|_June 2007 _|
With the release of the Tyrone Power Collection in May, Twentieth Century-Fox is practically the only studio actually making use of isolated scores, aiming beyond the common value-added feature.
For some of the DVDs in their Classics line, Fox occasionally engaged film music journalists and producers to participate in a DVD’s extras, largely because most were fans and historians of the music and the movie. (A prime example of this co-existence resides in the commentary track for Anastasia, which edits Burlingame’s thoughts with those of screenwriter Arthur Laurents, actor James MacArtrhur, and historian/film professor Sylvia Stoddard.)
What Fox’ latest batch of DVDs demonstrate – and particularly in the June wave, which we’ll examine in the next (and very imminent column) – is how the film music historian & journalist are just as adept as their film counterparts in discussing the overall scope of a classic/cult film. That’s something which DVD producers should recognize, as these pros can contribute to a track’s retrospective, and help explain why classic films like The Captain from Castile still resonate as works of cinematic art from a highly commercial industry.
Castile’s commentary track is perhaps the best example of pre-planning, with the right mix of historians: you have veteran journalist Jon Burlingame, currently working on a biography of the Newman family; Nick Redman, longtime film music producer and documentarian; and the ubiquitous Rudy Behlmer, whose background may be historian/author/journalist, but he’s also a film fan, and colleague of the late Tony Thomas, whose own efforts to preserve film music went into full steam during the seventies via books and a multitude of LPs featuring vintage soundtrack recordings.
For average film fans, the Castile discussions are maybe too apocryphal at times – there’s some lengthy comparisons between the various soundtrack LPs released since Castile’s theatrical run – but film music fans will enjoy the lively discussions on Alfred Newman as a somewhat reticent composer, his unique position as head of Fox’ stellar music department, and of the contributions by the long-forgotten Vicente Gomez, who composed and performed several beautiful guitar pieces for the film.
Even when they get snippy – Behlmer is rightly ruffled when the contributions of Warner Bros.’ own staff of eminent composers is hastily marginalized – the talk is still smart and fun, and that’s what makes this one of the best tracks for fans in recent years.
Also augmenting the DVD is an isolated score track with additional cues, alternates, false starts, and some amusing studio chatter between takes. All the cues are in mono, and most have been synced to their corresponding scenes, although one wonders how the film would’ve sounded not with Fox’ regular inclusion of a pseudo-stereo soundtrack mix, but a whole remix using the true stereo mixes created for Screen Archives Entertainment’s [SAE] mighty soundtrack restoration.
The original mono mix of score, effects, and dialogue has been augmented (the 1997 laserdisc was a bit low in volume dynamics), but Castile’s original soundtrack is still a fairly dry, if not flat recording that doesn’t push the aural elements up front as some of Fox’ older catalogue titles (like Jane Eyre) – which is a shame, given this was a massive, prestigious production.
The music for Fury already exists on a SAE CD, and is a fairly straightforward presentation of a lesser Newman score, which melodically wobbles too close into material already exploited in Mark of Zorro and later Captain from Castile.
The music from Prince of Foxes was also released on CD in a true stereo remix by Film Score Monthly using the two channels from microphones placed in front and behind the orchestra, which Newman recorded and sandwiched to create “fat mono” for the final mono sound mix.
The Foxes DVD includes the stereo mono cues, plus some additional material taken from the surviving mono music and sound effects track, so fans will be able to watch the film with complete cues to the film, albeit with dead silence in between. It’s an interesting and lively score, though like Fury, there’s some eerie similarities to Newman’s other scores, with a main theme that’s a hop and skip away from Island in the Sky, the 1953 Hugo Friedhofer/Emil Newman collaboration. (Was there some ghost-writing, or a bit of creative appropriation here?)
This somewhat Horneristic theme-and-motif sharing may well be due to the strong plot similarities in all five of the Tyrone Power films in this set: with minor variation, Power plays a young lad who must struggle to regain/re-establish his name, family honor, and wealth after an incident causes him to become a wanted man. Whether in Cathay, Spain, Mexico, London, or the tropics, Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck made sure Power was exploited within this formulaic template because it proved to be so durable and popular with audiences, as in other (and arguably better) productions, such as Mark of Zorro, and The Black Swan (both also scored by Newman).
It’s a pity there weren’t any music stems for the remaining titles in the series – Richard Addinsell’s atypical Black Rose is quite lovely, and the collaboration between Newman and Gomez in Blood and Sand is quite exceptional – but those scores do exist in small part on album.
(The 2003 Chandos Addinsell compilation has 3 themes from Rose, while a Varese LP paired Gomez’ beautiful guitar instrumentals and a few vocal cues with Victor Young’s Golden Earrings, previously released as separate 10” LPs by Decca.)
What’s most intriguing about these five titles is what’s below the radar – namely the alternate sound mixes created for French and Spanish markets. When Warner Bros. released a special edition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, one could hear how the Spanish dub track contained different cue placement.
Most of the sound effects in the foreign tracks originally created by Fox were cheaply recreated from scratch – often without any ambient tracks running over edits – and there’s frequently no music over dialogue scenes that have score material in the English mix. Just as bizarre are completely different cues – often what sound like straight stock material – used in place of original score cues, leaving Newman’s respective main and end credit material alone, but hardly anything else of his score in between.
Even Addinsell gets the same treatment in the Spanish and French dub tracks for Black Rose: the final reel has completely different music that’s spliced before the composer’s final cue which plays over the cast recap. In the case of Addinsell, the results in specific scenes really denigrate his original score design.
A good example happens in the film’s final act, where Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins (both implausibly playing twentysomethings) and waifish Cecile Aubry are in ancient Cathay (China). Whereas Addinsell goes for a kind of Asian impressionism, the stock cue in the foreign dub tracks slaps in pseudo-Chinese music, adding cliché where Addinsell sought to transcend the expectations of the audience and provide them with a more dreamlike quality for the mystical Cathay palace.
It’s a curious glimpse into the budgetary practices of the era, and one can only wonder if Newman himself was aware of how little of his music ended up in the Spanish mixes.
Fox also crafted a special DVD edition for the 1944 version of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s gothic fairy tale about loathsome men suppressing the spirit of women from an early age to ensure they were incapable of ever achieving independence in a sexist, brutal world. Or maybe it’s all about a plain-Jane governess who falls for a hulking single father and discovers a mad woman locked away in a castle tower.
Scored by Bernard Herrmann, Fox’ DVD includes two commentary tracks, with producer Nick Redman, Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith, and film historian Julie Kirgo appearing on the second track. As the unofficial moderator, Redman ensures each discussion doesn’t end up on a silent pause, and the main topics include Herrmann, the composer’s association with Eyre’s star/unofficial co-producer Orson Welles, and key differences between the book and the final screenplay.
Unlike the first commentary track with author James McBride (a veteran historian who’s contributed several excellent biographical and historical commentary tracks to some of Fox’ John Ford DVDs), the views are more broad, loose, and lighthearted, although they lack the more intriguing details in the McBride track. Part of that’s due to the latter’s own familiarity with Welles (having written several books on the filmmaker), and Welles’ massive, domineering persona.
A filmmaker with a hugely colourful past, the vicissitudes of Welles’ career – from radio wunderkind to cinematic wonderboy and later industry pariah – are obviously more gripping, so it’s natural McBride’s track offers more juicy stories, though the three members on the second track also touch upon the ongoing controversy as to whether Welles directed part of the film, bullied director Robert Stevenson into relinquishing some important creative decisions, and influenced the film’s visual style.
As an added bonus, Fox has included Herrmann’s score on an isolated mono track with intro/outro studio chatter (some by a pretty imperative Herrmann), and fans can watch the film with all the beautiful cues synced to their scenes. It’s worth listening to the score after the Redman/Smith/Kirgo track because the trio repeatedly discuss Herrmann’s lyrical material, and the score’s unusual history from originating as material derived from Welles’ radio version of Rebecca, and later integration into Herrmann’s massive Wuthering Heights opera.
For Herrmann fans, this is a mandatory DVD to acquire, while fans of the film and Bronte’s novel should be delighted that the music is given such prominent attention in discussions, and in as an isolated music track.
(The original soundtrack recording has appeared on a long-deleted Fox Film Score CD, coupled with David Raksin’s Laura; a gray market CD from Europe’s Soundtrack Factory label; and the Soundtrack Library bootleg label, with an hour of cues. Marco Polo released a proper digital re-recording in 1994.)
This marks the first time Herrmann’s score has appeared in complete form with studio chatter on DVD, and hopefully the same will be done for a revamped special edition of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Nick Redman’s involvement with this recent DVD wave may indicate a new symbiotic relationship between film music historians and Fox, and perhaps the two parties may already have their sights on releasing a new special edition of Day.
The current ‘flipper’ (two-sided) DVD replicates all of the extras on the old special edition laserdisc, though a deluxe limited boxed set also came with a gold disc of Herrmann’s score, containing the same contents as the commercial Fox CD, and apparently additional material (alternate cues and studio chatter).
The ideal wouldn’t just be to include the music as an isolated score track, but in place of Fox’ usual pseudo-stereo remixes, actually create an alternate stereo film mix with Herrmann’s true stereo stems, so film fans have a choice between the original mono mix, and a true stereo version.
(Certainly one gripe about new special editions is the omission of cool stuff previously left on prior laserdiscs for whatever murky reasons. Cases in point: Paramount’s recent War of the Worlds DVD, which added new featurettes, but left off the isolated music & effects track from the laserdisc; MGM’s excellent Howling DVD which omitted a lot of the massive stills gallery from the Image laserdisc, along with Pino Donaggio’s isolated score track; and Warner Bros.’ otherwise superb Forbidden Planet DVD, which should have included the myriad stills and script-to-treatment text pages from Criterion’s laserdisc. The Forbidden Planet DVD should really have included an isolated music/music and effects track, so fans could watch the film’s striking visuals with Louis and Bebe Barron’s remarkable score. Fox, however, ultimately included all the engrossing/exhaustive text pages from the old Alien and Aliens laserdisc sets on their 2-disc Legacy and Quadrilogy series.)
Other recent Fox titles carrying isolated mono score material include Royal Flash, although Ken Thorne’s music is often buried under sound effects, harmed by harsh edits, and flattened by low audio levels; Cinderella Liberty, with John Williams’ sparse score + songs free from sound effects in a mono track; and Deadfall, with an isolated mono track of John Barry’s score (apparently augmented by more music than the LP and CD) plus a featurettes on Barry’s score and career.
Major missed opportunity, however: S*P*Y*S, which was given a DVD release with the American score by Jerry Goldsmith, and not a secondary track with John Scott’s alternate score for the European release.
On the indie front, Liberation Entertainment/Genius Entertainment’s DVD of Aurora Borealis features an isolated stereo track of Mychael Danna’s score, which is currently unavailable on CD.
Mark R. Hasan (2007)
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