Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ernst van Tiel, cond; Brussels PO
SONY 88697978952 (77:57)
I must admit that I went to see
with a “show me” attitude. It has become almost axiomatic that before and during the so-called awards season leading up to the Oscars, a designated film emerges as a critical favorite. The prototype is the relatively small independent film with little or no previous anticipatory buzz. Many of these films seem to appear out of nowhere and
ride on the crest of the Weinstein Company’s public relations juggernaut. A classic example is
Shakespeare in Love:
a nice little film, but is it really better than all of the competition, including Steven Spielberg’s
Saving Private Ryan
? And the less said about its vapid Oscar-winning score, the better.
is clearly this year’s designated film. Some would say that it is a stone-cold, mortal lock for best picture and best original score. Not surprisingly,
is distributed in America by the Weinstein Company.
is a silent film about a silent film superstar who fails to make it in the talkies, and his relationship with a young starlet who becomes the next big thing. It is designed to be an homage to silent films presented in black and white but with modern technology that pretty much eliminates the intolerable herky-jerky visual images. The acting by the whole cast is uniformly excellent, but the two principals, Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller (along with the amazing Jack Russell terrier Uggie) carry the show, as they should.
is a silent film, the music plays a critical role in its success. Composer Ludovic Bource and director Michel Hazanavicius listened extensively to the music of Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, and Charlie Chaplin in addition to various composers of the 19th century before deciding that the score would be a tribute to the legendary composers of the Golden Age of film music. And boy, does it work, as it virtually thunders on the soundtrack in a way that would be impossible in 1930, and also seems to support or at least be similar to Steven Spielberg’s musical approach in
(and other films), as he also renders stylistic homage to the Golden Age with ultramodern technology. Bource’s score, which runs well over an hour, is a far cry from the 10 to 15 minutes of original music in Gustavo Santaolalla’s Oscar-winning score for
. It is also much more than an imitative pastiche. Sure, the opening plunges us immediately into the turbulent musical world of Waxman’s
(how appropriate), followed by some Korngoldian musical swashbuckling for “1927: A Russian Affair.” The climactic scene is shot to Herrmann’s Love Scene from
. There are numerous other Herrmann-like wind-brass sonorities, and many of the more animated and dramatic parts have the sonic signature of Waxman or Steiner. In addition there is a repetitive pounding motif reminiscent of John Williams’s
(or is it Hyde’s motif from Waxman’s
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?)
. George’s theme, which dominates the early part of the film when he is at the peak of his success, is light, perky, and very catchy. Peppy’s theme is infectiously light and breezy. Both are initially presented on the soundtrack recording almost as mini tone poems describing the characters. All of Bource’s original material plays in a seamlessly integrated manner that could function as a prime example of a Golden Age dramatic score within a silent film. Bource is not a hack who accidentally stumbled into a no-lose situation. This is a solid musical achievement.
There is no real problem with using music from
. That sort of thing is done all the time. The question is: Should a score whose lengthy climactic sequence is taken from another source (Herrmann’s
) win the Oscar? The Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Use of Music in a Film works in this case, but Best Original Score, with emphasis on the word
, is another matter. This has precipitated a major controversy. There is little doubt that Herrmann’s music works well for the scene, but for some, the music is so well known that it takes them out of the picture. I am disappointed because I would have liked to hear how Bource would have scored the scene with his own music. On this soundtrack recording we presumably hear that in the form of a less intense but much blander variation on Herrmann’s music. It isn’t Herrmann, but it isn’t bad, either, and because of the more subtle reference to
it would fit perfectly into Bource’s successful theme of homage to the music of the Golden Age. So why is Herrmann’s famous music from
included on the film’s soundtrack? Apparently, the scene was temp-tracked to
and the powers that be (Hazanavicius?) liked it so much that they decided to keep it there. I have no idea why the cue on the recording is different from the film’s soundtrack, but it certainly implies that Bource intended to score the scene himself. Concerning eligibility for the Oscar, the rules say that if 80 percent of the music is original, it is eligible, but just because it is eligible does not mean that it should win in view of these issues.
Sony’s sound is excellent in every way. The original music (as opposed to several other source cues) is recorded with a concert-hall ambience, but limited front-to-back depth. In other words, it is not unlike what you would hear from a large pit orchestra. Strings are silky sweet, and there is plenty of fine instrumental detail. The album production is better than most soundtracks because it contains a short but very revealing interview of Bource.
Despite the admirable and totally successful stylistic references to Golden Age composers in
, I suspect that some serious film-music fans will prefer to return to Williams’s totally original scores for
The Adventures of Tintin
for repeated listening experiences. Others less concerned about the issue of
will find it hard to resist Bource’s catchy melodies and effective dramatic music. Either way is fine. Randomly plugging in other scores is one thing, but it is an entirely different matter to extensively research music from the Golden Age (as Bource has done) in order to create a stylistic homage that works.
is clearly a winner on its own merits regardless of any awards that it wins. If you are a film-music fan, you owe it to yourself to hear this score.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Works on This Recording
The Artist by Ludovic Bource
Ernst Van Tiel
Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra
Vertigo: Scene d'Amour by Bernard Herrmann
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1958; USA
Notes: This music was also used in the film, The Artist.
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