Archive for the MUSIC Category

A Train of Death

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2016 by dcairns

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The story is told, by Elmer Bernstein, that he once sent a tape of Sidney Lumet’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS to legendary composer Bernard Herrmann, figuring Richard Rodney Bennett’s score might appeal to the old guy. (Lumet says in his book Making Movies that this was the one film he made were he really wanted the audience to be aware of the score. Lush, romantic, exotic, period. The dubbing editor had laid an amazing bunch of tracks for the scene where the train starts its fatal journey with pistons and steam and even a TING as the light came on. Lumet threw them all out when he heard the score.

The score made the famously choleric Herrmann apoplectic with rage, “Did the composer not understand,” he asked, “that this was a Train Of Death?”

Bernstein’s point in relating this was that Herrmann, though a genius of film composition, was perhaps a little heavy at times and might take things over-literally. Lumet did not intend his all-star murder mystery to be doom-laden.

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I found myself using the expression “Did the composer not understand-?” while watching IT HAPPENED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT, a skillfully made Swiss thriller scripted by Friedrich Durrenmatt. FD later came to believe that the script he’d written was not plausible, and reshaped it as his novel The Pledge: An Elegy for the Detective Story.

In the movie, directed by Ladislao Vajda, a detective (Heinz Ruhmann, usually known for comedies) becomes convinced that the vagrant who hanged himself after confessing to a child murder (Michel Simon) was not actually guilty, and sets out to catch the killer using a forensic profile and live bait.

In the film, this succeeds, but the novel reverses this by throwing in the randomness of real life — the killer never makes it to the trap that’s been set, and the detective goes to his grave never knowing for sure if he was right. It’s an amazing book.

One thing that lets the movie down, despite a strong cast and good noirish visuals, is the score, which is fine to listen to and good and dramatic, but did cause me to utter the time-honoured words “Did the composer not realize-?”

In this case, what’s missing is dramatic irony. The composer — OK, let’s name the poor man, Bruno Canfora, he may still be alive — does good bombast for moments of straight-up shock, but let’s the side down when a more subtle effect is called for.

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Little girl playing in woods.

Looks up and sees Gert Frobe. Gert fucking Frobe. Being a puppeteer magician dude. This is how he grooms kids before killing them.

At sight of Frobe, Canfora lets out a shocking scream, via his orchestra. In principle, it’s effective. It’s playing along with what we know about this perilous situation. But how much creepier to play along with the little girl’s understanding? A strange, mysterious and magical man has suddenly appeared in the forest, and wants to play with her. Treat it like Disney, maestro Canfora, and we will be truly creeped out.

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A similar but opposite blunder — the danger is known and the kid has been safely locked indoors. But she escapes, to go playing. Canfora accompanies her exit with gentle, whimsical playing music. Maybe he would have got away with this if he’d kept to the child’s emotions earlier, but now we expect music of terror. We know this kid is potentially skipping to her demise. You MIGHT, as I say, be able to play this lightly if you’d established a capacity for lightness. But the music doesn’t even bring us into the little girl’s world. It’s sentimental, parental music, that looks at a playing child from a distance and says “Aww.” If we’re not going to be in HER world, we need to be in our own, in which case the music should now be screaming a warning…

The Sunday Intertitle: Ach

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , on September 11, 2016 by dcairns

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Should have been seeing Lotte Reininger’s THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED on the big screen with live, improvised music by the trio Sink, but left it too late to buy ticket. I am a fool.

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“In the city of the caliph they were celebrating the ruler’s birthday.” Which is kind of like something I’ve co-written…

Retro Viral

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on September 3, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona watched Stranger Things avidly, but I only half-watched it. We both watched IT FOLLOWS. Retro electronica scores and sorta-period detail unite these two shows. Otherwise they’re pretty different.

I wasn’t too taken with Stranger Things because I recognized pretty much all the elements, and they were all drawn from a rather narrow pool of influences. The creepy child experiment stuff was new to Fiona, because I realized she hadn’t seen AKIRA — rectifying that tonight. The best I can say about the story world in this series is that the portal-to-hell stuff is more like a modern video game influence, or THE MIST, and transplanting it back in time into an ET/EXPLORERS 80s setting imparted what freshness the show had.

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IT FOLLOWS is arguable less successful overall — it doesn’t achieve a rounded, satisfying arc the way Stranger Things does (albeit a deeply conservative one, where outsider characters are conveniently erased and nuclear families preserved), but it has its own look and its own fresh central idea.

I felt the half-period/half-alternate-world schtick achieved precisely nothing in itself, and undercutting the reality of the milieu wasn’t really helpful to the fantasy, but I guess it spared writer/director David Robert Mitchell from having to accurately capture modern youthspeak. It’s the first sign of the dumbness that eventually derails the movie.

Well, not quite the first sign — during the opening shot, our first victim is introduced, desperately fleeing the unseen menace, which is, in best 80s slasher tradition, at this point represented by the camera eye itself.

“She’s in heels!” exclaimed Fiona. “Why is she in heels? Those are heels! Just kick them off!”

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Too late.

Though obviously Lynch-fluenced — in a way, this movie references the 80s the way BLUE VELVET referred back to the 50s — Mitchell has a pleasing camera style which is individual, seductive, and informs every shot. I particularly liked the high angles which don’t quite make it as POV shots. And the fondness for slow pans is refreshing. He also has a slightly prurient eye for young women’s bodies — I was beginning to wonder when we were going to meet a fully dressed female character — but this mild Larry Clark tendency still seemed honestly individual. Maybe it’s my Scots puritanism worrying unnecessarily.

But as the inanities piled up, he began to make me think of M. Night Shyamalan and Richard Kelly, whose neat ideas and visual confidence tends to be undercut by a tendency to be excited by really dumb stuff, to have fatal lapses of taste and judgement, and to fail to question themselves with sufficient rigour. All three filmmakers might at some future point resolve their problems and fulfil their early promise. Here, it’s the inane swimming pool plan that shows up the weakness in following through on a strong (if unpleasant) premise. It’s all downhill after that.

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Another sign of dumbness, though a counter-intuitive one. My friend Rolland is of the view that any time a movie quotes Dostoevsky, it’s a sign of stupidity ahead. Not that Dostoevsky is stupid, by any means, but he seems to appeal to people who aren’t as clever as they think. I guess everyone reading him for the first time gets all excited and thinks they’ve made a great discovery that nobody else knows about.  And they make the mistake of thinking that quoting him will raise the intellectual level of their venture. I’m interested in hearing if anyone can suggest exceptions to this “rule”. And is it worse when the extracts are read from a fictitious clamshell compact Kindle device?