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ClassicsOnline Home » Classics at the Movies: Comedy 1
The Classics at the Movies
Ever since the advent of talkies there has been a continuing debate on the nature and function of film music. For many it should be heard but not noticed. It should induce certain emotions but not obtrude on the consciousness of the audience. Yet it should be able to invest a scene with a variety of feelings, terror, grandeur, misery or gaiety. To understand what good film music can do for a film there is a simple test. If scenes from a film are shown with and without music, it will immediately be clear that good music can affect the feelings of an audience, without their being conscious of it.
If the function of film music has been the subject of debate, there can, nevertheless, be no doubt that the nature of this music has changed very considerably over the years. Before the advent of talkies all cinemas had their own house pianists to provide music at every performance, illustrating the action on the screen. In the heyday of Hollywood film music was big business, with major studios turning out hundreds of films a year and having under full-time contract large orchestras. There were also many composers, orchestrators and song-writers attached to each studio. These were the golden thirties, forties and, to an extent, the fifties, with names like Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Alfred Newman, all with a European background, writing big scores for a string of Errol Flynn pictures and for films like The Mark of Zorro and The Prisoner of Zenda.
Steiner, Korngold and Newman were followed by a succession of American composers like Henry Mancini, the composer of the Pink Panther music, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Gradually, however, the really ambitious scores vanished or were reserved for multi-million-dollar projects. More and more films had to make do with loosely strung together pop tunes, or, in an increasing number of cases, more or less well chosen themes from classical music. In some cases the use of a piece of music in a film had a very considerable effect, as, for example, the use of Mozarts Piano Concerto No. 21, now popularly known as the Elvira Madigan Concerto.
In the Naxos Classics at the Movies series we have gathered together many classical themes used in popular films. All of these well deserve a hearing in their own right, but they may also remind the listener of a favourite film or two.
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL 1994
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Hugh Grant (Charles), Andie MacDowell (Carrie), Simon Callow (Gareth), John Hannah (Matthew), Kristin Scott Thomas (Fiona), James Fleet (Tom), Charlotte Coleman (Scarlett), Corin Redgrave (Hamish)
Four Weddings and a Funeral is the story of eight friends and in particular of Charles, a charming and witty 32-year-old bachelor, who shares an apartment with his redheaded, eccentric pal Scarlett. During the years there has been no lack of female companions for Charles but none of his affairs have ended up at the altar. His main occupation on Saturdays is going to other peoples weddings, in the company of Scarlett and a few other faithfuls.
For every wedding he attends, his willingness to one day being the centre of things seems to diminish, until one Saturday when, during a wedding ceremony, of course, he spots a beautiful and extremely attractive American girl.
At one of the weddings we are treated to the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handels oratorio Solomon, at others there is the familiar Wedding March from Mendelssohns A Midsummer Nights Dream.
THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH 1955
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Marilyn Monroe (The Girl), Tom Ewell (Richard Sherman), Evelyn Keyes (Helen Sherman), Sonny Tufts (Tom McKenzie), Robert Strauss (Krahulik), Oscar Homolka (Dr. Brubaker)
Richard Sherman who has been married for seven years has just seen his wife and son off at the railway station. They are off to the country, but he has to stay behind in Manhattan and slave away at the book publishing firm where he works. Returning home he finds that a young girl has moved into the upstairs apartment for the summer.
The film circles round Shermans fantasies about the girl, all accompanied by Rachmaninovs Second Piano Concerto, the perfect music for seduction: "Good old Rachmaninov! The Second Piano Concerto: it never fails!", as Mr. Sherman so succinctly puts it.
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS 1986
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen (Mickey), Michael Caine (Elliot), Mia Farrow (Hannah), Carrie Fisher (April), Barbara Hershey (Lee), Lloyd Nolan (Hannahs Father), Maureen OSullivan (Hannahs Mother), Dianne Wiest (Holly), Max von Sydow (Frederick)
Yet another Woody Allen film about neurotic New Yorkers, their marriages and their love affairs. They include a hypochondriac, a sculptor and a pop manager. Hannah, the successful sister, is the stable centre of it all. Uncharacteristically warm for its director, it even has a "happy ending".
The slow movement from Bachs F minor Piano Concerto is the main music of the film. But when Holly goes to the Metropolitan Opera House to see Puccinis Manon Lescaut we hear the aria Sola, perduta, abbandonata, which is exactly what she feels like herself: lonely, lost and abandoned.
Cast: Woody Allen (Isaac Davis), Diane Keaton (Mary Wilke), Michael Murphy (Yale), Meriel Hemingway (Tracy), Meryl Streep (Jill), Anne Byrne (Emily), Karen Ludwig (Connie), Michael ODonoghue (Dennis)
Isaac Davis is a successful script writer but his private life is a mess. His wife Jill has left him for another woman, taking with her their young son and she is now writing the story of their married life, not very flattering to Isaac. He has an on-off relationship with Tracy, a serious and uncomplicated teenager, but the difference in age adds to his already guilt-ridden existence. He also feels attracted to the lover of his best friend Yale, Mary Wilke. In the end, of course, he is left alone.
There can be no better picture of Manhattan and Gershwins music, both Rhapsody in Blue and many of his songs, provide a perfect background.
PETERS FRIENDS 1993
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Hugh Laurie (Roger), Kenneth Branagh (Andrew), Stephen Fry (Peter), Alphonsia Emmanuel (Sarah), Emma Thompson (Maggie), Imelda Staunton (Mary), Richard Briers (Peters Father)
Peters Friends starts with six university graduates dancing the Can-Can from Orpheus in the Underworld, singing a text about London Underground stations. They are entertaining at a dinner party of elderly guests who are clearly not amused. Then ten years pass and they get an invitation to celebrate New Year at Peters mansion. His father has died and he has inherited the house and not very much else. They all come with their various problems. Peter moves about through all this, the perfect host, polite and somehow distant. Not until the very end does he reveal the real reason for his invitation.
If you wonder what music is being heard on the radio in the scene where Peter has a talk with his fathers house-keeper in the kitchen, it is Un bel dì vedremo, from Puccinis Madame Butterfly.
Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Dudley Moore (George Webber), Julie Andrews (Samantha Taylor), Bo Derek (Jenny), Robert Webber (Hugh), Dee Wallace Stone (Mary Lewis), Sam Jones (David), Brian Dennehy (Bartender)
42-year-old composer George Webber is obsessed with musical artist Samantha Taylor, but in his dreams he is always on the prowl for beautiful young girls and as soon as he sees one, he rates her on a scale from 1 to 10. One day his dreams come true as he catches sight of what is to him the perfect beauty, Jenny. Her face haunts him by day and night and he decides to track her down. On holiday in Mexico he meets her but he is disillusioned by the experience and returns to Samantha, very much the wiser.
This is a film where nobody is likely to forget the use of classical music: Ravels famous Boléro accompanies the love-making of George and Jenny.
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Classics at the Movies: Comedy 1