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More than three decades after collaborating with the great cinematic visionaries of the day, the film music of Tangerine Dream has taken on a unique and vivid lustre. With a new generation of film lovers bringing a fresh perspective to ‘80s movies, the now iconic work of the German synth pioneers is being more fully appreciated. Not a moment too soon for David Michael Brown, author of the soon-to-be-published ‘Wavelength: The Film Music of Tangerine Dream’. One of Australia’s most respected film journalists, Brown will present a seven-part screening series of the band’s most celebrated works – Thief (1981), Risky Business (1983), Next of Kin (1982), Near Dark (1987), Miracle Mile (1988), Dead Kids (1981) and Legend (1985). “They created a distinct style that everyone copied,” Brown told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the retrospective, which unfurls from July 5 at Palace Cinema’s Park Mall Central multiplex…

SCREEN-SPACE: What is unique about the contribution that Tangerine Dream made, and continues to make, to cinema?

BROWN (pictured, below): Despite starting life as a psychedelic prog rock band in the late Sixties and creating a name for themselves expanding audience’s musical minds in the Seventies introducing sequencers and synthesizers to their ambient soundscapes, it was the band’s film soundtracks of the Eighties that many know them for. Their scores became the soundtrack to the decade that taste forgot but genre cinema embraced. For films like Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984), Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and Ridley Scott’s Legend; the German electronic music pioneers composed soundtracks that were instantly recognisable as their own.

John Carpenter often cites Tangerine Dream’s score for William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977) as a major influence on his seminal soundtrack work. And now their sound is returning. With electronic music de rigueur again in genre television and cinema thanks to the work of Le Matos, Cliff Martinez, M83 and Survive. All have claimed Tangerine Dream were an influence. The Netflix show Stranger Things and the Black Mirror choose-you-own adventure episode Bandersnatch, in particular, have championed the band bringing their music to a modern audience.

SCREEN-SPACE: What do the seven films represent to fans of Tangerine Dreams’s film music?

BROWN: All the films screening are highpoints in the band’s film career. When speaking to the various filmmakers the band worked with in the Eighties, Thief, along with Sorcerer, were often cited as the reason they wanted to work with Tangerine Dream. Risky Business saw the band’s music, in particular the track “Love On A Real Train”, hit the mainstream while Dead Kids is one of those low-budget, obscure little gems that Tangerine Dream’s enigmatic front man Edgar Froese seemed to delight in working on. The vampire western Near Dark and Steve De Jarnatt’s apocalyptic rom-bomb Miracle Mile, both featuring Paul Haslinger (composer on the Underworld series) in the line-up, are just brilliant films that demand to be seen on the big screen.

Ridley Scott’s Legend has a fascinating backstory. Gerry Goldsmith had originally provided the score to the Alien (1979) director’s epic fantasy film but after a less than spectacular debut in London, Universal president Sid Sheinberg “suggested” that Scott re-edit the film – bringing Tim Curry’s delightfully demonic Darkness to the beginning of the film for impatient American audiences, and replacing the classic orchestral score with a sonic contribution that would appeal to a younger audience. Step in Tangerine Dream, along with Roxy Music main man Bryan Ferry and Yes prog rocker Jon Anderson who provided two songs.

The creepy Ozploitation classic Next Of Kin, one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite Aussie flicks, does not feature a Tangerine Dream score as such but it it is adorned with a ominous atmospheric soundtrack by Klaus Schulze, ex-drummer of a very early incarnation of the band.

SCREEN-SPACE: The films in the line-up are all distinctive visual works from idiosyncratic directors; how influential do you understand Tangerine Dream were in the collaborative creative process?

BROWN: Many of the directors travelled to Berlin to work with the band but every soundtrack has a very different story.  For example Paul Brickman, the director of Risky Business, told me that he first sent the band a rough cut of the film to work on and the resulting score totally missed the point. Something was lost in translation. So he, along with producer Jon Avnet and sound editor Curt Sobel, spent 10 days in the German city visiting their studio in Spandau. The filmmakers then worked with the band members at the time, Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling, collaborating and experimenting together on what became one of their most popular works. In other instances, like Firestarter and Sorcerer, the band provided non-scene specific music, which the filmmakers then decided where to place. (Pictured, above; Tangerine Dream frontman Edgar Froese, left, with Ridley Scott during the scoring of Legend) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Is there any news on whether the Michael Mann film The Keep, featuring a rarely heard Tangerine Dream score, will ever resurface?

BROWN: The perennial The Keep question (laughs). The last time Michael Mann’s 1983 creepy Nazi horror film surfaced for public consumption was back in the days of laser disc. Since then the film, and the band’s soundtrack have been bogged down in legal disputes. In terms of the film, Mann, who was not a fan of the source novel, is also not happy with the theatrical release of his adaptation and rarely ever talks about his experiences. His first two hour cut was butchered by Paramount after disastrous test screenings but it seems unlikely he will revisit the project. Many now blame soundtrack rights for the film’s disappearance off the shelves and the fact that the soundtrack has not been available, apart from a couple of very limited official releases and a plethora of bootlegs, certainly lends credence to this. The bottom line… don’t hold your breath. (Pictured, above; Michael Mann with Christopher Franke, Edgar Froese and Johannes Schmoellinge on the set of The Keep. © Monique Froese, 1982)


The FILM CLUB – TANGERINE DREAM Series will screen from July 5 to September 27. Session and ticketing details available via the venue website.

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