Film music at the Academy Museum: film composers deserve better

The Los Angeles Philharmonic will dedicate a weekend in November to three film music programs. The orchestra calls the project “Reel Change: The New Era of Film Music”.

It seems pretty natural. No one needs to be told about the allure of film music, right? Show me an orchestra that doesn’t play film music these days. John Williams triumphantly conducted the august Vienna Philharmonic!

On its website, the LA Phil notes that although music was first used in a movie to muffle projector sound, it quickly “took on a life of its own.” This cutting-edge orchestra is right. The real reel change, we learn from the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, is precisely that film music must have a life – and presumably a home – of its own.

So go ahead, browse gallery after gallery devoted to all aspects of filmmaking. Cinematography, editing, scriptwriting, staging, acting, scenography, sound design, costumes, make-up. They are all there. All that’s missing is the history of on-site catering.

And, of course, film scores.

It doesn’t mean that there is no music. With movie clips showing all over the building, it would be very difficult to remove all the music, but the academy said it was at least making an effort to reduce the sound, lest too much music bleed out. one space to another. another. It’s fucking music for you.

While there is no gallery for movie scores, there is one room with a surround sound setup. From time to time, film composers will be shaken by being commissioned to create a sound installation piece. The first is by Hildur Guonadottir, who wrote the soundtrack for “Joker”. Excited museum goers can come in for a minute to check it out and relax.

The museum also has a state-of-the-art 1,000-seat movie theater with speakers ready to handle whatever Dolby can throw at them. Even more impressive is the inclusion of a small stage for an orchestra, in case the museum wants to bring in musicians to accompany the silent films, just like in the movie palaces of old. It’s even called David Geffen Theater, after the philanthropist who made his initial fortune in – don’t you know? – the music business.

More and more curious, the academy chose as museum architect Renzo Piano, passionate about music, who said that everything he builds yearns for music. Piano’s contribution to music includes the computer music center, IRCAM, next to the Center Pompidou in Paris, where Pierre Boulez created his surround sound masterpiece, “Répons”, which later inspired the spectacular London Piano Tower known as the Shard.

Furthermore, Piano’s friendship with the two greatest and most influential Italian composers of his generation, Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono, had historical consequences. In collaboration with Berio, Piano designed Rome’s great musical complex, the Parco della Musica. For the staging of Nono’s visionary opera “Prometo”, Piano invented a “musical space” which revolutionized the whole notion of immersive opera (apparently a little too immersive for the museum’s “immersive” music gallery. ).

When I heard that Piano had been hired by the Academy Museum, my first thought was that he would also be asked to repair the Dolby Theater as part of the Hollywood & Highland renovation. When the Film Academy opened it as the Kodak Theater in 2001, it pitched its new home for the Oscars as a fake opera featuring a fake opera. “I break my memory to remember a concert in which the music was less well served,” I wrote then.

Studios, of course, have a long and famous history of ignorance when it comes to soundtracks. They threw countless original scores in the trash to reduce clutter. Could it be that a compelling reason for not devoting galleries to sheet music is that there aren’t enough musical memorabilia to display?

Enough ridiculous things that studio managers – sitting in their desks with their feet on their desks, blowing on big stogies – have said and done to composers could fill a fun book. André Previn liked to tell about a first mission he had as a novice film composer when he left high school in the early 1950s. Listen, kid, he was told, this is a picture taking place. in Paris, so make sure you have enough French horns.

Either way, one cannot talk about the history of music over the past 120 years without considering the influence of music on cinema, and vice versa. It is not always positive. “Hollywood” has been derogatory in some serious musical circles, to belittle, to sell, but isn’t that also part of the complex and meaningful story?

Devoting an entire museum to emigrant composers who came to Los Angeles in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution, at the very moment when talking cinema was taking off, is not excluded. They invented the symphonic score. In the process, they made music such an important part of cinema that the “vow of chastity” for the short-lived Dogme 95, the Danish movement to free films from studios and commercial cinema, included the edict according to which no music could be used. unless he’s already part of the live scene at the time of filming.

It turned out that Dogme 95 co-founder Lars von Trier couldn’t comply for long. Realizing how powerful music can be, he made indescribable and unsettling use of music in the scene that opens his “Antichrist”. Infant is killed by falling from window while parents distracted by lust sex, and in the background is quite heavenly Handel.

Music is sure to find its place in the museum here and there. It is not possible to exclude music from its exhibitions. Musicians still sneak around every corner of the museum and its activities. Sophia Loren, the museum’s first Visionary Award recipient, has a little secret: her son is a conductor with his own orchestra in LA (luckily the academy doesn’t pay attention to concerts).

“The Wizard of Oz” and “Citizen Kane” were selected as iconic films deserving a museum spotlight. It would be hard to think of either without music. But they will find something. Of course, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite composer Bernard Herrmann is worth showing on his own.

Yet for me the most fallacious aspect of the Academy Museum is its claim to chronicle the troubled history of Hollywood by dealing with issues of diversity. What could be more Eurocentric than letting music in only through the back door, as musicians had to use the entrance of servants in European courts in the 18th century?

The music, however you frame it, is irrelevant, but we should have understood that from the start. The Museum of the Academy of Cinema is officially called, for short, the Museum of the Academy, and not the Museum of Cinema. It is not, and it cannot claim to be without film music, a cinema museum. It is an Academy museum. It’s not the same thing.

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About Margaret L. Portillo

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