Friday, 11 May 2012

Celluloid Sounds - The Long Good Friday (1980)

A few years back I was asked by a fellow academic to decide upon my favourite British film of all time, and then write an appreciation of it, for a book that unfortunately never saw the light of day. I chose The Long Good Friday and as I think about it now, several years on, my decision would probably remain the same. My interest in British genre cinema goes far beyond horror; indeed at one time I had a greater interest in home-grown gangster, noir, and science-fiction films than I did with a lot of generically retrograde horror pictures. The challenge of a genre film is in providing something innovative and new within a restrictive narrative and iconographic environment; this is made even more challenging when that genre then has to be adjusted to the meta-narratives and cultural concerns of a national cinema. In some genres, such as the western, this is impossible. But the syntactic concerns of the American gangster film seem to fit the gritty social realism that marked large swathes of British cinema like a glove. The Long Good Friday is an innovative gangster picture that isn’t concerned with the rise of the criminal, but instead completely focuses on his fall, and it is a fall that is made supremely entertaining by Bob Hoskins’ apoplectic and bemused rage.

But we are here to discuss the soundtrack which was composed by Francis Monkman. I’ve read accusations of datedness in the past in relation to the music, but The Long Good Friday as a whole is completely dated anyway. The political and social ideology explored in the film is one which would become firmly associated with the leadership of Margaret Thatcher throughout the 1980’s. That Thatcher had only just come to power when the film was being written and then subsequently released, illustrates the prophetic nature of the screenplay. There isn’t a great deal of difference between Harold Shand in 1980 and Albert Spica in 1989, even though the grotesque gangster of Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, his Wife & Her Lover is more of a vulgar caricature of Thatcherite values. So the electronic synth based music of Mr. Monkman helps to ground the film in the early 1980’s, and this is very important. Monkman first emerged as a name of repute in the progressive rock group Curved Air; they achieved their five minutes of fame with the excellent hit single Back Street Luv, before Monkman moved on after contributing keyboards and guitars to their first three albums. In 1979 Monkman joined Sky, a super group of sorts formed by classical guitarist John Williams and session musician extraordinaire Herbie Flowers. But the success of The Long Good Friday and the allure of solo projects saw Monkman leave the group after two albums.

Oddly enough Monkman did not make a career out of soundtracks, despite the occasional brilliance of this score. I’ve chosen four compositions to represent the soundtrack, and it was impossible for me to omit the most famous piece, however I’ve always preferred the arrangement of the title music that plays over Shand’s despairing face at the conclusion of the movie which goes under the title Taken. The other three tracks show off Monkman’s moody and pulsating electronic textures. Of particular note is At the Pool which creates an eerie shimmering atmosphere that complements one of the films most disturbing scenes. The soundtrack was originally released on LP in the UK in 1979 on Spartan Records, and was reissued on LP and for the first time on CD in 1989 courtesy of Silva Screen. A subsequent CD release on the Metrodome label in 2000 was backed with a selection of tracks inspired by the film, but the source material was ripped from vinyl and is of low quality, so should be avoided. If you’re looking to add this title to your collection then you can do no worse than the Silva Screen release from 1989. And now after all that babble, lets enjoy some music.

TRACK LISTING - Silva Screen Records (1989)
01 Main Title (1:57)
02 Overture (6:24)
03 The Scene is Set (2:27)
04 At the Pool (2:43)
05 Discovery (3:26)
06 The Icehouse (5:04)
07 Talking to the Police (4:11)
08 Guitar Interludes (6:07)
09 Realisation (2:33)
10 Fury (6:19)
11 Taken (2:50)


  1. Another classic example, in the late 70`s the British film industry should`ve still been making horror and science-fiction (to keep in line with American trends at that time). Instead what were we producing ?, idiotic garbage like this, thats what !. The late 70`s was a time when the American film industry was making incredible leaps and bounds forward whilst the British film industry was taking massive and absurd steps backwards. And that, Shaun my old mate, is why the British film industry has been total crap for the last 35 years.

  2. Good on MacKenzie et al, I say, for keeping British Cinema, for all its faults, British. Genre stretches further than the fantastic and at the time of THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY's release, I dare say, the last thing ordinary, working class folk needed was more mindless, American escapism.
    Anonymous, are you not proud of Peter Walker?

  3. @ Mr. Anonymous - I think only an idiot would dismiss THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY as "idiotic garbage". I'm assuming you didn't read my opening paragraph in which I clearly state this is one of my favourite British films. Did you notice the music? This is after all what this post was about. Or is the music idiotic as well? Some constructive comments or criticisms of Francis Monkman's music would be much more interesting to read, especially on a post devoted to Francis Monkman's music.

    @ You're absolutely right Mike - THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is an excellent example of British genre filmmaking. It can be enjoyed on many levels; as an action/thriller film, as a gangster picture, and most annoyingly for our anonymous friend, as a socio/political document of the times.

  4. Shaun, imagine its 1980 again, now compare the laughable out-moded hogwash of "The Long Good Friday" to the majestic magnificence of "The Empire Strikes Back" ! ? ! ?, as i said, there really is no comparison. I`m not interested in "socio/political" nonsense, i just want pure escapism and special effects magic.

  5. eddie lydecker14 May 2012 at 07:25

    Bob Hoskins is the biggest load of old rubbish in the history of the universe.

  6. Mike, Pete Walker did make some interesting cultish type horror movies back in the 70`s but it just wasn`t enough to save the British film industry from where it was going, which was right down the toilet ! ! !.

  7. Its a bit difficult to compare a science-fiction film to a gritty gangster movie, but you obviously think it's fair to do so. If you think I'm going to endorse the 'idiotic garbage' that is the STAR WARS franchise you're quite mistaken. I find them all quite tedious to be honest, and I've yet to see a George Lucas directed film I liked. You're not interested in 'socio/political nonsense', yet you find the films of Pete Walker interesting, which just happen to be the most overtly socio/political horror films ever made in Britain...go figure! -

    AND STILL NO DISCUSSION OF THE MUSIC!!! I may have to start using my editorial powers here!

  8. Yes but science fiction and horror films are ALWAYS repeat ALWAYS going to be better and more entertaining than so-called "gritty realism" oriented films by definition (irrespective of whether they have any "socio/political" content or not), i prefer imaginative film-making anyday over unimaginative film-making. Now, with regards to the music from this film, i didn`t talk about it bacause i simply dont remember any of it, my apologies Shaun my old mate.

  9. I'm not sure if you noticed but I included four musical extracts in this piece, specifically for those who may not remember the music. What you do is click the play button and then the music plays. After that you can then make an informed comment about the music...that's the whole point of this post. You've taken over the comments section of this post with your views (and I don't mind that at all, anything for a lively debate), but you haven't even listened to the music...that's the whole point of these Celluloid Sounds posts. The review of OUTLAW by Mike would have been a much appropriate place for this debate.

  10. Sorry geezer, i didn`t realise, i was just so eager to trash the British film industry (as usual), i have now listened to all four musical extracts and the one called "Taken" is the one i remembered more than any of the others, i seem to remember how it superbly accompanied the final shot of the film with Pierce Brosnan holding the gun on Hoskins after Hoskins had been rude about "hot dogs", quite a good ending to an otherwise decidedly mediocre film.

  11. Yes an excellent final scene, I seem to a recall a young Brosnan chewing gum, with a smirk on his face, as he holds a pistol on Hoskins, who proceeds to think about the succession of events that have led him to this fate. I'm glad you at least liked this shot and the way the music works with it :-)


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