YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS - 101 MOVIE THEMES: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
It’s been a testing week. I spent the first half of it in bed with a fever, and now I’m spending the last part of it in bed with a laptop, catching up on deadlines and nursing a welter of bruises. I’m starting to feel better though. Even through tinny computer speakers, the irrepressible melody of Singin’ In The Rain is bringing on that precious feeling where all the pain and inclement weather of the world can’t dampen the basic joy of being alive. Gene Kelly dances into my minds eye, swinging off lampposts a lot more successfully than I just managed to run up stairs.
This seven disk compilation, a companion to the Movie Show tome 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, spans the 1930s through to the present day, but I’ve started out with a cheerful tune from the 1950s both to help beat the blues and in deference to host David Stratton, who never ceases to cite the Gene Kelly musical as his all time favourite. He mentions this again here in the liner note conversation with Margaret Pomeranz and yet again in their generous 10 minute yarn at the end of the set.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Way back in fact to those antediluvian days before the Movie Show, when people astonishingly found a reason to make movies even though David and Margaret weren’t around to review them. The tracks are arranged here chronologically, which means we can simply hit play and let the tide of nostalgia wash over us…
It’s 1933, and on the big screen an oversized monkey wreaks havoc in New York; and in the very same year a man with an undersized moustache comes to power in Germany with a plan to wreak havoc across Europe. King Kong becomes Hitler’s favourite film, although not perhaps for the swirling strings, dramatic brass and timpani of Austrian-Jewish emigre, Max Steiner. Hollywood, however, has a lot to hail The Fuehrer for, with Steiner finding his niche among other fugitives from the Nazis such as Franz Waxman and Erich Korngold.
But if Europe is on the brink of turmoil, American audiences are pining for relief from the Depression. The first feature animation hits cinemas to the tune of Whistle While You Work; Mickey Mouse takes a turn as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and Fred Astaire dons Top Hat, White Tie and Tails and dances and sings without a threat to his sartorial debonair. Meanwhile Errol Flynn swashbuckles his way to fame and fortune on the back of Korngold’s lively orchestrations.
Then time goes by, and in the midst of war the world still welcomes lovers. Sam plays Herman Hupfield’s unforgettable paean to this sentiment and then plays it again as Bogey and Bergman play out their bittersweet reunion. Finally victories in Europe and then the Pacific come to pass, and all the pent up fears are accreted and moulded into extraordinary entertainment by the Master of Suspense, who conspires with the experimental compositions of Bernard Hermann to turn mystery and thrills into lasting art.
The second half of the century is upon us, and Gene Kelly does things with his umbrella that Fred wouldn’t have dared do with Ginger, and Hermann continues to scale new heights, all the way up Mount Rushmore. Rock ‘n’ roll hits the air waves, and more sophisticated but every bit as accessible tunes dominate the cinema. The Montagues and Capulets are reinvented as the Sharks and Jets for a small fee in America, and a Mancini melody casts moonlight across the water.
Then, bang! The spell of romanticism is broken as JFK is struck down in Dallas, and the spectre of Vietnamese jungles carpeted in blood looms over the page. Now irony is in the air. The good, the bad and the ugly; the old and the new; the cliche and the clever invention; all are fair game at the dawn of postmodernism. Ennio Morricone’s great whistle of a motif announces a new kind of western in which popular dross is transfigured as something poetic, and Shirley Bassey’s voice and John Barry’s arrangements combine to give James Bond the license to rid the world of exotic villains as well as the clothes of their cute assistants. We laugh at Qs gizmos, even as we plan to land a man on the moon.
Everything is being reinvented. Richard Strauss, Scott Joplin and Edward Elgar are recruited to serve sci-fi and neo-noir. We view WWII from a distance now, and a loosely true story of a singing nun who fled the Anschluss bursts the box office. At the same time the new generation of maestros are spinning themes that will permeate the public imagination. Nino Rota brings a romantic edge to the mafia, and John Williams attaches a hook to a fin that makes us wonder if it will ever be safe to go back in the water; then he lifts us with great fanfare to a galaxy far, far away.
Vangelis, on the other hand, makes the most of more intimate timbres, letting a piano evoke the spirit of athleticism as Olympic sprinters sweep along a beach, and setting a reverberant saxophone to wail into a futuristic dystopia depicted by Ridley Scott. Radio and rock music continue to homogenise, and cinema takes on an important role as one of the few conduits for classical music to escape into the public arena. Amadeus doesn’t need to stray far from home for a score; and Merchant Ivory demonstrate that contemporary ears will take to Puccini when his arias support the buxom assets of Helena Bonham Carter.
We have entered the last two decades of the century, and the age where orchestral composers have pop music backgrounds. Danny Elfman configures ethereal orchestrations to match the phantasmagoric imagery of Tim Burton; and Hans Zimmer merges synthesisers, strings, world instruments and frenetic rhythms for Gladitorial epics. But concert composers are still moonlighting as film scorers: the haunting tone of Yo Yo Ma’s Cello performs a Tan Dun theme for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, no less than a martial arts ballet. Then we jump back again. The strains of 1930s country blues from the Grammy award-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou and, finally, a Chopin nocturne from The Pianist, the one being played at the very start of Polanski’s film as the Luftwaffe send down their payloads.
I doubt my reverie is simply a reaction to a difficult week. For all the great works that any collection of this nature must inevitably omit, there is enough here to give a real sense of the diversity, innovativeness, self-referencing reinvention and rediscoveries inherent in 70 years of cinematic music. The themes are wonderful in themselves; the kaleidoscopic images and sense of history they evoke more powerful still. Effervescent musicals tunes, haunting orchestrations, poignant motifs all side by side. One man singing for joy in a shower storm, another performing Chopin under a rain of bombs. The fundamental things do indeed apply no matter how much time goes by. Cinema simultaneously contributes and reflects history, and this compendium draws together seven decades of life’s multifarious melodies into the one deeply human song.
Published April 8, 2004
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TITLE: You Must Remember This: 101 Movie Themes & Songs
PRESENTED BY: David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz (The Movie Show)
COMPOSERS/ARTISTS: Various – 1933 to present.