“Roy Budd’s soundtrack has always been a reliable source of inspiration for me”– Martin
By Christopher Roberts
Hi to all reading this. As we go into autumn, it is once again, time for another ‘Their Favourite Film’
blog, this time with Sound Designer Martin Oliver. Initially Martin worked in the game industry on titles
such as Just Cause, Alien Vs Predator and the original Star Wars Battlefront. He has since retired and
decided to move his talents to screen. So far he has worked on various film projects, including
Happy Hour, What Time You On Till and Father, Mother, Daughter,Other. He has even started
working on his own sitcom with the aim to bring unsigned and independent music artists to a
wider TV audience – he’s a man who knows his music. So read about his thoughts on his favourite film (and the music involved) in one of Britain’s greatest gangster films.
MARTIN OLIVER – GET CARTER
I first watched Get Carter as a teenager on TV and many years later have yet to see a better British gangster film. It encapsulates Newcastle’s gangland in the early 70’s perfectly… not that I’ve experienced it personally, but after watching the film, I felt like I knew it was a place to avoid.
Adapted from a novel by Ted Lewis, Michael Caine’s lead performance as ‘Jack Carter’ a cold-blooded, tough London gangster, who takes a trip to Newcastle to ‘sort out’ some family business is one of his best film performances, if not the best. With a stellar group of supporting actors including Ian Hendry (who received a BAFTA for Best-Supporting Actor), John Osborne (playwright) and a sexy bit part for Britt Ekland, as well as a few well-known faces from TV. The film is expertly cast.
The story unfolds inside a web of underworld deception and revenge. The plot twists and turns as ‘Jack Carter’ discovers a very ugly cover-up. As ‘Jack’ is not the kind of man to back off, and armed with the skills to stand up to the local gangsters, he goes after them, matching the extreme violence that comes his way. Several scenes stand out for me. ‘Jack’s’ “sexy phone call scene” with Britt Ekland’s character, overheard by ‘Jack’s’ temporary landlady, is sexy, funny and dangerous… an excellent piece of directing and editing by Mike Hodges.
In another stand-out scene, shot outside the back of a betting shop, ‘Jack’ corners one of the locals involved in the deception and takes revenge. For me, this is one of the coldest, most violent scenes in any film. No gratuitous, over-the-top violence, just menace and professional gangland justice from a man in complete control… chilling!
What really hooked me however into this dark and brooding world was the razor-sharp soundtrack by Roy Budd. I just had to listen to it again, this time without the film. So I bought the soundtrack and studied it. I had to understand the elements of the musical arrangements and how they managed to underpin the film so perfectly. It’s effortlessly cool and atmospheric; it’s jazzy, using instruments that seemed outside the ‘normal jazz’ genre to my young ears. Cool grooves, glassy instruments and a bass line hook that drives the reoccurring theme, capturing the sleaze and brutality of the film’s changing tempo. It struck me straight between the ears, and with the inclusion of aspects of dialogue and background ambience lifted from the film, the soundtrack transports the listener back to Newcastle’s violent gangland, narrating the story alongside the colourful characters and working-class hostelries.
Later I would borrow the feel from the soundtrack during my career as a sound designer and composer in the games industry. Blending soundtracks and immersive background ambience are so important, especially in third-person, open-world style games. Roy Budd’s soundtrack has always been a reliable source of inspiration for me, even when producing pop music. I still listen to the soundtrack occasionally, especially in the car… it’s great driving music. “Goodbye Eric!”
Like many British people, I was a fan of Michael Caine growing up and have watched a fair few of his films. They were usually comedies and the occasional drama. Also, anyone who knows me knows I saw him as the perfect adaptation of ‘Alfred Pennyworth’. However, in all the roles I’ve seen him play there has always been in a similar wheelhouse – The old but wise gentleman who was sharp, witty and most importantly, kind. So imagine my surprise when at 18, I watched him play a mean bastard named Carter. And what an Utter bastard he is!
He may dress nicely, have a calm nature and is charismatic when he needs to be, but there is a ruthless side to him that he hides well. He shows no loyalty to anyone, not to his boss, girlfriend or friends (if he has any). He shows no remorse when it comes to killing – men or women – he would probably kill a child if they got in his way and when he does kill he does it with such a calm demeanour, like it’s another day for him.
As I said, ‘Jack Carter’ is a bastard and a vicious one, and yet, despite saying all of this, I can’t help but love him. Thanks mainly to Michael Cain’s performance, oozing with such charm and swagger that you end up rooting for him despite who he is. The fact he is such a hateful and malicious character and yet the protagonist of this story, makes it all the more interesting to watch, especially when you see there is more to him than meets the eye.
As I mentioned before, ‘Carter’ shows no loyalty to anyone. However, he does show affection to his family. This is, after all, the story of him going after the people who murdered his brother, ‘Eddie’. We don’t learn much about ‘Eddie’; however, as we follow ‘Jack’, we can see how he has a deep affection for him and will stop at nothing for answers and vengeance. The same can be said for his niece, the only person in this entire film to whom he shows genuine kindness. Then, when he learns the truth about what happened to his brother and why, we finally see him looses his cool. Gone is the charming gentleman; instead, we see the man filled with so much rage and hatred that he leaves the criminal underworld shaken.
These moments add a layer to ‘Carter’ and show me how complex of a character he is, it doesn’t redeem him though, as it’s not long before we’re reminded of just how cruel this man can be. Having a character like ‘Carter’ you need to create a world in which he can thrive, one that is as brutal and unforgiven as they are, which Mike Hodges did beautifully. Only a year after the end of the swinging 60s, the London skyscrapers, bright colours, and groovy music are gone. Instead, it’s set in Newcastle with its ominous industrial buildings and a darker, more shaped clothing style that fits the tone of the movie and a soundtrack that Martin perfectly describes as “capturing the sleaze and brutality of the film’s changing tempo”.
Unlike British films before it, it’s also focused on various subjects like hard drugs, illegal pornography and child sexual abuse, with scenes that even modern audiences might find hard to stomach. It’s a harsh and bleak world that only men like ‘Carter’ can survive in. but that makes it a more enthralling film to watch that perfectly captures the brutality of the criminal underworld. It left its mark on the British film industry and can be seen as the inspiration for many British gangster films in the years to come. For me, however, it is also a perfect metaphor for the age-old proverb. “When you are seeking revenge, dig two graves”. However, in ‘Carter’s’ case, he’ll be digging a lot more than two.
The musical theme was produced on a budget of only £450, with it being recorded directly alongside the playback of the picture.
About The Author
Chris Roberts is a writer who has worked on many film projects across Essex as a boom operator and production assistant. Chris is a full time film trivia expert!