The Friday Five: The Tooth of the Matter
Well, we’re back here again, and as we hurtle toward the holiday period, the days seem to come faster and faster. Lucky them. Today’s Friday Five is an interesting one and was certainly fun to put together. Originally, I had asked a friend's son if he wanted to pick this week’s topic. Neil Shurley, who writes the excellent Star Trekking newsletter, said his son Shaw really liked Notes on the Screen, so I thought it would be fun to ask him. However, Shaw was busy being called into action as an understudy for a show and then having his wisdom teeth out. Ouch.
So, in tribute to Shaw, here is some great movie music that is related to teeth in some matter. Enjoy!
There was no way this wasn’t going to get onto this list. Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge thriller was a massive deal worldwide, and with good cause - it’s a fantastic picture. It’s also incredibly brutal, as we find out many times, but one of the most grueling scenes is when Oh-Daesu (Choi Min-sik) makes his way into the hotel where he was held captive for fifteen years. He interrogates the overseer, and his method is, should we say, horrific, as he uses the claw end of a hammer to extract several of the man’s teeth. This is all done to the enveloping sound of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, specifically ‘Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, "L'inverno" (Winter).’ The music is used expertly, with the chugging strings beginning as he breaks down the door and steadily rising as he prepares the man for his interrogation. The famous musical explosion is timed with blood running from the first tooth. The camera doesn’t show the actual extractions, but the screams and the Vivaldi are enough to make you cringe. Oh, and the bloody teeth on the keyboard.
2. Return of the Jedi
Something a little lighter, with the third film in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. The teeth in question here belong to the all-powerful Sarlaac, a gigantic monster hidden in the sand with only its toothed maw visible. At the end of the first act, Luke Skywalker and co are brought to the Sarlaac’s home in the Pit of Carkoon, where they face execution for trying to pry Han Solo out of the hands of crime boss Jabba the Hutt. As the vile gangster makes Luke walk the plank, John Williams kicks off the cue with a set of disparate chords that dial up the tension before Luke’s theme erupts as he somersaults off the plank and catches his lightsaber (handily thrown at him by R2-D2) and everything goes crazy. Healthy doses of the Rebel fanfare are plugged in as the film cuts between the different mini-battles, with verbatim quotes from the ‘TIE Fighter Attack’ cue in “Star Wars” - originally, the cue had less thematic material, but it was rewritten to includes more of Luke’s theme. As the heroes win and Jabba’s sail barge explodes, a terrific new victory fanfare is introduced that would be reprised at the finale as the Death Star explodes. Absolutely thrilling and papers over the fact that all of Luke’s plan is ridiculous.
Joe Dante’s fishsploitation classic is mostly famous for being a fun horror-comedy that came out the same year as “Jaws 2,” with none other than Steven Spielberg himself responsible for its final release after nixing a planned lawsuit by Universal. It’s a tremendously entertaining picture and an early example of Dante’s potential, and of course, Spielberg would eventually hire him for “Twilight Zone: The Movie” and “Gremlins.” Dante was over the moon when he found out the great Pino Donaggio agreed to score “Piranha,” with the composer already having scores such as “Don’t Look Now” and “Carrie” under his belt at that time, and he brought a similar sound to "Piranha” with his lush, thick strings and leisurely melody lines. There’s a scene where swimmers at a kids’ summer camp are attacked after bastard instructor Paul Bartel forces them into the water. It’s a fairly standard scene for this kind of picture, but Donaggio treats it sincerely, using long sustained chords to really nail the tension of the scene, and it’s a really interesting way to score it. It also has a satisfying emotional climax, as Donaggio uses a fanfare variation of the main theme to score the death of a counselor.
4. Alien 3
David Fincher’s wonderfully slimy and grim threequel is still a much-maligned picture, and you can understand simply from the fact that it followed “Aliens,” which took an action movie approach to the franchise. But “Alien 3” is an excellent film, particularly its score by Elliot Goldenthal. Fincher took a more esoteric approach to the mandatory chestburster scene, intercutting the funeral of Newt and Hicks with the appearance of the alien, birth and death, and all that. Musically, the scene is incredible, with Goldenthal using a solemn female solo voice before segueing to his ‘Adagio’ theme as the bodies are hurled into the furnace, and the alien breaks out from the confines of the dog or oxen, depending on which version you’re watching. It’s turned into a religious experience, especially considering the eulogy given by Charles Dutton’s Dillon, and it’s a thoroughly haunting piece with a truly uncomfortable ending thanks to Goldenthal’s dissonance.
1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me” did many things to delight James Bond fans, including the introduction of henchman Jaws, played by Richard Kiel. He wasn’t an especially worthy adversary for 007, but he had enough of a personality that he was brought back for the next picture, 1979’s “Moonraker.” Also returning was composer John Barry, who had missed the previous film due to tax issues, and he brought his usual class to the film, composing one of his best scores for the series. Of particular note was the cable car sequence, where Bond and Jaws faced off on top of one of the transports as it hung in the air just off Sugarloaf Mountain in the tropical paradise of Rio de Janeiro. Barry’s music is typically gripping, using staccato bursts of low strings with high violins in counterpoint, with fragments of the main title melody floating in the background. The motif Barry uses brilliantly emphasises the danger Bond and Holly Goodhead (yes, I know) are in, and it’s an absolutely thrilling scene. The coda is less exciting but still adorable, where Jaws finds himself trapped under a cable car pulley wheel after crashing into the station. The big metal-mouthed lug is saved by a dainty blonde in pigtails called Dolly (who doesn’t have braces), and they instantly gaze longingly at each other as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy Overture) plays. This was something of a theme over some of Moore’s pictures, with “Moonraker” also featuring Elmer Bernstein’s theme from “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” using Maurice Jarre’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Bonus: Little Shop of Horrors
When it comes to teeth, everyone’s idea of horror is usually the dentist, and it’s hard to find a worse one than Orin Scrivello, DDS, deliciously played by Steve Martin in Frank Oz and Alan Menken’s hilarious 1986 B-movie-inspired musical. He even gets a musical number all to himself to show how evil he is, the fabulous ‘Dentist!’, where we’re told he grew up “shooting puppies with a BB gun,” leading to the inevitable career of the damned. Menken’s lyrics are genius, as heard in the chorus,
You'll be a dentist (You'll be a dentist)
You have a talent for causin' things pain (Pain)
Son, be a dentist (Son, be a dentist)
People will pay you to be inhumane (Inhumane)
and lines like “Here he is folks, the leader of the plaque,” and “I am your dentist/And I get off on the pain I inflict,” which means nobody is crying when Rick Moranis’ Seymour murders him, chops him up, and feeds him to sentient meat-eating plant Audrey II. Charming.
As always, if you want to pick a topic for a future Friday Five, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter. And if you get bored, you can read me talking about “Knight Rider” and “Back to the Future” toys.
Have a better one.
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