Monday, December 15, 2008

Non-Holiday Holiday Listening

With the Christmas vacation approaching, Hollywood Dreamland is throwing a goodnatured Scroogian Wrench into the works that represent the “tidings of comfort and joy”, by showcasing some blatantly non-Christmas film music choices for the next two weeks of (hopefully) work-free bliss. I’m not big on Christmas music to begin with ("Winter Wonderland" is the worst song ever written), so I immerse myself in my favorite film music to get through the holidays, which often leads to much reflection and sometimes it can get to be downright solipsistic! The following selections emphasize the pain, romance and intense feelings associated with the holidays. So here’s a trio of film scores to pass away the time:

I’ll Cry Tomorrow- Lillian Roth’s life had its share of tough times and Susan Hayward’s gritty performance would be aided by Alex North’s jazzy, modernistic score, which would help lead Susan's version of Lillian Roth out of the gutter and back into the spotlight. I’ll Cry Tomorrow is occasionally reminiscent of North’s own A Streetcar Named Desire with a smoldering intensity and beautiful pathos on several cuts. Star Susan Hayward sings beautifully on three songs, especially the title tune (lyrics by Johnny Mercer), which is so good I get chills whenever I hear it, especially the way she sings the line, "...who could say to a heart that is full of spring/they've written a blue song/for us to sing." Hayward also performs fine renditions of “The Vagabond King Waltz” and “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe”; a song I never liked until I heard Hayward sing it. North's underscore is moody, with swanky brass and sweeping strings, along with a "childhood waltz" from the character's happier times. Cues like “Ashamed”; “String Chord/Reel Heel”; and “Stood Up/Shattered/Tortured” are the highlights, bringing Roth’s true story to life. North was reaching a career peak in 1955 and his star was still ascending.

Lust For Life- Miklos Rózsa's music for the 1956 Vincent Van Gogh biopic has long been a favorite and it’s music that evokes the vivid colors of the artist's work. In fact, much of the score recalls spring and the fields in which Van Gogh worked. Rózsa also excels at revealing Van Gogh’s torment. Even those who haven’t seen the movie or have the slightest knowledge of the painter can follow his short-happy life through Rózsa’ s music.

Joy in the Morning- A personal favorite score of mine, even though it's from a film I have never seen and have no interest in watching! Best described as "achingly beautiful", Bernard Herrmann’s haunting, romantic, pastoral, and yes--joyous--music for this 1965 Richard Chamberlain-Yvette Mimieux flop. Herrmann’s personal life makes this score essential listening, as he was going through a divorce and a career crisis, which culminated in a split from longtime artistic collaborator, director Alfred Hitchcock. Joy in the Morning would prove to be the last score Herrmann composed during the studio era. Strings and woodwinds dominate the score, and while comparisons to well-known Herrmann works like Vertigo and Marnie are inevitable, lesser Herrmann is still infinitely superior to most better-known scores from the same period. One caveat: avoid Richard Chamberlain's rendition of the Fain-Webster title tune!

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