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The ‘lost’ Pink Floyd soundtrack to ‘Zabriskie Point’


 
Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point has always been controversial, dividing even his staunchest defenders. Some feel the 1970 film—Antonioni’s only American movie—completely missed its mark and failed to capture the zeitgeist of the hippie New Left counterculture of the era. Some blame the inexperienced lead actors, Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin (who were linked romantically). When Zabriskie Point was released audiences and critics alike hated it, just hated it, and although that is… perfectly understandable, I find it gorgeous to look at (the man who shot Red Desert certainly knew how to shoot the landscape of Death Valley) and I like the odd “outsider” alienation the Italian employs to examine American culture and consumerism. It’s just not a film to watch when you’re… sleepy if you take my point.

And speaking of Zabriskie Point, I’ve been obsessed with a Pink Floyd bootleg for years now and wanted to call it to your attention, dear readers, chances are that some of you might enjoy it, too.

Apparently the Floyd were at one point to have been the sole composer/musicians for the Zabriskie Point soundtrack. They completed eight numbers for the film, but only three were used. Antonioni added material by The Youngbloods, Roy Orbison, Jerry Garcia, The Kaleidoscope, Patti Page and the Rolling Stones to round out the film’s score. (Oddly, Antonioni visited the Doors in the studio when they were recording the extraordinary “L’America” for L.A. Woman, but the director inexplicably turned down the track, which could have worked spectacularly well in his film.)

Under the titles like “370 Roman Yards” or “A Total Zabriskie Point of View,” you can hear all of the soundtrack music recorded by Pink Floyd for Antonioni that never made it into the film. Whichever name you find it under, these boots purport to be the “lost” Pink Floyd soundtrack to Zabriskie Point with all eight of the tracks recorded for the film appearing in the order of the intended album’s run list. Some of the boots contain all the known outtakes.

It’s an extremely satisfying listen: Some of it sounds like Atom Heart Mother, some of it like Meddle and some of it is reminiscent of “Grantchester Meadows,” Roger Waters’ dreamy, pastoral composition from Ummagumma. “Heart Beat, Pig Meat” was Pink Floyd’s first time using a human heartbeat as a musical instrument (but it would not be the last). It’s one of their most monstrous numbers, truly a mind-blower. Rick Wright contributed a piano number called “The Violent Sequence” which was also unused, but later retooled as “Us and Them” on Dark Side of the Moon. Parts of the score remind me of Erik Satie and it has some of the few Floyd numbers that could be described as “blues rock.” Taken as a whole, it does absolutely sound like a “lost” Pink Floyd album recorded at the end of 1969, because that’s exactly what it is…

This comes from one of the torrents floating around on the Internet…

In the summer of 1969 Michelangelo Antonioni completed the filming of his visionary and prophetic view of America and our society.  All that was left was to complete the movie with a good soundtrack.  Antonioni was interested in everything that was new and trendy among young people.  Don Hall was on the air during his nocturnal DJ program on KPPC FM Pasadena when he was contacted personally by Antonioni at the end of the summer of 1969.  Antonioni really liked Don and invited him to have some screenings of the movie.  After that Don provided a list of songs he felt would work, most coming from his program.  Antonioni asked MGM to hire Don as Music Advisor for the soundtrack and came back to Roma (Don still has a letter from Antonioni, sent from Rome with the list of the songs he’d like to be in the movie, all songs for the radio-desert sequences).

Still they had to find how to score all the main sequences: Beginning, Violent, Take Off, Love and Explosions sequences (and eventually more).  Antonioni wanted original music for those sequences.  Many artists and bands were contacted to write original music for the movie, but none of them was asked to write the whole soundtrack of the movie.

In October ‘69 Don was in Rome with Antonioni trying to find a way to score the whole movie in time for Christmas.  Near the end of the month it happened that Clare Peploe (co-writer of the movie and Antonioni’s girlfriend at the time) brought to Rome a brand new copy of the new Pink Floyd album, Ummagumma, from London.  Antonioni, Don Hall and Clare listened to the new album with a small stereo at Antonioni’s house in Rome.  Antonioni REALLY liked Ummagumma and listened several times to the whole album.  He liked “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” very much and told Don that he’d like a new version for the final sequence of Zabriskie Point. They decided to try and hire Pink Floyd to record all the original music they needed for the movie. MGM contacted Pink Floyd.  After that Steve O’Rourke came to Rome alone during the first days of November ‘69 to check and organize it all.  All was done in few days, and Pink Floyd came on the 15th of November with Pete Watts and Alan Stiles, cancelling some shows planned for their present tour.  Antonioni and Don showed the movie to them several times with some scenes already scored, highlighting those without.  At that point Steve and Roger Waters had a talk and asked Antonioni to try to score the whole movie.  He, being enthusiastic about Ummagumma, agreed.

Pink Floyd produced a large quantity of music, especially for the Love Scene but Antonioni was not satisfied and the sessions ran longer than planned.  In the end Pink Floyd went back to London with some songs to finish.  Out of all the entire production of songs, including themes and variations, Antonioni ended up using only three songs.  He kept on searching for “something better” till the last days before the premiere of the movie.  In London Pink Floyd completed their final versions of eight songs with the intent of them being their eventual album for the Zabriskie Point soundtrack.

You should not have that much of a problem, armed only with Google, of tracking down your own copy of this amazing “lost” Pink Floyd soundtrack album. Here are some highlights:

“Heart Beat, Pig Meat” sees the Floyd do musique concrète (and very well, I might add) over the opening credits:
 

 
“The Violent Sequence” which later became Dark Side of the Moon‘s “Us and Them”:
 

 
The version of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” (re-titled “Come in Number 51, Your Time Is Up” here) that accompanies the big explosion scene at the end of Zabriskie Point is one of the great “primal screams” in all of rock and roll—and cinema—history. With the gorgeous Daria Halprin (who was briefly Mrs. Dennis Hopper):
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger

 

 

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