DVD: Tribute to Basil Poledouris (2009)

August 30, 2015 | By


Tribute2BasilPoledourisFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Good

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Singular Soundtracks / Quartet Records (Spain)

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  2009

Genre:  Concert / Documentary/ Film Music

Synopsis: Edited concert footage and documentary tribute of Basil Poledouris conducting a symphonic suite of his “Conan the Barbarian” score.

Special Features:  2 Documentaries: “The Tale of Conan” (15:00) + “Remembering Basil” (35:36), non-anamorphic widescreen, in English with forced Spanish subtitles / “Basil at Ubeda” Stills Montage (4:06), Widescreen / Composer Filmography / Text Interview with Basil Poledouris at Ubeda, in English and Spanish / 4-page colour booklet / Limited DVD (1200 copies)




Since 2005, Ubeda, Spain, has hosted a yearly film music festival where attendees enjoy suites and themes of classic and contemporary film music performed by a live orchestra in a large yet intimate cathedral. On July 22, 2006, the late Basil Poledouris attended and conducted a stirring suite of main themes from his score for John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian. The score was adapted for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Andalucía by Frederik Wiedmann, and orchestrated by Greig McRitchie. Other guest composers included John Ottman and Bruno Coulais.

Poledouris’ segment ran over 47 mins – pretty close to the original soundtrack album – and the occasion marked the composer’s first time conducting his breakthrough music since he recorded it in 1982, as well as a return to Spain, with Ubeda being not far from the location he visited during the film’s shooting.

The orchestra’s performance was quite faithful to the original recording, and that’s largely due to Poledouris conducting the orchestra & mixed chorus to corresponding sequences of the film projected onto a modest screen.

The percussion section may not have had the booming sonorities of the original recording, and the final section of “Riders of Doom” proved a bit challenging in one spot (the syncopated sections of chorus, strings, and brass got a bit fuzzy) but certainly for fans of the score as well as the composer, this tribute DVD to Poledouris’ rare festival appearance is a treat. There’s some minor distortion in just a handful of spots, and the video quality is archival DV, but the producers have managed to edit multiple angles into a solid narrative, and mix the performance in Dolby 5.1. (Only qualms: each musical selection should’ve been separately indexed with chapters.)

Poledouris’ stature as a top composer during the eighties and nineties has been somewhat forgotten because his most recognizable assets – big, melodic orchestral scores with beautiful themes – perhaps seemed old-fashioned during the nineties, as producers preferred percussive, rock oriented scores by Hans Zimmer and his troupe (which is frankly odd, given Poledouris composed punchy electronic scores for the 1988 thriller Spellbinder, and the 1987 action film No Man’s Land.)

Whereas Zimmer’s sound continues to permeate action, comic book, and sci-fi scores – among the most profitable genres right now – Poledouris’ style, heavily influenced by idols such as Miklos Rozsa, has seemingly fallen out of favour, yet his best-known scores, such as Big Wednesday(1978), The Blue Lagoon (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Robocop (1987), Starship Troopers (1997), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and the Emmy Award-winning Lonesome Dove (1989) have gone through a gradual re-assessment among fans and critics, and are rightly regarded as genre and scoring classics of the eighties and nineties.

Perhaps more pleasing is the fact that by attending the festival and reacquainting himself with Conan, Poledouris realized how his music is beloved by fans and colleagues. As he explains in the DVD’s separate interview segments, with some coaxing from colleagues John Frizzell and John Debney, Poledouris seemed to realize it was okay to feel a little proud about one’s work, and boast a little.

Poledouris composed Conan within a 12 month period – an unheard of length, except when the scoring process involves a close relationship with a filmmaker, as was the case with Milius, and directors Randall Kleiser (Lagoon), Paul Verhoeven (Robocop), and Simon Wincer (Dove).

Singular Soundtrack’s DVD includes the full Conan performance, plus a significant body of extras that should actually be seen prior to the concert. “The Tale of Conan” is a short behind-the-scenes doc where the composer is seen rehearsing the orchestra, as well as a post-performance address to an audience where he describes his entry into film, friendship with Milius, and the creation of the Conan score, particularly the love theme (one of his most beautiful creations). That segment sets up the score’s context.

There’s also a text interview, which features excellent, detailed questions and answers that includes the composer’s own views on his craft, and “Remembering Basil,” a lengthy and extremely moving tribute documentary. Conceived and supervised by Dan Goldwasser, the doc contains a multitude of interviews with friends, colleagues, and family. Comments deal with his gift for melody (easily forgotten until one hears Conan, and catches little homages to Rozsa), his strong sense of family, the respect of colleagues, and reflections from directors Verhoeven and Kleiser. (Absent are Milius and Wincer, as well as John Waters, for whom Poledouris scored Serial Mom and Cecil B. Demented.)

Journalist Jon Burlingame provides some stark observations of Poledouris’ lack of worthy projects during his most mature year, and energetic agent Richard Kraft elaborates on Burlingame’s point of the composer never getting the kind of epics he was so well suited to score. (Kraft, incidentally, had fervently pitched Poledouris to the makers of the Lord of the Rings series, which was eventually scored by Howard Shore.)

Perhaps the most poignant recollections come from daughters Zoe and Alexis, and wife Bobbi, and of respectively growing up and living with Poledouris’ constant flow of music, as well as his determination to attend the Ubeda festival, weeks after major cancer surgery. The composer looks healthy and energetic, and one can see his delight at the audience’s love of his themes during the Conan performance.

That’s why the concert should be viewed last: one can observe his initial nervousness turning into calm, then surprise and excitement as the audience applause makes the humble composer realize the impact of his 24 year old work. By the end of the official concert, the applause and cheers mandate a repeat of the title music, after which he leaves the stage and passes several colleagues who wipe tears from their eyes. Poledouris then returns one last time to take a final bow with several colleagues – John Ottman, Debney, and Frizzell – before the inevitable fadeout.

On DVD, most composers – if highlighted at all by DVD producers – are seen in those short, fast-edited chapters within a DVD’s making-of featurette, and those moments never relay the composer’s stature within his métier. They may appear as part of a documentary regarding their craft – The Hollywood Sound, for example – or as interview material in a doc about a composer who’s passed away.

Alongside this important release, Poledouris’ art and personality can also be enjoyed in the 1997 doc Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music (penned by Jon urlingame), and this tribute disc, which collectively form moving archival records of a composer whose impact will hopefully never diminish.



© 2010 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogSoundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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