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Book: Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (2005)
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Author(s): David Cooper

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Unlike prior volumes in the Scarecrow Press Film Series, Vol. 5 approaches its subject from a highly theoretical stance, and while a lot of musical terminology and theory will have average film music fans scratching their heads, David Cooper’s approach – tightly organized like an intro film theory class – will instill, certainly in some, new methods of appreciating film music.

Bernard Herrmann’s themes, motifs, and theme variations are organized into several formal groups, from which Cooper deconstructs the technical machinations that Herrmann utilized to perfectly capture subtextual elements, discreet character traits, and emotional conflicts that weren’t overtly conveyed by the film’s actors, nor from director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who edited down and rewrote a substantive amount of Philip Dunne’s screenplay, and shortened the film’s length from a pre-release 110 min. edit.

Like prior volumes in the series, the book’s first section gives us an excellent portrait of the events that led the cast, crew, and composer towards the film project, and Cooper draws from the Dunne and Mankiewicz scripts, the original novel, and historical documents and theoretical observations, including those discussed in the two commentary track on Twentieth Century-Fox’ stellar DVD.

This is the first volume that draws from the extras in a DVD release, and it illustrates how important DVDs have become as fully accessible reference points for film fans; an added benefit is being able to compare the original score notations from a surviving cue holograph score (basically a photocopy of the printed score) with the actual film, and not the soundtrack albums (namely the Elmer Bernstein re-recording, and the European CD of original cues) that often differ from the final edited and mixed versions. This is an crucial point, because Cooper’s examination deals with the music’s function alongside the other audio and visual elements, which the score was designed to support.

In case after case, Cooper makes it clear that Herrmann’s compositions, while tied to his own personal style and quirks, were crafted to seamlessly blend with the film’s other elements, and the author is quite right in using Ghost and Mrs. Muir as an example of why Herrmann was so perfectly suited for the film medium.

While his concert work stands well on its own, Herrmann’s ability to meet the demands of a film and those of the director & producer after writing film scores for a mere 6 years proves why he remained a top artisan within the factory studio system. The mix of art and functionality are clearly drawn out in Cooper’s analyses, and even without formal music training, one’s familiarity with the score – or cuing up the DVD via Cooper’s precise time stamps – will aid the average fan in comprehending some, but not all, of the technical workings.

Equally intriguing are comparisons between revised cues, descriptions of unused and unrecorded cues that were dropped from the final score, and material that later showed up in Herrmann’s opera, Wuthering Heights. There’s some cheeky delight one receives from reading quotes of Herrmann’s rabid dismissal of being accused of re-using themes and scores, when he clearly did (but quite beneficially for his opera).

Reads one extract from a conversation between Leslie Zador, Gregory Rose, and Herrmann: “…there’s a couple of phrases that I’m very fond of might sound alike, but so what? Who the hell cares? What’s that got to do, one or the other?”

Cooper also digs back into Herrmann’s radio days and cites early ideas and concepts later explored and refined in later films and in the Muir score, and the author stresses some of Herrmann’s main stylistic traits that became his signature sound during his prolific period during the fifties. Cooper’s technical and theoretical breakdowns will be of particular interest to composers, while the average film fan will find some useful historical facts not present in the DVD’s commentary tracks.

There’s no doubt this book is the result of a long and detailed effort to craft an important educational reference, and hopefully the process was sufficiently rewarding for the author, as the next gem in Herrmann’s canon deserving such sobering scrutiny is Psycho.

Other volumes in the Scarecrow Film Score Series include Vol. 1: Gabriel Yared's The English Patient, Vol. 2: Danny Elfman's Batman, Vol. 3: Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Vol. 4: Louis and Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet, Vol. 5: Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Vol. 6: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood, Vol. 7: Mychael Danna's The Ice Storm, and Vol. 8: Alex North's A Streetcar Named Desire.


© 2007 Mark R. Hasan

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