Friday Film (6)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/22/Robin_hood_movieposter.jpgIn last week’s film music posting I mentioned that I still had something to say about the clip from The Adventures of Robin Hood. In my quietly demanding way, I also made it clear that I hoped everyone would, by today, be thoroughly familiar with those two minutes of music: if you’d like to give your ears another go before we continue, you can click here; otherwise, read on

The topic I want to discuss concerns something that probably constitutes the most significant difference between the experience of someone seeing and hearing that scene as a clip ‘on its own’ — and the experience of someone who reaches it after having followed the entire film attentively up to that point (and by ‘attentively’, I mean wide awake and responsive, not ‘analytically preoccupied’). Or, to put it in slighty more musical terms, I’m referring to the way the music in that fight scene actually draws upon and develops musical ideas that have circulated throughout the film’s score up to that point: while someone for whom that scene is a contextless ‘extract’ has little alternative but to hear the orchestra providing exciting ‘rumble’ music that has a measure of gestural-emotional appropriateness and satisfactory local continuity, the person who has heard and properly ‘lived through’ all the film’s preceding music hears a neat succession of thematic and motivic references.

What’s more, the musical ideas that are being referred to actually have ‘leitmotivic’ significance — a ‘Leitmotiv’, you may remember from Wednesday, being an identifiable musical shape that is attached to some person or idea or other element in the drama, and which (hopefully) develops with it in related and meaningful ways.

A little discussion of a single example will make sure that everything is completely clear to everybody.  Here’s a thematic shape that we first hear when Robin defiantly enters the hostile and threatening environment that is Nottingham Castle…

And here is that same bit of score in the original performance and with the proper filmed action attached. Note, if you will, the way Korngold manages to be sensitive to physical mass and movement as well as emotional tone — at the same time as creating acoustic and gestural ‘space’ for the speaking voices to occupy and finding points where significant moments in the visual action can sensibly coincide with the boundaries of musical paragraphs. And — for good measure! — note also how the Steward’s initial cry of ‘Open the doors!’ is musicalised, in terms of both tempo and rhythm, in what Korngold’s score does immediately afterwards…

Look: there’s ‘good’ — and there’s this good

Now, in the 80-odd minutes of film that follows, this idea circulates in various transformations — often appearing when Robin is in a dangerous situation; hence its developing ‘leitmotivic’ significance. Here, for example, is Korngold’s music for the sequence when Robin, Will and Much make their escape into the forest: you will, I am sure, be able to pick out our thematic shape when it appears…

And here is another transformation — this time for the sequence in which Robin, beaten and captured, is delivered to the gallows for execution…

After all that, I doubt that anyone will have even the slightest difficulty hearing and feeling (not ‘analysing’: I make the point again!) what is happening musically at these two places in our climactic fight scene…

At this point, I think it’s worth mentioning that our theme isn’t the only one in the score to be associated with Robin: there’s another one — very closely related! — that is his ‘principal’ Leitmotiv…

And at this point, people will be wondering if Sir Guy himself is musically represented in our scene; and the answer is a definite ‘yes’ — though his idea is very much shorter and simpler than either of Robin’s themes. Which shouldn’t surprise us: Doran’s Third Law states that “a straightforward ‘bad guy’ always has a short and simple Leitmotiv — as bad guy psychology is never presented as complex, and bad guy motivation is never seriously explored.” Here’s a brief but clear presentation of Sir Guy’s upward-reaching Leitmotiv from near the start of the film…

All right, that’s three ideas with ‘leitmotivic’ significance. In a minute I’m going to present the entire Robin-Sir Guy fight sequence — starting right from the beginning! — so everyone can hear the contribution made by each of those shapes. First, though, here’s a little break for your ears in the form of a clip with no music in it at all: since every reader now knows at least a little bit about how Korngold’s masterly score is put together, I thought I’d include a couple of fragments of old footage that show something of how the masterly filmed sequence itself was put together…

Okay: if you’re ready — and think you can remember those three Leitmotivs! — then here’s the whole scene. Be warned, though: Sir Guy’s brief, ascending idea is easy to miss when it appears. And, while you’re watching, see if you agree with me: no film composer has ever been so powerfully aware of which point in the filmed action deserves an initiating downbeat. (There are three demonstrations of this within the first half-minute…)

This guy Korngold is simply the best

Well, that’s enough compelling and seemingly effortless mastery for a Friday evening — and, before you ask, I mean mine, not theirs. The film itself — a truly lovely creation, in my opinion! — you cannot possibly have tired of … so here is an online video of the entire thing, for you to watch free, gratis and for nothing, thanks to the ‘Dailymotion’ website…

(And if anyone spots what seems to be another Leitmotiv and wants to tell me, feel free!)

MD

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