When I got home Tuesday night after finding out about Elmer Bernstein's death, it was not Far From Heaven that I ended up playing, but rather the score from Ghostbusters and Rambling Rose (the film).
I attempted to start work on my Elmer Bernstein mix and made an interesting discovery...
I can't do it.
I tried, shuffling around tracks and listening to different scores and found that, despite the fact that Bernstein's style is pretty unique and consistent, cues are not as excerptable from their respective scores as Goldsmith's, and are best heard in context of the entire work. It is a simple enough thing to excerpt a cue or two for a larger, more varied compilation, but any mix I made of Bernstein's work would end up being very much like a "Themes" compilation, and there are plenty of those around (one of the best, I must say, is a 1992 recording Bernstein made with the Royal Philharmonic Pops for Denon called Elmer Bernstein by Elmer Bernstein, which features an excellent selection and outstanding sound quality).
The other issue is that Bernstein was nowhere near as prolific as Goldsmith (that's not saying much... rabbits are nowhere near as prolific as Goldsmith was), which meant that there would have been a much shorter tribute.
My favorite Bernstein scores include:
For this insane ZAZ comedy, Bernstein "method composed" the score, that is to say he pictured a young film composer on his big break, eager to impress. The score is a good illustration of why Bernstein had the success he did with comedies... it's not a comedy score. It is oh-so-serious, just a little over the top... and all fun. This score remains unreleased. The soundtrack LP released when the film came out is a dialogue album.
Far From Heaven
Somehow managing to be melodramatically gorgeous, lush without ever getting too schmaltzy, this is his last great achievement. It was gypped for the Oscar (while I like Elliot Goldenthal, his Frida score was far from the best of the year), but won just about every other major film music award of that year. Varese Sarabande's CD is perfect.
To my ears, no piece of music has ever said "New York" better than Bernstein's main theme for this film. This is not only a great comedy score and portrait of New York, but it is also a wonderful adventure score as well, with some great moments. Interestingly, the Ghostbusters theme also had an awful disco-style pop arrangement that was (thankfully) replaced in the film with songs. The only place in the film that still has any hint of this is when Winston and Ray are in the Ectomobile on the Queensborough Bridge and Ray turns on the radio. Imagine the Ghostbusters theme played with that instrumentation with fanfares similar to those in heard in Stripes, and be thankful for Ray Parker Jr. On the other hand, listen closely to when Peter goes to Dana's apartment and finds her possessed by Zuul... Dana's theme has become a mysterious piece invoking ancient Sumerian evil. Although concert arrangements of the Ghostbusters and Dana's themes are on the soundtrack album, the rest consists of just songs (some of which aren't bad), and the score itself has never been released.
The Great Escape
Just try to stop whistling the main theme once you start. You can't. Go on, try it. This score is as punchy and exciting as the movie is, never taking itself too seriously. There are several CD releases of the re-recording made of the score for the film's release on Intrada, RykoDisc and Varese Sarabande. There is also another recording by Bernstein on RCA Victor that is supposed to be very good, but I've not heard myself.
This kinky score is written for a small chamber orchestra consisting mostly of woodwinds and electronic sounds designed by frequent collaborator Cynthia Millar, and somehow manages to perfectly complement this gritty crime drama. The Varese Sarabande CD is great, but hard to find.
What can I say about this that I haven't already mentioned? This is one of the very best fantasy film scores ever, with a scope beyond that many can ever have because of the anthology nature of the film. While the movie itself is a mass of adolescent wish-fulfillment, the score goes beyond that and illustrates the different worlds shown on the screen. The Asylum LP was fantastic, with great sound quality, but the score has yet to show up on CD.
The Magnificent Seven
Taking the standard Coplandesque approach to the Western (perhaps epitomized by Jerome Moross' score for The Big Country) one step further, this punchy and exciting score has one of the most recognizable themes in film music history (it was lisenced by Madison Avenue as the theme for the Marlboro Man for a while back when cigarette television commercials were Kosher). There are several recordings of this, including another on RCA Victor, a very good Koch recording, but it is the RykoDisc presentation of the original soundtrack, now available on Varese Sarabande, is the way to go. Sure, it's mono, but the sound is great and the performance is so spirited you probably won't care.
The Man With The Golden Arm
Along with Alex North's music from A Streetcar Named Desire, this score is widely regarded as one of the first to introduce the jazz idiom to the world of film scoring. Bernstein himself actually refuted that, stating that jazz is about improvisation, and that there is none in this score, although it was written to sound like there was. Hard-hitting and steamy stuff, performed by great jazz artists. This album is not available on CD in the United States at the moment, although it was available from Warner Japan.
Bernstein regarded this score as a sort of follow up (several decades later) to his classic To Kill A Mockingbird score (see below). This is a very pretty score, an evocation of a boy's first entry into a more mature world. The Virgin CD is great, but is long out of print.
Spies Like Us
Once again, one is rarely able to tell that Bernstein's best comedy scores were, in fact, written for comedies at all. A brassy march is the central theme, but the score is expansive, as it would be for the espionage thriller that is being lampooned here. The Varese Sarabande CD has a great selection, but the sound quality is a little annoying.
Of all of Bernstein's collaborations with John Landis (including Animal House, Spies Like Us, Trading Places and many others), this one relies upon its score the most, and Bernstein responded with an instantly recognizable march. This score has never been released.
The Ten Commandments
This was Bernstein's break into the big leagues, and his brash, Wagnerian leitmotivic approach makes this one of his most accessible scores. There is a wealth of thematic material to be heard here, including a melodic long-form theme for the story, period dance music, a fanfare for the heroics of Moses and Joshua, and, of course, his powerful motif for God himself. The powerful "Exodus" cue was a cornerstone of Bernstein's career. The original United Artists LP of the score has never been released on CD, but the Dot stereo re-recording (probably conducted by Irwin Kostal) is available on MCA (the CD uses the UA LP cover, so Bernstein is still credited as the conductor).
To Kill A Mockingbird
A masterpiece of delicacy and understatement. Few film scores have the power that this one has, and this illustration of childhood remains one of the definitive works on the subject. The original soundtrack was released on AVA records (I have the LP), but the Mainstream CD release was plagued by godawful sound because of deteriorating masters. Happily, he re-recorded the score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for Varese Sarabande.
From Lester Swing:
Greetings To All.....
Make sure to go pick up a copy of Good Times Magazine today!!!! In the issue released today, Lester Swing is featured on the cover, along with an interview inside. Good Times is a free publication that all can find just about anywhere having to do with music. Tower Records, rehearsal studios, etc.
*****Don't forget that this Saturday night, August 28th, Lester Swing will be playing at Munchaba Lounge in Levittown. Showtime is slated for 10pm. This night promises to be one hell of a party!!! We hope to see many familiar faces....and at the same time.... capture a bunch of new ears.
Peace, love and all that falls between...
The article can be found here.
From Michael Moore:
I came across this article about Fahrenheit 9/11 in Britain's Guardian newspaper today (the Guardian is one of the U.K.'s largest and most respected daily newspapers). It was written by the acclaimed author John Berger (winner of the Booker Prize) and I thought you might like to see how our fellow "Coalition of the Willing" members are responding to the movie.
Hope you haven't been wondering where I've been. All is well. Just making plans for the fall adventure.
- Michael Moore
THE BEGINNING OF HISTORY
Fahrenheit 9/11 has touched millions of viewers across the world. But could it actually change the course of civilisation?
by John Berger
Tuesday August 24, 2004
Fahrenheit 9/11 is astounding. Not so much as a film - although it is cunning and moving - but as an event. Most commentators try to dismiss the event and disparage the film. We will see why later.
The artists on the Cannes film festival jury apparently voted unanimously to award Michael Moore's film the Palme d'Or. Since then it has touched many millions across the world. In the US, its box-office takings for the first six weeks amounted to more than $100m, which is, astoundingly, about half of what Harry Potter made during a comparable period. Only the so-called opinion-makers in the media appear to have been put out by it.
The film, considered as a political act, may be a historical landmark. Yet to have a sense of this, a certain perspective for the future is required. Living only close-up to the latest news, as most opinion-makers do, reduces one's perspectives. The film is trying to make a small contribution towards the changing of world history. It is a work inspired by hope.
What makes it an event is the fact that it is an effective and independent intervention into immediate world politics. Today it is rare for an artist to succeed in making such an intervention, and in interrupting the prepared, prevaricating statements of politicians. Its immediate aim is to make it less likely that President Bush will be re-elected next November.
To denigrate this as propaganda is either naive or perverse, forgetting (deliberately?) what the last century taught us. Propaganda requires a permanent network of communication so that it can systematically stifle reflection with emotive or utopian slogans. Its pace is usually fast. Propaganda invariably serves the long-term interests of some elite.
This single maverick movie is often reflectively slow and is not afraid of silence. It appeals to people to think for themselves and make connections. And it identifies with, and pleads for, those who are normally unlistened to. Making a strong case is not the same thing as saturating with propaganda. Fox TV does the latter; Michael Moore the former.
Ever since the Greek tragedies, artists have, from time to time, asked themselves how they might influence ongoing political events. It's a tricky question because two very different types of power are involved. Many theories of aesthetics and ethics revolve round this question. For those living under political tyrannies, art has frequently been a form of hidden resistance, and tyrants habitually look for ways to control art. All this, however, is in general terms and over a large terrain. Fahrenheit 9/11 is something different. It has succeeded in intervening in a political programme on the programme's own ground.
For this to happen a convergence of factors were needed. The Cannes award and the misjudged attempt to prevent the film being distributed played a significant part in creating the event.
To point this out in no way implies that the film as such doesn't deserve the attention it is receiving. It's simply to remind ourselves that within the realm of the mass media, a breakthrough (a smashing down of the daily wall of lies and half-truths) is bound to be rare. And it is this rarity which has made the film exemplary. It is setting an example to millions - as if they'd been waiting for it.
The film proposes that the White House and Pentagon were taken over in the first year of the millennium by a gang of thugs so that US power should henceforth serve the global interests of the corporations: a stark scenario which is closer to the truth than most nuanced editorials. Yet more important than the scenario is the way the movie speaks out. It demonstrates that - despite all the manipulative power of communications experts, lying presidential speeches and vapid press conferences - a single independent voice, pointing out certain home truths which countless Americans are already discovering for themselves, can break through the conspiracy of silence, the atmosphere of fear and the solitude of feeling politically impotent.
It's a movie that speaks of obstinate faraway desires in a period of disillusion. A movie that tells jokes while the band plays the apocalypse. A movie in which millions of Americans recognise themselves and the precise ways in which they are being cheated. A movie about surprises, mostly bad but some good, being discussed together. Fahrenheit 9/11 reminds the spectator that when courage is shared one can fight against the odds.
In more than a thousand cinemas across the country, Michael Moore becomes with this film a people's tribune. And what do we see? Bush is visibly a political cretin, as ignorant of the world as he is indifferent to it; while the tribune, informed by popular experience, acquires political credibility, not as a politician himself, but as the voice of the anger of a multitude and its will to resist.
There is something else which is astounding. The aim of Fahrenheit 9/11 is to stop Bush fixing the next election as he fixed the last. Its focus is on the totally unjustified war in Iraq. Yet its conclusion is larger than either of these issues. It declares that a political economy which creates colossally increasing wealth surrounded by disastrously increasing poverty, needs - in order to survive - a continual war with some invented foreign enemy to maintain its own internal order and security. It requires ceaseless war.
Thus, 15 years after the fall of communism, a decade after the declared end of history, one of the main theses of Marx's interpretation of history again becomes a debating point and a possible explanation of the catastrophes being lived.
It is always the poor who make the most sacrifices, Fahrenheit 9/11 announces quietly during its last minutes. For how much longer?
There is no future for any civilisation anywhere in the world today which ignores this question. And this is why the film was made and became what it became. It's a film that deeply wants America to survive.
What else can I do now?
This film won Oscars and was critically acclaimed, but I just never got around to catching up with it. As usual for a Clint Eastwood film, the performances are outstanding and very naturalistic, and that is one of the things I liked most about the film. Perhaps its accolades set me up to see Clint Eastwood do Citizen Kane Goes West or something, but I found myself somewhat unfulfilled by the conclusion of the film. While it is the logical conclusion of the themes introduced in the movie, I don't think it really delved deeply into William Munny's soul... a task it sets itself up to do with its opening and closing title cards.
On the other hand, when Eastwood says that he feels that he has said everything he could about the Western with Unforgiven, I must say that I think he has a point. Eschewing the mythic aspects that so fascinated Sergio Leone (one of the two filmmakers to whom this movie is dedicated, the other being Don Siegel), Unforgiven is decidedly unpretentious, from its unforced acting to its straightforward storytelling style, and does much to explore the romance of the killer.
Last Year At Marienbad was Alain Resnais' riff on the idea of memory and point of view. I once composed a list of my favorite dream sequences in films, and I included the entire film as one. For some reason, despite its decided cinema verite style (an opposite aesthetic in many ways to Marienbad), I found myself thinking of that film often while watching this one. Both films are a kaleidescope of time and perspective, utilizing their settings to their best advantage.
The film doesn't really explore the inner motivations of the high school students one sees, but once one gets further into the film, it becomes apparent that would be beyond its scope. I can't really explain why this works as well as it does, but one gets a pretty full picture despite the fact that one sees only surfaces. The film benefits from very unaffected performances from its mostly amateur cast and Harris Savides' roving, voyueristic camerawork.
The DVD contains a full screen edition and a 16:9 widescreen edition, but it is the former that is actually how the film was lensed (for once). The DTS track sports a great "you are there" frontal soundfield.
S C H O O L ! ! !
My Senior Year