Themes Like New

More dreck, though of a different sort, can be found on Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush (1968), directed by Clive Donner. It's one of countless "sexual revolution" comedies that appeared in the '60s, and its plot concerns little more than the travails of a young man trying to get laid. The film was basically an excuse to put good-looking youths in hip clothing -- and to get the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic to contribute some hopeful hits to the score. (It didn't happen.) Mulberry Bush probably made for better viewing than listening: There are few things less exciting than mediocre psychedelia.

The prize jewel of this set of soundtracks is Michel Legrand's Oscar-winning score for the 1968 romantic thriller The Thomas Crown Affair. The film stars Steve McQueen as an aristocratic bank-robber and Faye Dunaway as an investigator trying to seduce him. Norman Jewison transcended the amateurish script (thrown together in a few weekends by a Boston attorney) by directing with astonishing flair and pizzazz. Almost half the story is told via montage of a sort that's simply no longer seen in the movies: split screens, images repeating across a black background, multiple scenes playing out like a mosaic. Jewison's creative editing -- double-takes, overlapping sound, rapid-fire parallel sequences -- turns the film into a stylistic triumph.

Legrand's score is delightfully atmospheric, with echoing flutes and quirky trumpet solos. Here and there he employs an almost inaudible string section that creates a murmuring cushion of sound. Today "ambient" artists employ synthesizers to create the same effect, since computers can remove the "attack" (the initial sound of a plucked string or a struck piano-key) and leave the "sustain" of a given note. Legrand did it with his arranging skills.

The standout track here is "Playing the Field," a fast-moving piece with multiple instruments -- xylophone, harpsichord, perhaps an organ or piano -- creating fluid cascades of sound. During the song's trumpet solo, a snare drum flutters away in the background. It would be a stretch to cite this as a precursor to the speedy beats of jungle, but the general vibe is there: hyperactive and mellifluous at the same time. A similar track, "The Boston Wrangler," has a xylophone riff that starts and stops in such a catchy manner that it's surprising someone hasn't sampled it yet. Compared to the jazzier jungle being made today -- Roni Size's debut, for instance -- some of Legrand's pieces sound as though they were put together just last week.

Perhaps if more of these soundtracks are unearthed, electronica bands will have even more old treasures to freshen up and incorporate into their music. In the meantime even the weakest of the Rykodisc releases are more intriguing than most of the tired rock 'n' roll that's currently topping the charts.

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