture cast recordings from Phantom (“Masquerade”, “Think of Me”) and Evita (“Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, “Oh What A Circus”), in addition to more than 60 selections from original cast recordings, as well as new and assorted recordings.
More than 40 years after his untimely and tragic death, Elvis Presley’s iconic status seems to have dimmed very little. This holds true, in spite of what we’ve learned about his later years and downward spiral. While Elvis sightings have dwindled, he is still an audible presence, on radio, on TV (especially in advertisements), and still an influence on generations of musicians. Documentary filmmaker Thom Zimmy, who previously focused on Bruce Springsteen and is working on a doc about Johnny Cash, has turned his lens on The King for the two-part HBO film Elvis Presley: The Searcher. Of course, you can’t have a movie about Elvis without music to accompany it, and so there is the deluxe “curated” triple-disc set Elvis Presely: The Searcher [Original Soundtrack] (RCA/Legacy). The 55 songs on the first two discs contain an impressive array of Presley tunes, along with a few rehearsal versions. The 20 songs on the third disc mainly focus on recordings by artists who were considered to be influences on Elvis.
Since the early part of the 21st century, around the time of the release of Hail to the Thief, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead has been making a name for himself as the composer of film scores. Beginning with 2007’s There Will Be Blood, Greenwood has been working consistently with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson on films including The Master, Junun andInherent Vice. Greenwood’s work on Anderson’s 2017 Phantom Thread: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Nonesuch) is both as exquisite as the fashions created by main character Reynold Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, in what is said to be his final movie acting role) and as twisted as the relationships that are stitched into the fabric of the film.
Released on DVD/Blu-ray this spring, writer/director Greta Gerwig’s multi-award-winning Lady Bird featured an eclectic assortment of music. The various artists Lady Bird: Soundtrack from the Motion Picture (Legacy) includes classics by Alanis Morissette (“Hand in my Pocket”), Ani DiFranco (“Little Plastic Castle”), The Monkees (“As We Go Along”) and Love (“Always See Your Face”) as well as recent songs by Haim (“Little of Your Love”). Additionally, there’s some Sondheim (the overture from “Merrily We Roll Along”), and marvelous dialogue snippets from the film.
Fresh from his Oscar win for The Shape of Water, prolific composer Alexandre Desplat teams up with Wes Anderson again (with whom he worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel) for Isle of Dogs: Original Soundtrack (ABKCO). In keeping with the film’s Japanese setting, Desplat’s original compositions for the soundtrack strongly feature taiko drumming. As with other soundtracks to Anderson films, Isle of Dogs also includes a delightful selection of material from other sources, including “Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy” by Teruko Akatsuki and “I Won’t Hurt You” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.
In keeping with the time period (late 1950s) and setting (the dark side of Manhattan society and Broadway culture), the 60th anniversary edition of Music from the Sound Track: Sweet Smell of Success (Verve/UMe/ MGM), composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein (Oscar-winner for Thoroughly Modern Millie) is a jazzy affair, exemplified by “Nite Spot Rock”. In addition to Bernstein’s compositions, the sound track also includes several tunes performed by The Chico Hamilton Quintet (co-written by Hamilton).
While it doesn’t have any of the amazing Tangerine Dream-esque music from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s brilliant score (you have to get a different album for that), Stranger Things: Music from the Netflix Series (Legacy) does feature a multitude of eighties tunes by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, New Order, The Bangles, Olivia Newton-John, Fad Gadget, The Police, The Clash, Duran Duran and Corey Hart, to name a few. In addition to the music from the first and second seasons, it also incorporates dialogue snippets from the popular series.