February 14th, 2007

Igor (Young Frankenstein)


Has anybody really considered the damage that would be caused if it really started raining men? The velocity at which the bodies would achieve as they hurtle towards the ground would make them most destructive. They would crash through cars and buildings and flatten people. Not to mention the disturbing aftermath of having all of these dead bodies in the streets, making it impossible to drive. Blood would congeal in the sewers, backing them up for days. All in all, a pretty morbid scene.

And yet, some people say "Hallelujah" at the prospect.

  • Current Music
    Bill Conti: Gloria
Kambei (The Seven Samurai)


happy birthday


I tried to make it to work today. I did. It was very snowy, so I got in my car and drove for over an hour. I made it from Francis Lewis to about as far as Main Street (for those of you unfamiliar with Queens geography, that's only three exits on the Long Island Expressway). So I turned around and went back home. I then waited at the stop as two scheduled buses didn't show up. As what I was waiting in made night on Hoth feel like noon in the Bahamas, I then went back home and called my boss and told him to forget about me coming in today. I ain't going anywhere today. Okay, I might pop out for some coffee, but that's it. No point in letting the day go to waste, though. I might possibly watch the remastered Criterion of The Seven Samurai.

Incoming calls welcomed.
A phone conversations with waystone that included references to 70° weather and an e-mail from Saadia mentioning how she spent the whole day in flip-flops is starting to make me really tired of the damn cold. In a move of inconvenient seasonal pride, the winter is really working to make up for the mildness of its first half. I did run into a girl at work yesterday who was 21 and from California, so she was looking forward to [what meteorologists were then expecting to be] the snowstorm as she had never experienced snow. My guess is that she never experienced hail before today either.

This rash of Bill Conti records of late has been a revelation to me. I always thought of him as talented. His scores for the North and South miniseries were extremely memorable and one of the first times I remember watching a show and taking note of the composer. However, I'm wasn't a really big fan either of his original music for For Your Eyes Only (although I like his brassy arrangment of the Bond theme) or the overblown Masters of the Universe. Additionally, my distaste for Sylvester Stallone's screen presence meant that I really didn't come across his music for those films very much. I also have to admit that I'd seen him very often because I used to watch the Oscars, and I think the guy is kind of scary-looking. I mean, look at him up there ▲ ... he's, like, saying, "First I will create a beautiful score for this film. Then I will eat your brain" or something. So I haven't until recently appreciated the true breadth of his talent. He has written some very involving music.

A conversation with lehah after reading his rave about Gloria that had him mention Alex North in context of this score caused me to be a bit shocked. I mean, Conti and North are not two names that really go together in my head. I checked the score out myself - I ended up breezing right through it twice, actually - and was really impressed. I also understood what he meant about how the score often feels a bit like North. F.I.S.T. was a similarly shocking in how deep a score it is. I caught up to the film a few weeks ago. It was actually one of the few films I can stomach Sly in, although he has quite a few choice line readings ("Eye yam deh Yoonyooon!"), and the music was outstanding. It works gangbusters as a listening experience as well.

Speaking of North and South, that Varese suite that's coupled with The Right Stuff is a great piece of music in its own right, but a full CD... or better yet a 2 disc set with a platter for the first series and the "Love and War" follow-ups, similar to what Intrada did with Eloise (which I bought on a whim because I like Bruce Broughton and absolutely loved) would be most welcome.

One of the best things about having a really good sound system is the ability to play Miklós Rózsa music at obnoxiously loud decible levels. I just have to say... how amazing is this release!?! Okay, there are parts where the sound is a little dodgy, but it never gets too bad, especially considering what the previous albums sounded like. And just listen to those thick textures... it has the scope of all his epics as well as the sturm und drang of one of his film noir classics (why, oh why, is there no complete recording of his score for one of the greatest noirs of all time, Double Indemnity). I suppose that might have been motivated by the similarly lurid goings-on.

Rózsa is one of the few composers whose work is often best served by more complete representations (although I do think the Rhino Ben Hur was a bit of overkill - one day I'm going to go through that and make a playable version of that score). If I prefer the 1961 album of El Cid better than the lengthier and better-sounding Koch recording, it is only because I feel that Rózsa's performance of the music is better than Sedares' was. I doubt there will be a new recording of the score as the Koch album was attached to the film's brief theatrical re-release, thus making it somewhat 'official,' which is a shame because El Cid is one score I think that Bruce Broughton would knock out of the park.
Kambei (The Seven Samurai)


Hungry Samurai

Every once and a while I hear the criticism that The Seven Samurai is too long. While that shouldn't be so daunting in this home video age, where we now can almost expect extended versions of popular movies with nine hours of deleted scenes (and some not-so-popular ones; I hear Oliver Stone is adding yet another forty thousand minutes to Alexander). I know that some people such jailnurse are sensitive to some sort of specialized gamma radiation in black-and-white movies which causes them to fall asleep. This is a shame, as it severely cuts down on the amount of really good movies they can watch. I also know that subtitles turn a lot of people off; I have seen so many subtitled films that I barely even notice anymore (I always remember the dialogue as being spoken in English, too).

However, I have to say that I think in some ways, modern cinema is only just catching up to where Akira Kurosawa was when he made this film in 1954... and that in some other ways, it hasn't quite gotten there yet. Yes, The Seven Samurai is long, but it is long because it has a lot of characters that it establishes and fleshes out so that when the conflict finally breaks out, the viewer is completely invested in the outcome. Despite the simple framework, the period social interactions being observed in the film (see this interesting [but spoiler filled] article that puts the film in historical context) make for a very complex and layered story. Furthermore, while in its second half it certainly satisfies any action quotient you might ask of it (the intense battle sequences have not dated one bit), the first half of the film justifies the payoffs of the second. No character dies without it being a sacrifice for the audience as well as the samurai.

Fumio Hayasaka's score is also particularly noteworthy, with the thundering drums, wordless male choir and that forceful theme. I only have a (fairly generous) suite on an Akira Kurosawa compilation, but I plan on tracking down the score, which I know has been released. I also really enjoyed his score for Rashômon as well. Interestingly, the Dolby Stereo remixed track on the new Criterion disc is a warmer presentation than the mono, and while it has some spread in the front three channels, for the most part it keeps the sound mix fairly accurate to the monaural track, which is, thankfully, also included. However, I found this to be a more satisfying presentation of the film's audio than the original mono, mostly because of how much better the music sounded.

I have to say that the image on the new Criterion remaster is superb... much better than the original issue, which squeezed the whole movie plus extras on one platter and also utilized the old laserdisc transfer to boot; the new set has the movie on two separate discs, with the platter break occuring naturally at the intermission. The combination of the new high-def transfer and the higher bit rate means that the picture is much, much more stable. The retranslation is pretty good, though I do miss the "Sheee-yit" reaction to Kikuchiyo's reappearance that has been rendered as "Oh, hell" on the new disc.

It is interesting how influence can sometimes be a more deciding role in a person's reading of a particular text than the text itself. For example, I appreciate John Ford's westerns best in context of the works, such as Kurosawa's, that were inspired by them. Similarly, while I am generally not a big fan of most American Westerns (although I do respect many of them), I love how that concept was reflected back to the United States through the Italian point of view in the form of the Spaghetti Western - themselves often influenced by Kurosawa's work.

Westerns and the samurai tale have many similarities, of course; they are essentially the same genre with the similar values but with different weaponry (actually, a recurring theme in Kurosawa's work is how technology - usually in the form of firearms - essentially renders traditional codes moot). Clint Eastwood and Toshirô Mifune are usually playing the same antihero role in their respective films; this goes beyond just Joe in For a Fistful of Dollars standing in for Sanjuro in Yojimbo - an interesting element of that 'new' archetype is that it ultimately fulfill the same narrative function as the traditional hero. That stoic darkness often inherent in the screen presence of both actors is an interesting connection between their work.

I only left my apartment briefly in order to get some food (the fact that the Fates decided to hit me up with a hailstorm before I went on my bi-weekly shopping trip has not been lost on me and I plan to be talking to a Wolfram & Hart representative about what action might be possible tomorrow), and it was a really scary affair. Ice was blowing everywhere, and the roads were next to non-navigatable. On my trip, however, John Barry's Zulu popped up because I had just slapped it on an mp3 CD recently when I realized I didn't have a copy of it in my car. That robust, dignified theme inspired The Bronze Mist to persevere through the adverse conditions, and I returned to my parking space just as Richard Burton finished reciting the Victoria Cross roll call and "Men of Harlech" came on to congratulate her on a safe journey.

See? Film music can inspire inanimate objects!

Actually, a car technically can't be called 'inanimate,' as it is, by its very nature, something that moves.

And, of course, correllation does not necessarily equal causation. The fact that all of the more dramatic flourishes in the music corresponded with the gnarlier driving conditions may just have been complete coincidence. And the fact that this score is maybe seventeen minutes end-to-end would account for the fact that it began when I got in the car and ended when I got out of the car. So there's nothing particularly strange about it all, really.

But it was pretty cool while it was happening. Save for the "threat" part of the "life-threatening swerves" that The Bronze Mist was doing while so brashly scored...