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Tag Archives: Love

Vertigo: Film Score, Herrmann, and Wagner

vertigo_soundtrack_coverWhen I first saw Vertigo I was not at all sure I liked it. I knew nothing about it before viewing and I was surprised and made a little uncomfortable by the story. But it wouldn’t leave my mind and I had to watch it a second time soon after, just to get a better handle on the story.

I watched it again, recently, and there’s something about it that I find impossible to shake. It sticks with you like few movies do. Haunting, aching, longing, dreamlike…

There are many things you could say Vertigo is about: obsession, a revelation of Hitchcock’s own obsessions and desires regarding the blonde leads in his own films; but at its most basic core, Vertigo is about longing. Especially longing for something that does not exist or cannot be attained. All people have it. What Scottie has is the mad desire to try bring it about, no matter the cost to other people. Most of us simply accept it.

It really stood out to me when I last watched Vertigo, how Scottie becomes completely absorbed in the story of Madeleine. He even seems to forget about Gavin Elster, the supposed husband. He’s consumed with Madeleine and her story…a story that is entirely made up. He can’t even see Midge, who is real and warm and solid and always there for him. In Vertigo, reality seems just as much of a dream to Scottie as the dream that Scottie falls for.

(Random aside: my sister and I wondered why Midge had broken off her engagement with Scottie all those years before. Was it because she knew he never loved her, could never love her, or did she sense there was something a little off about him, that something in him that leads him to prefer the illusion of Madeleine over the very real love of Midge and Judy?)

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Hitchcock and Herrmann

It was also interesting to listen to Bernard Herrmann’s achingly beautiful score for Vertigo in isolation from the film and visuals. What is interesting is how the obsession of the film takes a back seat and the longing comes strongly to the fore. It almost aches to listen to the soundtrack. Alex Ross, a music critic for The New Yorker, points out how tonally rootless the score is. It never finds it’s footing, tonally, leaving the listener feeling a bit lost. He also writes about the sequence where Scottie follows Madeleine. It is an extended, virtually a silent sequence, only accompanied by Herrmann’s score

Wistful hints of melody circle back on themselves instead of building into thematic phrases…The sequence is profoundly eerie but also very beautiful: it is neither tonal nor dissonant.

For Herrmann’s ‘Scène d’amour,’ he took inspiration from Richard Wagner’s “Liebestod,” from the opera Tristan und Isolde. Liebestod apparently means “love-death,” which seems very fitting for Vertigo. The specter of death practically drenches the movie.

There is, apparently, some controversy about the title of “Liebestod.” The title is usually used to refer to the aria Isolde sings over Tristan’s dead body, but Wagner evidently never referred to it as such. He called it “Verklärung” (Transfiguration). There is apparently some question about whether or not Isolde dies in the opera, as well. But Wagner referred to the prelude at the beginning of the first act as “Liebestod.” Either way, Herrmann has seemed to derive inspiration from both pieces of music.

Here is “Scene D’Amour,” where Scottie first sees Judy completely transformed into Madeleine.

And an orchestral version of the aria Isolde sings from Tristan und Isold. Compare 3:00 of “Scene D’Amour” with 4:00 of “Liebestod.”

The Prelude, which apparently is the real “Liebestod.”

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2016 in Music

 

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Black Angel (1946)

black-angelAny woman who has Dan Duryea and Peter Lorre calling on her at her apartment on the same evening is in trouble. Or at least that’s what I thought at first. The woman actually is the one who turns out to be trouble in this twisty, oddly romantic noir. Not that the woman lasts very long.

Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) is a composer who cannot get over his estranged wife, singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). He tries to see her on their anniversary and she won’t even let him up to her apartment, though a mysterious man (Peter Lorre) is allowed up. Martin Blair retreats to a bar to drown his sorrows and play on the piano the song he wrote for her, “Heartbreak.”

Later, yet a third man, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), enters her apartment and finds her dead, strangled with her own scarf. He is accused of the crime and sentenced to death. His wife, however, refuses to give up and sets out prove his innocence. Her search leads her first to Martin Blair, who is very hung-over.

But after a rocky first meeting, Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) piques his interest with her sympathy and with the story she tells him of the missing brooch. Kirk Bennett claimed to the police that when he entered the apartment, Mavis Marlowe was wearing a ruby, heart-shaped brooch. But as he searched the apartment he realized that he was not alone and someone stole the brooch. The police don’t believe his story, but Martin knows that he had, in fact, sent that brooch to Mavis that evening to try to remind her of his love for her.

Cathy and Martin soon go after Peter Lorre’s character, nightclub owner Marko. They form a team – Carver and Martin – with her singing and he playing the piano (and writing her songs) so they can audition for Marko’s floor show and get closer to him and his safe (where they believe some letters from Mavis are). And all the while Martin falls hard for Cathy, staying away from alcohol and even writing a song for her. But for Cathy there is still only Kirk Bennett.

For being a film noir, the music (composed by Frank Skinner) is surprisingly romantic and the romantic songs (written by Edgar Fairchild and Jack Brooks) feature prominently, with June Vincent singing a couple songs (I’m assuming she is not doing her own singing, though I don’t really know – I tend to doubt unless I hear otherwise). It’s tragic romantic. Martin Blair is a troubled man who can’t handle his love, which seems to overpower him and drive him helplessly to destroy himself. He’s self-destructive, but adores Cathy. He believes she owes nothing to Kirk and wants her to leave him. He has a way of giving his heart away wholesale, without checking to see the woman wants it or not.

Since this is Dan Duryea, I kept expecting him to verge over into creepy obsessive love for Cathy, but he never does…though one feels it’s in him. This is, after all, the man who played the possessive husband of Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross who also, in his own way, loved his wife (even if he does shoot her). He makes a very convincing anti-hero, though. Someone you feel sorry for (though he repeatedly says he hates to be felt sorry for…perhaps because he knows he deserves it), but also know is disturbed, with his disappointed, romantic soul.

blackangelen1ul2June Vincent is okay as Cathy. She seemed to be sending mixed signals with her body language and face, as if she ought to be, by all rights, a femme fatale trying to seduce Martin instead of a desperate wife. And a very loyal one, which was slightly frustrating. Kirk Bennett cheated on her and seems rather bland and indifferent to her, but as she tells Martin, there is only one man for her and that there only ever is one man.

Peter Lorre elevates anything he’s in, though he does not get an especially large role. His character has a few unexpected sides to him, though. He’s willing to give a character a new shot at life – perhaps because that is what he’s currently trying to do for himself? He also manages some sly humor, which contrasts with his rather dim bouncer, Lucky (Freddie Steele).

Constance Dowling as Mavis Marlowe looks like trouble the moment the camera lays eyes on her – a very effective femme fatale and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her. And Broderick Crawford plays the detective who is just doing his job and has been made world-weary by it all. But the film primarily belongs to Dan Duryea and it is nice to see him in a leading role for a change.

The film is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich is less known than other crime writers – like Hammett and Chandler – but is responsible for “Rear Window,” No Man of Her OwnPhantom Lady. There have been literally dozens of films based on his stories.

Black Angel is currently available on youtube.

Here is the trailer for Black Angel. I’m not sure the trailer really does give an idea of the story – trailers can be rather deceptive, even today.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Lady Eve: The Joke’s On Her

I’ve been thinking about the adage that the best screwball comedies have leads who are roughly equal, able to give-and-take and be worthy opponents: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. But my favorite screwball comedy, The Lady Eve, seems to defy that adage as Barbara Stanwyck appears to run all over the hapless Henry Fonda. So why do I love it so much?

I think it’s because everything is not as it seems. Director/writer Preston Sturges has deceived us, because his subtle joke is that the joke’s not on Henry Fonda at all; it’s on her and she’s the only one who’s in on it.

Barbara Stanwyck plays a tough, hard-boiled, unsentimental card sharp who takes advantage of poor suckers and then, like a sap, falls in love herself. She lays down her defenses and is rejected and humiliated. It’s the ultimate humiliation and she loses her self-respect. Because although it looks like she’s always in total control, manipulating Fonda at will, he’s the one who really is in control (though he doesn’t have the faintest idea that he is). She can captivate him, but because she’s so in love, he’s the one who can reject her or accept her.

That’s why she’s so bent on revenge; to regain her own personal self-respect. But she can’t help it; she still loves him. I think it’s that depth of emotion that I like so much about The Lady Eve (besides how hilarious it is). Her sincerity in love makes it clear that if her character doesn’t get her man, we’d be watching a tragedy instead of a comedy. Beneath the cynicism, the battle of the sexes, the ironic jabs at marriage and love and the rich, is a deeply romantic film because of how crazy the two leads are about each other. The Lady Eve has one of the most satisfying endings of any screwball comedy I’ve seen.

So basically, all the pratfalls, the humiliation that Fonda must go through is to make his humiliation equal to hers.

Random Note – in a fit of Sturges enthusiasm I named my cat Lady Eve, but sometimes I think I should have called her Buster. Lady Eve (the cat) has the most perfect stone-face as she watches life go by. She also needs to work on her sultry look.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Movies

 

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