In the spring of 1992, a nifty little thriller came, went, and slipped stealthily (if unintentionally) under the cinema radar, barely making a blip as it snuck it's way through a box office gauntlet at the time dominated by the much less interesting BASIC INSTINCT,... and with LETHAL WEAPON 3 and BATMAN RETURNS just around the corner. WHITE SANDS, written by Daniel Pyne (PACIFIC HEIGHTS, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY), and directed by Australian wunderkind Roger Donaldson (SMASH PALACE, NO WAY OUT), was a classy and clever (though some called it "confusing") re-working of the "film noir" milieu, which paradoxically chose to set it's dark thematic narrative not in the shadow-strewn streets of a bleak inner city metropolis, but rather smack dab in the middle of the wide sun-blasted vistas of contemporary New Mexico. Willem Dafoe is a Deputy County Sheriff called in to investigate the apparent suicide of a man found in the middle of the desert; ... oh yes!, who also happens to be in possession of a briefcase filled with a half million dollars. A sequence of events leads Dafoe to assume the dead man's identity in order to trace the money's ultimate destination. And his investigative ruse leads him into a complex web of FBI stings, former CIA agents, high tech arms brokers, and other assorted mysterious characters portrayed by a game and facile cast including Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, BLOOD SIMPLE's own M. Emmet Walsh, and the luminous Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Mimi Rogers.
It's almost "stream of consciousness" (and at times borderline surreal) narrative was fully intended by writer and director. And as such it, in retrospect, is a perfect companion piece to John Boorman's now legendary 1967 crime opus POINT BLANK. Like Boorman's classic however, WHITE SANDS was not the hoped for critical or financial success upon it's initial release. It has however, in recent years, seen it's cinema cred increase - especially among fans of neo-noir.
In keeping with the film's almost dream (or is it "nightmare"?)-like tone, Donaldson bypassed a more conventional music score by a Michael Kamen, Danny Elfman or John Barry (all at the top of their games at the time), and instead chose to go with the more experimental vibe of Patrick O'Hearn. A multi-instrumentalist, O'Hearn's dizzyingly eclectic resume included extended gigs as session player / sideman, composer and arranger for names as varied as Ravi Shankar and Frank Zappa, to jazz greats Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw and Bobby Hutcherson, before launching (with Peter Maunu and future film composer Mark Isham) the short-lived but still influential fusion-ist "Group 87". Around this same time he'd also meet former Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann in New York, and become influential in helping launch Baumann's independent progressive / new age label "Private Music" by signing on as one of it's first contract artists. As the new-age boom of the late 1980s subsided, O'Hearn's facility with numerous and varied musical voices served him well as he added "Film Composer" to his already crowded list of accomplishments.
He'd score a number of films over the years (most notably the cinema adaptations of Sam Shepard's SILENT TONGUE - 1992 and SIMPATICO - 2006), but WHITE SANDS was his first, ... and still remains his most intriguing. Opening with an ethereal - and even erotic - recurring bass motif (O'Hearn's instrument of choice has always been the upright bass, and orchestral and electronic variations on it's heartbeat-like rhythm/texture are frequently imprinted upon much of his work),WHITE SANDS the score remains faithful to the "dreamlike" tone and smashing (at times surreal) cinematography of Peter Menzies, Jr., by carrying it's folk, country, jazz, and even funk-inspired melodies, on a "liquid wave" of instrumentals co-performed with O'Hearn by (among others) long time associates - percussionist Terry Bozzio and guitarist Peter Maunu, along with Ralph Penland, Mike Wolff, and international vocalist-violinist-percussionist L. Shankar.
It's a smooth and seductive aural trip into a dark but ultimately fascinating musical mindscape. Kudos, Mr. O'Hearn. Kudos indeed!
1) Opening Title (0:00 of 14:00)
2) Sacred Heart (3:52 of 14:00)
3) Do You Like Helicopters, Bobby? (7:04 of 14:00)
4) Ray Sets Up The Meeting (9:08 of 14:00)
5) Are You In Love With Me? / Meeker's Demise (11:10 of 14:00)
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