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Challenging atonal score rewards deep exploration
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
While director Michael Winner is best known today in his home country as a newspaper columnist, raconteur and as the face of an insurance company in a series of tv adverts, his reputation as a film director has all-but-vanished. No doubt due in no small measure to the awful tripe he made in his later years as a filmmaker, it does have the unfortunate side-effect of meaning that his earlier career, which contained several gems, is glossed-over. He will forever be associated with Charles Bronson, making six films with the actor, including his most famous; the second film in their collaboration was The Mechanic, a gritty action piece about a hitman.
Of more interest to film music fans should be Winner's relationship with composer Jerry Fielding, which also spanned six films. Fielding himself is destined to always be associated primarily with Sam Peckinpah - and not without good reason - but in many ways his scores for Winner as a whole present an even more fascinating and impressive body of work. According to Fielding expert Nick Redman in his introductory remarks in this album's booklet, Winner simply turned his films over to the composer and let him get on with doing what he thought was best - and that artistic freedom allowed Fielding to express himself in his own, unmistakably singular way.
The Mechanic is not the sort of film score for those who go moist-eyed at the mere thought of a long-lined romantic melody, and wince at the merest hint of atonality - it's a cold, dissonant soundscape cleanly mirroring the clinical killer at the story's centre. Back at the time this film was made, mafia men weren't the cheerful killers in the Tony Soprano ilk, they were heartless, ruthless killers - and Fielding's score is a perfect match for that. His score is built from little clusters which overlap, get turned upside-down, deeply disguised - technically, extremely difficult to compose, moreso when it has to be put on a film, so Fielding's accomplishments are high.
For all the chilly feelings running throughout the music, there is an underlying elegance which is what gives the score its real edge - music as challenging as this often falls into the trap of losing its focus, failing to give the listener the stand on which to hang his hat. The Mechanic simply grows from one place organically, progresses through its journey with massive focus before arriving at its final resting place. As the liner notes astutely observe, it "is not a score that lends itself to non-technical analysis" - but I'm afraid non-technical analysis is all you're going to get at this website.
A further word on those liner notes - they're the finest I've read in a long time, with Lukas Kendall's astute analysis proving as informative as it is insightful. At the heart of this release lies some extraordinary music - difficult and challenging, quite demanding of the listener, but ultimately hugely rewarding. Fielding was in the top tier of film composers and it's a tragedy his life and career were cut so short, but it seems that his music is finally receiving the attention it so richly deserves thanks to several modern-day releases of some of his finest. The Mechanic is probably not a score to recommend to Fielding novices, for while it is built from very similar building blocks as his other 1970s thriller scores, he runs so far with them here that unexpectant listeners would probably get left behind; but fans of the composer have long painted this as one of his finest works, and it's not difficult to see why.