Per­form­ing Arts

Ge­of­frey Smith ex­plores the es­sen­tial con­nec­tion be­tween movies and their mu­sic

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by Jane Watkins

Ge­of­frey Smith as­sesses why mu­sic is es­sen­tial to the movies

As films are, by their very na­ture, some­thing we look at, it might seem some­what per­verse to as­sert the im­por­tance of mu­sic in the cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. From the medium’s ear­li­est days, how­ever, mu­sic and movies have been in­sep­a­ra­ble, cre­at­ing a kind of sym­bio­sis be­tween what’s seen and what’s heard. The film in­dus­try has al­ways recog­nised this. At their best, movie and mu­sic be­come one, a sin­gle ex­pe­ri­ence grip­ping the eyes and ears of the au­di­ence, so that they’re per­ceived as a unity, an emo­tional whole lift­ing the viewer-lis­ten­ers out of them­selves into a height­ened re­al­ity.

In fact, th­ese days, film mu­sic needs no spe­cial plead­ing. Its dis­tinc­tion is well es­tab­lished, re­flected in its ac­cep­tance and sta­tus in the clas­si­cal-mu­sic record charts and con­cert halls as well as in theatres, where well-loved movies have been rein­car­nated on stage, driven by the spell of their orig­i­nal scores. The classic dance film The Red Shoes, for in­stance, is tour­ing the coun­try as an ac­tual bal­let, chore­ographed by Matthew Bourne and in­cor­po­rat­ing Hol­ly­wood leg­end Bernard Her­mann’s mag­nif­i­cent mu­sic.

In Lon­don, the com­bi­na­tion of film and live mu­sic, or film mu­sic on its own, has be­come a reg­u­lar pres­ence on the south Bank (020– 7960 4200; www.south­bank­cen­tre.co.uk), neatly fit­ting into its mul­ti­ple se­quences and themes.

On Fe­bru­ary 14, its ‘Film scores Live’ sea­son of­fers ro­man­tics a per­fect Valen­tine’s Day oc­ca­sion with a show­ing of the im­mor­tal weepie Brief En­counter, ac­com­pa­nied by the Lon­don Phil­har­monic Orches­tra and pre­ceded by a per­for­mance of Rach­mani­noff’s sec­ond Pi­ano Con­certo, whose yearn­ing strains dom­i­nate the sound­track.

On the 25th, in ‘Be­lief and Be­yond Be­lief’, the BBC Con­cert Orches­tra presents Mu­sic to

Die For, scenes from stage and screen with a spir­i­tual res­o­nance, in­clud­ing ex­cerpts from

Four Wed­dings and a Funeral

and Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein’s Carousel, fol­lowed on March 19

with From Heaven to Hell at the

Movies, with stir­ring or­ches­tral and choral ex­cerpts, among them Prokofiev’s fa­mous Bat­tle on the Ice from Alexander Nevsky.

One spe­cial area of film mu­sic that may be over­looked, but which has been cen­tral to the his­tory of cin­ema, is its role in silent movies. Lack­ing a ver­bal com­po­nent in the on-screen drama, mu­sic be­came cru­cial in pro­vid­ing an au­ral di­men­sion, in the play­ing of a live pian­ist or en­sem­ble. There’s still a par­tic­u­lar charm in watch­ing a silent movie ac­com­pa­nied on the spot by a pian­ist ei­ther im­pro­vis­ing or play­ing from a score and that vin­tage ex­pe­ri­ence is avail­able in the Bar­bican’s cur­rent se­ries of ‘Silent Films and Live Mu­sic’ (020–7638 8891; www. bar­bican.org.uk).

Among the works on of­fer are a dou­ble bill by the mas­ter co­me­dian Buster Keaton, on March 5, fol­lowed on the 25th by a re­mark­able world pre­miere: the first per­for­mance of Shostakovich’s pi­ano score for the 1929 Rus­sian film The New

Baby­lon, which was sup­pressed in its orig­i­nal form by the Soviet au­thor­i­ties.

Mean­while, Saf­fron Hall, the el­e­gant per­for­mance cen­tre in Saf­fron Walden, Es­sex, is re-cre­at­ing a spe­cial thrill of silent cin­ema, a film ac­com­pa­nied by full orches­tra: Dou­glas Fair­banks’s dash­ing ver­sion of Robin Hood, from 1922, with a new score by Neil Brand, per­formed by the BBC Symphony Orches­tra on Fe­bru­ary 25 (0845 548 7650; www.saf­fron­hall.com).

How­ever, the in­trin­sic thrill mu­sic brings to movies is not just vin­tage, but con­tem­po­rary: you couldn’t have a more vivid demon­stra­tion of the union be­tween the two gen­res than the cur­rent mega-hit La La Land, which is a kind of apoth­e­o­sis not just of the Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cal, but of Hol­ly­wood mu­sic. From the very be­gin­ning, the pul­sat­ing, in­fin­itely var­ied sound­track is a cur­rent of emo­tional en­ergy, car­ry­ing the ac­tion for­ward and en­rich­ing it at ev­ery turn.

Ryan Gosling’s as­pir­ing pian­ist places jazz at the cen­tre of the story and that joy­ous so­phis­ti­ca­tion gives La La Land its true rhythm, the buoy­ant swing that con­nects it to the care­free world of Singin’ in the Rain and which the film’s ex­u­ber­ant art proves is no mere ex­er­cise in nos­tal­gia, but alive now, fill­ing the screen with the hope­ful pas­sion of youth.

‘Mark the mu­sic,’ as Shake­speare said, and the mu­si­cal life of La La Land is ir­re­sistible, on its own or erupt­ing into dance. Although some tra­di­tion­al­ists have found the end­ing dis­ap­point­ing, as boy does not wind up with girl—in the time-hon­oured fash­ion of Gene Kelly and Deb­bie Reynolds—it seemed to make per­fect sense in a film in which the mu­sic reigns.

The last thing we hear be­fore the cred­its roll is Mr Gosling’s pian­ist count­ing off the next tune and, as a for­mer jazz mu­si­cian, that’s fine with me.

Ev­ery­one’s go­ing gaga for La La Land (above), but can it make the leap from screen to stage like The Red Shoes (top)?

Brief En­counter (right) and its haunt­ing strains are the per­fect way to spend Valen­tine’s Day or en­joy the silent Robin Hood with live mu­sic (be­low)

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