The Politics of Singing: Une Chambre en Ville (1982)

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To view Une Chambre en Ville click here.

Jacques Demy’s reputation has long suffered from an inferiority complex among the French New Wave filmmakers. Fans and critics find movies like The 400 Blows (1959) and Breathless (1960) challenging and daring while movies like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) are beloved all time classics, certainly adored but not considered the kind of serious art that the others were doing. If you’ve read my pieces on Demy before, you already know I think this is rubbish. But as Demy’s career grew, it expanded outwards and allowed for far more risk-taking and innovation than his earlier work. By the time he got to Une Chambre en Ville, he was making movies that were as innovative and daring as anything coming out of the early days of the New Wave. Une Chambre en Ville, not nearly as famous as many of Demy’s earlier works, is riskier and more challenging than almost anything he ever did.

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Heaven Can Wait (1978): Here Comes Mr. Grusin

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To view Heaven Can Wait click here.

It’s funny how film scores go through stylistic transformations every decade, and how you can almost always pinpoint the year a film was made (within a year or two) based on the music you hear. Case in point: Dave Grusin, whose sound was so omnipresent in the 1970s and 1980s you can barely throw a rock at a movie theater without hitting a poster from one of his titles. Here at FilmStruck we’re tipping our hats to Mr. Grusin, whose distinct sound isn’t something you hear too often in theaters anymore—which is a loss for us all. One of his most infectious and upbeat works, Heaven Can Wait (1978), is a prime example of the Grusin soundtrack and boasts one of his most memorable themes, though incredibly, it wouldn’t have an album release in any format until 2013 when it finally hit CD paired up with another of his unreleased scores, Racing with the Moon (1984). I’m still waiting for someone to put out his majestic score for My Bodyguard (1980), too, but you can’t have everything!

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Nino Rota: The Bounce Goes On

SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

As a film score junkie, I have a soft place in my heart for that freakish period in the ‘60s and ‘70s when film composers suddenly became music superstars and had regular hits on the Billboard charts. Sure, composers were big before that with guys like Johnny Mercer and the dream team at MGM getting soundtrack releases out there to the public, but it really hit a peak when you regularly had composers like Henry Mancini, Maurice Jarre, André Previn, Elmer Bernstein and John (or Johnny, at first) Williams scoring big hits that people would walk around humming and whistling for months.

Then there’s the man who really helped bring international film scoring into the mainstream: Nino Rota, who had started off writing ballets and operas and entered the world of film music in the ‘40s. He shot to fame via his collaborations with Federico Fellini, a partnership that began with The White Sheik in 1952 but really exploded in 1960 with their worldwide sensation, La Dolce Vita (1960).

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It’s Okay with Me: The Long Goodbye (1973)

THE LONG GOODBYE, Elliott Gould, 1973

As with many years past, I’m spending the transitional period between Christmas and New Year’s in Los Angeles — and as anyone else around here can tell you, it’s a calm but vaguely spooky environment. All of the usual traffic jams and chattering people have temporarily vanished into the ether, leaving a city still filled with sunlight, palm trees and holiday decorations everywhere. We’ve seen a lot of notable films shot in L.A. over the decades (and you can sample most of them in the superb documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself), but the one that really captures this eerie feeling of being in L.A. at winter time (even if it isn’t specifically set at that time of year) is The Long Goodbye (1973), one of the great ’70s noir films and a highlight in the career of director Robert Altman. [...MORE]

Elisabeth Lutyens: Horror Queen of Film Composers

LutyensFemale film composers are a rarity but there are some wonderful examples of talented women working behind the scenes who managed to flourish under the tight deadlines imposed by film studios while creating memorable music for the movies.

One of my favorite female composers is the late Elisabeth Lutyens who was born on July 9th in 1906. On the occasion of what would have been her 109th birthday if she had managed to live that long, I thought I’d celebrate her career in British horror films where Lutyens earned her “Horror Queen” moniker by composing some of the genre’s most innovative, accomplished and unsettling soundtracks.

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Summer Time, and the Movie Is Silly

“Forgive me for being profound, but it’s good to be alive,” mumbles Troy Donahue to his date, Suzanne Pleshette, as Italian singer Emilio Pericoli warbles the reverberating “Al-Di-La,” in Rome Adventure (1962-Delmer Daves).  Well, forgive me for being a goof, but this girl’s fancy, (and questionable taste) finds such fare pretty irresistible as the days are getting longer and Spring melts into Summer. Besides, this movie, filmed in Roma, Firenze, and Lago Maggiore is a cheap, vicarious way of visiting Italy without having to stand in line at the airport or mispronouncing this beautiful language myself.  The fact that it also features two actresses I’ve always loved–Suzanne Pleshette and Constance Ford–was icing on this Italian ciambella.

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Variations on a Theme

All month long TCM has been celebrating the 100th birthday of Akira Kurosawa and playing many of the director’s best films. On Sunday TCM will also be showing one of my favorite westerns, John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) which happens to be based on Kurosawa’s classic THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). If you haven’t had the opportunity to see THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN it’s a great time to catch up with this entertaining movie.

One of my favorite things about John Sturges’ film is its incredible theme composed by the legendary Elmer Bernstein. Elmer Bernstein is responsible for some of Hollywood’s greatest film scores but his theme for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is one of the most recognizable pieces of music he ever recorded.

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Love Among the New Bohemians

If literary legend Jack Kerouac were still alive he would be celebrating his 88th birthday tomorrow. Unfortunately Kerouac left us much too early at age 47 but his work lives on. Often called the father of the Beat movement, Jack Kerouac’s jazz-fueled spontaneous writing style doesn’t easily lend itself to film adaptations. The most grievous example of this is the 1960 film adaptation of Kerouac’s short novel THE SUBTERRANEANS directed by Ranald MacDougall and produced by Arthur Freed for MGM. THE SUBTERRANEANS was the first full-length film adaptation of a Jack Kerouac novel and it’s not an easy movie to recommend. The film is badly cast and plays like a poorly misconstrued parody of the Beat Generation. It also takes extreme liberties with Kerouac’s original story. So why am writing about it? As a novice jazz enthusiast the movie appeals to the music lover in me and as someone who was born in the Bay Area, I find the San Francisco setting extremely enchanting.

THE SUBTERRANEANS
was originally a semi-autobiographical story written by Kerouac in just three days and published by Grove Press in 1958. It details the brief interracial romance between Leo Percepied (filling-in for Jack Kerouac) and a young African American woman named Mardou Fox. Some of the highlights of the book include Kerouac’s description of the clubs that he was frequenting at the time and an encounter with jazz legend Charlie Parker.

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The Silent Robin: A Tonic for the Soul

I suppose to the eyes of the world, we were a motley looking crew as the capacity crowd flowed eagerly into George Eastman House‘s Dryden Theatre in Rochester, New York last month. Unlike the first Hollywood premiere of Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1923) at Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre on October 18, 1922, there were no limos, no gowns, no red carpets, no klieg lights searching the sky, and certainly no hint of a “Day of the Locust” style mob scene. However, there were about five hundred not very glam but expectantly eager people gathered on an October evening for the “World Premiere” of this restored version of the tale in the 21st century starring Douglas Fairbanks in one of his classic roles.

So, who were these people who came out to see this 87 year old film version of the English bandit’s adventures?  Among the crowd at this movie were a few who might have been just old enough to have seen a later Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. film in a movie theater, a generous sprinkling of younger cinephiles, middle aged academics, and a delightful gaggle of children of about nine years of age in the audience that Saturday.  Once thought lost until it was rediscovered in the 1960s, this film’s “premiere” was a highlight of the seventh biennial conference of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies at the University of Rochester, where the historical and literary permutations of the appealing errant figure of lore were analyzed and, frankly, reveled in by the participants. Accredited scholars and hard core Robin buffs from around the world spent three days discussing the evergreen legend of this “Robin Hood: Media Creature”, trying to discern if the 700 year old hero of Sherwood Forest even existed, while enjoying an extravaganza of multi-media exhibits (including Douglas Fairbanks boots, seen below), early manuscripts, songs, and presentations discussing all aspects of the tale.

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Spend September With Bernard Herrmann

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Every Tuesday night in September, starting tonight, TCM will be screening a diverse selection of films (23 in all) scored by the legendary Bernard Herrmann (the dandy image above was created by the Bernard Herrmann Society). As an appetizer, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite Herrmann scores, from radio, TV, and film. It’s easy to forget, but Herrmann was a master of radio orchestration before he created those distinctive tonalities for the screen. He had an innate sense of how to adapt his musical ideas to different formats, sounding more descriptive on the radio, and increasingly atmospheric and emotional on the screen. His work wasn’t merely music added to images – he composed out of these images, creating an organic whole that lifted the films he worked on into another level of artistry. How can one think of The Mercury Theater, Citizen Kane, or Hitchock without him?

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