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Fierce western action score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1972 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
The third collaboration between composer Jerry Fielding and director Michael Winner, Chato's Land returned the pair to the genre of their first film together, one which produced one of the composer's most wonderful scores - Lawman. The film is also notable for beginning a series of films Winner made with actor Charles Bronson, a relationship which would prove fruitful for both parties. It follows a tried-and-true western formula, with Bronson playing a man on the run from the law after killing a man in self-defence, but with Winner at the helm it was unlikely to end up being "traditional" in any sense; and the relative obscurity of the film today is probably borne of the general downwards trend in popularity of westerns by the time it had been released in 1972.
Fielding's most famous directorial collaborator was of course Sam Peckinpah, but I'm sure a pretty convincing case could be made that his finest music is actually heard in the films of Winner. Very soon after this score came The Mechanic, something of a milestone in the composer's career; and I guess in a way this score almost bridges the gap between the slightly more populist western music of Lawman and the fiercely modern, aggressively challenging The Mechanic. This is energetic, pacy music - but is as uncompromisingly intellectual as the bulk of this composer's wonderful output.
The score features several themes, with Fielding as usual treating them as building blocks which can be thrust together or broken apart at will, almost innocuous in isolation but quite magnificent in combination. The major binding motif is an arresting little piece for horns and trombones, so full of a growling menace, but surprisingly also used (very effectively) as a key component of the score's more rambunctuous, traditionally expansive western sections. It almost goes without saying that the dominating sound here is a claustrophobic, piercing, aggressive one - and Fielding's typically-complex orchestration is out in full force.
The great thing about Fielding's music is that, despite it being amongst the most modern-thinking and challenging that's ever been applied to films, it really isn't hard to connect with it. It's pretty rare that intellectual music manages to be so full of emotion as this - and with the emotion being so raw and yet somehow so mature, it's simply a pleasure to listen to. Action dominates the 47-minute album, and it's full-on, exciting stuff - Fielding was not a composer who pulled punches, and when launching his music as full-on as this there were few who could compare. Winner brought out the best in him (apparently simply by leaving him alone to get on with whatever he wanted) and Chato's Land joins the list of wonderful scores by the composer brought to light in recent years by Intrada. Special mention to the sound quality, which is considerably better than many scores recorded 15 years later, and the liner notes by Nick Redman. Highly recommended.