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Lost Sounds and Soundtracks. Ridley Scott’s “The Duellists”

Howard Blake’s duel cues and Prokofiev pastiches for Tony Scott’s debut film.

How do you pull off an historical epic film in just over an hour and a half?  Ridley Scott did so in his 1977 Cannes-honored The Duellists working from screenwriter Gerald Vaughan-Hughes' adaptation of a Joseph Conrad short that deftly dashes across 58 scenes spanning 6 discreet epochs inside 16 years, all within a 96 minute movie (not counting credits).  Call it "The Mini-Epic."

To help the audience keep balanced on its collective time- and location-traveling toes (every 1m45s, on the average), Scott also had the sense to employ Howard Blake for a simple yet highly effective Romantic score that acts as the film's anchor.  It returns again and again from opening through closing titles to a flexible main theme varied in each usage to resonate differently with the film's diverse cast of characters and compositions.  Impossibly perfect cinematography certainly didn't hurt the film's success, nor did influences from Tarkovsky, Jancso, Kobayashi, Kubrick, and, well, Ridley Scott (he'd directed 1500 commercials by this point).  Still, the theme—even when divorced from its intended images—remains addictively listenable in all its permutations and instrumentations, exploring at different times both the shared as well as conflicting passions of the film's two opponents: honor, duty, sadness, longing, and love. 

Other unique highlights include the duel cues (sonic psychological portraits) as well as a sui generis Prokofiev pastiche for the film's most self-contained yet pivotal scene in the wintery wastes of Russia.

What you are listening to:

(1) "The Duellists" by Howard Blake


(2) "Laura" by Howard Blake


(3) "Cellar Duel" by Howard Blake


(4) "Russian Winter" by Howard Blake


(5) "End Titles" by Howard Blake



Music can be one of cinema's great pleasures. When used with inspiration—not dictating our viewing experience with a death grip or slathered like bad wallpaper over the rest of a sound mix—it can transform either solitary shots or spliced sequences of moving images into entirely new expressions, galvanizing details within the raw photographic cinematographic material or contrapuntally complicating the initial impressions of the image.

Given our love for movie music in all its forms, whether a soundtrack features original orchestral compositions, near-abstract soundscapes, or acts as a curatorial force for collecting, exposing and (re-) contextualizing existent music, Lost Sounds and Soundtracks will serve to highlight some of our favorites, obscure and not so obscure, commercially available and ripped directly from audio-tracks where necessary. Unless analyzed within their original context, all will be divorced from their image-tracks in hopes that we might briefly give them their singular due.

THANKS A LOT! I’ve been searching this soundtrack for years. Truly beautiful, and a great, underrated film.
A suggestion for a future post: Jack Nitzsche’s score for ’Cutter’s way’.
Thanks! I’ll check it out: I love his material on PERFORMANCE. Here’s some more DUELLISTS material, the final scene of the movie which provides a great example of Blake riding the rhythms of a miraculously captured shot to bring out its full power…no extreme spoilers, per se, but if you haven’t seen the film, you still might not want to watch it:
Let me second CUTTERS WAY – its a brilliant piece of work, Nitzsche’s best.
Wow, I’ll really have to see that one stat. Have heard of it before, but now the synopses and double recommendation have me really intrigued….

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