Thursday, February 22, 2018

Music and Movies Part one

Movies are really just stories with lots of tools that are used to engage the viewers.  Music is very effective in setting the mood whether scary, action, romantic or sad.  Pumping the viewer up or calming them down.  Sometimes you can be very conscious of a beautiful melody or performance, but often you barely notice the background music.  Of course songs are what are most often remembered.

This post was delayed so I could watch "Score" and that was a good choice.   Some new music was discovered and some deeper understanding found.  The background music is more than just memorable melodies.  It helps set the mood.  One example was that by playing up or down musical scales it could subtly mimic the actions of the actors.  Many little bits could prepare the audience for action.  Another example was from the shower stabbing scene in "Psycho" when they played it without sound, but adding the screeching violins of Bernard Hermann greatly enhanced the scary element.

As always researching for these blogs helps me discover new things that make the effort personally worthwhile.  Some of the knowledge is spread around the blog and may or may not be recognized, but two movies struck me.  "I had seen and enjoyed "Gladiator,"  but couldn't recall anything special about the music  Hans Zimmer working with others inserted one song that I have bought and enjoy listening to.

"Another one was Remember the Titans" (2000).  The theme was used for an Obama rally which by itself is of interest.  I was able to watch the movie which is engrossing.  Great music helps enhance great movies while at other times salvages not so memorable movies.

Just as scripts are classed as original or adapted, music can be broken down to original and borrowed.   Borrowing generally means using already established music.  My favourite classical borrowings are the Mozart No 21 Piano concert which is better known in some circles as a theme from "Elvira Madigan" and Ravel's Bolero in "10." Another famous borrowing was Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" used in "Apocaplypse."  It is cheaper to use long dead composers and it can leave a classic touch.  "Casablanca" used "As Time Goes By" that had been written 12 years before raising it from obscurity to become an overnight standard..

For many of my era the consciousness of music and stories first came from the Walt Disney studio.

Frank Churchill started by playing piano in film theatres and then doing short films for the Disney studio including the song "Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."  Moving onto feature films, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"was a major gamble for Disney, but proved a spectacular success. (1937)  Later Frank worked on "Bambi" (1942) and winning an Oscar for "Dumbo" in 1942.  Unfortunately he killed himself in 1942

Lee Harline was musically responsible for "Pinochio,"and "Sleeping Beauty.  As an adult I watched "The Fox and the Hound with my young daughter.

"The Lady and the Tramp" had Peggy Lee (an adult favorite)  co-writing some of the songs.  As a young man I really enjoyed her singing, particularly her phrasing.

Perhaps the most accepted Disney composers were Robert Sherman and his brother Richard.  They wrote a song, "Tall Paul" that was sung by Annette Funicello and got the attention of the Disney Studio.  As a team they wrote songs and music for such films as "The Parent Trap" (1961), "Mary Poppins" (1964) winning two Oscars.  Their most famous song was "It's a Small World After All," written for the World's Fair of 1964  "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins was Walt Disney's favorite song and was requested when he felt depressed.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) was one of the greatest films ever made.  It was a very big deal when it appeared on tv as it was rare.  The composer, Harold Arlen was really a song writer, one of the most successful of his time.  He wrote for Broadway and for the Harlem Cotton Club and lots of his songs made it into movies, even to recent times.  His lyricist E. Y. Harburg was clever.  One line will serve as an example (not from The Wizard of Oz) "when I'm not facing the face I fancy I fancy the face I face."  He was blacklisted with one of his best known songs, "Brother Can you Spare a Dime."

Lyrics is another fascinating topic, but too much for this blog post.  The big question is what comes first, the music or the words?  It depends.

In my formative years musicals were fairly popular on tv in North America.  Gradually they became less popular and were considered unrealistic.  Many were adapted from Broadway, but also original.

Irving Berlin composed for "White Christmas," "Easter Parade,"and "Holiday Inn."

Richard Rogers, composed and formed partnerships with lyricists Lorenz Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein.  Some of my favourite musicals included  "South Pacific, "" Flower Drum Song,","The King and I", and "Carousel,"   "Sound of Music" and "Oklahoma,," were also very popular, but not seen by me, although much of the music was familiar.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe collaborated for a number of Broadway musicals that were adapted for the screen.  I had never seen most of the movies, but was very familiar with some of the music.  I vaguely remember seeing "Brigadoon" and had seen "Paint Your Wagons",,but not the more familiar, "My Fair Lady", "Gigi" (written for film) and "Camelot."  Frederick Lowe was born in Berlin with an operetta singing father.  Frederick learned to play the piano by ear and helped his father rehearse.   At age 13 he played solo piano with the Berlin Philharmonic.  After his parents migrated to the United States (they were Jewish) Frederick played piano in silent film theatres.  Meeting Alan Jay Lerner proved to be a key to his future.

George Gershwin wrote "Porgy and Bess."

Leonard Bernstein is a name I associated with classical music and had seen him perform and talk on tv.   Long familiar with the songs from West Side Story,  I recently saw it for the first time and although dated, one can appreciate trend setting.   He also wrote music for "Girl Crazy."

Andrew Lloyd Weber is still active, but has a lot of laurels to rest on.  Evita, "Phantom of the Opera" (saw the play), "Jesus Christ Superstar" were a few of his film adaptations.

"La La Land" was a successful attempt to show musicals can still draw fans.   But to me it was not outstanding.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a classically trained musician and composer and had written "serious" music before coming to America.  His family fled Europe as Hitler was annexing Austria.  He had been asked to arrange some Medelssohn's music for "A Midnight Summers Dream."  He was approached to compose music for "Captain Blood," (1935) shortly before its deadline, but he could only manage about one hour of music and supplemented the rest with Franz Schubert.  He requested that his credits be "Musical Arrangement by Erich Wolfgang Korngold."  He later won an Oscar for "The Adventures of Robin Hood." (1938) and was nominated for "The Sea Hawk"  and "The Private lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

Korngold was one of the first to write motifs for each of the leading characters.  Hugo Friedhofer noted, "He was the first to write film music in long lines, flowing chunks that contained the ebb and flow of mood and activity and the feeling of the picture.  Korngold often played a piano alongside a projectionist running the film.

Hugo Friedhofer helped fill in a missing piece of the musical puzzle.  Although in later life he was a successful recognized composer initially he was valued for his ability to orchestrate, that is fill in the bare composition with more instruments.  Learned to play the cello at age 13.  He dropped out of high school and married at age 22 but found work playing in theatre orchestras and later making incidental music for stage and films.  Through a violinist friend he made contact with film studios and ended up orchestrating for both Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, with whom he spoke German.  He was so valued as an orchestrator that he was not allowed to compose.  In fact he did compose for 120 films without credit, but once he broke his attachments he received 7 Oscar nominations for scores including for "The Best Years of Our Lives" in 1946.

Elmer Bernstein was a protege of Aaron Copeland and during World War II arranged some musical numbers for Glenn Miller..  He made a mark with "The Man with a Golden Arm" (1955 with its jazzy score earning an Oscar nomination.  He is most famous for "The Magnificent Seven" (1961) which was re-worked to be included in a remake in 2010.   Some other notable films included "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) and "The Great Escape" (1963).  Not related to Leonard Bernstein, although they knew each other.


Bernard Herrmann had an abrasive personality which many thought hurt his Oscar chances, but he did win one for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" in 1942.  He had written for Orson Welles including the infamous radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds" in 1938.  He got to write the music for "Citizen Kane" (1941) which always ranks as one of the best movies ever.  One of his most famous bits of music was after Alfred Hitchcock declared he wanted no music for the shower scene in "Psycho."  He did 9 films with Hitchcock, including "Vertigo" once declared best movie ever.  Hermann's favourite work was with "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," (1947). His last films was "Taxi" and he died a few hours after completing. Hermann insisted on doing his own orchestration.  He also introduced new instrumentation such as for "The Day the World Stood Still."

Dmitri Tiomkin's  Guns of Navarone (1961) was perhaps my first acquaintance with his music, and led me to buy a record album of movie themes.  Some others I recall Alamo--one that I enjoyed the music for "Unforgiven," but didn't see the movie for several decades.  He won an Oscar for "High Noon" (1952).   He helped with a Russian production of "Tchaikovsky."

Henry Mancini played the flute and sent an arrangement to Benny Goodman which resulted in a job offer.  During the war he was assigned to a band unit which probably saved his life as his original unit was wiped out during the Battle of the Bulge.  After World War II he joined the Glenn Miller Band.    He arranged music for "The Glenn Miller Story"  and in 1952 wrote music for "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde."  I was fascinated by "The Great Imposter" which he wrote the music for and inspired by the theme bought another album of movie themes.  Hatari, Moon River,--Sunflower (It/Russian)    He won Oscars for "Victor Victoria" (1982) and "Days of Wine and Roses," and Breakfast at Tiffany's" as well as 18 nominations  He was noted for injecting some jazz in the background.

John Barry, an English man got a break teaming up with pop star Adam Faith who got into movies.  Once there he got noticed and asked to arrange music for "Dr No" and eventually he tallied 11 James Bond scores.  Altogether he won 5 Oscars, for "Born Free" (2), "Dances with Wolves," and "Lion in Winter."

Jerry Goldsmith wrote scores for a number of movies, including "Chinatown,"  I learned that for "Hoosiers" he added in sounds mimicking the sound of multiple basketballs being bounced as if in a practice.

John Williams favored by Steven Spielberg.  "Jaws' was a popular movie.  At that time I lived over a movie theatre and when having a bath it was unnerving to hear the surging part.  Superman, E.T. Jurassic Park,  He started as a musician and played the piano for movies.  He also was involved as an arranger.  One of his early successes was with "Jaws" which helped cement a relationship with Steven Spielberg and extended to George Lukas.  "The Book Thief."

Philip Glass is considered a classical composer, but has gotten involved with many movies.  While in Paris he transcribed music from Ravi Shankar for a French film.  Later studied music from India and parts of Africa.  He has a style that is easy to recognize such as  "The Hours" (2002).   He was nominated for an Oscar for  "Notes on a Scandal" (2002).  He did music for two Russian films, "Leviathan" (2014) and "Elena" (2011).  Also did music for "The Fog of War" (2003) and "Kundun" (1997).



Hans Zimmer,  German born as a young man was seen in a video ""Video killed the Radio Star"  He was a pioneer integrating electronic music with traditional orchestral arrangement.  "Gladiator" and   "Blade Runner 2049" are only two of us works.


Paul Zaza is a movie composer who I happened to meet through my in-laws.   Connection was a younger sister, Jennifer got used an extra for "Meatballs" and then research uncovered that actually Elmer Bernstein wrote the music for this while Paul wrote the music for Meatballs 3.  related thru marriage to my wife's late step father  Paul was lucky that at age 4 his musical talent was recognized and he was enrolled in piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.  As a musician, toured with "Hair" and the Fifth Dimension.  Setting up a music studio he was able to help rectify an unsatisfactory movie score and subsequently did over a hundred scores, some winning awards.   Many of them were horror movies such as "Prom Night"

Part 2 is now availble:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/05/movies-and-music-part-2.html

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