Monday, August 06, 2007

Another day, another disappointing film music look (apparently).

As you might have noticed (unless you're reading this anytime after Monday), the last thing I listened to was Gary Chang's Under Siege, the score for Steven Seagal's most successful movie (and one often mistaken for a good movie on account of it having proper actors like Gary Busey [in drag] and Tommy Lee Jones [leading a rock'n'roll band!], but then again it does have Erika Eleniak popping out of a birthday cake topless...). Unfortunately apart from the main title the rest of it is a textbook case of "Great with the film, not so good away from it" with some shameless ripoffs of other scores not helping at all. Bleh.

Anyway, it's safe to say that it wouldn't get into Lights! Action! Music!, which was reviewed in today's New York Times by Stephen Holden thusly. It does sound less Music from the Movies: Toru Takemitsu and more that episode of Lights! Camera! Action! which somehow went from Hans Zimmer to 1930s British musicals...

Classical music for people who are afraid of classical music: that’s one way of looking at traditional film scores, which bring symphonically orchestrated music to more people than most serious composers are ever likely to attract to concert halls. As movie audiences are emotionally swept up in the synergy of photography, acting, settings and costumes, it is music more than any other element that effects what the director Francis Ford Coppola calls the “fusion” of these ingredients into “a critical mass.” It usually works best if it is only half-heard.
Those are among Mr. Coppola’s insights in Lights! Action! Music!, a fluffy, disorganized, woefully incomplete compendium of interviews and film clips about movie music that begins this month on public television stations. (It is shown tonight on WLIW in New York.)
In a show that flits among more composers and directors than it has the time to accommodate, Mr. Coppola offers the most trenchant commentary. Many of the rest of the comments by various composers are reduced to hyperbolic sound bites included to give viewers a chance to connect a director or composer’s face with a few shallow observations.
Mr. Coppola recalls the Academy Award acceptance speech of the composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who wrote the thundering heroic scores for westerns like Red River and High Noon. In his speech upon winning best film score for High Noon, Mr. Coppola recalls, Mr. Tiomkin mischievously ran down a list of classical composers from whom he had stolen.
The show offers a tantalizing glimpse of Mr. Coppola’s forthcoming Youth Without Youth, with music by Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentina-born composer who grew up in Eastern Europe, won a MacArthur fellowship in 2003 and teaches in the United States. A snippet of the movie, in which the director instructed Mr. Golijov to evoke a mood of personal regret, is shown and analyzed by the composer. As fleeting as the moment may be, you feel it.
The composer David Shire recalls how Mr. Coppola asked him to write piano music that evoked “the subtext” of Gene Hackman’s character in The Conversation. The tricky, obsessive piano motif reveals a nagging psychological complexity that only music could distill so precisely.
The survey jumps awkwardly from subject to subject. One section, called “Obscurity,” seems to have been created simply to bring in the name of Henry Manciniwho is otherwise unacknowledged; his tango from a flop 1969 film, Gaily, Gaily, though catchy enough, is far from Mancini’s best. In another section the director Ang Lee offers a fascinating tidbit about instrumental sounds and particular actors: Tobey Maguire, he says, is best underscored by a clarinet.
One promising section, “Collaboration,” focuses on the long-running relationships between Federico Fellini and Nino Rota, and between Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard. But it is far too short. The relationships of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, or of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, go unmentioned. A fragment of Ennio Morricone’s music from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More is seemingly shoehorned in just to mention that composer’s name. But who’s in and who’s out ultimately seems completely arbitrary.
Beyond its relationship to classical music, the history of film music is given no historical context. The rise of the contemporary pop soundtrack in movies like The Graduate should at least have been noted. And no one describes the grinding drudgery endured by film composers sitting in front of a Movieola and completing the painstaking, moment-by-moment synchronization of sound and image.
The best way to appreciate Lights! Action! Music! is as a sampler for a larger and deeper exploration. Even on its own terms, it is a frivolous diversion.

1 comment:

The Archivist said...

Yeah; why does music help the film but not sound good by itself?