Gato Barbieri: Last Tango in Paris (Soundtrack)

Soundtrack recordings are a problematic affair. Screen music, unless foregrounded in a bio-pic like Clint Eastwood’s Bird (1988) or in a nightclub sequence like Henry Mancini’s source music for TV’s Peter Gunn (1958), is generally intended to be “subliminal,” to be invisible like a film’s editing so as not to distract from the drama. As a result, most screen music, while designed to italicize the narrative, is also written (and mixed) to be unobtrusive. Still, many scores, including those reviewed below, have, at least for music fans, transcended their original uses to go on to stand-alone lives of their own.

Tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri’s soundtrack for Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial Last Tango in Paris (1972) still packs a wallop, sizzling in torrid counterpoint to the steamy on-screen Marlon Brando-Maria Schneider affair. At one extreme, Barbieri’s smoldering tenor evokes the frenzy of raw male carnality; at the other, the couple’s moments of repose are supported with tender musical caresses. In between, there’s the tango of the film’s title and other incidental music. As a bonus, and in contrast to the fleshed out cues originally released as the “soundtrack,” the meticulously remastered disc includes the previously unissued “The Last Tango in Paris Suite,” a pastiche comprising 29 cues from the film itself.