Wonder Woman

Retroist Scoreboard: Wonder Woman and Warrior Women

There’s only one brand new major release to talk about in this week’s Retroist Scoreboard, Wonder Woman, so we’re going to do something a little bit different this time.
Wonder Woman - La La Land Records

That major release is, of course, La-La Land’s eagerly-awaited 3-CD set of soundtrack selections from the 1970s Wonder Woman TV series. Scored primarily by Artie Kane, the show’s evolving format and changing demands did admit other composers toward the end of its three-year run, and several of them are represented on this set. The first disc is devoted primarily to the series’ pilot movie (scored by Charles Fox, later of 9 To 5 fame) and Kane’s music for the movie-length premiere of the second season, which effectively “re-piloted” Wonder Woman after a change of networks and settings. The second disc is a highlight reel of Artie Kane episode scores, including Anschluss ’77, Bermuda Triangle Crisis, Knockout, and I Do, I Do, along with music from the episode Deadly Toys, score by Robert Prince (The Fantastic Journey). The third disc is a smorgasbord of selections by other composers from late in the show’s run: Deadly Sting and Skateboard Wiz (Johnny Harris), Hot Wheels (Robert O. Ragland), Going, Going, Gone (Angela Morley), Spaced Out (Robert Prince again), and The Man Who Could Not Die (Richard LaSalle). It’s ‘70s TV music as it existed before a certain movie scored by John Williams rewired audience expectations for a music score, which is a very rarified genre among soundtrack releases. Every version of the show’s much-loved opening and closing title music – both with and without vocals! – is featured as well, along with a 28-page liner note booklet. If there’s a more fitting musical celebration of the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman’s first comic appearance, I can’t imagine what it might be.

In June, Wonder Woman’s story comes full circle with the release of the soundtrack from the modern movie reboot of the character, scored by Rupert Gregson-Williams (Hacksaw Ridge, Bee Movie, and Netflix’s recent series, The Crown). While it’s natural to expect the more modern soundtrack treatment to be less joyously disco-era than the TV series, hopefully it’ll be the best DC movie since Lego Batman.
Wonder Woman

Rewinding to the 1970s, Diana Prince was hardly the only woman saving the world in prime-time. Over on ABC, a popular guest character had spun off from The Six Million Dollar Man and amassed a loyal following in her own right. While Diana protected the secret of her ancient Amazonian powers, Jaime Sommers had technology to thank for her super powers – and The Bionic Woman frequently had veteran composer and arranger Joe Harnell (The Incredible Hulk, V) to thank for its distinctively breezy sound. Over the past decade, Harnell’s estate released several private label CDs of Harnell’s music from both The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk, though my attempts to see if these titles are still available revealed that the domain name used for this label has lapsed and been picked up by someone else. Amazon.com still has copies, but one of them has already gone out of print and skyrocketed in price.

A much more recent descendant of Wonder Woman started life as another spinoff from a popular action show – syndicated siren Xena: Warrior Princess. Scored throughout its six-year run by Joseph LoDuca (who also composed the show’s gorgeous opening theme), Xena was set in ancient Greece…with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Throughout Xena’s run, soundtracks – including both of the show’s popular “musical” episodes – were released by Varese Sarabande, which pressed new copies of all six volumes (spanning 7 CDs) and released them as a boxed set in late 2015, marking the series’ 20th anniversary.

And I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t get a mention in of Blake Neely’s music from Wonder Woman’s fellow DC superhero, Supergirl. (There’s a soundtrack from that show’s first season available; hopefully a second season CD will be forthcoming .)

Is that all? That is not all.

I think I’d also be remiss if I failed to point out that female composers are very much a minority in Hollywood, and not for any particularly good reason. One of my favorite soundtrack-but-not-a-soundtrack albums of recent years, Penka Kouvena’s soundtrack-flavored concept album The Woman Astronaut, features a sobering statistic in its liner notes: there have been more female astronauts in space than there have been female composers given a chance to shine on major tentpole movies.

If you’re wondering if there’s something about action music that makes it difficult for female composers to handle, allow me to introduce you to a sorely-missed name in many movie and TV credits: Shirley Walker (1945-2006). Though she had scored hours and hours of TV (Cagney & Lacey, Lou Grant, Falcon Crest, China Beach), she practically had to serve a second apprenticeship – arranging and conducting for Danny Elfman for many years – before breaking into movies. She also composed the music for the original 1990 TV iteration of The Flash, every episode of the grim military sci-fi series Space: Above & Beyond, and most famously, Batman: The Animated Series, before finally cracking the glass ceiling in 2000 with the score from Final Destination. She scored two sequels to that film before dying in the aftermath of a stroke.

[Via] The Evil Kung Fu Man

It’s a time-honored tradition, and depending on the mentor in question, an honor to rise through the ranks by assisting big-name composers with various projects. But for all intents and purposes, Shirley Walker had to do it twice.

I would love to have heard her musical take on the new Wonder Woman. And clearly it’ll take more than Wonder Woman (twice over!), the Bionic Woman, and Xena to put a bigger crack in that glass ceiling, because all of those have been scored largely by male composers.

While you’re contemplating that, give your mom a call for Mother’s Day. Never-before-revealed secret fact: she’s Wonder Woman too. (A little Amazon told me so.)

Why I still love the 1984 Supergirl Movie

Supergirl

Before I begin, there is something I should make clear from the start: I’m a big Superman fan. I don’t collect the comics, dress up with a cape, sport an ‘S’ tattoo or anything like that, but I did grow up watching Superman: The Movie and its sequels and those early viewings made a huge impression on my youthful self. The first Christopher Reeve film is also my favourite movie of all time and is unlikely to be displaced.

Now that you know that, you might wonder why I still think that Supergirl, the 1984 film starring Helen Slater, is a great movie? The plot of the film is incoherent, the villain is too tame, much of the acting is terrible… I could go on and on about the many flaws but, get past all of that and you still have one trump card to play with – Helen Slater is Supergirl.

Supergirl

Much like Reeve is Superman, Helen Slater struck an awesome pose as the Girl of Steel and, as a young boy, I was in awe of the blonde beauty who played her. Watching the longer Directors Cut of the film again as a 30-something, I’m still amazed by how well Slater portrayed the grace of Supergirl and the naivety of Linda Lee. It is hard to watch the whole film without wincing at some of its hokiest moments but any ill-feeling I have towards those involved is tempered by their choice in actress.

Watching the trailer from the time is a little cringe-worthy but serves Slater well:

Whilst I didn’t notice it in the 80’s, the soundtrack to Supergirl is also excellent and a great accompaniment to the character. Jerry Goldsmith doesn’t quite equal the majesty of the Williams’ Superman score but he had a good stab at it and I will happily listen to the 6 minute overture again and again.

You can listen to the full score on Youtube below, though I encourage you to buy the 1993 Silva CD for the best listening experience.

I really wish the movie had been a success at the time, we might have been able to avoid The Quest for Peace by having a Superman/Supergirl team-up!