WWII dramas have never gone out of style, but to make a solid drama you need to have a meticulous attention to detail, and have a production augmented by a fine team of creative technicians.
Great actors might be able to sell their characters, but succinct dialogue and subtext is important, and it certainly doesn’t help if the drama is based on real-life events, or interpolates a few true life nuggets before indulging in reality-inspired fantasy.
Like film historian Julie Kirgo declares in the excellent commentary that supports Twilight Time’s fine Blu-ray edition of Eye of the Needle (1981), I also wanted to see Richard Marquand’s film version of Ken Follett’s novel because of the score.
It’s a peculiar reason to some degree, but having heard the music on LP prior to ever seeing the film (a common circumstance among soundtrack collectors taking a gamble on a name or title or enticingly designed LP), the curiosity in seeing how Miklos Rozsa’s scoring style fitted a period film was the big draw.
Your initial thought might be ‘Of course it fits,’ but it goes beyond that: can a composer writing in a style evocative of 1940s dramas support, or actually date a film whose interpretation of drama is through contemporary eyes, and irony that comes from hindsight?
The violence and sexual details in Needle are modern and frank, so it is an idiosyncratic query to ask; perhaps absurd, but not unwarranted, given up until the early 1980s – especially with the emergence of Vangelis in Chariots of Fire (1981) and The Bounty (1984) – period films were rarely scored with electronics, jazz-fusion, or rock.
Needle also features three figures of interest: director Marquand, who died not long into a successful career (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Jagged Edge were his biggies), and Canadian actors Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan.
Nelligan’s Brit accent is stronger than her co-star, but Sutherland’s visage (cheekily dubbed ‘frog-like’ by Kirgo) lends itself to a character who can be suave, vicious; elegant, rustic; genial, cold-blooded. It’s a fine understated performance by the voice of Volvo.
Paired with Needle is Athropoid (2016), an oddly-titled drama chronicling the Czech resistance fighters who ultimately managed to assassinate Nazi bigwig Reinhard Heydrich. It’s also Sean Ellis’ strongest film as a director – the story is linear, logical, and the conclusion immutable – and features an incredibly tense siege that’s a top-notch example of direction, editing, sound design, and score – a largely minimalist electronic score by Robin Foster.
Ellis’ strengths have tended to be visual and atmospheric, so I’ve ported over two of his prior feature films from the KQEK.com archives: Cashback (2006), expanded from his Oscar-winning, same-titled short, and The Broken (2008), a moody, chilling, but ultimately fuzzy riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Coming Soon: Jean Negulesco’s Boy on a Dolphin (1957) from KINO plus related ‘sea treasure’ films from the archives.
Mark R. Hasan, Editor
Category: EDITOR'S BLOG