Music for the Movies: The Hollywood Sound

Music for the Movies: The Hollywood Sound
Studio: Kultur
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This Emmy-winning 1995 television production is about movie music, but it's not about such great movie songs as 'Over the Rainbowâ?� and 'Moon River.â?� It's about the other kind of movie music, the musical score. Specifically, it's about the old-school musical scores of the 1930s and '40s ' scores for such classics as Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Casablanca. And naturally, it's a love letter to them.

Joshua Waletzky, who directed this 85-minute production, also directed Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann, a 1992 documentary that received an Oscar nomination. This time around, Waletzky focuses on the movie music of such European émigrés as Max Steiner, Franz Waxman and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, as well as of such Americans as David Raksin and Alfred Newman.

There are some genuine musical and cinematic insights here, as well as a few intriguing anecdotes. There's the one, for example, about how Korngold wasn't all that interested in writing the score for 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood until he was informed that the Nazis had just invaded Vienna and realized that he would not be returning home any time soon. Waletzky looks at so many composers, and he explores so many facets of his sprawling subject, that the documentary sometimes threatens to unravel. But its biggest drawback is John Mauceri, who hosts and narrates the program, as well as conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales against a backdrop of vintage clips.

The problem is that Mauceri has some very bad, very aggrieved ideas that he's intent on getting across. One is the tiresome notion that the best movie scores are every bit as good as 'officialâ?� classical music, even though, in his view, the scores are often unjustly marginalized. This makes about as much sense as saying that the best movie scripts are every bit as good as the great novels. It's apples and oranges, especially because movie scores, like movie scripts, are by definition incomplete without the movies that they were created to serve.

Mauceri's other lame hobbyhorse is that the melodic, sometimes sentimental scores that tend to adorn the films of the '30s and '40s are often belittled by highbrows who prefer serious, atonal or abstract concert-hall compositions. Aside from the obvious defensiveness and philistinism behind this idea, it fails to acknowledge that some of the best movie scores (particularly scores for thrillers and horror films like, say, Herrmann's Psycho) feature a fair amount of nonmelodic music.

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