As the New York Times so aptly observed this weekend, eerie ’80s synths score are synonymous with the German experimental electronic music group Tangerine Dream. And yet, the group and their sinister and moody but anonymous modulations were never celebrated as loudly in that era (or since) compared to the works of other ’80s synth-heavy composers like Harold Faltermeyer (“Top Gun,” “Fletch,” “Beverly Hills Cop“), John Carpenter (“Escape from New York,” “The Thing“), Vangelis (“Chariots of Fire,” “Blade Runner“) and even Giorgio Moroder (“Scarface,” “Cat People“).
The cinephile-friendly arthouse BAMCinematek tries to right that wrong this week in Brooklyn with their retrospective series centered around the atmospheric and ambient scores written and performed by Tangerine Dream. And so to help celebrate the undervalued composers we give you five of their best scores. Make sure to head to BAM this week if you’re in the New York area (and hurry, this run is almost over), and if you can’t, we encourage you to track down these films and scores.
1. “Sorcerer” (1977)
Perhaps the biggest gap in BAM’s retrospective is William Friedkin‘s equally underrated remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s “The Wages of Fear,” but the reasons for that should be obvious (though in case you don’t know there’s an entire lawsuit brewing over the film which you can read about here). Throbbing and pulsating with ominous synth dread, to truly appreciate Tangerine Dream’s score one needs to view the score in the context of the film, but it is a rather awesome piece of music regardless that krautrock fans and afficionados of bands like Cluster and Harmonia will love. Extra points go to William Friedkin who helped usher in this unusual and inspired type of music into film scores, arguably doing so first and on a massive scale with his horror blockbuster “The Exorcist,” which used similarly dissonant and instrumental music from Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells album (the theme can be heard here) and music by Jonny Greenwood fave Krzysztof Penderecki. In fact, Friedkin had originally wanted Tangerine Dream to score “The Exorcist.” “I’d never seen anything like that,” he told the NYT of seeing the band live in the 1970s. “They played one long piece of music that sounded like a combination of Jimi Hendrix and Stockhausen. The whole notion of the film I later made came that evening. I started to see the images of the movie that ultimately became ‘Sorcerer.’ ”
2. “Legend” (1985)
Everyone probably remembers Ridely Scott‘s “Legend” for its grand, mythical villains, Tom Cruise and musically, for its closing original song by the great Bryan Ferry (trivia: it’s an unused song meant for Roxy Music‘s last album, Avalon). But its gauzy, faerie-like ethereal textures are due, at least in part, thanks to the aerial sheen provided by Tangerine Dream. “Loved By The Sun” is a vocal version of Tangerine Dream’s “Unicorn Theme” with lyrics written and sung by Jon Anderson of Yes.
3. “Risky Business” (1983)
One of the most unusual and inspired moves, one that a lot of moviegoers don’t remember, is the fact that Tangerine Dream scored the 1980s teen comedy “Risky Business” starring a young Tom Cruise. The title track, the “The Dream Is Always The Same” isn’t something you’ll remember from the title, but when you hear the pensive modulations, you get that, “ohh, that theme!” feeling right away. And some of it is just subversively sinister — not bad considering the film’s about teens running a prostitution business while their parents are away on vacation. Check out the track “No Future (Get Off The Babysitter)” in the embed below and awe at its synth scuzzy genius.
4. “Near Dark” (1987)
Another classic in the dark, ethereal and often angelic work of Tangerine Dream is their atmospheric score to Kathryn Bigelow‘s waaaay, pre-“The Hurt Locker” days genre picture, “Near Dark.” A strange hybrid of vampire, western amd biker film, it’s also emerged as a horror classic in recent years. “With her makeshift family of nomadic, punk-styled vampires, they traverse the flat plains of the Midwest in railroad cars and stolen Winnebagos—an ideal canvas for Tangerine Dream,” BAM writes.
5. “Thief” (1981)
Arugably a major influence (along with Walter Hill‘s “The Driver“) on Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “Drive” — think another neo-noir where the loner thief tries to get out of the business with one more score set to throbbing and pulsating synths — Michael Mann‘s “Thief” starring James Caan is a neo-noir classic of mood, nervy tension and paranoia. Perfect for Tangerine Dream, but with the last-minute track “Confrontation,” composed at Mann’s behest when the director thought he needed one more song, the German band proved they could rock and get anthemic with the best of them.
Interested? Sold? Also check out Tangerine Dream’s scores to the adaptation of Stephen King‘s “Firestarter,” Michael Mann’s vastly underseen horror “The Keep” starring Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne and Jürgen Prochnow, and Andrey Konchalovskiy‘s drama “Shy People” starring Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, and Martha Plimpton.