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 Posted:   Sep 28, 2013 - 5:49 PM   
 By:   Ron Hardcastle   (Member)

For decades I tried to get movie critics of the Los Angeles Times to include the thoughts they may have had about the music in films they reviewed, but the majority of the reviews didn't devote a single word to the music. Zilch. And when they did mention it, it was usually just a line or two, and usually about the songs added to the movie, so I felt like celebrating whenever something substantive would finally be written about the instrumental soundtrack of a film. Can you imagine reviewing the original "Star Wars" and not mentioning John Williams' music? Or "Somewhere In Time" and not the music of John Barry? Or Barry's contributions to the "James Bond" series. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who feels that music can often make a movie (as well as ruining it if it doesn't work). How do others feel about that?

Incidentally, we all hate spoilers as we consider going to see a movie, so I'll often skim over a review to avoid getting too much information. But when "Road To Perdition" premiered, both the Los Angeles Times and Time Magazine reviews mentioned that Michael Sullivan's wife and one of his sons are killed in the first minutes of the movie, so that was something I already knew when the lights went down and the movie started, and I've always felt that it was too much information. What do you think? "Perdition" has an amazing score by Thomas Newman, but, as far as most reviewers were concerned, it didn't have any music. Hate it when they do that.

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 29, 2013 - 3:59 AM   
 By:   Graham S. Watt   (Member)

Ron, every Friday here on the Board ("Film Score Friday", curiously), there's a list of the current reviews where the scores are mentioned. But yes, most of them seem to be in the line of "and a bombastic score..." or "sugary sentimental score..." and little more.

In a way I'm not surprised. For the majority, film scoring is a very secondary concern, and perhaps we get too sensitive here when it's treated in an offhand manner. I think we have to admit that - inevitably - there always has been an enormous amount of mediocrity around in all spheres, and sometimes we, as film score fans, feel that a score is being snubbed when it is probably only serviceable at best. All this is a poorly-conceived post made up as I go along, so forgive the generalisations (and possible contradictions).

Regarding your points about STAR WARS and SOMEWHERE IN TIME (and the Bond movies), well, they are possible exceptions to the rule in that the music is SUCH an up-front part of the films that either you mention it with a superficial adjective, you write a deserved thesis about it within the review (unlikely), or you just ignore it. Discarding the thesis option, a token nod to the score with one adjective is hardly more cheering than no mention at all.

I wonder if there are other film forums out there dedicated to, say, photography (absolutely fundamental in every film surely - no camera, no film), where people get upset because the reviewer goes on and on about weaknesses in script, the strengths of some of the concepts, the acceptable acting etc - yet makes no mention of Isodore Mankofsky's contribution as director of photography (you'll get "pretty", if anything). By the way, Mankofsky shot SOMEWHERE IN TIME.

 
 Posted:   Sep 29, 2013 - 7:12 AM   
 By:   Ron Hardcastle   (Member)

Graham:

Interesting. I guess I was most troubled because, as far as so many reviewers were concerned, the music did't exist. And for many of us who spend time at this site, it is in our thoughts the moment the curtain goes up and the film begins. So to me, I'm horrified that it is too often not even mentioned by otherwise conscientious reviewers. How many of us here, as children, saw a film and walked out of the theatre hungering for its soundtrack? From the time I understood what a soundtrack was, I've had that hunger, whether it's a movie on the big screen or sometimes a series on TV -- as soon as I started watching the first season of "Dexter," I just had to have Daniel Licht's captivating music. When, as a child, I saw "A Summer Place," I had to have Max Steiner's lovely music -- and at the time the conductor Percy Faith had a hit with his adaptation of a theme from that movie, and it was indeed a different kind of world where such a theme could make it to #1 on the charts. Thank you for writing -- no one else seems to be interested in this subject!

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 29, 2013 - 8:51 AM   
 By:   arthur grant   (Member)

It's a subject I've been very interested in for a long time...almost 50 years now.
I also grew up in Los Angeles, was about 11 years old when I was knocked out by Planet of the Apes seeing it for the first time at the Beverly Theatre and thinking wow...what's with that amazing music!

I had a chance to speak with L.A. film critic Kevin Thomas about how much I enjoyed his "mixed reviews" in which he would point out both the strengths and weaknesses of the movie under review and he reminded me about something which may be pertinent here: Newspaper critics are given very limited space. Much of what he would like to explore about the film he's reviewing he can't for this reason. Same is true of the magazine film critics especially those being published 30-40 years ago. Radio and T.V. critics usually have even far less time. Plus music for a film is designed to play a supporting role no matter how outstanding it is.

Even so, Leonard Maltin, Charles Champlin, Jim Svejda and numerous others, love film music. If you look through Maltin's guide you'll find constant references to the composer's contribution...(and look at the amount of space he and his staff are working with!)

I'm reminded of Pauline Kael's review of Dirty Harry in the New Yorker magazine (over 40 years ago) calling it fascist and immoral. Then right in the middle of her tirade against it stating how terrific Lalo Schifrin's music was!

Nowadays I still watch the older stuff so really cannot comment on what reviewers mention or don't regarding contemporary films. As others have pointed out, most of the bigger budget fare is made by a committee of suits looking only for a return on their investment. That's why there's a glut of re-makes and sequels. High concept stuff marketed to the masses. It would only follow that many of the more creative composers would have a tough time working in this environment. For the new, perhaps like yourself, I've turned my attention to television for innovative storytelling.

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 29, 2013 - 9:27 AM   
 By:   Ralph   (Member)

I'm reminded of Pauline Kael's review of Dirty Harry in the New Yorker magazine (over 40 years ago) calling it fascist and immoral. Then right in the middle of her tirade against it stating how terrific Lalo Schifrin's music was!

This is what Kael wrote:

“Lalo Schifrin’s pulsating, jazzy electronic trickery drives the picture forward. Lalo Schifrin doesn’t compose music — he works on you.”

In these 19 words where does she say he wrote terrific music?

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 29, 2013 - 10:01 AM   
 By:   arthur grant   (Member)

I'm reminded of Pauline Kael's review of Dirty Harry in the New Yorker magazine (over 40 years ago) calling it fascist and immoral. Then right in the middle of her tirade against it stating how terrific Lalo Schifrin's music was!

This is what Kael wrote:

“Lalo Schifrin’s pulsating, jazzy electronic trickery drives the picture forward. Lalo Schifrin doesn’t compose music — he works on you.”

In these 19 words where does she say he wrote terrific music?


Wow that's very impressive. Her review being that old and your post going up so fast! Uh...I was paraphrasing from memory. Sorry but compared to the rest of what she said about the movie I think she liked the music. That's really all I was trying to say. Just trying to capture the spirit of the review really. Do you have a different opinion? If so I'd really like to hear it. And so might Ron. Now if you had been just a little faster still with the 19 word quote, and contributed BEFORE I posted my (inadequate? inappropriate?) comment... my original 40 word item, and your 12 word correction and this 90+ word reply all would have been unnecessary. Too bad.

 
 Posted:   Sep 30, 2013 - 1:09 AM   
 By:   Ron Hardcastle   (Member)

Funny! Now I'm going to say something about Kevin Thomas, which someone will probably chime in to correct me! You mentioned movie critic Kevin Thomas, and I had a rather disagreeable experience with him. Back in the mid to late 1970s, I think, there was the (original) Russian science fiction film "Solaris," which had a one-night engagement at the Nuart Theater in West L.A. Kevin Thomas had gushed on and on about it, about the spectacular special effects, which he compared favorably to those in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and lots of superlatives for other aspects of the movie. So I lined up with others who filled the place, and was horrified when I watched it. Those special effects that were in a class with "2001" consisted of shots from space of a planet whose surfact looked like churning whipped cream and an alien walking through a metal wall that looked like aluminum foil taken from our kitchen. It was agonizing to sit there, and I had wanted to leave in the first 15 minutes, but stayed and watched the entire godawful movie, as did many others. When it was over and I was in the lobby, others were furious about the movie and also furious about the review they had read in the Los Angeles Times that had convinced them to go see it. Many years later Thomas wrote something that I wanted to write him about, and I did, and used that as an excuse to add a little about that screening of "Solaris" and how so many of us had only gone because we had read his glowing review but ended up hating it. Frankly, I was calm and not at all accusatory, and just wanted him to know that his reviews could affect a lot of people. But he never bothered to drop a 2 or 3 line postcard, which The Times would have paid for (in comparison, I had frequently received notes and calls from the theatre critic, the tv critic, and once even from the food critic.) So I have little respect for Kevin Thomas.

Now if we could just get Ralph to give us Kevin Thomas' exact quotes about the special effects of "Solaris"!!!

But one more thing, Arthur. I understand about space -- I used to write music reviews for a national magazine and was forever shortening my reviews to fit the available space. But when critics routinely didn't have a single word to say about the music, I look at blaming available space grasping at straws. Nothing is stopping them from giving their readers a few lines about the music and its quality and how it fits into the action on screen.

 
 
 Posted:   Sep 30, 2013 - 8:01 AM   
 By:   The CinemaScope Cat   (Member)

More of Kael on film music:

The Abdication (1974): "..... and leaves it to Nino Rota's pseudo liturgical score to provide the emotional turbulence. There's considerable turbulence but only a few themes - they return as punctually as they did for Max Steiner"

Altered States (1980): "The suspense is intensified by the blasting, dissonant music of John Corigliano which is designed to drive you up theater walls. Its the kind of music you can't easily separate from the sound effects, you may just back up against your seat. "

Blade Runner (1982): "Vangelis gives the film so much film noir overload that he fights Scott's imagery; he chomps on it, stomps on it and drowns it"

Charley Varrick (1973): "Even Lalo Schifrin who wrote the score falls down on the job. Maybe he got bored producing the musical trickery that makes directors look better than they are, or maybe his contempt for the assignment got out of hand because he just throws in noise this time"

Dragonslayer (1981): "So is Alex North, whose Mahler-esque score is a beauty ... at times, the music and the fiery dragon seem one"

Dressed To Kill (1980): "... the slightly debauched music -it's like a rhapsody on forties movies- by Pino Donaggio seems exactly right"

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982): "The music that John Williams has written for E.T. is hushed and dulcet - it allows for the full score that the movie gets going in your imagination"

The Last Detail: (1974): "I think I'd be happier without the Johnny Mandel score, with its antic use of military airs, orchestrated in an unfamiliarly thin way to add a musical layer of irony"

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981): "John Williams' pounding score could be the music from any old Tarzan movie, though with a fuller orchestra and ten times the volume. Like just about everything else in the picture that misses, the klunky music can be said to be intentional"

Resurrection (1980): "Maurice Jarre's strings keep twanging the message, 'God Is Love' "

The Right Stuff (1983): "The picture is glued together only by Bill Conti's hodgepodge score"

Under Fire (1983): "And Jerry Goldsmith's spare, melodic score, one of the best movie scores I've ever heard"

The Untouchables (1987): "The imagery though, isn't always backed up by the music. every now and then you wonder what Ennio Morricone's throbbing disco synthesizer beat is doing in this period"

 
 Posted:   Sep 30, 2013 - 8:54 AM   
 By:   Ron Hardcastle   (Member)

The CinemaScope Cat:

Excellent. Wish the print journalists whose reviews I was reading in the 70s and 80s and 90s and 2000s took the time to single out the music like that! But I was startled, because your posting made me realize that I've almost stopped reading movie reviews! I was buying the L.A. Times up until the end of this past March (when I retired) and then just the Sunday edition, always reading reviews of movies and theatre and tv. I happen to think that reviews are a special genre that some of us love to read and others completely ignore. But for several weeks now, I've not even opened a newspaper, relying upon tv and online reviews to make up for what I no longer read in newspapers. Thank you.

 
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