theladyrose: (Default)
As I've been listening to some new soundtracks from the library (which has a surprisingly classy Philip Glass selection; I now have the whole -atsi trilogy!) and inspired by some of [profile] swashbuckler332's recent recs, I'm listing a couple of my favorites as of late from random categories.  If it's possible, I swear I feel some of my reviewer "muscles" atrophied - I have a bunch more half-formed reviews I wanted to write scattered about on paper, on my computer and in my head; I'll get around to them when I can. 

I swear, once I get back to college I *will* track down Jon Burlingame (the Man from UNCLE soundtrack producer) and have lunch with him.  Spring term once I'm done with all of my core requirements, I will turn my entire schedule upside down if necessary so I can take that TV music course of his.


Compilation
: Bernard Herrman Film Scores: From Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver, as conducted by Elmer Bernstein.  I normally dislike compilations as a whole, especially ones that are supposed to reflect a composer’s oeuvre, as they tend to include all of the main pieces you already have anyway or are totally butchered by an inept conductor.  Thankfully legendary composer Bernstein makes sure such an awful fate doesn’t befall Herrmann. The listener is treated to a delightful sampling of Herrmann’s compositions for Hitchcock, with a sprinkle of his best works from the post-Hitchcock era (I love Bernstein’s concert suite of Taxi Driver) as well as Citizen Kane, the masterpiece that was his start in the film industry. The selection of works balance familiar staples (the controlled chaos that is the main title fandango of North by Northwest, the driving title theme and infamous shower sequence from Psycho) with the less well-known (the jaunty but slightly off-kilter title theme from The Wrong Man, the haunting and reflective “Book People” cue from Fahrenheit 451).  This presentation strikes a balance between the contemplative and quietly revealing with sheer emotional intensity.  It helps that most of the pieces are difficult to find – where else will you find a rendition of “the Storm Clouds,” as conducted by Herrmann in The Man Who Knew Too Much remake?  Like Herrmann, Bernstein lends a lyrical expressiveness to the music without making it farcically overwrought while throwing in his unique brand of exuberance for his friend’s work.  My only minor quibble was with Vertigo’s “Scène d’Amour,” which has my favorite build-up out of all recorded versions of this cue, but soon loses steam once Madeleine is “revealed” again.  But on the whole, you can’t go wrong listening to a lovingly presented album of some of film's greatest music.

Runner-up: Festival de Cannes: 60th Anniversary has some of the best selections of late 20th century, hands down.  Most multi-decade “classic film” compilations pander to mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, featuring only a few well-known composers, with a couple of acknowledged Oscar dramas thrown in.  They generally focus on the 70’s onwards, feeding into John Williams and his stylistic ilk, and a couple other sentimental pop favorites (Marvin Hamlisch’s The Way We Were and “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic almost always appear, too).  The Cannes selections are far more worldly and much more stylistically intriguing – so many musical gems spanning genres that would otherwise be very difficult to find.  Kudos to the producers who thought of featuring the M*A*S*H title theme followed up by the title theme from Z.  If you ever want a quick sampler of great film music from around the world and across time, this would be a great place to start.


Best re-released score as conducted by someone else: Joel McNeely’s recording of Vertigo, written by the incomparable Bernard Herrmann, finally does justice to one of the most beautiful scores ever written after the original conductor Muir Matheson (curse you, studio musicians’ strike!) butchered.  I’ve written a fair amount about this score previously; though a few minor cues are missing, having an authentic loyal to Herrmann’s vision is far worth it.


Best animated feature: The Hayo Miyazaki-Joe Hisaishi director and composer partnership is easily the best in the film industry, rivaled only by the Alfred Hitchcock-Bernard Herrmann and Steven Spielberg-John Williams pairings.  Joe Hisaishi’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful and charmingly atmospheric score that expresses the conflicts of loyalty in a beautifully understated way, reflective of the characters’ caution in revealing and giving themselves fully to others.  The soaring waltz theme captures the sense of adventure and wonder of the magical world in which Sophie finds herself. 

Runner-up: Michael Giacchino’s Ratatouille.  Giacchino’s strengths lie in his ability to tell a story musically – he recreates the film in the acoustic medium to heighten our understanding of what’s happening onscreen (because otherwise, how would you ever figure out the labyrinthine plot of Alias?  I have a number of entries dedicated to score analysis of a couple of episodes, although most of my score notes are still on post-its.).  The music don’t just heighten emotion or evoke an atmosphere; they are an aural transcription of the story.  Yes, you’ve got a fair number of leitmotifs to represent the characters and certain locations (Remy and Linguini cooking, Linguini and Collette, the rat colony, Gusteau), but what makes them interesting is how they interact with each other as they do in the film.  Giacchino takes great delight in mixing musical pastiches (the “welcome to Gusteau’s” cue at the start of the movie with the Marseilleise leading into a jaunty Left Bank accordion is brilliant), but I confess I still prefer the deeper thematic substance and homage to orchestral jazz that was the Incredibles.


Best movie whose only redeeming feature is the score: John Barry’s The Specialist.  One might be initially wary of the reliance on a predominant theme that characterizes some of Barry’s later works (same scoring approach as the Scarlet Letter) - more of a European approach for a mediocre American would-be blockbuster.  There’s a quietly smoldering anguish in the jazzy notations of recurring refrains of “Did You Call Me.”  As Elmer Bernstein has remarked, very rarely is a film score pure jazz as the spirit of jazz requires improvisation.  Barry’s music is well aware of the stylistic constraints, and the longing we hear is all the more heightened by the fleeting semblance of musical freedom.  The emotional chaos and literal violence (the titular character specializes in explosives) are underlined by a restrained, subtle sense of form that lacks the space to grow.
theladyrose: (Default)
I've been walking to and from psychology building pretty much every day since the end of August at least once a day. And yet today - OK, technically yesterday now - I noticed the gigantic palm tree in front of the main entrance for the first time. I'd like to think that I've had a vague awareness of this tree's existence for some time, but only now have I really acknowledged this tree's presence.

I'm really intrigued by weird unconscious phenomena. Why did it take me so long to notice the palm tree, and what was it that finally made me notice it? I seriously doubt I was primed by anything that I had seen/read/heard, but who knows. To quote from [profile] annasmiles, ''I like my major so much if it were a guy I would make out with it.''  Erm, well, metaphorically.

I'm trying really, really hard not to wake up my roommate from laughing too hard at what I'm listening to. I can't think of any composer besides Elmer Bernstein who could make a storeroom inventory list so entertaining, except maybe Henry Mancini. I'm seriously surprised that none of the singers cracked up in recording this.  I also have a bad habit of laughing during performances/rehearsals of any sort; I probably ruined a lot of takes on Birnkrant 616 and bell choir practices and the 24 hour plays...and now I should shut up so that I can wake up on time for my 8 AM statistics lab.  If morning were a person I'd strangle it.
theladyrose: (Default)
Do I actually detect some fragments of melody in Philip Glass's Notes On A Scandal score? My knowledge of music theory is virtually nonexistent, but this definitely isn't his old school minimalism. If this and snow in Malibu doesn't indicate that there's something freaky going on in the world, I don't know what is.

I'm also starting to understand why film critics panned the score for being too overwrought and taking the edge off of some potentially black comedy. Glass is definitely capable of great subtlety - the Hours and Glassworks are some of my favorite works of his characterized by this more reflective tone - but it sounds like he's gone with a La Belle et le Bête-ish approach here.  There are some moments highly reminiscent of the Hours, though the orchestration sounds much fuller and the tone more dissonant.

To continue with the film music ramblings, I've come across an original recording of Elmer Bernstein's the Man with the Golden Arm title theme. The website also has some great recordings of pieces from different film scores performed by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra Society; I recommend Miklos Rozsa's lovely El Cid
[profile] blofeldscat
, please forgive my ignorance in not knowing where to put the accent marks.

Much to my delight, I've found
an affordable recording of Bernstein's 'Toccata for Toy Trains' - I almost typed 'Toycatta' there. There's a re-recording conducted by the composer on the FSM-released Elmer Bernstein's Film Music Collection, but the Eames Brothers film compilation contains the gem, 'Westinghouse in Alphabetical Order,' which was written as musical accompaniment for a stock holders' meeting to look over company merchandise!  Now if I could find a recording of either of Bernstein's stage musicals, Merlin and How Now, Dow Jones or John Barry's Lolita, My Love...
theladyrose: (Default)
Picture an asexual having an intellectual orgasm, and you'll have a good idea of what it was like to hear Jon Burlingame's presentation on the legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein (see the icon).

It feels hyperbolic yet somehow also reductionist to say that I owe a lot to Elmer Bernstein. I've said this before and I'll say it again: his score for To Kill A Mockingbird is what made me fall in love with film music. And if it weren't for To Kill A Mockingbird, I doubt that I wouldn't have written an essay good enough to be considered for my scholarship. In a strangely removed way, Elmer Bernstein has brought me to where I am now.

Burlingame gave one of the best talks I've been lucky enough to hear, sprinkling in personal anecdotes about the composer as well as serious background about the groundbreaking aspects of Bernstein's music. Burlingame balanced the fine line of introducing enough information to those unacquainted with the composer while engaging Bernstein fans with a behind the scenes look at film music history. Interspersed in Burlingame's talk were some appreciative comments from Bernstein's various collaborators in the film industry as well as a few interview clips with the composer himself. Sound and video clips from the scores he was discussing (including the only unofficial videorecording in existence of a number from Merlin) enhanced the lecture. I was intrigued to hear more about Bernstein's forays into scoring TV shows and documentaries, writing musicals (How Now, Dow Jones and Merlin) and composing concert works such as his Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, commissioned by Christopher Parkening. Burlingame also touched upon Bernstein's "graylisted" period and his influence in allowing film and TV composers to retain the rights to their music. I had never realized the extent of Bernstein's involvement in the film and music industries and how beloved he was.

Some random, interesting things I took away from the talk: Bernstein's classic Magnificent Seven theme is actually based on his work on the Burt Reynolds TV show Riverboat, a sort of hybrid of his previous thematic material incorporated with Mexican folk music. Toccata for Toy Trains is easily one of the most delightful music compositions for documentaries I've ever heard. And James Coburn's remark that Bernstein did more for his career as a result of the memorability of the Magnificent Seven and the Great Escape made me smile.

Alas, my recap does no justice to Burlingame's storytelling skills and the real sense of who Bernstein was; it's no wonder that Burlingame is as great of a journalist as he is. Seriously, there were several other watery-eyed women at the end of the presentation; we were all that struck by Burlingame's whimsical depiction the composer. It's not too surprising, then, that Burlingame seems to have quite the fan club; at least five of the attendees had come on campus just for this event. I was the only undergraduate student present; the others in the audience seemed to be members of "Friends of the Doheny Library" speaker series.

I was so nervous introducing myself that I started talking in an accent. (I have no idea why. It was as if I was trying to do a parody of my mother's old BBC announcer accent.) It was amazing that he could figure out anything that I was saying at all.

If all goes well, I'll have coffee or lunch with Burlingame sometime in November and discuss film music, particularly the Man from UNCLE soundtracks. Hopefully by then my speech patterns will stick to the North American continent instead of drowning in the middle of the Atlantic.

[/pretentious fangirling]

(On a different note, I'm trying to think of sufficiently intelligent responses to all of your thought-provoking comments about the supergirl dilemna. I swear I'm not ignoring you!)

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theladyrose

June 2010

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