Ooo! More music!
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_October 2003 _


When Image Entertainment issued Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes on laserdisc back in 1994, there was an attempt to reconstruct the original pre-release version, which ran 50+ minutes longer. Divided into four distinct ‘movements’ by writers Wilder and longtime partner I.A.L. Diamond, material was removed to keep the film’s pace and length close to 2 hours.

Like the laserdisc, MGM’s new DVD includes the theatrical cut and 4 deleted scenes – or rather, what survives after an exhaustive search for material. Purists will certainly continue to scream over the loss of material, but at 127 minutes, Sherlock maintains a balanced pace, and the condensation of some scenes for the final version omit already lengthy dialogue passages. What survives is a mixed bag, but fans can still get an impression of what Wilder intended, and compare it with the shorter version. Ironically, the extra scenes can be enjoyed and comprehended because of Miklos Rozsa’s score; the mono stems of which still survive and provide a rough narrative.

In the case of the “Prologue,” we have just the music, stills, and script excerpts to guide us; the “Upside Down Room” episode benefits from a mixed soundtrack (dialogue, music and effects), since only stills survive; a “Flashback’ sequence lacks any sound or moving pictures; and the final “Naked Honeymooners” epilogue contains Rozsa’s score, with subtitles replacing the lost dialogue and sound effects tracks.

The DVD also includes interviews with actor Christopher Lee and editor Ernest Walter, and fans will note Rozsa’s unique billing in the original trailer – preceding the actors, and very prominent. Though the deleted scenes run a meaty 49 minutes, the DVD doesn’t include the isolated mono music track that accompanied the film on laserdisc.

An isolated music and effects track does appear on Tai Seng’s DVD of The Duel / Kuet chin chi gam ji din, director Wai Keung Lau’s 2000 action film, with a score by Kwong Wing Chan. A nice bonus, but pretty useless, since the film’s Cantonese track is mastered in a robust Dolby 5.1 mix, and the overtly synth score is reduced to a flat mono track, sharing limited headroom with intrusive sound effects.

Disney’s classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea finally gets a gorgeous release on DVD, porting over extras from the excellent laserdisc set that came out back in 1993, plus an affectionate portrait of under-appreciated composer Paul Smith, who wrote a gorgeous, moving score for Disney’s first CinemaScope feature film in 1954.

Running just under 11 minutes, Smith’s Disney career is chronicled by composers Alexander Rannie (who composed a new score for the 1916 silent version) and Richard Sherman, plus several film clips and stills. There’s also a few very brief audio extracts from an interview with Smith, and in a separate section the DVD includes Nemo’s organ music (Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”), and samples of actor Peter Lorre’s ADR (automatic dialogue replacement) tracks. Of course, what’s still lacking is a proper album of Paul Smith’s music, but the DVD’s Dolby 5.1 mix at least preserves some of the scope Smith added to one of the better Jules Verne adaptations of the period.

Dreamworks’ DVD of Catch Me If You Can contains a 5 minute segment on John Williams, with the focus being their 20th collaboration. One of the longest professional relationships in film, Williams discusses the movie’s light, jazzy music, which the composer himself sums up as “a perfect regression” to his breezy, jazz-tinged scores of the Sixties.

MGM re-issues Luc Besson’s now-classic La Femme Nikita as a Special Edition, with a decent 20-minute making-of featurette. Like the previous title, composer Eric Serra is also given 5 minutes to discuss his score and fruitful collaboration with director Besson. Touching upon the film’s rich sound design and his use of then-cutting edge synthesizers, Serra also adds the inspiration he received while watching the dailies of actors Anne Parillaud and Tcheky Karyo, who also give brief comments on the film’s score. It’s more a case of the editor rushing through facts and recollections, and the featurette blows through some important territory that deserved more indulging. Though Besson is utterly absent from any interview segments, the featurette nevertheless presents Serra as one of the director’s most valuable collaborators, and the composer’s summation of their relationship is the featurette’s best moment: just a trio of good friends – including Besson, and co-star Jean Reno – who just wanted to make another movie together.

The Life of David Gale, the fictional tale of a capital punishment abolitionist trapped on death row, is director Alan Parker’s latest film, and after a long relationship with composer Trevor Jones, Parker turned to his sons to score the film. Critics were less than positive about the movie, and reviewers of the soundtrack album didn’t seem impressed with the work by sons Alex and Jake.

Another 5 minute featurette on Universal’s DVD (this is becoming a rather familiar motif, isn’t it?) spotlights the unusual combination of Parkers working on a film together, and underneath the obvious fatherly praise and high pride, it’s a good, albeit slickly produced, featurette of three words colliding to create a functional score. Veteran director instructs composers from diverse backgrounds and stylistic approaches to do the film justice. Classically trained Jake Parker mixes orchestral theme treatments with the contemporary pop/blues sensibilities of Alex Parker, whose own background includes sound engineering.

Giorgio Moroder gets an even briefer chunk of screen time – about (1:11) to be precise – in the otherwise highly informative and engaging making-of featurettes that come with the newly remastered Universal Anniversary Edition DVD of director Brain DePalma’s remake of Scarface. In his commentary for Cat People, director Paul Schrader described the Oscar-winning composer as an eccentric of sorts; appearing with a huge tape library of pre-recorded sounds, synth beats and emulations, which were multitracked and mixed down by Moroder for that film’s final soundtrack.

De Palma was impressed with his Cat People score – along with Midnight Run, perhaps his most enduring – and felt the composer’s familiarity with dance club sonics were suitable for a score meant to reflect the cocaine-high sex, violence, and unending partying of the lead characters. Whether you love or loathe his music, Moroder’s contributions to film music are barely documented in print with expansive insight, and it’s a missed opportunity here, where Universal’s DVD gives him such short shrift.

The composer appears on-camera in his snow-white studio and plays Tony Montana’s theme on piano, and then disappears after some words by De Palma. Scarface may not necessitate great insight, but Moroder’s a pivotal figure in classic synthesized film music, and each DVD release of his films continue to marginalize his stature during a pretty revolutionary time in film music, which had music producers smiling, and film music critics screaming the doom of an art form.

Fans of Scarface can either enjoy the aforementioned 2-disc version, or pony up more than double that set’s cost for a boxed edition, which contains lobby cards, a monogrammed money clip, and the original 1932 Scarface by Howard Hawks (which is not available separately).

Next installment: Classic Korngold and Steiner from Warner Bros., and some Russian classics.


Mark R. Hasan (2003)

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