Monday, 4 November 2013

The music of For Your Eyes Only – by Bill Conti, with a hint of Ennio Morricone

There’s a scene in For A Few Dollars More (1965) where Clint Eastwood's Monco and Lee Van Cleef's Colonel Mortimer watch the bank of El Paso and wait for the arrival of El Indio and his men, who are going to rob it. The music, reflecting the tense mood and anticipation of the robbery, is a nerve-jangling and unpredictable sequence of piano chords, bells and percussion. But as I was watching the scene the other week, the score reminded me of music from another film, For Your Eyes Only (1981).

The music leading up to the bank robbery in For A Few Dollars More is characterised by a discordant sequence of drum rolls, short combinations of low notes on the piano, random beats of more drums, the striking of low piano chords, and chimes of a bell. And then, as El Indio arrives, we hear the blast of a horn that goes on forever. With a cut to a view of the safe timed with the striking of a bell and low piano chord, the music sequence ends.

Listen now to the scene in For Your Eyes Only in which Bond, after leaving Bibi Dahl at the biathlon event, is pursued by Kriegler. As Bond skis through the trees, and Kriegler attempts to get a clean shot, we hear an unsettling sequence of staccato motifs (mainly from the piano), muted rolls of the snare drum, a few searching strings (or other instrument), and crashing piano chords. And when Bond skis off the roof of a building and manages some impressive spins over the heads of henchmen on motorbikes, we get a long blast of a horn. The music sequence terminates with a few more piano chords and the striking of a bell that coincides with a shot of the ski jump building.

To me, the similarity between the two scores is uncanny. Structurally they are very close, and both employ the same devices of piano chords, drum beats, bell chimes and that wonderfully long horn blast. The pieces of music no doubt utilise a range of standard musical tropes that typically accompany such scenes of tension and suspense, but I wonder too whether Bill Conti was to some extent inspired by Ennio Morricone's music when he scored his sequence. Indeed, Jon Burlingame suggests as much in his excellent book, The Music of James Bond. In a very small way, the sound of the spaghetti western is present in the world of James Bond.

Note: I was unable to find the clips on YouTube, but the relevant DVD chapters are 21 (For A Few Dollars More) and chapter 12 (For Your Eyes Only).

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