(Ah, yes. Don’t you just love this blog? While other blogs deliver news from the world and interesting perspectives on current events, like the Climate Conference that’s taking place in my home city Copenhagen right now, At the Lighthouse happily brings you obscure and completely irrelevant reviews of random 80s or 90s movie soundtracks.)
Urged on by my new-found love for Harrison Ford I finally watched Blade Runner for the first time about a month ago, the director’s Final Cut version. A brilliant movie, but I’m not going to review it, at least not now, partly because I think I’d need to watch it again in order to take it all in, partly because I am not convinced that I have anything original to say about it. Be that as it may, one thing that I noticed upon my first viewing was that the movie has an incredible soundtrack, and I just bought it on iTunes this week.
iTunes is such a dangerous thing by the way, from a financial perspective. Remember back in the 90s when you had to go all the way down to a music store if you wanted to buy, say, the new The Verve album? And by the time you were half-way down there, you were already so tired of “Bittersweet Symphony” that you just gave it up and went into a kiosk and bought one of those brand new super-hip Pink Grape Fantas to quench your post-Berlin Wall/pre-9-11 thirst. So much money was saved that way. Whereas today you can buy music with just a click or two on iTunes, and it is inevitable that you end up doing quite a few impulse purchases.
The Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis was such an impulse purchase, but it’s not one that I’m likely to regret. It’s simply a fantastic soundtrack, and I’ve been listening to it all week. And this is where I run into my usual trouble because I’m not a professional musician nor do I have any kind of degree in music, so it’s hard for me to find the right terms with which to express my enthusiasm about the different tracks. But I’ll try my best and add youtube examples to illustrate my points, and if you’re more knowledgable than I about these things, raise your voice in the comments – I’d be happy to hear what you have to say about it.
I think my favourite track will have to be “Rachael’s Song”:
Breathtaking. Rachael is an extremely interesting character because she (SPOILER ALERT!!1!!) is of course a replicant, except she doesn’t know it, because she’s been given emotions that supply her with memories of a past that isn’t actually hers. That makes her part of the philosophical/theological arc of the movie which deals with the urgent question: What makes a human being human? And it places Rachael in an intriguing grey area, character-wise. As an audience we feel distanced from her upon first learning of her being a replicant, a sentiment that is supported by her flawless, icy appearance in the first few scenes that we see her in. But this image of her is gradually changed as her character finds out about her true identity, and it’s hard not to be moved by her subtle anguish in the scene where Deckard sets her straight. I love the startlingly organic feel of the imagery in this scene, by the way:
Deckard: Remember when you were six? You and your brother snuck into an empty building through a basement window. You were going to play doctor. He showed you his, but when it got to be your turn you chickened and ran; you remember that? You ever tell anybody that? Your mother, Tyrell, anybody? Remember the spider that lived outside your window? Orange body, green legs. Watched her build a web all summer, then one day there’s a big egg in it. The egg hatched…
Rachael: The egg hatched…
Rachael: …and a hundred baby spiders came out… and they ate her.
Deckard: Implants. Those aren’t your memories, they’re somebody else’s. They’re Tyrell’s niece’s.
The horror of seeing biology turn on itself as a spider mother is devoured by her own offspring, the shame of a childhood game of Doctor gone awry – how could memories of such horrifying tangibility, of such intimacy, possibly belong to a replicant? It’s easy to understand how Rachael could have been fooled.
And I think that Vangelis has managed to capture this idea in his music perfectly in “Rachael’s Song”. The vocal, sung by Mary Hopkin, is luringly beautiful, like a mermaid’s or a sirene’s song, but there’s a dominant sense of something fragile, or vulnerable in the dripping sound of the accompaniment, like something melting away, or like raindrops falling – the latter fitting in well with the rain motif that is used throughout the movie.
I also really like the “Love Theme”, which I believe is the most famous part of the soundtrack. Here it is, in a version that also shows the images from the scene, where the theme is used:
The smoldering saxophone lends to the music a jazz-like vibe that perhaps serves to tie the movie in with the film noir genre that it’s a part of, but there’s also a xylophone-like sound that sounds beautifully mechanical, like a child’s music box. And then there’s an interesting development in the music around 3:10 into the track. As the images in the youtube video will show, it’s not an idyllic or uncomplicated love scene that this theme accompanies: When Deckard first attempts to kiss Rachael she resists, so he follows her, throws her up against the wall and the following conversation ensues:
Deckard: Say “Kiss me”.
Rachael: I can’t… rely on…
Deckard: Say “Kiss me”.
Rachael: Kiss me.
Deckard: I want you
Rachael: I want you.
Rachael: I want you.
Rachael: Put your hands on me.
The perils of this strange human being (or is he??)/replicant relationship are brilliantly pinpointed in these few lines, as is, I would say, Deckard’s character who at this time still has a lot to learn about what it means to be a person. He has learned a lot more by the time of the last scene of the movie when he tenderly kisses Rachael and asks her “Do you love me? (…) Do you trust me?”´. But his acceptance of her is immanent early on in this scene as well, as Deckard listens while Rachael plays the piano:
Deckard: I dreamt music.
Rachael: I didn’t know if I could play. I’m remembering lessons. I don’t know if it’s me, or Tyrell’s niece.
Deckard: You play beautifully.
In a different end of the spectre, there’s “Tales of the Future”. This track and the track “Damask Rose” make me nostalgic for Syria, and they also tie in with the movie’s theme of cultural melting pot (the images of the movies showing us a future L.A. that’s culturally far from the mostly western city that we know it to be today):
Another great track is “Blade Runner (End Title)”:
The allegro tempo suits an otherwise very lento soundtrack, and the streamlined sounds of it do justice to the futuristic thriller that this movie (also) is. I also like the simple, sinister melody, that’s repeated over and over again, with its inclining notes. It’s hard to believe that this is the end credit music for a movie that originally had that ridiculous happy ending (forced on the movie by the producers who thought this would make the movie more audience-friendly):
The voice-over is also terrible. Harrison Ford reportedly despised the voice-overs, so maybe this accounts for his uninspired delivery of them, or maybe Ford simply isn’t a great narrator. In either case, if you haven’t yet seen the movie, make sure you see the Final Cut version, without the forced happy ending and the voice-over. It really is the only way to go.
The last song on the soundtrack is not the “End Titles” one – they’ve given the last word to the character of Batty, who arguably serves as a kind of replicant Christ figure in the story. The track is called “Tears in the Rain”, inspired by Batty’s beautiful final line:
Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.
This last line of Batty’s is actually included in the sountrack at the beginning of “Tears in Rain”. They do the same thing on the first three tracks (“Main Titles”, “Blush Response”, and “Wait for Me”), which is actually my sole complaint about the soundtrack. The added dialogue feels a little out of place in these first three tracks and subtracts slightly from my enjoyment of the music. However, Batty’s line on “Tears in Rain” is so poetically written and so musically delivered by actor Rutger Hauer that it actually works really well on this song. Or so I think, but judge for yourselves:
Being the opera nerd that I am, I was very curious about just what exactly the “Tannhäuser Gate” is. Alas, Wikipedia informed me that it is simply an “unexplained fictional name”. But then I guess it’s more alluring this way; now I get to use my imagination to come up with an explanation of my own. I think I’m going to imagine that it’s a giant space portal erected in the future and named after Wagner’s opera, mainly because it is positioned in such a way that it relates in some manner to the Evening Star, which is of course Venus, who was Tannhäuser’s mistress. Yeah.
Anyway, there are several more beautiful tracks on the soundtrack (like the funny, nostalgic, 30s-type “One More Kiss, Dear“, or “Blade “Runner Blues“), but I’m sure they won’t benefit from my riding them to death. So go listen to them! And also, watch the movie.