Soundtrack September Selection #5: POPEYE (1980)

This Soundtrack September selection comes from a movie that many would like to forget – even (or especially) Robin Williams for who this was his film debut:

POPEYE (1980)

In the planning stages a conventional (and more importantly commercial) comic book movie was envisioned but a few factors rendered far different results. The first was the signing of maverick Robert Altman to direct, then there’s that cantankerous cartoonist (and screenwriter of such incompatible works as LITTLE MURDERS and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) Jules Feiffer was commissioned to write the screenplay, but the adding to the mix of Harry Nilsson to write the soundtrack has to be the oddest choice of them all.

Hardly an obvious choice to write songs for a live action family comedy, Nilsson nevertheless handed in a collection of demos that, while weird, fit Altman’s re-imagining of E.C. Segar’s salty sailor seaworld. From the opening song sung by all the townsfolk: “Sweethaven” to the character defining “I Yam What I Yam” straight through to the gruff “Kids” spoke-sung by Ray Walston (a notable non-singer in a cast of non-singers), Nilsson matches Altman’s overlapping dialogue and scewed sense of narrative with a just as scewed and overlapping soundtrack.

In 2002 one of the songs was granted new life: “He Needs Me” sung by Olive Oil (Shelly Duvall) appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. As it stands it’s the only song from the POPEYE soundtrack that is currently available on CD.

Though long out of print, the original 1980 soundtrack can be found online as can Nilsson’s deliciously demented demos. They are definitely worth hunting for, if only to hear one of the oddest collection of songs composed for a feature intended for kids.

More later…

10 Movie Soundtracks That Think Outside Of The Box Office

Welcome to Soundtrack September! All month long, with the help of some special guest bloggers and readers, I’m going to be celebrating the world of original motion picture soundtrack recordings. There will still be the usual array of reviews of current movies and other whatnot but they will be surrounded by soundtrack centered posts.

I’m kicking off Soundtrack September with this list of soundtracks that weren’t content to just be simple collections of score selections or pop song tracks. They featured dialogue excerpts as tracks – sometimes full chucks of audio from the composite track of the film instead of the standard isolated music track. Often these albums contain material that’s not in the movie they represent – different versions of songs, cut lines from post production, and new voice-overs. In their reshaping of the movie material they became works of art in their own right. Here are my 10 favorites from the many soundtracks out there that think outside the box office:

1. THE MONKEES: HEAD (Colgems Records 1968/Rhino 1994) The Monkees only theatrical release was a critical and commercial flop on original release but it’s picked up a well deserved cult following over the years in no small thanks to its psychedelic soundtrack. It’s a merry mishmash in which 7 songs (including “The Porpoise Song”, “As We Go Along”, and “Can You Dig It”) emerge out of the chaos of sound effects, repeated out-of-context lines (as if there’s a context in the film) and assorted trippy effects reportedly under the influence of Frank Zappa (who has a cameo in the movie and the album). The original album did not feature Mike Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” performed live in the film – it substituted an inferior studio take of the song. Happily, a 90’s Rhino re-release restored the ferocious live version as well as a nice handful of bonus tracks (including a cool radio spot).

The icing on the cake? The Original Album Coordinator who did the bulk of the vigorous editing on this project: Jack Nicholson (co-screenwriter and producer of HEAD seen above with the Monkees).


In the late ’70s and early ’80s a lot of “story of” albums were produced of the STAR WARS films, Disney features, Muppet movies, etc. that feature audio excerpts with a ’40s style narrator guiding listeners through. For the first Indiana Jones adventure a soundtrack was released separate from the one of the score by composer John Williams. Billed “The Movie On Record”, it was an album of “Actual Dialogue, Music, and Sound Effects” but most importantly – no narration. 4 time Academy Award winner Sound Designer Ben Burtt (creator of the voice of WALL-E among other iconic work) admitted in an interview that much of this album was made from little of the original soundtrack; he recorded new effects and recreated the dialogue with the film’s cast as voice actors much like old radio shows. The album won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word LP in 1982.

3. THE ALBUM OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE TRAILER OF THE FILM OF MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Arista, 1975) This is only a soundtrack in the loosest sense – approximately 40% of it is movie material; the other 60% has the Pythons bogusly broadcasting from a fictional theater (The Classic Silbury Hill) for the “premiere” of the film. John Cleese plays a reporter who talks over the opening scene with patrons telling him to shut up, the production is halted while the projectionist fights a grizzly bear for the next reel, an announcer (Graham Chapman) repeatedly tells us that this is the “Executive Version” of the record, and so on. The records of the Monty Python films that followedLIFE OF BRIAN and THE MEANING OF LIFE had a bit of this embellishing but not with the whole team and to the extreme of this supremely silly yet essential soundtrack.

4. APOCALYPSE NOW (Warner Brothers, 1979) This soundtrack is pretty much the full composite track of the motion picture spread over 2 records. It’s a trippy absorbing listen that’s worth seeking out. The soundtrack for the REDUX version (2001) removes the dialogue bits and presents composer Carmine Coppola’s score, along with The Doors “The End” and Flash Cadillac’s “Suzy Q”, but I prefer the original recording. It reminds me of the days before home video when a soundtrack was all one had to invoke the mood of one’s favorite movie. Removed from the imagery, Martin Sheen’s voice over narration works just as well on record as it does in the film, the jungle sounds surround the listener, and Marlon Brando’s haunting “the horror…the horror” evocation echo in the psyche. Or maybe that’s the Thai sticks talking…


“I suggested to Oliver (Stone) to try to turn the soundtrack into a collage-of-sound, kind of the way the movie used music: make edits, add dialogue, and make it something interesting, rather than a bunch of previously released music.”

– Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor in an interview with MTV.

As producer/compiler Reznor provides another absorbing listen and one that introduced many to Leonard Cohen via 2 stellar songs off of his 1992 album “The Future”. My only complaint is Reznor mixing a bit of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis dialogue on top of Bob Dylan’s cover of the ’50s standard “You Belong To Me”. Such a thing just should not be done.

6. THE ADVENTURES OF BOB & DOUG McKENZIE IN STRANGE BREW (Polygram Records, 1983) The album cover denotes “Excerpts From The Original Sountrack” so much like the MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL album this functions as a comedy record in its own right. The success of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s “Great White North” record paved the way for the SCTV characters of Canadian descent to enter the world of movies, so it’s kind of funny to have Moranis stress more than once that this that this is not their second album – it’s the soundtrack album. Funny because they never made another album and with all the additional material here they might as well consider it their second album. As a comedy record it’s a good one – some bits from the movie work better disembodied from the visuals and the track “Shakespeare Horked Our Script” amusingly calls attention to the fact they stole the basic narrative from “Hamlet”. It’s never been released officially on CD but like much on this list it can be found on the internets.

7. PULP FICTION (MCA Records, 1994)

From RESERVOIR DOGS to DEATH PROOF, Tarantino’s soundtracks have featured dialogue tracks (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is the first that doesn’t) but PULP FICTION is by far the most popular – it seems everyone I knew had this in their CD collection in the ’90s. It’s a hip movie mix; tracks by Urge Overkill, Dusty Springfield, and Kool & The Gang rub shoulders with John Travolta’s “Royale with cheese” bit, Bruce Willis’s immortal “Zed’s dead, baby”, and Samuel L. Jackson’s “Ezekiel 25:17”. 15 years after the movie, these tracks are still effective – program them into an iPod shuffle and see for yourself.

8. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (A & M Records, 1988) Sure, the comedy of Robin Williams is far from hip these days but back in the day (the late ’80s) his routines were quoted ad nauseum. The rapid fire lines from his starring turn in Barry Levinson’s Vietnam-set dramedy were no exception. The dominance of James Brown’s “I Feel Good (I Got You)” in family feel-good comedies (or at least their trailers) can be traced to this film but don’t hold that against it. Era songs by Louis Armstrong, The Marvelettes, and the Beach Boys make up the playlist of Williams as Armed Forces Radio Services DJ Adrian Cronauer. Incidentally the weekly NPR program “Sound Opinions” uses the sound bite of Williams’ “This is not a test, this is rock ‘n roll!” in their opening to this day.

9. UHF: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK AND OTHER STUFF (Warner Brothers, 1989) Nobody would expect a soundtrack from a Weird Al Yankovic movie (his only movie) to play by soundtrack rules and this hodgepodge sure doesn’t. It makes this list because of tracks directly from the film like the commercial parody “Spatula City” and the phony trailer for “Gandhi II” which make great compilation fillers or fodder for college DJs. However the non movie related tracks like a spoof of R.E.M.’s “Stand” called “Spam” and “Generic Blues” are just throw-away Weird Al but they still don’t disqualify it.

10. BONNIE AND CLYDE (Collector’s Choice, 2009) Though it’s not the first soundtrack album to feature dialogue – that would be THE GREAT ESCAPEBONNIE AND CLYDE provides the template for the composite movie mix that Reznor and Tarantino would run with. The dialogue tracks offer cushioning and punctuation for the musical score – as spare as they are. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s exchanges are enhanced by the then very innovative presentation on vinyl. It’s a hard to come by record nowadays but again, one worth seeking out.

Okay! There are many more soundtracks that feature dialogue in an inventive mix (PATTON, ANIMAL HOUSE, BLADE RUNNER, etc.) so if you have a favorite – please send it on. Also if you have soundtrack favorites of any kind (classical scores, pop songs, musicals, etc.) please email me ( your favorites (instead of leaving them as comments on this post please) and I may include them this month during Soundtrack September! Hope to hear from you.

More later…

On-The-Air Amusement And Angst

After seeing the new movie TALK TO ME (reviewed below) I got to thinking about radio personalities in the movies. Sometimes they are disc jockeys, sometimes they have specialty call-in shows, sometimes they are rabble rousers – sometimes all three. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable motor mouths :

Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian) in TALK RADIO (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1988) Champlain is the epitome of all three of the above. His station announcer introduces him as “the man you love to love” and he gets more death threats than phone-ins. Taking place almost completely around a radio console as Barry insults, cajoles, and just plain provokes callers TALK RADIO can best be considered a comic tragedy. It expands on the stage play (recently revived on Broadway) by giving us Barry’s back-story showing his rise to be one of the top talk radio personalities in Dallas on the verge of national syndication. His fame though is running face to face with the mounting militia-based hatred of much of his audience. Barry’s final break-down resulting in a mesmerizing monologue lays bare a pathetic self destructive unsalvageable soul but the announcer is right – over the years I’ve come to love to love the man whose signature sign-off line is “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words cause permanent damage.”

Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1987) Based on the real life experiences of a Armed Forces Radio Saigon disc jockey this role features Williams way before he became so annoyingly over-exposed and before his film formula became so, well, annoying. Dealing with uptight army officials (the late greats Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh) and ignoring army playlists and protocol Cronauer learns and grows mostly when he’s not on the air but some maturity is shown on the mike before we reach the treacly but still affecting conclusion.

David “Dave” Garver (Clint Eastwood) in PLAY MISTY FOR ME (Dir. Eastwood, 1971) Eastwood’s directorial debut with him as a soft spoken (I know, of course) disc jockey is really more of a thriller (the mold of which would be later used for FATAL ATTRACTION – 1987) than a radio-related story. Garver’s most loyal fan (Jessica Walter) repeatedly makes the request of the title which is all good that is until she becomes a stalking murderous mad woman. Maybe it’s because she fell overboard for Garver’s smooth soothing tone. Maybe like Dylan, Eastwood should consider doing a XM satellite radio show – that is if he’s not afraid of attracting new stalkers.

Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) in THE LADIES MAN (Dir. Reginald Hudlin, 2000) Yeah! Another awful movie made from a running SNL sketch character at least has some radio-tested charm by way of Phelps’s smarmy self intro :

“I am an expert in the ways of love. I have made love to many fine ladies from the lowliest bus station skank to the classiest most sophisticated, educated, debutant, high society… bus station skank.”

Phelps is a Chicagoan host of a late night sex advice show who is always accompanied by a glass of Courvoisier and an unjustified arrogant romantic philosophy. He unwisely journeys out of the studio to hunt down an ex-lover. I think that was the plot, I mean really – who cares?

Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) in THE FISHER KING (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1991) The role of the “shock jock” gets played here in a role that comes from the same cloth as TALK RADIO‘s Barry Champlain. The twist here is – what if the guy has a conscience? One of Lucas’s random radio comments inadvertently causes a mad man to open fire in a bar and one of the patrons – history professor Parry (Robin Williams again) watches as his wife gets killed. Tossed out of the radio fame game Lucas meets a homeless deranged Parry years later. Lucas decides to help Parry which will in turn be his redemption. Lucas even has a radio catch-phrase that fits in with the movie’s premise, the Steve Martinesque “hey, forgive me!”

Howard Stern (Howard Stern) in PRIVATE PARTS (Dir. Betty Thomas, 1997) Playing himself in his own biopic (based on his bestselling book) is not surprising considering the size of the ego of the self-proclaimed “king of all media” but come on, who else would or could do it? The best scenes here are the re-creations of Stern’s infamous broadcasts and not the rom com trappings surrounding them. Much has changed for the man who popularized the term “shock jock” in the ten years since PRIVATE PARTS was released. Mainly the divorce from the woman that this film was a Valentine to and the gigantic $500 million Sirius Satellite deal that got him off regular radio make the meager goals of this movie seem quaint today. Funny how cute rather than cutting Stern seems when looking at this portrayal today – especially his naive reaction to Don Imus’s (played by Luke Reilly – of course Imus wouldn’t appear in this film) dismissal of him when they are first introduced.

Shirlee Kenyon (Dolly Parton) in STRAIGHT TALK (Dir. Barnet Kellman, 1992) Yep, it has been a sausage party in the booth so far so we gotta to acknowledge Dolly! Sure, it’s a silly disposable comedy but it’s Dolly! She brings her smirking spunk to play a woman who through a wacky mishap is mistaken for a certified psychologist and becomes a successful radio talk show host. It feels unfair to bash on this innocuous inanity especially when it has Dolly wrapping her Southern lips around such lines as “get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!”

Okay! So now on to the current release about a real-life radio semi-legend :

(Dir. Kasi Lemmons, 2007) Ex-con turned outspoken AM Disc Jockey Ralph Waldo Petey Greene is not a household name these days and this movie is probably going to do little to change that. In the age of Stern and Imus the labeling of a broadcaster as a “controversial radio personality” doesn’t carry the cache it used to. Greene’s (Don Cheadle with a raspy clipped voice) story taking place during the turbulent late 60’s in Washington D.C. does have gusto and a strong sentiment but the formulaic biopic approach mars the third act. MLK’s death, riots, and demonstrations are given about the same amount of depth as the historical background in DREAM GIRLS. To its credit Cheadle does his thing though in a decisively funkier manner than before, Chiwetel Ejiofor slickly plays the right notes as his producer, Martin Sheen takes a few satisfying solos as the uptight white station manager who is perpetually about to pull the plug on Greene, and Cedric The Entertainer is well, there. Greene’s legacy will get a few more fans from this treatment as it is not without heart, it’s just that its soul is that of a TV movie.

More later…

Hey Kids, Filmbabble’s Funtime Oscar Picks 2007!

This is the first time Film Babble Blog has made Academy Award predictions so I’m a bit nervous about it. I mean I haven’t seen all of the nominated movies and I’m going in with a certain percentage of guts, wild guessing, and a bit of internet research (but not too much ’cause that takes the fun out of it, doncha think?) so we’ll see how it plays out. It ought to be fun though so here goes –

1. BEST PICTURE : BABEL – My personal choice would be THE DEPARTED but the buzz seems to be going for this ‘everybody suffers’ epic. Does seem pretty likely to win after last year’s 1 word suffer epic CRASH won.

2. BEST DIRECTOR : Martin Scorsese (THE DEPARTED) – It does seem like it’s Marty’s year but then I’ve thought that before. Many times before. Anyway this is very much a personal and maybe not realistic choice but I’m still going to go with him because it would be such sweet justice if it occured. If it doesn’t I hope whoever wins will look his way and give Scorcese a ‘sorry nod’ before going on with their speech.

3. BEST ACTOR : Forest Whitaker (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) – I haven’t seen it but have liked the trailers and most critics are pulling for him. My guess is the Academy members will too. Again this is very much a personal choice – I’ve liked Whitaker since seeing him in bit parts in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and PLATOON. His work as Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s BIRD is criminally underrated and solid performances in PANIC ROOM, GHOST DOG, SMOKE, and THE CRYING GAME all deserve more notice than they originally got. For surviving BATTLESHIP EARTH alone he should get some kind of special award – just sayin’.

4. BEST ACTRESS : Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN) – This seems like a shoe-in. Mirren was excellent in the royal role so I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t bag this one.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR : Alan Arkin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) – This is a gut choice. Many are predicting Eddie Murphy will take this for DREAMGIRLS but something makes me think otherwise. I mean every Awards has a few such surprises and this would definitely qualify as one. This may be my most unrealistic pick – while writing this I’m thinking Murphy’s still gonna get it.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Jennifer Hudson (DREAMGIRLS) – Another I regettably haven’t seen but the word on the internet streets seems to be that she’s going home with the gold.

And the rest :


Whew! Okay, enough with Oscar for now. I’ll post after the show Sunday and we’ll see how many I got wrong.

Now here’s some New Release DVD reviews:

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (Dir. David Frankel, 2006)

“Perhaps the next Hollywood ‘genius’ will be the man who can design the whole movie to look like a high-powered ad.” – Noted New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael (1919-2001)

In the 40-something years since Kael made that comment there have been many many movies that have looked like whole-sale high-powered ads but while watching THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA I thought of that quote quite a few times. Based on the best selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, TDWP has slick glossy direction by David Frankel (Sex and the City, Entourage), a world class wardrobe (Oscar nominated costume design, mind you) and an earnest Anne Hathaway as an aspiring journalist who gets schooled in professionalism when she suffers a stint as fashion magazine mogul Miranda Priestly’s (Meryl Streep) assistant.

Streep’s Oscar nominated performance is as acidic as it is measured and Stanley Tucci comes on acutely as a cynical clothes horse Yoda. Actually there are a number of Yodas in this movie – Hathaway gets lectured by nearly every character – Tucci, her live-in boyfriend Adrian Grenier, rival assistant Emily Blunt, and her hip friends – Tracie Thomas and Rich Sommer. This should have stayed more in a fluffy fashion world spoof mode than to pretend at all to be a statement making cautionary tale. An obvious take would be ‘it’s all style and no substance’ but it’s more apt to conclude that it’s style lusting after substance. High-powered ad nauseum. As Streep’s Miranda would say “that’s all”.

THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON (Dir. David Leaf & John Scheinfeld, 2006) As both hardcore and casual Beatles fans know in the eyes of the media and popular public perception there are 2 John Lennons. The 1st is quite bluntly – the rock and roll Jesus. A saint who spread nothing but words of love and peace through radical protests like bed-ins and generational anthems like “Give Peace A Chance”. A genius icon who inspired millions and whose songs are among the greatest classics ever written. And then there’s the 2nd Lennon – who quite bluntly was an asshole pop star. A huckster who put on a man-for-all-causes front while cheating on his wife, doing smack, and even harassing waitresses. The actual human being was a wicked mixture of some of those exaggerated extremes – not perfect obviously but not as fatally flawed as some perspectives claim. Well which Lennon do you think this doc gives us? Of course Lennon #1 full force who here faces off with the Nixon administration as the Vietnam War rages.

Lennon and wife Yoko Ono were undoubtedly under government scrutiny after relocating from Britain to New York in the early 70’s with deportation threatened. Talking heads Gore Vidal, Walter Cronkite, G. Gordy Liddy, Mario Cuomo, and even Geraldo Riveria tell some tasty tales about the politics, protest stunts and “power to the the people” posturing of Lennon’s self described radical period. It’s just that with the exception of a few new insights this ground has been well covered before especially by VH1 who co-produced this film. As a teaching tool perhaps – that is if one really feels that kids today have to know who Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, or John Sinclair are – this film may have value but as Ono approved-docs go you’re better off with IMAGINE : JOHN LENNON (Dir. Andrew Solt, 1988).

MAN OF THE YEAR (Dir. Barry Levinson, 2006) – Can’t say I wasn’t warned. By the time the red Netflix envelope containing this film’s DVD came to my mailbox I was well aware that the critics tore it a new one when it was released last fall with most complaining that it had been marketed drastically wrong. Indeed they were right – all the original trailers and TV ads made this movie look like a broad comedy along the lines of ‘what if a Daily Show type cable TV host (Robin Williams in full-throttle rapid random riffing mode) was elected president? – Wouldn’t wackiness ensue?’ Well, yes for a bit wackiness ensues (about 8-10 min.) but then we are forced to stomach a parallel plot in which programmer Laura Linney discovers a glitch in the electronic ballot system that got the comical candidate into the White House. So it’s supposedly half political satire and half topical thriller. Too bad neither half works. Too bad this is such a wasted opportunity with a good cast but a lousy script (written by Levinson). Just too bad.

With his jokes about “weapons of mass distraction” (yep, that’s the level of wit here), breast implants, cellphones, and making Bruce Springsteen Secretary of State, Williams is just doing his same old shtick and it’s so sad to see Christopher Walken and Lewis Black (cast as his manager and chief writer) having little to do but sit around laughing at everything he says. In fact there are many shots of scores of people laughing at Williams’s tired antics throughout MAN OF THE YEAR. I bet there are more people in the movie laughing in the movie than there were laughing at the movie in it’s brief run in theaters and certainly more than will ever laugh at home in the years to come. This whole thing is just misguided on every level.

More later…