Marvels latest blockbuster has a curious number of musical connections that go way back to the comics 60s origins

Open your eye!, Tilda Swintons version of the Ancient One intones as she presses against Dr Stephen Stranges forehead, activating his pineal gland and sending him on a trip beyond the infinite that, even in these CG-saturated times, could only be described as far out. It is one of many extended psychedelic sequences that makes Doctor Strange one of the headier films to play in wide release.

The common complaint about Marvel Studios films is that, for all their high-tech armor and speed-of-sound slugfests, they tend to be tempered in the visual department. The plot and exposition scenes in Scott Derricksons Doctor Strange dont do much to break that mold, but when the story necessitates special effects to step in, the spacey spirits of comics visionaries like Jack Kirby finally get their day at the multiplex.

Doctor Strange was always an outlier in funnybooks. While it had the typical goofy Stan Lee patter (By the Mystic Moons of Munnopor! By the Wondrous Winds of Watoomb! and By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!, to offer a sample set), its eastern setting and emphasis on mystical powers were, for 1963, just right for burgeoning hippies who wanted to expand their minds but also didnt want to read actual books.

The psychedelic entanglement got a push in its early days by two kinda-sorta secret connections between the comic and the heaviest acid-rock band of all, pre-Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd. Perhaps the nicest grace note in Scott Derricksons film is the wink to those in the know, man.


Pink Floyds second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, transitioned between the visionary founder Syd Barrett (a victim of 60s overindulgence hit hard by LSD use) to one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived, David Gilmour. Released in June 1968, the albums cover, created by the graphic designers known as Hipgnosis, is an abstract expressionist collage rightly suited for low lighting, incense, headphones and a plunge into the plasma pool of ones own mindscape.

But the recurring spheres on the left-hand side (one of which contains a silhouette of our poet-warrior-rockers, who recorded tracks such as Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and Let There Be More Light) certainly tripped a memory for keen readers of the four-color art. Further scrutiny showed the Sorcerer Supreme himself blended onto the cover (at the top right) as well as one of his deadliest foes (top left).

Strange Tales #158, released in July 1967, featured two stories. One involved a shirtless Nick Fury fighting a Hydra citadel that shot out Death Spores of Havoc and Inexorable Violence in a Blinding Helix of Light (comics!). The other story, The Sands of Death, illustrated by Marie Severin and written by Roy Thomas, saw Doctor Strange battling the Living Tribunal, a cosmic being who sits in judgment over the Multiverse. The Living Tribunal addresses Doctor Strange by bellowing: Now shall be pronounced the Incantation of Oblivion and your puny planet shall exist NEVERMORE!!

Six pages in, things get really freaky and the Living Tribunal offers Doctor Strange a vision of our worlds imminent demise. Floating in a boundless inter-dimensional phase space, Strange sees an S of earths collapsing into red cosmic dust, headed toward a galactic spire of doom. Clearly this is an image meant for rocknroll, and it was this panel that Hipgnosis designer Storm Thorgerson incorporated into the album cover.

Soon thereafter, Pink Floyd did a great deal of work with non-Hollywood film-makers. They and the Grateful Dead contributed to Michelangelo Antonionis counter-culture opus Zabriskie Point. (Yes, that furious rock number you hear as the house with all the loaves of Wonder Bread blows up is a re-tooling of the Floyd staple Careful With That Axe, Eugene.) They collaborated with Barbet Schroeder twice. Most memorable was the outstanding hippies-in-New Guinea picture La Valle, which begat the 1972 Floyd album Obscured by Clouds (that term being what was used on maps for where the films journey led.)

Summer 1969, however, saw the release of More, a film little remembered today but quite a success in Europe at the time, dealing with disillusioned students, sex and drug addiction. (A German post-grad shacks up with a sexy American gal in Paris, and they both escape to Ibiza before it fell to a phalanx of techno clubs.)

The soundtrack to More has some typical instrumental jams of the period, a tune called The Nile Song which, quite out of character for Pink Floyd, borders on Stooges-like heavy rock, and a lovely ballad featuring bongoes called Cymbaline. Written by Roger Waters but sung by David Gilmour, Cymbaline pops up in the film when a sexy 60s chick gets out of her bed in her Paris apartment, puts on a record, changes her clothes, shouts Groovy! and rolls a joint. For those who fetishize the hippy era, this scene essentially slams the pleasure centers of the brain with a ball-peen hammer. And amid all the nature imagery in the lyrics there are the lines: The leaves are heavy round your feet / You hear the thunder of the train / Suddenly it strikes you / That theyre moving into range/ And Doctor Strange is always changing size. Far out. If Doctor Strange is cool enough to be in this scene, hes cool enough for anything.

Its a long way from Barbet Schroeder to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the new Doctor Strange does its best to represent its roots. Its first music cues go more for the joke (Shining Star by dig this Earth, Wind & Fire) but when theres a transition that needs a little oomph right before the good doctor has his car crash that leads him on his eastern quest theres the feedback wail from Pink Floyds Interstellar Overdrive.

One of Floyds earliest tunes, this upbeat instrumental rocker clocks in at close to 10 minutes on their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In live performances, it could stretch out even longer (see the 17-minute version on the Tonite Lets All Make Love In London Plus release). Its a psychedelic jam that has no business being in a movie aimed at a mainstream teen and preteen market, but if you only hear the first minute or two it sounds like perfectly serviceable guitar rock. (Might I suggest listening to the whole thing, though, especially on headphones, as by the end the washes of noise fade from one side of your skull to the other.)

The original score for Doctor Strange is a bit of a letdown. Composer Michael Giacchino is actually quite bold in lifting themes from his previous Star Trek score. The end credits, however, are a bit more fun. It mixes unusual instruments that sound to my ears like harpsichord, sitar and strings played in Middle Eastern modes. But when you get to the 2:25 mark, theres the little wink.

The thick keyboards are on a setting reminiscent of Pink Floyds Richard Wright, and the guitar licks that come in after are reminiscent of David Gilmours distortion effects. It is, however, in the style of Pink Floyd after the era of their explicit Doctor Strange connections (ie after Dark Side of the Moon) but its still a nice gesture by Giacchino. And if anyone should be allowed to slip back and forth along the timeline, it ought to be Doctor Strange.


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