There's typically a spot on the September Hollywood Bowl calendar for its revue of classical Hollywood scores, aka The Big Picture, which typically unleash a studio or composer's canon. So when it was announced that this year's Big Picture would be AFI's Great American Movie Quiz hosted by Jeopardy! czar Alex Trebek, it seemed like event programmers were stretching into Las Vegas limits. A live film-score trivia show? The whole notion sounds as polyester as a sing-a-long. Not to mention, can you imagine the calamity ensued in conducting a quiz show with 17,000 attendees?
Well, both the AFI and the Bowl are classy orgs so it's only right that Sunday night went off without any glitches, not to mention a lineup that would warm any film music snob's aural sensibilities.
“You don't need to form your responses in the shape of a question,” advised Trebek, who hobbled on stage in crutches from a recent injury that resulted when he chased a burglar out of his hotel room. Rather, audience members were given three light sticks — red, blue and green — to answer multiple choice questions.
Game play proceeded as follows: Trebek led off with an elusive back story about a film score, before asking the crowd the title of the film and giving three possible options. The audience would vote and Trebek would announce the correct answer. Conductor David Newman and the Bowl orchestra would then break out with a tune from said film against a clip.
Below are five revelations that occurred during the night, with five of the movie clips:
5. There were no prizes, therefore no fist fights.
Walking into the Bowl, the assumption was that the crowd, after emptying bottles of chardonnay, would be loose-lipped and combative over answers with their fellow box holders. However, there wasn't a $1 million jackpot, a brand new dinette set or 2012 season Bowl tickets up for grabs. In sum, it was more film score poll than quiz — a letdown after hoping the Trivial Pursuit peacock set would get their 'tude on.
Seen above is a snippet from the climax of 1935's Bride of Frankenstein, with score by Franz Waxman.
4. Eclecticism ruled over populism
Rather than cribbing from the book Film Scores for Dummies with music from everyman composers like Danny Elfman and John Williams, the patchwork lineup included tunes from The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dial M. for Murder, High Noon, Up, Sleepless in Seattle, Back to the Future, Singin' in the Rain and The Errand Boy. This proved to be enlightening for those ears not attuned to the drowsy hypnotic melodrama of Franz Waxman's Bride of Frankenstein score or those who had forgotten Elmer Bernstein's emotional To Kill a Mockingbird, played during a Name That Tune segment that everyone failed. These refreshers also made one realize: What exactly did such maestros like Williams pioneer? E.T. sounded like it was cut from Mocking Bird's main title while his Raiders of the Lost Ark appears to a distant cousin to Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Robin Hood climactic theme.
Above is a clip from the ending of Sleepless in Seattle, with music by Marc Shaiman.
3. Seriously — Sleepless in Seattle?!
Despite the night's bespoke spirit, does the Sleepless in Seattle score really hold a place in the lexicon of American cinema? No disrespect to composer Marc Shaiman who churned out riveting absurdist themes for The Addams Family and is the star composer of Broadway's Hairspray, but Sleepless is a saccharine throwaway of the '90s, despite its 45th slot on AFI's Greatest Romance Movies. Like the romcom's source material, which is a retread of An Affair to Remember, so is Shaiman's score which splices in the Frank Sinatra tune “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” If they really needed a love theme on Sunday, they should have played Henry Mancini's “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany's — a standard that was written directly for the screen and that everyone would agree is a classic.
2. Audience's sense of recall clouded
There was a hysterical array of conflicting light sticks in the crowd — and you couldn't blame it on the wine or the ganja in section W. Rather, it was Trebek's head-scratchers. Following each clip, the host asked a trivia question about what occurred — i.e. during Dial M. for Murder's climax where Grace Kelly disposes her stalker, “How many times does Kelly say 'Hello' on the phone? Six, Seven or Nine?” quizzed Trebek. Answer: Seven. Another doozie: “What was the name of the film playing on the marquee in the final scene of Back to the Future? The Atomic Kid, The Time Machine or Used Cars?” Answer: Atomic Kid.
1. Alex Trebek's future is as a film professor
Showing that he's more than a Q&A guy and the butt of Will Ferrell impersonations, Trebek's mini-dissertations on the history of Hollywood make him a suitable candidate for an AFI or USC professorship. Among his insights: Hitchcock originally intended to release Dial M for Murder in 3-D, but abandoned the idea after audiences' waning interest in the format. Another: Robin Hood's Basil Rathbone had a reputation for throwing lavish parties in town. He once transported 80 truckloads of snow from Big Bear to his home for a holiday soiree. In the morning, it melted, creating a serious muddy environment and making him unpopular among his neighbors. Look out Leonard Maltin.