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Breaking In: On the 40th Anniversary of Tangerine Dream’s Thief Score | Features

After that, Tangerine Dream’s movie scores were less effective. Their score for Mark Lester’s 1984 Stephen King adaption “Firestarter” is moody and fun but a bit familiar. By the time they did the replacement score for Ridley Scott’s “Legend” (displacing Jerry Goldsmith, whose original score played prints in Europe) it was clear that Hollywood moved on. 

Surprisingly, Mann never used Tangerine Dream again, but he did continue to use synth scores in his films. In “Manhunter,” composer Michael Rubini’s haunting score is accentuated by synth-rock tracks like The Reds’ “Heartbeat” and The Prime Movers’ “Strong As I Am.” The masterstroke comes during the movie’s extended climax, which is scored to the granddaddy of acid-prog-rock anthems, Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Mann would get even more experimental with his soundtrack for his epic cops-and-robbers drama “Heat.” That synth-orchestral score is composed by Elliot Goldenthal, but the bulk of the score comes from previously recorded tracks from the likes of Brian Eno, Moby, and U2 side project Passengers. 


The most iconic piece of music in Mann’s “Heat” is Eno’s “Force Marker,” an electronic-percussive piece that scores the centerpiece bank heist. Like “Diamond Diary” from the opening heist sequence of “Thief,” the track conveys forward motion. Moby’s synth-rock grinder “New Dawn Fades” is used as a preamble to Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) confronting master thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) right before they have a cup of coffee. The final piece of music is even better, Moby’s “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters.” It comes after a cat-and-mouse shoot-out between Hanna and McCauley and the two men share a moment of acceptance and understanding. Its piano-driven orchestration has an almost ethereal quality, as if suggesting something spiritual has passed between the two men. It’s the Dream-iest of all the tracks in the film. 


And what about Tangerine Dream? Their popularity grew because of their scores for “Thief” and “Risky Business, two scores that meant they would always have sell-out shows around the world. (The group still performs from time to time, although founding member Edgar Froese passed in 2015.) Like most things that are original and innovative, the majority of the imitations are bad. Although synth scores have enjoyed a resurgence in the past decade, as evidenced by everything from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to “Drive” to the documentary “Apollo 11” and director-musician John Carpenter’s live appearances, the recent film that has displayed the most intriguing affinity for “Thief” is the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems.” More of a character study than a crime story, the movie stars Adam Sandler in a career-capping performance as a gambling addict and diamond salesman trying to erase his debts by making more and larger bets. The synth-orchestral score by Daniel Lopatin jacked up the film’s already considerable anxiety level. As in “Thief,” its constant presence infuses the movie’s so-called quiet scenes with tension. It’s a dream of things to come. 


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