Music & Vision's monthly column -
GORDON RUMSON writes:
I've watched so many films that one of things I most miss most in my
own life is a soundtrack. High drama -- like the rice boiling over (that
is high drama for my life) -- should be accompanied by pounding drums
or screaming strings. I'd like frenetic music to go with my rush from the
house and some steamy music when I give my wife the 'eye'. Sadly, unless
I just turn on the radio, or my walkman or iPod, there's not much chance
of it. Besides, the radio just provides a basic background not necessarily
suited to the events. Rather like a silent movie pianist who is not watching
But this basic stream of accompanying music, apart from its mythic or
symbolic quality, is a remarkable phenomena. Since the days of the silents,
music is integral to the whole predominantly visual process. A movie without
music is rare, and in the wonderful film My Dinner with André
from many years back, the use of Satie's Gymnopedie at the end --
after a long film with mostly dialogue -- was a stroke of genius. I once
watched a Fritz Lang silent film without music and my head ached for days.
(Besides, do you know how loud it is when a whole audience is chewing popcorn?
Trust me -- it's loud).
Film music has its genres (I noticed a book on the music of the Star
Trek series recently) and of better and worse quality. There's the John
Williams style and there's also the horror film manner. I've always found
it interesting though, that music that people will not stand in the concert
hall (too modern, too dissonant) passes unnoticed at the theatre, such as
in the Friday the 13th series of films. Recently, the electronic
instrument the Theremin, long a staple of 1950s sci-fi is making a comeback.
Expect to hear much more of the swooping grace of this antique instrument.
Great music can also be perverted as the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven was
when given such a garish twist in the Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange.
There's no question that the quality is high and there is enough variety
to satisfy everyone. Composers of the most eminent variety have contributed.
One of my favorites, of course, is the music by William Walton for the Laurence
Olivier Shakespeare films. My daughter has watched the film Bedknobs
and Broomsticks -- and by extension so have I -- about 500 times and
I still find the music by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman to be very
entertaining. But maybe my mind is going ...
But has anyone ever collected the playing of Harpo and the piano playing
of Chico Marx on a CD? I'd go for that! And does anyone else remember
the violin in the Mel Brooks comedy Young Frankenstein? I even knew
the violinist. He taught at the University of Michigan when I was a student.
There are also composers who write concert music that cries out to be
used in films. In Calgary, a member of the currently locked out symphony,
the violist Arthur Bachmann (go to the Canadian Music Centre web site for
information) is just such a one. Please, would some director notice him!!!
His music demands a film.
Sometimes though music and film composer don't quite go together. I've
never quite gotten used to the sound of Korngold's late romantic chromatic
soup in Robin Hood. I have not been able to bring myself to watch
Kundun, though I expect Philip Glass's music is very good. But I
loved the music to the first Highlander film (theme song provided
by Queen) and think that the music that went with the first Lexx
film I Worship His Shadow, was brilliant (Go to www.lexx.com and there will be an audio sample of the soundtrack
loaded directly, though this is not the best part. But, worse still is that
the first season's shows are only to be had in Canada and the UK! -- see:
www.lexx.co.uk). I liked
it because there were times when two temporal streams seemed to be running
concurrently -- a great effect. Please forgive me though if I don't mention
Celine Dion and the theme from Titanic beyond this bare sentence.
I no more believe in saccharine in my soda pop than in my music.
Writing film music is no easy task and one is always prey to the vagaries
of edits and cuts. How much good music is laying on the floor in Hollywood
is hard to guess, and how many well formed compositions have been distorted
by the need to add or remove just a couple of frames and a few seconds is
unknowable. There is a wonderful description by Otto Luenning in his autobiography
of a group of musicians sitting around orchestrating film music in the 1930s.
The money was good, the hours long, the cigarette smoke thick and the process
bizarre (here's five pages of a lead sheet, everyone at the table gets one
page. Start orchestrating. One wonders how it came out at all.)
And how much of this is on the net? Well, not as much as I would like.
Copyright restrictions I expect. But here's a few tidbits.
Film Music on the Web
A very generous and detailed site of reviews and information. Excellent
for gettings started looking for film music. I can't find any streaming
audio at this site, but there is a links page that is a super bonanza. It's
the second link here.
The Fascinating World of Film Music
Chris Malone maintains this page with reviews and links. Clips seem to
be nonstreaming. Some of the reviews are scene by scene comment on the music.
Here's someone who is also listening to the music.
This is a glossy, media savvy, graphic intensive site, with very brief
audio clips, reviews, product tie-ins (such as to eBay) and more.
The reviews are hip, sometimes hard hitting and informative. But tell me
it isn't so: the Harry Potter movie hadn't been released when I visited,
but the soundtrack had???
I'm not a big fan of Disney (does that comes a surprise?) but here's
a page of all the favourite tunes. I'm not sure about what the Disney company
thinks about this. They have their own site but I won't give the address.
I will not contribute unduly to the delinquency of a listener.
Copyright © 12 November 2001 Gordon
Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
& Vision home MV3 home
Last month >>