Home > Reviews > THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR – Bill Conti

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR – Bill Conti

thomascrownaffairOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When you look at Bill Conti’s list of credits over the past five years or so – memorable titles such as Rookie of the Year, Bushwhacked, Spy Hard and Wrongfully Accused leap out – it is all the more surprising and gratifying to see him attached to such a high profile and comparatively serious movie as The Thomas Crown Affair. He has repaid the trust invested in him by director John McTiernan with an unusual, challenging, peculiarly percussive score that has generated heated debate amongst score fans, with equal amounts of admirers and detractors. Personally, I fall into the former category. While I can appreciate that Conti’s efforts were not entirely successful, and although one key musical sequence was utterly destroyed through careless digital editing, I find it refreshing that a composer such as Conti would be willing to try something so new and original at a time when most film scores are rejected if they don’t adhere to tried and tested formulas.

A remake of the classic 1968 crime caper that starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, this updated version stars the suave Pierce Brosnan as ultra-rich businessman Thomas Crown who, for no other reason than to alleviate his own boredom, plans an elaborate art gallery robbery in which he steals a priceless Monet painting. Enter sexy insurance investigator Rene Russo, determined to get to the bottom of the seemingly perfect crime, and who suspects Crown from the outset. However, despite the protestations of police chief Dennis Leary and her own better judgment, she finds herself falling in love with the dashing millionaire.

As I mentioned earlier, Bill Conti’s original score as heard in the film is one of the most unusual of the year. This CD, released on the Ark-21 subsidiary of the Pangaea label, does not really do justice to Conti’s experimental work, instead seeming content to pass it off as just another jazz score. In fact, much more emphasis is placed upon Sting’s cover version of the classic Noel Harrison ballad “The Windmills of Your Mind”, which featured prominently in the original film and won an Oscar for composer Michel Legrand and lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. I have every respect for Sting as an artist, and his version is completely listenable and silky-smooth, but it seems rather arbitrary and a little self-defeating to include such a famous song in the remake, which does nothing more than draw comparisons with its better predecessor.

However, it is interesting to note that the inventive Mask of Zorro-style handclaps and footstomps which accompany Brosnan’s character through the conclusive, but rather confusing “man in a bowler hat” chase in the labyrinthine art gallery are actually not the work of Conti, but are samples taken from Nina Simone’s nervous, effervescent song “Sinnerman”, one of the three other songs heard in its entirety on the album. French artist Wasis Diop’s “Everything Is Never Quite Enough” and Caribbean singer Georges Fordant’s “Caban La Ka Kratchie” are the other source music selections.

The eight remaining score tracks – all 14 minutes of them – completely ignore the trumpet theme in the second half of the main titles, and make no mention of the pulsating techno theme for the Romanian thieves. Instead, the CD showcases Conti’s lounge jazz credentials in cues such as ‘Meet Ms. Banning’ ‘Cocktails’ and the conclusive ‘Quick Exit’, all of which feature the usual soft muted trumpet, double bass and snare drum arrangements. Of much more interest are the oddly engaging, staccato, syncopated piano opening ‘Black & White X 5’, the wonderfully dynamic string and piano follow-up ‘Never Change’, the showstopping sax solo in the lively ‘Goodnight/Breaking & Entering’, and the main theme’s subsequent transformation into the ‘Gliding’ tracks, two wonderfully vibrant and open orchestral themes which stand alone as the musical highlights of both film and score.

Curiously, there is no album producer credit listed in the notes of the CD, and the press kit from Ark-21 admits that they have “rush-released the soundtrack due to overwhelming public demand”. This is probably where Pangaea and Ark-21 have gone wrong – by going like the clappers to get the album out, they have not invested quite as much time and thought into the CD’s make-up as they should, and as a result have missed off several essential score tracks which would have otherwise lifted Conti’s contribution out of the realms of the somewhat mediocre and into the more meaty, interesting stuff. The Thomas Crown Affair is certainly an album that is easy to enjoy, and fans of the film will be satisfied, but it’s so short I fear that fans of Bill Conti’s work will still find plenty to complain about.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Windmills of Your Mind (written by Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, performed by Sting) (4:17)
  • Sinnerman (written and performed by Nina Simone) (10:19)
  • Everything Is Never Quite Enough (written by Wasis Diop, Xavier Derouin and Beth Hirsch, performed by Wasis Diop) (4:32)
  • Caban La Ka Kratchie (written and performed by George Fordant) (4:06)
  • Black & White X 5 (1:22)
  • Never Change (1:20)
  • Meet Ms. Banning (1:26)
  • Goodnight/Breaking & Entering (3:41)
  • Glider Part 1 (2:05)
  • Glider Part 2 (1:32)
  • Cocktails (1:36)
  • Quick Exit (1:28)

Running Time: 37 minutes 51 seconds

Pangaea/Ark-21 186-810-049-2 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Bill Conti. Orchestrations by Jack Eskew. Recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin. Edited by Chris McGeary. Mastered by Doug Schwartz. Score produced by Bill Conti. Album produced by Bill Conti.

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