Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Shire, 1974)

     For the subway hijack film "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three", David Shire wrote a jazz-funk-based score but using an atonal melody as it's main theme (technically-speaking, the theme is a 12-tone row melody, which means that Shire used all 12 notes of an octave without repeating any).  This was a very clever move in that the funk element makes the criminals seem almost likeable (relate-able), and the atonal aspect of the theme gives everything an unbalanced, "criminal" edge (a similar tactic of groove-supported "chaos" was used by Ennio Morricone in scores such as 1971's The Cat O' Nine Tails).

     The main "tune" from the Main Title is used in several places but almost always as a variation.  However there are basically 3 main ideas in it:
  • Money Groove: Simple 3-accent bass line based on a minor 3rd in various rhythms, featured everywhere but especially in the "Money Montage" and "Money Express".
  • Pelham Theme: 4 part theme using 3-note brass figures separated by pauses (3rd figure sometimes has tremolo accents). 
  • Pelham Row: this is the scale for the Pelham theme, but often just 6 notes are used or the melody is used in broken fragments (the notes can also be used upside-down, backwards, or both upside-down and backwards).  The Row is also different from the Theme in that it has an even rhythm (sometimes like a loop).
     Other ideas include a 2-note bass vamp which is used a couple times for suspense scenes and a somber "Death" motif which occurs when the conductor is killed and when the undercover cop is about to be killed.  The table below is based on the complete release on Retrograde Records.

Trk Dur Title Film Sequence
1 2:20 Main Title 0:00: Titles over black.  NYC street traffic.  Green enters the subway (Money groove: mid tempo 3-accent bass vamp, Pelham theme as short brass figures, brass accents, Pelham Row, rhythmic accents).
0:57: (repeat with additional Pelham Row ornaments from 0:57).
2 3:13 The Taking 0:00: (Partially used) The gunmen hold up the conductor and take over the train controls (irregular low brass accents, joined by layered brass fanfares, Pelham Row in clarinet, irregular accents/snare roll, low chord with dissonant string clusters).
2:08: (irregular low brass accents/snare, Pelham theme fragments on brass).
3 2:25 Dolowitz Takes
A Look
0:00: (unused) Transit worker goes down the track to see investigate (walking bass/electric guitar groove with various piano/brass solos based on Pelham theme fragments, slowing down and fading out).
Gets Killed
0:53: Blue tells Green that Grey is crazy (slow, low figures in strings in contrary motion, slow Pelham fragment in muted brass). 
1:42: (mostly unused) The transit worker refuses to halt and is shot to death by Grey (snare riffs, walking bass resumes joined by Pelham Row riffing, vocal scat).
4 2:05 Blue And
Green Talk
0:00: A patrolman notices armed snipers coming down the tracks (slow suspense 2-note bass vamp with drums/bongos).
0:25: Green expresses his worries to Blue.  They talk about their criminal pasts (low strings with synth accents, ending in a piano ornament).
5 3:15 Money Montage 0:00: At the Federal Reserve Bank, the ransom is prepared.  At the transit center, Garber worries about time running out (Money groove variation with added piano/brass accents, bass/drum groove with held brass chords, baritone sax/bass/guiro vamp, Money groove with brass accents).
1:46: Green talks with Grey and they get tense (low suspense 2-note bass figures with drums/shakers, Pelham Row fragments).  Money montage continues (Money groove variation with added electric piano Pelham Row fragments and hand percussion, ending in low held strings).
6 4:34 Fifty Seconds 0:00: (Unused) Blue tells Green that he will start shooting hostages in 50 seconds (marimba/piano tremolo with muted brass accents).
The Money Express 0:34: (Unused) The police rush the money through traffic (building brass fanfares, Money groove developed with accented Pelham Row fragments/Pelham theme, Pelham Row in piano ornaments, brass accents).
1:39: (Pelham theme in winds, tremolo piano/trumpets, Pelham Row fragments in brass, drum break with Pelham Row in electric piano, Money groove with piano tremolo).
3:13: (Building brass fanfares, electric guitar solo, slow suspense 2-note bass vamp variation, Pelham figure in electric piano, brass, Money groove resumes, held low texture).
7 1:47 Conductor Killed 0:00: (alternate mix): A conductor is chosen to walk down the track.  Blue shoots him in the back (Death motif: isolated piano ornaments dialogue with dissonant string clusters and muted brass accents, held dissonant brass/strings).
The Money Bag 1:03: The money bag is opened and the gunmen rejoice in amazement (isolated Pelham Theme in synth joined by string/wind clusters).
8 3:15 The Pelham's-Moving-Again Blues 0:00: The gunmen start the train moving earlier than expected (brass and drum figures into relaxed Money groove variation with added high wind harmonies, Pelham Theme in brass).
1:39: Pelham Row variation in sax, Pelham Theme in slow brass figures with simplified Money groove, slowing down, dissonant end harmony).  
9 3:05 I'm A Police Officer 0:00: (unused) An undercover policeman jumps off the train after the gunmen leave and sneaks towards them (bongos into rising action figure, halting brass figures).
Renewing Disguises 0:33: The abandoned train begins moving again, but out of control (piano tremolo into brass tremoli with drums).
0:56: The gunmen change their disguises.  The undercover policeman wakes up (suspenseful layers of Pelham Theme-based wind accents over irregular low bass accents, Pelham Row in piano).
Goodbye Green, Hello Garber, Goodbye Hippie 1:41: Green reaches the street and walks away.  Garber arrives and begins checking the exits (Money groove variation with Pelham Theme in brass figures, Pelham Row in synth). 
2:29: On the tracks, Blue threatens the policeman but is halted by Garber  (Death motif: isolated piano ornaments dialogue with dissonant string clusters).
Smoking More, Enjoying It Less 2:37: Blue electrocutes himself on the electrified rail (synth cluster).
10 1:57 Mini-Manhunt 0:00: Garber interviews suspects looking for the escaped gunman (Money groove with wah guitar/short rising saxophone figures, bass/snare groove, muted brass/drums enters, baritone sax/guitar/snare)
1:19: Green enjoys looking at his money, but is suddenly visited by Garber and the police (seductive Pelham theme in vibraphone/soprano sax, joined by wry strings and high electric piano ostinato).
11 3:05 End Title 0:00: End credits (Money groove from Main title developed with Pelham Row fragments and Pelham Theme in brass/electric piano/winds/etc).
1:51: (more consonant reharmonized variation of Pelham Theme/Row, ending in Money groove climax).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Complete CD
Analysis/Interview by Doug Adams
On the '74 "Pelham," composer David Shire
David Shire - The Taking of Pelham 123 (fan video) 

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