DVD Review: The Hollywood Sound

For all you lovers of Golden Age film music, have I got a DVD for you! THE HOLLYWOOD SOUND is a concert (well, a recording session), a history lesson, a film lesson, a music lesson, but most of all it’s an entertaining look at the birth of modern film music.

The 1995 film (originally aired on PBS) is hosted by film music champion and conductor John Mauceri, who leads the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in cues from numerous classic films. The film bookends with a rehearsal and recording to the film of David Raksin’s classic 1944 score to LAURA. Raksin appears in interviews throughout the film, illuminating what it was like to compose for films during the heyday of the studio system.

In addition to Raksin, all the major Golden Age composers are there–Max Steiner (GONE WITH THE WIND and CASABLANCA), Alfred Newman (THE SONG OF BERNADETTE), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD), Franz Waxman (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), and Dimitri Tiomkin (RED RIVER).

From Steiner’s early use of the click track to the “Newman system” of streamers and hole punches, we get to see in detail how a film is scored. Mauceri shows us the written details on Newman’s Oscar-winning score for THE SONG OF BERNADETTE and how each pertinent motion onscreen was explicitly timed in the conductor’s score.

You’ll get to see archival footage of Korngold at the piano and a rare scene of Steiner conducting in the pit for the 1932 film musical THE HALF NAKED TRUTH. His gestures and facial expressions at the silliness onstage are priceless.

In addition to Raksin, we get some wonderful reminiscences from Fred Steiner and Eleanor Slatkin, principal cellist of the Warner Bros. Orchestra. She offers candid views of Steiner and Korngold, and provides an interesting look at what it was like as one of the first women to play professionally in a studio orchestra. Watch how she listens to her own haunting cello solo following the rape of Jane Wyman in Steiner’s JOHNNY BELINDA.

It’s fun to watch the instrumental interplay in the orchestra, as well as some seldom-used instruments like the bass flute in LAURA. My favorite segment came from a particularly moving scene from Newman’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. Mauceri discusses the flatted seventh note (particularly popular in jazz) that comes from the Irish ballad, “The Sixpence,” which forms the basis for the beautiful theme for the forbidden love between Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and the preacher Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon). Not surprisingly, I cried through most of the scene, as I do when I watch the film. And it’s all due to Newman’s sensitive handling of the music.

If these cues were recorded for a particular album, I can’t find any evidence of it. It would have made a wonderful compilation. The breadth of the selections goes beyond the normal cues one would associate from many of these films. Mauceri has always deserved praise for his support of film music, and his passion for the art form is evident in every frame.

Released under the “Music for the Movies” series–which also includes documentaries on Toru Takemitsu, Georges Delerue, and an Oscar-nominated documentary on Bernard Herrmann–THE HOLLYWOOD SOUND is essential viewing for all film music fans.

Film Score Click Track [rating:5/5]

11 comments

  1. “The Hollywood Sound” is a great DVD. I would also strongly recommend the following titles(all of which I own):

    1. Music For The Movies: Bernard Herrmann;

    2. Music For The Movies: Toru Takemitsu;

    3. Music For The Movies: Georges Delerue;

    4. Lights, Action, Music: Creating Music for the Movies.

    I would also advise anyone interested in the art of filmmaking to view “Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography”.

    1. The only one I was disappointed in was the Delerue. It could have been so much more if the filmmakers had just told the story instead of trying to be all artsy-fartsy. Still, there are some interesting things in it.

      The Herrmann one is particularly good.

      1. Have you heard of “In the tracks of…”, a documentary series “about the greatest international film score composers, written and directed by Pascale Cuenot, and produced by Prelight Films” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Tracks_of)?

        So far they’ve dealt with Gabriel Yared, Maurice Jarre and Georges Delerue. I’ve been trying to find out if these films are commercially available. Considering your disappointment with the Georges Delerue segment of the “Music For The Movies” series, this effort by Monsieur Cuenot may offer a more insightful take on the Maestro.

        1. I’d never heard of these. If you also look at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, apparently they also have some other high-profile composers coming up: Alexandre Desplat, Alberto Iglesias, Eleni Karaindrou (who I’m not familiar with), Ennio Morricone and (!) John Williams. According to Prelight Films’ website, the DVDs of the first three will be available next week: http://www.prelightfilms.com/prelightfilms-en.html. I’ll definitely have to give them a look-see. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

  2. It does seem strange that these filmed recording sessions didn’t produce an actual recording – at least none that I’m aware of. The DVD is wonderful. First became aware of John Mauceri when I heard his marvelous “Wizard of Oz” suite on a local classical radio station. Like that infamous Kansas twister, it blew me away!

    1. If it had come out today, it might have produced a recording. Alas, I don’t think one was ever done. Oh well. At least the DVD is still in circulation.

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