Vangelis is that rarest of soundtrack artists, one who can create not just involving themes but complete musical worlds that stand apart from the films to which they were originally attached. That’s likely because, long before the pioneering Greek composer and synth whiz was dabbling in the futuristic ether of Blade Runner or creating the Oscar-winning inspirations of Chariots of Fire, Vangelis was already creating little-heard albums like 1979’s China that helped define the progressive electronic music field. Later, of course, he had chart success with a series of collaborations that began in 1975 with Jon Anderson of Yes fame.
He had been considered as a replacement for Rick Wakeman when he departed prior to the sessions for Relayer, though Patrick Moraz was ultimately tapped for the job. Vangelis even had his own prog group, called Aphrodite’s Child, before turning toward film work. That laid the groundwork for one of the genre’s most intriguing careers — whether or not you ever saw the movies Vangelis was charged with rounding out through sound. His delicately romantic themes for a now-forgotten nature TV series for 1979’s Opera Sauvage, for instance, work as their own statement. Same with 1983’s Antarctica.
Vangelis and the Journey to Ithaka, available now for home viewing via Gonza Multimedia, traces this remarkable legacy through interviews with Anderson, fellow composers like Henry Mancini, directors Oliver Stone and Roman Polanski, and actors Gerard Depardieu and Sean Connery, among others. Vangelis’ work on Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and 1492: The Conquest of Paradise, Stone’s Alexander and, of course, Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire are thrown in an entirely new light: The seemingly always-working Vangelis’ remarkably attenuated sense of atmospherics, texture and balance helped establish the synthesizer as a compositional force, even as he imbued the soundtrack medium with a new sense of gravitas.
The trick, of course, is to reflect the mood and tone of these films, even while expanding upon them. Vangelis has this canny ability to conjure the unforgettable narratives associated with, say, The Bounty, 1492 and Missing, even while adding his own emotional chapters — and that, as this new documentary reminds, remains his most lasting legacy.
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