Archive for the MUSIC Category

Symphony of a Gray City

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2022 by dcairns

Rewatching EMILE AND THE DETECTIVES (1931) — mainly for Fritz Rasp and the amazing train hallucination.

But then it occurred to us —

First Fiona: this music reminds me a lot of a Universal horror movie.

Me: It’s Allan Gray, who scored A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH —

And I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! which has another hallucinatory train journey…

And there’s A LOT of music here! Making it one of the very first full film scores in a talkie (BLACKMAIL showed the way, but Hubert Bath’s excellent work there wasn’t continued immediately in such a full-on way, almost as if it were considered a mistake to have so much music). Bernard Herrmann considered Karol Rathaus’s score for THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, also 1931, to be the first, but Grey was contemporary with it, and so was Franz Waxman with THE MAN LOOKING FOR HIS MURDERER. It’s Waxman’s later BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN score that bits of EMILE seems to resemble — which may be more than a coincidence with the films being made so close together, and Billy Wilder working on the screenplay of both.

EMIL’s music characterizes the film beautifully: it has all kinds of stuff going on including a jaunty march and slide whistles, not just Frankensteinian dark thrills. It’s memorable and jaunty, even if sometimes it gets in the way. When Emile is trying to retrieve his money from under Rasp’s pillow, the bombastic crashing climaxes of the orchestra cancel out the suspense, which should all be about being as quiet as possible.

Come to think of it, one reason for the music may have been the location filming, with its attendant difficulties in recording live sound. The movie adds an interest absent from M (not that I’m knocking M’s eerily silent studio city) — the real streets of Berlin. A city symphony, with a children’s film going on in the foreground.

No Intertitle Today

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2022 by dcairns

Amazing 1906 Vitagraph silent by company boss J. Stuart Blackton, who also apparently stars. No intertitles or titles of any kind because it’s 1906, I guess. I’m not actually sure what exact year intertitles became commonplace.

AND THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUED HER takes its title from a melodramatic meme — already the tied-to-the-railroad-track type situations were ripe for parody. This one not only reduces — or inflates — its continual crises to absurdity, it folds it all into a self-reflexive meta-narrative thingy. Ludicrous fun, and it gets crazier the more it goes on. Do, do, do watch it.

Blackton, who collaborated with Winsor McCay, seems to have had a predilection for silliness — I must see more of his surviving works.

Odd sense of synergy this morning. I was lying in bed reading Dead Wake by Erik Larson (gripping stuff) — the window was open and the usual cacophony — soften by it being a Sunday morning in summer — was filtering into the room. Between our tenement building and the ill-famed Banana Flats which curve around the back of our block in a slack concrete embrace, there is a kind of echo chamber in which any noise from the Flats is bounced reverberantly around the neighbourhood. I was hearing the Beatles’ And I Love Her combined with an intense male voice which I eventually recognized, despite not being able to make out a single word, as that of William Shatner. The Shat, to give him due credit, devised dramaturgy’s most distinctive phrasing. I couldn’t identify the episode. As the Lusitania was struck silently by a torpedo in the pages of my popular history, the Enterprise klaxon sounded an arooga of sympathetic distress.

Winsor McKay, of course, crafted an amazing visualisation of the Lusitania’s last minutes afloat, since no actual newsreel camera were present.

This is vaguely interesting. A 1954 TerryToon, I guess one would call it. The same melodramatic cliches are spoofed. It looks much like a 1930s toon to me, except the figures have developed skeletons and joints rather than rubber bands (in 30s toons, even the skeletons don’t have skeletons, but simply BEND where required). In fact it’s a 50s TV entertainment. Apart from the disconcerting way the figures have of simply freezing, so the thing turns into a stationary drawing every few seconds, it’s much more elaborate than later TV crap. They haven’t worked out yet how bad they can do things and still get kids to stare slackjawed at the idiot box.

The villain believes he’s in a melodrama, the hero thinks it’s an operetta, the heroine, an extra-virgin Olive Oyl, is to passive to express a preference to one genre or the other. At one point she simply floats through the air in a sitting position, propelled by the Snidely/Dastardly type’s superior willpower.

I’ll spare you the Arthur Askey song of the same name but it’s here if you want it. I thankew!

Sniper at the Gates of Dawn

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2022 by dcairns

Sergio Sollima’s VIOLENT CITY (1970) is one hell of a thing. As with the same director’s BIG GUNDOWN, I was familiar with the score for decades, but have only just heard it in context. And what context!

The title is misleading, semi-irrelevant. It’s not about any particular city. What you need to know is, Charles Bronson IS Jeff Heston. And you will know it, because everyone calls him Jeff in every single line of dialogue, it feels like. And we also know that Telly Savalas is Al and Jill Ireland is Vanessa.

Jeff is a hitman — the kind of character who was only just becoming possible as protagonist — spaghetti western amorality spreading its web over the urban thriller — though Seijun Suzuki was there first with BRANDED TO KILL (an influence? — Leone and Morricone certainly exerted a big influence in Japan, did it return to Italy, more twitchy and psychotic?) — and I guess there’s the remarkable MURDER BY CONTRACT (“To buy one of these things you have to be a civilized country. Are you a civilized country?” “Me? I never even finished high school.”)

Anyhow, Jeff is pretty ruthless and Bronson is the right guy to play him. Sollima delivers extended setpieces of pure cinema in eye-searing colour, with or without Morricone’s slamming electric guitars. It’s as sexist as any pulp fiction potboiler — the director’s only technical weakness is his bizarre cutting of Jill Ireland’s body double scenes, as if he really really wants us to know it’s not her. Jeff H. is pretty well a rapist as well as a murderer, but Vanessa doesn’t hold that against him.

Jeff Heston, put your vest on!

The (fuzzy) political edge of REVOLVER — this thing goes all the way to the top! — is mostly absent, except a wildly misjudged scene meant to show the corruption of powerful men. The film’s geography is crazy — Jeff drives from New Orleans to Michigan by way of the Florida Keys, but this one scene finds him in a Southern version of the Playboy Club where the Bunnies are Mammies. It’s absolutely horrific, ludicrous — some kind of satire is evidently intended and it lands as grotesquerie but actual people had to wear those costumes…

This all suggests hard limits to Sollima’s political awareness, and my sense that he’s at heart somewhat superficial intensifies — but I’m more impressed than ever by his image-making, and that of cinematographer Aldo Tonti (BARABBAS, THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA).