Monday, 14 November 2011

Celluloid Sounds - Midnight Express (1978)

One of the very first soundtracks I purchased was Giorgio Moroder’s pulsating score for Alan Parker’s controversial and brutal prison drama Midnight Express. Midnight Express was the Italian’s first soundtrack, and at the time he was heavily embroiled in the late 70’s disco scene. It was a musical trend particularly receptive to Moroder’s brand of repetitive synth based pop. In addition to being a capable musician, Moroder was also an accomplished song writer and producer. His most notable successes his collaborations with Donna Summer and his first electro album From Here To Eternity, which saw the light of day in 1977. Moroder then might not have seemed the most logical choice to score a film involving a harrowing and nightmarish descent into the sadism and brutality of a Turkish prison. The film itself has had to answer to charges of racism over the years. Its representations of the Turkish authorities is unremittingly negative, and at times borders on the farce of caricature. But Moroder’s musical contribution stands in isolation to those arguments. The most famous piece is the throbbing electronica of The Chase, used wonderfully in the film when Billy flees from the authorities through the markets of Istanbul. The plodding repetition of the main beat creating a tension, paranoia and remorselessness that indicates that Billy is unable to escape his tortured destiny. When reduced to a radio friendly edit The Chase became a major hit single in almost every territory it was released in.

The other notable piece is the more understated and subtle Love's Theme - a track which forms the backdrop to a cathartic homosexual encounter between Billy and another inmate. Here Moroder shows a deft touch which compliments the on screen events to such an extent that it becomes one of the most emotive and touching moments in the film. Somehow the crisp modernity of Moroder’s production techniques and the spacious clarity of the music creates an ironic counterpoint to the abysmal conditions of the prison. It hints at a life outside of the concrete that entombs Billy, and eventually offers a hope of escape. The soundtrack was originally released on LP in October 1978 on Casablanca Records. Its importance was recognised by it’s victory at the Academy Awards in early 1979. On the strength of his musical involvement with Midnight Express, Moroder would go on to compose a number of soundtracks in the 1980’s - other credits include American Gigolo (1980), Cat People (1982), Scarface (1983), Superman III (1983), Electric Dreams (1984), The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Metropolis (1984).

01 Chase
02 Love's Theme
03 (Theme from) Midnight Express
04 Istanbul Blues - vocal
05 The Wheel
06 Istanbul Opening
07 Cacophoney
08 (Theme from) Midnight Express - vocal


  1. The Chase was used extensively in Johnnie To's The Longest Nite, the theft of soundtrack music from western films was common for many years in Hong Kong cinema. Great post Shaun.


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