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Comments about the soundtrack for Dragonslayer (Alex North)

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"Slain" by Alex North's musical gifts, again.
• Posted by: Stewart Sesuande   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2010, at 12:05 a.m.
• IP Address:
• Now Playing: Anita Bryant, "In Your Home Tonight"

La-La Land Records has re-released Alex North’s score for the film, “Dragonslayer”, and listening to it has been a tremendously nostalgic treat for me!

I saw "Dragonslayer" as a young adult when it premiered at theaters in 1981. While I certainly enjoyed the film's "realistic" narrative treatment, and, of course, its advanced (for 1981) visual refinements, when I came out of that darkened theater it was Mr. North's intoxicatingly exuberant musical score that had literally possessed me.

If it’s possible to experience a “high” as a result of listening to new and exciting music, then the brilliance of Mr. North’s music for “Dragonslayer” affected my nervous system in just that way. For me, the music is sensuous and serpentine its quickening, chameleon-like changes. It’s heroic and humorous at the same time. It is so energetic, so sublimely mysterious in its effects, and so aurally and emotionally involving that I could describe it as my first "occult" musical experience. Just as Ulrich initiated Galen into the esoteric world of ritual magic in "Dragonslayer", so I also felt like I was being inducted into a higher realm, a more sacred plane of musical insight and appreciation, as a result of hearing Mr. North’s brashly beautiful musical score, aided by Henry Brandt, his extremely inventive orchestrator.

There’s no doubt that the music is tumultuous, but that’s part of what makes it so thrilling. It’s what shadowy sorcery and fantastical, fire-breathing creatures should sound like in the language of a “modern” orchestra. And it’s true that there is an abundance of dissonance throughout. However, it has an effect similar to that of imbibing just a little too much wine during a superb dinner: you feel giddy, and a little off-balance, but good, nonetheless.

Everything transmutes into something else in this score, like an alchemist working changes in rare elements. As life is a mixture of pain and joy, so the dissonance in Mr. North’s filmic composition combines merriment and mayhem, terror and tenderness, in a way that confronts the listener with a challenge to accept the sudden and wildly disparate shifts in instrumental timbre, volume, texture and articulation as part of a fleeting and ever-changing totality of sound and feelings. There are few if any musical lines of demarcation to guide your response to the drama playing out on-screen. Everything is created out of something else.

I think I could say that this film score changed me in some way. It opened up my ears and my mind to the sheer thrill of listening to music being made. It made me love an artist's artistry. It made me wish I were related to Alex North, just so I could brag about it (Just kidding! No, I’m not! Yes, I am!). But most of all, it added an incredible amount of entertainment value to a visually distinctive and unconventional film treatment of a fantastic story set in a brutal, long-ago time and place where the hopeful dreams of a magical life could keep the dreaded superstitions at least at arm’s length.

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rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. Scoreboard created 7/24/98 and last updated 4/25/15.