‘Year of the Spy’ reflected in music award nominations

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

The Film Music Reporter today published a list of nominees for the World Soundtrack Awards. Musical work done during 2015’s “Year of the Spy” figures into some of the nominations.

Thomas Newman was nominated as film composer of the year for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film; Bridge of Spies, a historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg about the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers; and Finding Dory

Daniel Pemberton was nominated in the same category for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the movie based on the 1964-68 television series, Steve Jobs and Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon).

Other film composer of the year nominees were John Williams, Ennio Morricone and Carter Burwell.

There are also five nominees for best song written directly for a film. “Writing’s On The Wall,” used during SPECTRE’s main titles is one of the nominees. The song, co-written by performed by Sam Smith, won the Oscar for best song in February

Writing’s On The Wall’s Oscar triumph

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes got the Oscar award for Best Original Song in 2016 Academy Awards edition. It was the second triumph for the James Bond series had in that category.

In the 20th century, Bond songs were beaten by the likes of “The Way We Were” (winning over Live And Let Die) or “You Light up My Life” (winning over Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me) and “Arthur’s Theme (The Best You Can Do),” which won over For Your Eyes Only. For that matter, 007 classic songs such as Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever weren’t even nominated.

The spell was broken three years ago when Skyfall received the academy’s nod over songs like the solid “Suddenly,” from Les Miserables.

In September 2015, when Sam Smith introduced his performance of the song “Writing’s On The Wall” for SPECTRE, it divided the Bond fans between the ones showing appreciation and the ones turning a big thumb down – not to mention a great deal of bullying towards the 23-year-old singer for his falsetto voice, hidden under the shadows of the social networks.

“It’s the quickest song I’ve ever written,” Smith said, claiming he and Napier finished the job in just 20 minutes. (Later Eon Productions co-boss although Barbara Broccoli said it took much more time than that.)

Despite Smith’s vocal register, “Writing’s On The Wall” featured an unmistakable Bondian sound reminiscent to “Thunderball” with a touch of the recent “Skyfall.” A melody so accurate that it looks like composer Thomas Newman barely retouched the original instrumental for the scene where James Bond and his love interest Madeleine Swann get steamy on a train going through the Moroccan desert.

The song that supposedly took Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes less than half an hour to write described a vulnerable state of the rebooted James Bond. Bond lives with the memory of his beloved Vesper (Eva Green’s character in Casino Royale) and his boss-turned-mother figure M (Judi Dench, who bid farewell at the end of Skyfall).

It takes a lot for a man to admit his weakness – particularly a man like James Bond– and this song achieves to do it in a powerful way, as Daniel Kleinman’s main title visuals show our hero naked, wrapped around octopus tentacles coming out of the villain’s back while kissed by beautiful women.

While the artist voice sounds fragile, the seven main notes of the tune explode in power. A power expressing enough strength that the instrumental intermezzo (around the three minutes of the full version of the song) wasn’t cropped out during the usual editing to make a four minute composition fit into a short main title sequence. It was masterfully used to emphasize the artistic visuals.

Sam Smith had the coveted Oscar statue on his hand and dedicated it to the LGBT community he is part of. Among other contenders, he triumphed over Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You,” introduced by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the ceremony.

Some people may not agree, not even Bond fans, about this recognition. But it is truly deserved because the song isn’t focused in the victorious figure of agent 007, but in the depths of the hidden soul of James Bond: his fears, his vulnerability and his overdue need for love.

And this was done with a melody that synthetizes the film, twisting like the sinuous octopus tentacles that symbolize the effect of SPECTRE wrapping into the soul of the man behind the spy, and a voice that shouts what the spy covering the human being will never openly tell.

The emotional complexity of the lyrics, the music and the voice is something that a spectator with an artistic eye can appreciate and enjoy while listening to “Writing’s on The Wall.” When accompanied by Kleinman’s ravishing main title sequence, it’s the way the song was meant to be appreciated.

 

Writing’s On The Wall wins Best Song Oscar

SPECTRE LOGO

Writing’s On The Wall, the title song for SPECTRE, won the Best Song Oscar on Sunday night.

The award marked the first back-to-back Academy Awards for the James Bond franchise since Goldfinger won a sound award (Norman Wanstall) and Thunderball won for special effects (John Stears) in the 1960s. 2012’s Skyfall also won for Best Song as well as receiving an Oscar for sound editing.

Co-writer and performer Sam Smith gave a short acceptance speech. The award went to Smith and his co-writer, Jimmy Napes.

Meanwhile, songs from James Bond movies played a prominent part of the Oscar proceedings. Live And Let Die (nominated but which didn’t win) and Diamonds Are Forever (not even nominated) were played at various spots in the telecast on ABC. Also played was the main theme from 1967’s Casino Royale, a comedy that’s not part of the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions.

Also during the show, stand-up comic Sarah Silverman introduced Sam Smith’s rendition of Writing’s On The Wall. It became a forum for Silverman to tell James Bond jokes. Here’s a sample from the JUST JARED website.

“I guess I was a Bond girl, in that I had sexual intercourse with James Bond and never heard from him… I know he has a cell phone – he has four!” Sarah said. “He loves sleeping with women with heavy Jewish boobs.”

“Oh here’s something. James Bond – not a grower or a shower. I don’t want to say he’s terrible in bed… but he’s slept with 55 women in 24 movies and most of them tried to kill him afterwards.”

The show’s In Memoriam segment included Christopher Lee (including a brief clip from The Man With The Golden Gun) and mogul Kirk Kerkorian, who bought and sold Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer multiple times. It was under Kerkorian’s leadership that MGM bought United Artists in the early 1980s, a move that still affects the Bond franchise to this day.

Also in the segment was character actor Theodore Bikel, who auditioned for the role of Auric Goldfinger but lost to Gert Frobe.

Finally, related to 2015 spy-related films, Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Bridge of Spies.

UPDATE: They’re playing the theme from Goldfinger (another Bond song never even nominated for an Oscar) going into the final commercial break.

SPECTRE title song gets Oscar nomination

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

“Writing’s On The Wall,” the title song for SPECTRE, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Song, ACCORDING TO A LIST OF THE NOMINEES on the Acamdemy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.

The nomination comes four days after the song won a Golden Globes award.

With the Oscars, the songwriters get nominated. In this case Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith are the nominees. Smith performed the song.

This is the second consecutive Bond title song to pick up a nomination. Adele and Paul Epworth won the Best Song Oscar three years ago for Skyfall’s title song.

Thomas Newman, who was nominated for Skyfall’s score, didn’t get a nomination for SPECTRE. However, he picked up a nomination for the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. The latter received a number of nominations, including Best Picture.

To be honest, it was more appropriate Newman got a nomination for Bridge of Spies. Drama is more in his wheelhouse. Meanwhile, with SPECTRE, Newman repeated some of his Skyfall score in several spots.

REVIEW: a look at SPECTRE’s soundtrack

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
Thomas Newman became the third composer to do more than one Bond album after John Barry (11 007 scores and David Arnold (five). It happened when Sam Mendes returned for the 007 director chair for SPECTRE, after the success of Skyfall.

With the son of the legendary Alfred Newman being one of Mendes’ favorite musicians, it was almost predictable that Newman would be coming back as well.

By the beginning of October, two tracks from SPECTRE were released through the British radio, disappointing many people as they sounded too similar to Skyfall.

Of course, both Barry and particularly Arnold repeated some of their previous films cues into the Bond film in hand, yet the SPECTRE soundtrack seemed almost a remix of the Skyfall score.

However, when watching the movie, the soundtrack effect grows.

The gunbarrel –back at the beginning for the first time since 2002’s Die Another Day – has a sound reminiscent to Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough, with the last bars of the James Bond Theme as the blood drips down. It was, unfortunately, discarded from the commercial album, which starts with a track titled “Los Muertos Vivos Están” (The Dead Are Alive).

Track 1 is a pretty cool rendition of the James Bond Theme accompanied by the drums of a Mexican band known as Tambuco.

Something very important to say is that Newman, this time, seems more confident when using the Bond Theme, using it prominently and in full, unlike his previous job where he seemed a bit afraid to repeat his predecessor’s expertise in handling the piece attributed to Monty Norman.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman

More effective uses of the James Bond Theme are heard during the last seconds of “Detonation” (track 23) and “Westminster Bridge” (track 24, very similar to Skyfall’s “The Moors”). An unreleased Bond fanfare is heard at the end of the helicopter fight during the pre-credits sequence, with a piano orchestration leading us to Smith’s theme.

As Vauxhall Bridge (track 2) reminds us to “New Digs” from Skyfall (funnily enough, Bond points out the CNS building as “C’s new digs” in the scene), the third track is almost a cut and paste version of “Brave New World,” also from Skyfall. Yet, Newman manages to change the epic Hans Zimmer-esque sound for a lyrical chorus to enhance Bond’s arrival to Rome aka “The Eternal City,” which is the title given to the track.

The use of the chorus, also present in “Backfire” (track 6) and the end titles (track 26) were perhaps the best thing Newman did and one of the strongest points of the score.

“Donna Lucia” (track 4), used for 007’s seduction of Monica Bellucci’s character, reminds us a bit to Die Another Day, particularly the scene where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond is visited by Peaceful Fountains of Desire.

Romantic pieces are Newman’s strong point as he proves in “Madeleine” (track 9) and “Secret Room” (track 13). The piano notes and the strings make us fall in love with the leading lady and feel some empathy for the death of her father, as she observes her childhood photos on Mr. White’s hidden room in an African hotel. A choral version of Madeline’s theme is reprised during the end credits.

The North African sounds combined with Hoyte Van Hoytema’s shots of the train through the desert are perhaps one of the best audiovisual moments in the whole franchise.

Track 15 is the only time when we hear a rendition of Sam Smith’s theme song, “Writing’s on the Wall”. Newman made his own instrumental version (the first minute sounds very similar to the original) for Bond’s intimate moment with Madeleine Swann on the train.

As Bond escapes a horrid torture by Oberhauser, a piece titled “Tempus Fugit” (track 19) is heard for the second time. Closely similar to another track from Skyfall titled The Bloody Shot, this track first appears as Bond fights Sciarra inside an helicopter atop Mexico City, at the very beginning of the film.

Perhaps the least interesting piece is the atonal “Snow Plane” (track 11), where it seems Newman tried to imitate Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only disco score. This scene – where 007 chases Hinx and his goons with a plane across the snowy Austria — needed a more John Barry or David Arnold like sound, a closer feeling to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, way more darker.

Apart from that, it was a nice nod of Newman to add a source piece in the score. Track 18, “Day of the Dead”, features Tambuco and has the actual chorus from the festive mourners, cheering up for the “resurrection” of their deceased ones.

Before the end titles, the composer closes with “Out of Bullets” (track 25), which is a very beautiful version of the romantic piano cue from “Secret Room” and “Madeleine”, combined with a lush sound reminiscent to David Arnold’s romantic sounds from his Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day scores.

In conclusion, the SPECTRE score is indeed special and fits with the conclusion of the story opened in Casino Royale, almost ten years ago. A needed criticism has to be made to the way Newman made that cut-and-paste to the Skyfall score (he should have used the cues in a more subtle way), but it indeed achieves the objective of transporting us to the magic atmosphere of the film’s locations –from the lyrical Rome to the exotic Tangier– in a very pretty way.

SPECTRE box office and its future implications Part I

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Gert Waterink,
Guest Writer
SPECTRE has grossed more than $820 million globally since it premiered in late October. That looks like a very solid box office figure. And it is, just like its predecessor, Skyfall, one of the most successful non-3D, non-Sci-Fi films of the year.

Looking at the leaked production budget of SPECTRE, the team of Sony Pictures/MGM/EON Productions were obviously preparing for another certified $1 billion blockbuster. With a budget of around $350 million ($245 million plus a publicity and advertising budget of $105 million) SPECTRE is almost as expensive as Avengers 2: Age Of Ultron ($330 million: $280 million plus $50 million P&A), the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($400 million: $200 million plus $200 million P&A) and Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides ($410 million, including P&A).

But so far SPECTRE’s actual global box office gross doesn’t compare at all with the latter three blockbusters. Last year box office pundits were putting SPECTRE, quite logically, in the field of certified $1 billion blockbusters. And I actually thought the same.

I predicted in December 2014 that SPECTRE should be able to gross $90 million more than Skyfall, thus reaching almost $1.2 billion globally.

As it stands now SPECTRE only broke even when it grossed passed the $700 million mark. There’s an outside chance that the film will gross $900 million globally.

Production budgets have never been an issue for Bond movies. Still, the earnings of SPECTRE are OK-ish at best and disappointing from a more negative viewpoint. So could these slightly disappointing earnings have been prevented? And what should be done now? Will there be a more radical downscaling in the production budget of Bond 25?

Like with previous Bond films, a lot of factors have to be taken into account to understand why it became such a huge success…or why it underperformed in the case of SPECTRE.

The Action
Personally I liked the action sequences in the film, as it felt like a wonderful throwback to the tongue-in-cheek car/helicopter/airplane chases from the Moore/Brosnan era. They were infused with lots of funny gags and witty lines. The “love affair” between the Aston Martin DB10 and the baby blue Fiat 500 caused unexpected laughter from my side. I recognized it as “Bond-esque.” But that’s the kind of action that perhaps didn’t work as well with “normal” audiences.

The freerunning sequence in Casino Royale introduced action that hasn’t been done before in a Bond film. Moreover, the stunts in Casino Royale and Skyfall felt like they were culminating into bigger dangerous consequences. It doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of gadgets and a sense of fun, but in terms of cinematography, editing and execution, the action in SPECTRE could have felt fresher and more original for a broader audience while still maintaining the grittiness and danger of the previous films.

Some examples: Skiing, snowboarding or perhaps even paraskiing could have maintained the “physicality” from the previous three films, thus adding more high-stakes danger to the action. One could think of a snow variant of freerunning (think of filming this with GoPro camera equipment). Also, the car chase could have felt like a tighter non-stop rollercoaster thriller, like what Peter Yates executed so wonderfully with Bullitt, or John Frankenheimer’s tightly scripted stunts in Ronin.

Overall, the stunts in SPECTRE worked perfectly within the Bond frame and did add some wonderful humor. But it could have captured the imagination of those people who are not so familiar with Bond slightly better. A missed opportunity? Perhaps Murder On Wheels (Ian Fleming’s idea for an episode of a never-made Bond television series) will give the Bond producers some inspiration?

Music as Incentive
Adele’s title song for Skyfall gave Bond its third Oscar in 50 years. The title song, co-composed by Paul Epworth, is bound to become a future evergreen. Although this can’t be proven yet, the hit success of “Skyfall” became a welcome publicity incentive for actually watching the film.

One can say that it’s almost impossible to fabricate similar free publicity for SPECTRE. The producers tried this however with another big name in British music: Sam Smith. Although I appreciate the song –it works very well with the main titles– the people didn’t like it as much as Skyfall. Perhaps the Bond producers should have applied some tighter creative control on the music department as a result of Skyfall’s success. Sam Smith is no Adele. Nor is he a Paul Epworth. But perhaps Paul Epworth could have been brought back with a different artist?

Marketing is the sole keyword nowadays in picking a Bond song performer. Ever since John Barry left the series, Bond themes have been (mostly) produced separately from the actual soundtrack. But especially now one can also see its limitations with regard to publicity. And the publicity potential therefore wasn’t fully exploited. Because in the end you still need to have a smasher of a Bond song.

To be continued

Video released to promote SPECTRE title song

The official 007 website released another promotional video today, this one focusing on SPECTRE’s title song and music.

The video shows Sam Smith’s title song, “Writing’s On The Wall,” being recorded. There are also comments from the singer, director Sam Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli.

A different story is told on the video concerning the creative process of the song. Smith has said previously, “It’s the quickest I’ve ever written a song – it took 20 minutes and they loved it!”

Broccoli’s version: Smith had “many meetings” with Mendes and reading the script thoroughly before writing the song. “I think it will go down as one of the greatest Bond songs in history.”

The video comes one day before a U.K. press showing and the movie’s debut on Oct. 26. It doesn’t come to the U.S. until early November. Here’s the video: