Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tangerine Dream - "Betrayal" - from the Sorcerer Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

So here it is, for anyone who may have wondered: my nominee in the category of Greatest Original Soundtrack Album.

Funny, that the movie which nearly destroyed its director's career also was most responsible for elevating the career of its soundtrack's composer, but that's fate for you; I'm guessing William Friedkin, if not Edgar Froese, can appreciate its capriciousness here.

It's doubtful that any major film has ever suffered from bad timing so much as Sorcerer did. Friedkin, empowered and emboldened by the successes he forged with The French Connection and The Exorcist, spent $22 million 1977 dollars making a difficult and downbeat movie, then watched it get crushed as it opened the same weekend Star Wars did.

Before it closed, the film lost 10 million dollars, and the direction of Friedkin's career path had been emphatically reversed.

I'm a fan of the movie--not only for its soundtrack--and believe it to be superior to the movie it so famously remade, Clouzot's The Wages of Fear. But though its critical reputation has grown in recent years, I know people can argue and have argued to the movie's failure.

And that's fine. The people who don't like the movie have their own posts on their own blogs, I'm sure.

But I don't think anyone is arguing that T Dream's music for the film was not groundbreaking. Even the naysayers have to give Friedkin his props there, for making the bold and pioneering decision to give sections of his movie over to these odd Germans with their mountainous banks of synthesizers and of sequencers and of mellotrons, and of other strange-looking electronic equipment.

Of course, the music that Tangerine Dream produced for Friedkin's movie was not only a long way from the Tin Pan Alley paradigm that Hollywood had for so long followed. It was also a long way from what directors like Scorsese and Coppola and other fellows of Friedkin's in the New Hollywood had been doing during the seventies, which was, for the most part, recycling and co-opting and repackaging and rebranding as their own certain members of a subset of popular blues-based rock and roll.

I like me some Martin Scorsese, don't get me wrong; he makes the best fucking movies, as others funnier than myself have said. But note the irony, at least when it comes to music. The world has more or less forgotten William Friedkin, while Scorsese is remembered for making his "gutsy" movies.

Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but using "Layla" in your gangster flick ain't gutsy. It's certainly savvy, given the numbers, and maybe it's inappropriate, but it is in no way gutsy. Not when you consider the path Friedkin had taken in Sorcerer.

You know, now that I've talked them so high the fuck up, I guess it would be a good time to say how I'm not actually that big of a fan of T Dream.

I first became familiar with "Betrayal," the main title from the film, back in the '70's, shortly after the film was released. My old man used to know some of the DJ's around town, and would grab brown paper bags full of unwanted 45's off them. He'd go through them first and take what he liked or found useful for some of his teaching projects, but he gave me second dibs at the rejected singles. I'd dump a bag of records on the living room floor and, previewing them by eye only, reserve a small pile for myself, and place the rest neatly back into the brown paper bag.

Ramones Sheena is a Punk Rocker 45 picture sleeveWhat I mostly remember are the records I *didn't* snag. I remember seeing--and discarding--a picture sleeve of "Sheena is a Punk Rocker." I remember coming across--but not retrieving--X Ray Spex and Stiff Little Fingers and The Damned and a whole bunch of other original wave punk bands, who might have ended up semifamous and influential, but who had little appeal to the programmers of Miami's commercial radio stations in the late '70's and early '80's, and only slightly more (but still not enough) to a 13- or 14-year old version of yours truly.

The NME Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock 1977One of the records I did keep was "Betrayal." I'm not sure what caught my eye about it. Maybe I'd seen the band's name in my Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock. But maybe not, because I clearly remember thinking at one that Tangerine Dream were a psychedelic band, and if I'd even read even the first sentence of their entry in the Encyclcopedia, I would have been quickly relieved of that misconception.

But anyway, caught my eye it did, and keep it I did, and it quickly became a favorite of mine. When I began smoking pot and making special mix tapes for my late night headphone sessions, "Betrayal" was often a featured selection, inserted on my TDK CRO2 90's in between tracks by Yes and King Crimson and Vangelis. Even then, while knowing nothing of the film or its soundtrack, "Betrayal" felt different from the the prog I was elsewise listening to. Yes simply weren't this creepy, and they weren't as effective in communicating any sense of unease. This sense of unease was a characteristic more often transmitted by some of the music I listened to later in life, in college and beyond. But in 1977, while English prog bands spent their time evoking their bright fantasy lands of flying mountains and Aquatarkuses, Froese and Baumann and Franke, using much the same equipment, had somehow tapped into something just as fantastical but much, much darker.

And, despite the electronics, much more organic, somehow, as well. Focus on the one drum in use on "Betrayal." Even as the sequencer sequences and the synthesizers synth, you can almost imagine the jungle shaman who sits cross-legged and chants while tapping it.

Remarkable stuff, perceived that way now, and back then, too. Yet somehow, while I always prized my "Betrayal" single, I never as a teenager or as a young adult bought the soundtrack album from which it was culled, for whatever reason.

Tangerine Dream Alpha Centauri coverAs we've entered the digital era, I have corrected that oversight, and have found that there is much else besides "Betrayal" to recommend the soundtrack. I also purchased Tangerine Dream's second album, Alpha Centauri, as a digital download, and I've got their soundtrack to Thief, as well. But the Alpha thing, though admirable for its science fiction flavor, is kind of bloated in the way that subpar Rick Wakeman can get, and Thief, though once praised by no less of a protopunk avatar than the lamented Jon Marlowe, sounds much too slick (in the eighties kind of way) to these ears. If Sorcerer is unique in its role as a soundtrack, it may also, for all I know, be unique in its role as a Tangerine Dream album.

Certainly nowhere else have I heard the band sound so goddamned spooky as on the main title I present here, or so plaintive (as on "the Call"), or so otherworldly (as throughout).

Evidently, it is felt in some quarters that the name of the film itself contributed to its poor showing. Sorcerer, these people say, was a misleading title, especially for a movie from the director of The Exorcist, for it promises supernatural content that it doesn't deliver.

To that I say, maybe yes, maybe no. For Whom the Bell Tolls don't have no bells, and The Silence of the Lambs ain't got lambs. Yet those works did well enough at the cash box. But regardless, I'd argue that Sorcerer does indeed have transformative magic of a sort. What has thrown people off is that it resides neither within the pictures presented by the film nor in its dialogue, but can be found rather within the alternately creepy and ethereal music of its uncanny soundtrack.

Tangerine Dream Betrayal Promo 45

Tangerine Dream - Sorcerer OMPST - 12 Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme).mp3

This file was removed May 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Spooky Electronic Stuff


Anonymous said...

Actually, "Electronic Meditation" was the first T Dream album, but it had different personnel (including Klaus Schulze, who had his own groundbreaking electronic career afterward). But I'm with you on "Sorcerer"... I was one of the few who saw it in the theaters in 1977, and I was blown away by it, especially how the music ratchets up the tension immensely. Still one of my favorite movies... was thrilled to find a nearly-new VHS copy of the movie at my local video store when it was closing out. Great post!

Peter said...

nice post. i think i prefer clouzot's original film but sorcerer is my favourite td album by a long shot. maybe because each track doesn't go on for a day and a half, maybe. this was probably the last decent thing they managed to record. everything i've heard from after 77 or so is foul. the first track used to scare the bejeezus out of me as a teenager, and still could at high volume in a darkened room. i have a feeling that the band didn't see any of the film before they recorded - they just gave friedkin the music and that was that.

rastronomicals said...

Anonymous and Peter: thanks for dropping by and thanks for commenting. We're all clearly in agreement that 'scary' is an operative word for this thing

Anonymous thanks also for pointing out my error on Alpha Centauri having been T Dream's debut. Once again, I didn't check my Encyclopedia! The error's been corrected.

Peter you are exactly right with your feeling. The band worked only from a script Friedkin had given them, and in fact Friedkin had the music in hand and used it to set a mood for his actors while filming . . . .

Richard Harland Smith said...

There's an interesting piece of information in the comments section of this profile of the Hollywood Theatre. The poster discusses how STAR WARS was moved from Mann's Chinese in the summer of 1977 because SORCERER was booked and expected to be a huge hit. Mann's remodeled the Hollywood (a second run house), installed 70mm projectors and upgraded the sound, tore out the ticket booth, and then SORCERER bombed so they ended up moving STAR WARS back to the Chinese Theatre.

That's show biz!

tad said...

Rastro: Nice write-up, as always. I heard the SORCERER soundtrack a few times back in my late teens/early-20s & don't remember NEthing from it leaping outta the speakers at me -- but unlike 1 of yr previous commenters, that mighta bn Bcos the trax DIDN'T go on 4 20 mins, & I thot TD didn't have as much time 2 create a mood....
I'd agree they had the "creepy" stuff down pretty well tho -- I think their guitar-meltdown piece "Igneous" at the Nd of the THIEF soundtrack is pretty creepy, & "Fly and Collision of Comas Sola" on ALPHA CENTAURI is real trouble if U fall asleep 2 it, as I 1nce did, & then woke up in shock at the synth-Xplosion "crash" at the Nd of the piece.
& tho I haven't heard as much TD as I probly should, my fave is still the sidelong "Monolight" off their 1977 ENCORE/LIVE album. It's really bouncy & pretty in places, & definitely ominous & spooky toward the Nd.
Great work, as always. Keep it up! -- TAD.