Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Look at How Music Makes the Movies Hum

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Look at How Music Makes the Movies Hum

Article excerpt

TWO MEN on camels ride across a desert in a scene from a familiar movie.

Is it a love story? Swelling string music can make us believe that.

Or maybe it's a comedy - the music changes to a bouncy tune that suggests "Ishtar."

But no, it's actually "Lawrence of Arabia," David Lean's immortal 1962 epic, and Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning overture sets the tone precisely, perfectly.

Such is the power of music in the movies, as proved conclusively in the opening moments of "The Hollywood Soundtrack Story" (7:05 tonight on AMC cable).

The documentary, narrated stiffly by songwriter and film composer Randy Newman ("Ragtime," "The Natural"), was written by Tony Thomas, author of the books "Music for the Movies" and "Film Score."

It's a scholarly but still lively examination of the genre, from the days of silent pictures, when an upright piano was banged loudly to drown out the projector noise, to the high-tech present, when synthesizers can create sounds a composer might previously have heard only in his head.

Practitioners from Elmer Bernstein ("The Ten Commandments") to Danny Elfman ("Batman") discuss their craft, with plenty of examples, and some moments are better than others.

It's a lot more fun to hear Henry Mancini (who died just after being interviewed for the documentary) talk about writing "Moon River" for Audrey Hepburn's limited range, for example, than it is to see an orchestra recording the soundtrack to "Richie Rich."

But mainly, "The Hollywood Soundtrack Story" is a treat for both the ears and the mind.

Many years, the best thing about the Academy Awards telecast is a montage of clips by Chuck Workman, commonly referred to as "the great Chuck Workman."

Those montages are always too short. But HBO has remedied the problem with "The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies" (10:15 tonight), a crash course on movie history in a taut 90 minutes.

Workman obviously loves the movies, and it shows. But the documentary doesn't gloss over the darker side of history, looking at racism in D.W. Griffith's works and the cruelties of the studio system of the '30s.

Comments by everyone from Griffith himself (in a beautifully restored vintage clip) to Walt Disney, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Robin Williams are deftly edited to enhance clips and more clips. …

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