An unscrupulous movie producer uses an actress, a director and a writer to achieve success.An unscrupulous movie producer uses an actress, a director and a writer to achieve success.An unscrupulous movie producer uses an actress, a director and a writer to achieve success.
The composer the star
My tribute to the great Hollywood film composer, David Raksin, is long overdue. I only discovered the other day that he died a couple of summers ago at the considerable age of 92. I suppose I had thought that like most of those figures who reached their peak in the middle of the last century he had passed away many years ago. A re-seeing of "The Bad and the Beautiful" fairly recently reminded me of just how outstanding was his contribution to movies of all shades of quality. I first became aware of the uniqueness of the Raksin 'sound' on my original viewing of Wyler's "Carrie" in 1952. It is impossible to define, other than to say that it owes nothing to central European romanticism, the sound of almost all the in-house studio composers such as Newman, Stothart and Steiner, or to the tradition of 20th century symphonists such as Copland and Diamond which fed the imagination of film composers as diverse as Elmer Bernstein and David Amram. Raksin had a sound all his own as did Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa, as instantly recognisable as theirs but I feel his range is wider. He seldom repeated himself as did Rozsa who composed in the same style regardless of genre. ("Double Idemnity", "Ben-Hur" and "Madame Bovary" have nothing common apart from their same sort of watered down Kodaly-like music.) His style is intensely lyrical, conceived with a verve and passion that always transcended the most trivial movies and made them, if not worth watching, always worth listening to. Unlike many of his colleagues he seldom hit the jackpot by working on films of great quality. I think it only happened twice, with Abraham Polonsky's B movie "Force of Evil" which has become recognised as a marvellous example of film noir and of course William Wyler's "Carrie" where he was just one of many outstanding contributors to what I have long argued is possibly the greatest work of art to have ever emerged from the Hollywood studio system. Although it has its passionate advocates, I cannot share their enthusiasm for Vincente Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful". It is certainly very professional in the way it slickly dissects an unsympathetic character through the flashback reminiscences of those he mistreated, but it had all been done before and considerably better in "Citizen Kane" and "All About Eve". However the film is worth watching if only to wallow in Raksin's gorgeous score. And there is plenty of it, particularly in accompanying all those voice-off narrations. And then just as one is beginning to wonder if the marvellous opening credit theme is about to be heard once too often, the composer introduces something entirely new for the Dick Powell narrative, a jaunty section based on a four-note motif (a falling perfect fifth, rising up a major sixth, then down a major seventh). The way this is subsequently developed is truly symphonic. Incidentally if you want to discover a film score that has the length and complexity of a symphony just close your eyes (you won't be missing much) and listen to "Forever Amber". Raksin in excelsis!
- May 18, 2006
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