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Archive for November 19th, 2009

Film’s Greatest Ever: Bernard Herrmann

by Sam Juliano

     If one is asked ‘Who is the greatest classical composer of all time?’ answers will almost always equally divide between Bach, Mozart and Bethoven.  Similarly a query trying to ascertain the pre-eminent composer of opera will almost always split between Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini.  One would be hard-pressed to choose among Kern, Porter or Gershwin in American musical theatre, and in popular music the choices for the top spot are really endless, depending on one’s perspective or value judgement.

     As a composer of film the top spot is uncontestable.  There are surely some strong runners-up: Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alfred Newman, Miklos Rosza, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Michel Legrand, Carl Davis, John Barry, Franz Waxman, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Victor Young, Dimitri Timkin, Charlie Chaplin, Michel Legrand, Georges Delerue and some contemporary composers certainly for one reason or another have either made their mark with a prolific run, or for a few great works.  But one composer, Bernard Herrmann, gifted in many styles, was a symphonic genius, who was both able to present character traits in his musical motifs that in many instances was  more successful than the film’s writers.  His late-career fall-out with Alfred Hitchcock, with whom he recorded some of his greatest triumphs, vies with his epic symphonic work for fantasy titan Ray Harryhausen, and his early RKO work on Citizen Kane and The Devil and Daniel Webster as his most noteworhy multiple achievement, but combined with equally  magnificent work on films like Ray’s noir On Dangerous Ground and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the remarkable scope and versatility of his work is unequalled by any other composer, living or dead.  What’s truly incredible is that this estimation of him is almost unanimous, both within the film community and in music circles.  His filmography is extensive: (more…)

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raise the red 1

(China 1991 125m) DVD1/2 (Japan only)

Aka. Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua

Isn’t that a woman’s fate?

p  Chiu Fu-Sheng  d  Zhang Yimou  w  Ni Zhen  story  “Wives and Concubines” by Su Tong  ph  Zhao Fei  ed  Du Yuan  m  Zhao Jiping  art  Cao Jiuping, Dong Huamiao

Gong Li (Songlian, Fourth Mistress), Ma Jingwu (Chen Zuoqian, The Master), He Caifei (Meishan, Third Mistress), Cao Cuifeng (Zhuoyan, Second Mistress), Jin Shuyuan (Yuru, First Mistress), Kong Lin (Yan’er), Ding Weimin (Songlian’s mother), Cui Zhigang (Doctor Gao), Chu Xiao (Feipu),

The third of the six collaborations between director Yimou and Gong Li, Raise the Red Lantern may well be the coldest film of the sextet.  It also pushes Ju Dou very close to the honour of being the best.  One is drawn into the story from the very matter-of-factness of the opening scene, in which the nineteen year old Songlian discusses her prospects with her mother upon the death of her father.  Songlian sees no out but to marry a rich man.  “Marry a rich man and you’ll be his concubine” her mother warns.  “Then I’ll be a concubine”, she replies emotionlessly.  “Isn’t that a woman’s fate?

            In 1920s China, Songlian, daughter to a recently deceased father, becomes the Fourth wife (or Mistress as they are called) to the head of a powerful, long-standing family, Chen Zuoqian.  His four wives live in separate quarters within his estate, each trying by hook or by crook to obtain his favour for the privileges it brings with it.  The master chooses which wife he will sleep with on any given night by having red lanterns placed in front of her door.  In addition, Songlian also makes an enemy out of a sullen serving girl who herself had dreams of becoming the Fourth Mistress. (more…)

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