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FLESH + BLOOD – Basil Poledouris

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

flesh+bloodMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Flesh + Blood was director’s Paul Verhoeven’s first American film as well as his first collaboration with Basil Poledouris. The tale is set in the darkness that was 16th century Europe during the era of the great plague. It stars Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Burlinson. Our ‘hero’ Martin (Rutger Hauer), who was commissioned by the King, leads a band of brutal mercenaries. When the King reneges on his deal, Martin and his band of men strike back by kidnapping Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is betrothed to Prince Steven (Tom Burlinson). They take control of a castle and prepare for the attack by royal forces under the command of the aggrieved Prince Steven. Fate would have it that Agnes begins to fall in love with Martin which brings her into conflict with Celine (Susan Tyrell) who also loves him. To say that this film excelled in graphic, gratuitous, brutal violence and carnal imagery is an understatement! Verhoven shows everything without restraint or shame, and the film is not for the squeamish. Commercially the film was a bust, with a production cost of $6,500,000 it grossed only $100,000.

Verhoven temp tracked his film with works of Horner and envisioned either him or Goldsmith scoring, however, the film’s meager budget forced him to look elsewhere. As such he sought out Poledouris since he had always liked the epic and romantic score for Conan the Barbarian. Poledouris was drawn to the film’s numerous ambiguities, medieval era adventure and swashbuckling battle drama, which called for an epic orchestral score. He responded with some amazing action writing and two romantic themes. So, let us begin our journey…

The “Main Title” introduces Martin’s Theme, the film’s prime and unifying theme that permeates the entire score. It is heroic, bravado and powerfully carried by strings and heraldic horns, perfectly emoting the persona of our ‘hero’. The cue opens quietly with chimes and medieval strings emoting the opening line of the Martin’s Theme as a prelude. At the 0:35 mark rolling drums propel us into an epic statement of the Martin’s Theme now carried by full orchestra with tambourine and percussion accents that culminates with a bravado five note fanfare flourish. As we observe a smoke filled battle scene outside the city, the music slows, descends in its register and becomes sobering, reflecting the grim carnage.

“Siege of the City” is an action cue that introduces the aptly named Swashbuckling Theme. It opens energetically with violin ostinato countered with robust low register horns as Martin storms the city. Arising from the ostinato line the Swashbuckling Theme carried by dramatic fanfare, crescendos to makes a bold and powerful statement. After fragmentary repetition of the theme’s main line, a trepidation interlude interposes before a warm solo trumpet line played over ostinato violin is used to highlight Martin’s rescue of Hawkwood. The theme then again returns and changes guises, now carried by synth with horn counters and accents by harp and chimes. The cue concludes with a dark and dissonant variant of the Battle Theme carried by strings as Hawkwood mortally wounds a nun that had been firing at his men.

“The Noose”, introduces a fragment that will subsequently evolve into a leitmotif for the Cardinal. The theme opens with dark strings, low register percussion with a harp accent and concludes with a portentous tolling bell. In “A Rotten Trick”, Martin and his men are disarmed and escorted out of town – betrayed by the King and Hawkwood. We hear a sad rendering of the opening line of Martin’s Theme carried by strings and woodwinds. As the King rewards the treachery of Hawkwood, we hear a reprise of the trumpet line, this time played by two trumpets with diverging lines, which reflect the divergent paths taken by the former friends. This effect is brilliantly conceived and testimony to Poledouris’ grasp of the film’s emotional narrative.

“Saint Martin” is a poignant and transformative scene that speaks to life born of death. As Martin prepares to bury his stillborn son, the Cardinal uncovers a statue of St. Martin, which Martin rises to claim as his patron. Caught up in the serendipity of the moment, the Cardinal declares that Martin has the mandate of Heaven and will lead the people to a new prosperity. Poledouris opens the cue with sad woodwinds emoting Martin’s Theme with chime accents over violin chords with bass counters. At the 0:52 mark a solo oboe introduces the seven note Mystical Theme that heralds Martin’s transformation from mercenary to Holy Knight. Its statement, which slowly ascends by strings towards climax, is interrupted by a chord blast as the Cardinal impales a non-believer who dares to challenge Martin’s new standing. Martin’s Theme then returns in a mystical and religioso guise carried by low register woodwinds and bass. Slowly the theme gains increasing emotional potency, swelling in strings yet not reaching climax, as it instead ends plaintively as a prolonged dark bass chord while Martin buries his son.

“Lesson in Nature” introduces Agnes’ Theme, a gentle madrigal like piece carried by solo oboe and clarinet against plucked strings and tambourine accents that plays during a carriage ride in the country. “Courtship and Mandrake” is a wondrous multi-thematic cue and a score highlight. As Agnes and her betrothed Steven meet for the first time they ride alone in the countryside. When she discovers a mandrake root under a tree with hanging corpses, she solicits Steven to partake of it with her as legend holds that lovers who do so are assured eternal love. The cue opens with formal Spanish court music alight with glittering chimes that assumes a foreboding and ominous coloring borne by harp, strings and flute as the hanging corpses are discovered. As Agnes entreats Steven to partake of the root with her, a refulgent Love Motif for harp, strings and alight with chimes is introduced. This motif embodies the locket Agnes wears and is emblematic of their love. Poledouris then introduces his tender Love Theme carried by solo oboe, strings and harp, which eventually plays against her theme carried by flute as he teases her. When at last he succumbs to her seduction, the sparkling Love motif returns and plays as they kiss.

“Wagon Attack” is a dramatic action cue. It opens with a pious rendering of Martin’s Theme carried by celli, viola and double basses playing in their lowest register as he and his men approach Arnolfini’s caravan disguised as monks. When upon them, the music ignites with furious strings and tambourine along with a triumphant Martin’s Theme carried by horns as Martin signals the attack which slaughters all the guards, Agnes’ servant, captures Agnes, and wounds Arnolfini himself.

“The Rape” as the title suggests is a wrenching scene. At night with the men celebrating their victory, Martin and the Cardinal discover Agnes in hiding. The Cardinal enjoins the men to violate Agnes and the cue opens with chimes and a sustained woodwind chord with harp accents. Poledouris scores the repugnance and anguish of this scene with a five note descending motif carried by celli that plays against an intensifying and ascending counter line carried by violins and woodwinds that culminates starkly with a sustained string chord. It is testimony to Poledouris’ immense talent that he found within himself music so perfectly attenuated to this terrible scene.

In “Martin’s Withdrawal” as Martin prepares to rape Agnes, she instead asserts that she will have him and they proceed to make love. Poledouris introduces a second Love Theme, this time for Agnes and Martin that opens with a statement of Martin’s Theme carried slowly with trepidation first by bassoons and oboe playing over a sustained violin chord, and later joined by strings. At the 1:23 mark harp glissandi usher in the spritely second Love Theme alight with strings, woodwinds, heraldic horns and tambourine. As Martin succumbs to Agnes’ plea not to be raped, we segue into “The Pointer”, where Martin kicks an ember to start a fire so as to deflect his men from raping Agnes. As the fire engulfs the statue of St. Martin, a bravado and rousing statement of Martin’s Theme is heard. We again segue into “The Castle”, a scene revealing Martin and his men riding to seize a local castle. Upon arriving, his theme takes on a religioso coloring replete with bells as the statue wobbles to point at the castle, which he interprets as a sign from Heaven affirming his destiny.

“Castle Invasion” is a dynamic cue that speaks to Martin’s infiltration of the castle and his success in breeching it’s defenses so as to allow his men to enter. Poledouris scores this scene very energetically with a series of ostinato string statements shifting through the keys with tambourine accents. Later, a rousing and percussion driven rendering of Martin’s Theme joins this motif. “Feast for Martin” displays Martin and Agnes enjoying a celebratory feast with his men as the statue of St. Martin is displayed. We are treated to a truly wonderful synergy between Martin’s Theme in religioso mode and the madrigal magic of Agnes’ Theme. Poledouris perfectly captures the celebratory ambiance and medieval quality of the scene.

In “Martin & Agnes Love Theme” we hear the Love Theme play as the two make love in a warm bath. After a hesitant woodwind prelude the theme emerges tenderly on solo flute and then blossoms to a warm statement by full orchestra. When Steven arrives at the castle the next day we are treated to an exquisite interplay of themes by Poledouris. As we see Agnes toss her locket down to Steven in the cue “Rescue Me”, we hear the sparkling Love Motif of the locket played contrapuntally to the Agnes and Steven’s Love Theme. This is a stirring and beautiful passage.

In “Night Fires” Agnes strays from Martin’s bed to stare beyond at the campfires of Steven’s army. As Martin joins her she states that Steven will never give up rescuing her, only to hear Martin counter that neither would he. And so are sowed the seeds of the fateful final battle tomorrow. The cue opens with Agnes and Steven’s Love Theme carried by solo flute that is then joined by a subdued and lyrical rendering of the Battle Theme that will manifest after dawn. The interplay of these themes in different guises is brilliantly conceived.

“The Box” concerns the first battle and Poledouris provides a cue that is simply astounding! The scene opens with the approach of Steven’s mechanical wall breeching machine. When conventional weapons fail to stop the device, Martin resorts to destroying it by launching a massive rolling bomb. The cue opens with a rhythmic pounding snare drum, clashing metal, a hammer struck metallic pulse, percussion and strings which emote the relentless and apparently unstoppable approach of the mechanical device. As the device unfolds to breech the walls the refulgent Locket Motif plays along side a triumphant horn line with ostinato strings. After an interlude of glockenspiel and oboe, a dramatic horn prelude ushers in a powerful counter statement by Martin’s Theme as the rolling bomb destroys the device and turns the tide of battle. In the score’s 24th cue, we are presented with a different rendering of this cue with the inclusion of tenor drum accompaniment, which accentuates the period feeling of the piece.

“The Plague Dog” is a tragic cue. Martin captures Steven who longs for Agnes, inside the castle and uses him horrifically for target practice. The cue opens with a brief statement of Steven’s and Agnes’ Love Theme carried by horns and strings. Soon strings playing in their lowest register over a dark percussion pulse signal doom, as dog meat infested with plague is hurled over the castle walls, halting the anguish and cruelty. Tremolo strings introduce echoes of a tragic variant of the Mandrake Love Theme as an enraged Martin taunts Steven, strips Agnes and has sex with her before his eyes. A solo oboe leads woodwinds quivering strings as an equally enraged Steven breaks free and hurls an infected piece of dog meat into the castle well. Horns that fade to a dark drum pulse end the cue, as Steven orders Agnes to choose him or Martin. The screen imagery is eye averting, and Poledouris emotes this quite well.

“Water (The Undoing)” is a conflicted cue. As Agnes’ captors drink from the infected well, she hesitates as to whether to alert them to the danger. Poledouris scores this cue mournfully with strings and woodwinds, perfectly capturing the inner turmoil and conflicted feelings Agnes felt. “Prepare for Battle” is a most complex cue. When Martin’s men discover the poisoned well, they mutiny and cast him into the well. Low register strings emote the treachery of Martin’s men as we see in the distance the arrival of Arnolfini’s avenging army. At the 1:12 mark a harpsichord plays as Martin escapes and strives to rally his men to his leadership. As he confronts Agnes, a plaintive oboe plays as she attempts to assure Martin of her love. But Poledouris plays against the screen imagery to reveal her true heart by emoting her Love Theme for Steven – brilliantly conceived. Martin is not deceived and as he locks her away we hear a reserved expression of his theme as he desperately strives to rally his men to his cause.

“Arnolfini Assault” is an amazing, dramatic and complex action cue, and a score highlight. It opens with Martin’s Theme played as chimes in the high register of the Locket Theme dancing over low register string counters of his theme. As the battle unfolds, muted horns and muscular strings with growing power unleash Martin’s Theme. Within the castle Martin corners Agnes and prepares to strangle her as he paradoxically confesses his love. Poledouris emotes the anguish of the scene to great effect by reprising the descending motif he employed in the rape scene. As the battle rages, the music gains increasing potency as we hear Martin’s Theme and battle music now intertwined with fragments of Agnes’ Courtship music. From here the cue continues to build dramatically to a truly magnificent climax lead by horns as we see Steven slay the Cardinal.

“Denouement” opens with a powerful and majestic statement of the Martin-Agnes Love Theme as a dazed and defeated Martin surveys the loss of his men and the battle. When Steven joins Agnes, the theme becomes lush as we see in her face that she remains conflicted in her love. As they ride off leaving Martin to his fate we hear a bright and madrigal rendering of her theme, that leads to at the 2:47 mark, a segue into the “End Title Suite” which is truly a wondrous cue. Poledouris features a bravado playing of Martin’s Theme, the city siege and the climatic battle music, but what elevates this cue to the realm of the sublime is the magnificent contrapuntal playing of the Martin-Agnes and Steven-Agnes Love Themes against these martial themes. This cue is a masterpiece!

I would like to thank Intrada and Douglass Fake for this world premiere release of this complete score by Basil Poledouris. Unlike previous issues, which employed ¼ inch elements of varying quality, Douglass Fake used 2 inch 24-track session masters, courtesy of MGM. This served to provide a fuller and more robust sound for trombones, tuba, certain solo woodwind colors, which were somewhat buried in original 1985 mix. It suffices to say that the quality of this reissue is superb. This score has it all; two love themes, a bravado theme for the ‘hero’, battle music galore and madrigal like magic. The music is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and carries the film’s emotional narrative with exemplary fidelity often eschewing the outward screen appearances to emote the inner unspoken feelings. This is testimony to Poledouris’ gift and why I miss his voice. I highly recommend this score and assign it my highest rating.

Rating: *****

Buy the Flesh + Blood soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:34)
  • Siege of the City (3:24)
  • The Noose (0:34)
  • A Rotten Trick (1:19)
  • Saint Martin (2:52)
  • Lesson in Nature (1:09)
  • Agnes and Kathleen (0:48)
  • Courtship and Mandrake (4:05)
  • Wagon Attack (2:38)
  • The Rape (2:40)
  • Martin’s Withdrawal/The Pointer/The Castle (5:09)
  • Castle Invasion (2:03)
  • Feast for Martin (3:20)
  • Martin and Agnes Love Theme (1:24)
  • Rescue Me (0:52)
  • Night Fires (2:22)
  • The Box (5:27)
  • The Burning Wheel (1:00)
  • The Plague Dog (5:07)
  • Water/The Undoing (1:42)
  • Prepare for Battle (3:11)
  • Arnolfini Assault (5:50)
  • Denouement/End Title (7:46)
  • The Box (with Percussion Overlay) [BONUS] (5:27)

Running Time: 72 minutes 43 seconds

Intrada Special Collection Volume 153 (1985/2010)

Music composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris. Performed by The Londo Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Greig McRitchie and Jack Smalley. Score produced by Basil Poledouris. Album produced by Douglass Fake.

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  1. chris
    February 9, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Even if I am a huge fan of Conan the barbarian , I must admit that Flesh and Blood is the greatest score ever written by Basil Poledouris ! Themes, orchestrations, performances are really over the top.

  2. A. Rubinstein
    February 9, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Finally a reviewer who fully appreciate this tremendous score and gives it the five-star rating it deserves.

  3. February 11, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Another great review Craig. I’m kicking myself for missing this one, but I managed to get “Clash of the Titans” looking forward to your review of that one. 🙂

  4. February 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    your good

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