Monday, October 06, 2008


Two possible subjects for a post today, but both proved a bit daunting. One was a piece on John McCain--thing is, that could take awhile, and would force me at some point to spend more time contemplating the terrifying reality of Sarah Palin, and, well, I'm on meds for my blood pressure and really, this is the sort of thing my doctor warned me to avoid, so...No.

The other subject is something I'm actually working on, it just hasn't quite come together yet. Inspired by yesterday's ramblings about Westerns and musicals possibly dominating any list of my favorite movies, I'm trying to put together just such a list. I don't think there's any way I can narrow it down to an arbitrary number like ten, but I'm trying to examine a lifetime of movie viewing and figure out what truly means the most to me. Here's the most shocking thing: Star Wars isn't likely to show up on this list. Probably no James Bond, either. (Well, maybe On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Or not. We'll see.)

A few days ago I mentioned how I could spend all my time here celebrating the music of Bernard Herrmann. Well, today's as good a day as any to start. Here's the opening of the 1951 science fiction classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. With his title music, Herrmann essentially invented a cliche fifties sci fi sound, all theremins and clashing brass, and its piercing sound has been proven to frighten cats. (Well, one cat, anyway.) More interesting is underscore of the opening sequence. Sounds a lot like Phillip Glass, doesn't it? Should Herrmann get credit as one of the fathers of minimalism? I say yes.

If you can get through Tom Hanks' smarmy introduction, here's some more classic Herrmann, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen. First up is an excerpt from his score for Hitchcock's matchless Vertigo (which should show up on my Favorite Movie list...but might not). Like all of Herrmann's work in a Romantic mode, it manages to be at once swoony and somehow desiccated, as if the very notion of human desire is somehow hollow. His score for the more conventionally romantic The Ghost And Mrs. Muir has a similar quality, giving that film a sense of fatalism it would otherwise lack.) This is followed immediately by an excerpt from Nick Ray's On Dangerous Ground (a much better movie than Hanks' intro indicates), a fury of brass and percussion.

There'll probably more Herrmann-related posts in the future, whether anyone wants them or not. He was the first composer whose work I truly fell in love with, and his music meant so much to me at an important part of my life that it's part of me, embedded in my DNA, who I am and what I am. It wasn't until much later that I fully realized how dark much of Herrmann's music is, how he was drawn repeatedly to stories of brooding loners and doomed romance(Not just in his film scores. He wrote on opera based on Wuthering Heights and his take on it wasn't exactly genteel.), subjects I know all too well myself.

Looked at that way, there is less and less guilt whenever I resort to a clip job around here, because it's becoming clear that whatever I choose to share is as personal as anything I might write. Yes, even including the Lynda Carter stuff, and no, I don't want to examine too closely what that means.