By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
With the Sony deal, the age of corporate synergy had begun in earnest, and just as multinational corporations were now able to produce, promote and distribute movies, soundtracks and videos in-house, the conglomeration extended naturally to consumers. In other words, people now go to the mall, see the movie, then buy the record — or toy, or bed sheet or denim jacket. That multivalent approach trickled down to the product as well: Song-driven scores featuring tracks from several different artists offered the extra advantage of maximized purchasing power in the face of ever-outrageous retail prices.
But is it art?
"As you know," Bramson observes, "you’ve got filmmakers now who so desperately want to sell their film and to market their film that they get into the music and songs for the wrong reasons, purely for the hipness factor or the marketing factor. And I think those are obvious. More often than not, those inspired and amazing films that are so associated with music spawn from that great inspired director."
In the decades after The Jazz Singer, musicals flourished and waned, their songs (and title themes from non-musicals) charted on the Hit Parade and seeped into homes through radios and sheet music. European-born composers, led by Viennese prodigy Max Steiner, the father of Hollywood’s "Golden Age" of film scoring, purveyed orchestral soundtracks reeking of Continental dignity and class. Steiner might orchestrate a Berlin tune for Top Hat, George Gershwin might compose a balletic interlude to go with his and brother Ira’s songs for the Rogers-Astaire vehicle Shall We Dance, but rarely would the proletariat and bourgeoisie of Hollywood film music cross paths.
Cut to 1952. Russian-born, conservatory-trained Dimitri Tiomkin was perhaps one of the more personally flamboyant of the Hollywood Europeans. Maybe it was Tiomkin’s fondness for Hollywood flash that made him more disposed to associating with the rabble, but whatever the impetus, his score for Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon demurred on the day’s tenden cy toward grand overtures and sweeping ç strings by favoring soft, loping percussion, strumming guitar, lonely harmonica and a title ballad, written with lyricist Ned Washington, the melody of which anchored the score’s entire structure. The song, with its plaintive and irresistibly catchy refrain of "Do not forsake me, oh my darling," was sung for the movie by Hollywood cowboy Tex Ritter.
The year High Noon was released, only one movie song topped the Hit Parade, down from a peak 16 in 1936. The sheet music market had collapsed — materials used to make LPs were no longer hoarded for the war effort and, with its easy access to whole new musical worlds, sales of recorded music boomed. In this atmosphere of change and diversity, Tiomkin’s landmark blending of orchestral and popular music may not have been the blow to bring down the wall between the two camps, but, as it prefigured the jazz-minded scores of, say, Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin or Quincy Jones, or the Western operatic interludes of Ennio Morricone, it was a sure sign that it was crumbling. Three years later, Blackboard Jungle hit.
Producer Pandro S. Berman had worked on several Rogers-Astaire affairs in the ’30s and gone on to great prestige at MGM — musicals weren’t his specialty there, but the producer knew from scoring. It was his decision to put a song by Bill Haley & His Comets over the front and end titles of Blackboard Jungle, a non-musical Richard Brooks film based on the Evan Hunter novel about a sociopathic student body at an inner-city high school. "Rock Around the Clock" had been released as a single the year before and done little, but laid over the opening of the film, as a ramrod-straight Glenn Ford gingerly makes his way through a schoolyard of jeering, whistling, jitterbugging male delinquents, the song takes on a delirious sense of bodily menace and wholesale depravity. When it plays once more over the end credits at the film’s optimistic conclusion, the song’s tone has changed abrubtly to one of rollicking celebration.
"Rock Around the Clock," the first rock song used in a Hollywood movie, became the first rock song from a Hollywood movie to become a No. 1 hit. Meanwhile, police were being called in to control unruly theater crowds, and filmmakers were training their sights on the music’s primal possibilities (immediately after Blackboard Jungle, schlockmeister Sam Katzman rounded up Haley and the Comets for a cheap feature called, strangely enough, Rock Around the Clock). As resoundingly as The Jazz Singer had transformed everything 28 years before, Blackboard Jungle had used one song to single out, and thereby legitimize, a burgeoning movement in the most popular of art forms. In so doing, it revealed that, aside from underscoring action, music could be used to signify character. Soon enough, rock and its pop and soul cousins would be appropriated by filmmakers who wanted to describe not only who was making their films, but who was watching — or who they wanted to be watching.
With A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles found their image radically altered, from insidious corruptors of American youth to four spirited boys who reminded older folks of the Marx Brothers. Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris called the film "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals, the brilliant crystallization of such diverse cultural particles as the pop movie, rock ’n’ roll, cinéma vérité, the nouvelle vague, free cinema, the affectedly hand-held camera, frenzied cutting, the cult of the sexless subadolescent, the semidocumentary, and studied spontaneity. So help me, I resisted the Beatles as long as I could."
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