Thursday, July 21, 2011

Movies and Music

I have always loved music, especially classical music and movie music, and I have always loved movies, almost every kind. Oddly enough, I have occasionally discovered musical treasures through movies. After recovering from extreme shock and fear from ALIEN's multiple scares, I was lulled into recovery by some ethereal music that just didn't seem to match the rest of the score. Of course, it didn't hurt that a lithesome and sexy Sigourney Weaver was stripping for her pod escape. But somehow I missed the name of the composer as the credits rolled. A few years later, as I was driving home from Atlanta, I heard the ALIEN music on NPR. I almost swerved off the road. It wasn't long before I had Howard Hanson's in my permanent collection. To further my addiction to this lush, almost hypnotic symphony, I used the film of ALIEN in my film class. Naturally the students loved ALIEN (many had already seen it), but introducing them more formally to Hanson's music was a great bonus for me and for them.

I also discovered another popular classical theme when I fell in love with EXCALIBUR, John Boorman's fantastical take on the Arturian legends. No, I'm not talking about Ricard Wagner's operatic takes on Germanic legends; they are hardly subtle, though beautifully evocative of mood and narrative. No, I'm talking about the famous scene in which Arthur leaves Camelot to restore THE LAND! As he and his shining knights rode through the barren countryside, a rousing chant accompanied them and branches began sprouting blooms. The scene ends in an orgiastic explosion of white petals slashed by Arthur's red banners. Like everything else in EXCALIBUR (particularly Helen Mirren as Morgan le Fay), the scene is over the top, and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is the perfect accompaniment for such delightful excess. Again, I used said film in my film class but also put it to good use in my Humanities class where we could compare Wagner, Orff, and Pre-Raphaelite art. Since EXCALIBUR debuted, Orff's short and blustery music has dominateeved action movie previews and become almost a sad cliche.

The last example is the most obvious. It may be hard to believe, but in 1967 I had never heard Ricard Strauss' Thus Sprach Zarathustra, the awe-inspiring music used at major moments of discovery in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. This is a short series of long chords that build in majesty and finish with a lingering organ echo. Since that time, this particular theme has become the most cliched classical theme of all, out-performing even Tchaikovsky's love theme from Romeo and Juliet. TV commercials and movies the world over still love to use this theme, usually in a mocking way. But in Kubrick's world of space exploration and inner discovery, it couldn't have been more original.

1 comment:

  1. George, I completely agree with your assessment on the movie Alien. I've always felt that it was one of those rare times when a good story, a great director (Ridley Scott), Hanson's composing, Jerry Goldsmith's musical edition, H.R.Giger's artwork all came together and produced a movie that is so much better than the sum of the parts. I'm both glad that I've seen the movie late enough in my life for me to recognize and enjoy all the parts mentioned above yet saddened enough to have seen it early in my life that no other Science Fiction or Action movie comes close in comparison.