Popcorn…? (3)

Let’s take a ‘Comment’ — from my good pal Hugh, as it happens, who is a very clued-up guy on the subject of film music. Here’s part of what he wrote in response to my posting of a few days ago in which the topic of rejected film scores arose:

Let’s not forget one of the most effective of all “replacement” scores, that by Jerry Goldsmith for Chinatown. Written in 10 days. The only trailer you’ll find for this uses the original (abandoned) score (by Philip Lambro). […]

I’m grateful to him for mentioning that — not least because it gives me a chance to present the trailer of which he speaks:

On the basis of that, there doesn’t appear to be anything obviously upsetting about the original music: if Hugh or anyone else wants to tell us more about how and why the score was rejected (with apparently 10 days to go!), it will be good to hear it. (If you want to hear the music that replaced it, you can click here; but, frankly, you’re probably better off just watching the film itself, which is surely a classic in anyone’s book.)

Another reason I’m grateful to Hugh, though, is that his message prompts me to present a cautionary tale about what we hear in trailers. By now, this blog has brought you trailers that show the use of pre-existing concert music; the use of pre-existing film music; the use of the ‘correct’ film music; and the use of ultimately discarded and replaced film music. What’s important to note is that people writing about film music don’t always know which is which.

Now, I’ve no reason whatever to think that the music for that Chinatown trailer is anything other than what Hugh (and seemingly the rest of the internet) says it is. But in general, one needs to be careful about what one believes.

Take, for example, the rather wonderful sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956) — one of whose most courageous creative decisions was surely the use of an entirely electronic score produced by the pioneering couple Bebe and Louis Barron. Me being me, I’d like everyone to have the sound-world of the Barrons’ famous ‘electronic tonalities’ in their ears before we go any further, so here are two little clips from the film (and, yes, that really is Leslie Nielsen):

Having presented those, I’m now going to take everyone a few weeks even further back in movie history — to the moment when the film’s trailer was released. Because it so happens that what everyone heard and saw at that point was this:

I’ve known that trailer for an awfully long time (it’s on the VHS tape that I bought absolutely ages ago); and there are two things I’ve always thought about it.

The first is that its two (!) striding march tunes really don’t fit with the nature of the actual film itself. Which is not, of course, a significant criticism: a trailer is shown to get bottoms in seats, not to provide sensitive commentary on a film people haven’t seen yet. On top of which, one of the most interesting things about old trailers is the way they frequently miss what we now see as the most important expressive and artistic aspects of the films concerned: through error or by design, they’ll present a view of the picture that is more firmly located in the sensibility of the time — and, as a result, can seem amazingly dated, even when the film itself doesn’t.

The other thing that has always struck me is more sheerly musical [Terminology Alert! Terminology Alert!] — as it relates to the strikingly ‘blunt’ sound of those two successive descending fourths in the second march tune (the sixth, seventh and eighth notes of the tune: have a whistle!). Concert-goers know that melodic shapes of that rather arresting kind enter the repertoire round about 1905-6, courtesy of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony and Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony. What’s interesting is to note that it’s 50 years later that we’re hearing them in a cinema trailer played to a general audience; in other words, five years after Schoenberg’s death they’re being treated as ‘normal enough’ — as indeed are a few other details very reminiscent of Hindemith (who didn’t die till eight years later). And, as I hope every reader is already spontaneously realising, ten years after this film’s release an even wider TV audience was hearing those same successive fourths — going up as well as coming down! — in the opening and incidental music for Star Trek (1966). (Let me stress that these are just a few data-points in a ‘timeline’ that I’ve never seen fully explored or elaborated: there may well be earlier examples of ‘mainstreamed’ perfect fourths that I’ve yet to hear…)

But just what is the music in our Forbidden Planet trailer? If you look in Wikipedia, you’ll see the following information:

david rose score

Makes sense, doesn’t it? David Rose’s music is rejected; the studio has already paid (or partly paid) for it; time is running out; they still hold the tapes; they bung bits of it on the trailer to give it all an exciting sound that seems a bit modern but won’t freak people out…

The trouble is, though, that … well, let me just present you with Andre Previn’s ‘main title’ for a slightly earlier MGM film (which also stars Anne Francis): the Spencer Tracey classic Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). And, while I’m at it, here’s its trailer…

Is there a single note by David Rose on the Forbidden Planet trailer? I doubt it; but I don’t know for sure — yet. What I’m certain of is that the Wikipedia entry gives a thoroughly misleading impression


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4 thoughts on “Popcorn…? (3)

  1. Where the Wikipedia article is emphatically correct is in stating that Rose made and released his own recording of the main title. And here it is (complete with an image of the sleeve!):

    I don’t hear anything that matches what’s in the trailer. Note that the sleeve says “Inspired by the MGM CinemaScope film” – since this wasn’t the “official” score, and was recorded at Rose’s behest rather than the studio’s, I guess he couldn’t claim an official relationship to the film. According to Gergely Hubai, in “Torn music: rejected film scores” (2012), Rose had sound effects folk recreate the Barrons’ robot sounds and add them to his orchestral recording. A fascinating relic!

    I agree that trailers are, on their own, a very unreliable source of information. And let’s not forget that the music isn’t the only misleading thing about them. The trailer for Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd somehow “forgot” to indicate that the film is mostly sung (!) – I haven’t checked (too much like “research”), but I suspect Burton made his own trailer, so that was his decision. And there are any number of trailers which include scenes not found in the final cut of the film.

    To return briefly to Chinatown – Lambro’s original score was released a couple of years ago. I haven’t heard it, but there are a number of commentators “out there” who offer their own opinions as to why it doesn’t quite “work” for Polanski’s film. One day I must “research” this more thoroughly. As you say, the Goldsmith has to be heard in context – and it’s in context that I believe it to be one of the greatest of scores, even though (or because?) it’s musically quite simple.

    Incidentally (and then I’ll shut up about Goldsmith), Radio 3’s “Sound of Cinema” is devoting two episodes to Goldsmith – the first of which is this coming Saturday, 21 Feb at 16.00. The programme outline says that the first episode will include something from Chinatown (I should declare an interest since I recommended the opening for inclusion – along, I suspect, with half of the audience!).


  2. It’s very common practice for the music used in trailers to bear no resemblance to the commissioned score at all. It will often be dependent on what the director has been using as “guide pieces” during the filming. Sometimes the guide pieces ended up being the score as famously happened when Alex North’s score for 2001 was ditched. Sometimes you can find completely unrelated music, take, for example, the trailer for Out of Africa http://youtu.be/CHowfGGR3l8 as compared to the final Oscar winning John Barry score – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FB1LS3WhIU. Apparently a fair chunk of the trailer score was taken wholesale from the compositions of Mark Isham http://youtu.be/zXWrdBYtHRI- I can only assume his music was a particular favourite of the director or trailer editor at the time as it does the film no favours!


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