Friday Film (28)

Just a short film music posting this week, I think — motivated by the fact that (as my dear friend Anna has pointed out online), Sigmund Freud was born on 6 May 1856, and so becomes 161 years old tomorrow.

Now, it may seem that the degree of overlap between film music and the founder of psychoanalysis is not great; but there is at least one thing I can think of that I believe every reader will be happier knowing about. And in order to discuss this I need to transport everyone back to 1962 and the pseudo-biopic Freud (also released with the more mouth-watering title Freud: The Secret Passion) that was directed by John Huston to a script that, in its original form, had been provided by Jean-Paul Sartre.

My customary procedure at moments like this is to show a film’s trailer; and this is precisely what I’m going to do now. As you watch it, you may wish to ask yourself if you can think of an American actor who actually looks less like Freud than does Montgomery Clift, here. (So far, I can only think that Kathy Bates might. Though it may just be a tie…)

Having shown you this, I need to repeat a statement that I’ve already made more than once in these electronic pages — which is that we need to remember that the music heard in a Hollywood film’s trailer is extremely unlikely to be the music that will be heard in the film itself. The usual reason for this is simply that the requirements of industrial film-production are such that a new film’s trailer needs to be assembled and released for cinematic circulation while the movie itself is still in ‘post-production’ — at which point the score is still being written (and possibly even re-written). And this, of course, raises the issue of what kind of music is going to be chosen instead.

What I think is interesting in this trailer is that, while the visual aspect is permitted to contain numerous ‘non-realistic’ pictorial and graphical elements that clearly connote distortion, extremity and abnormality, the music that has been selected very rapidly moves away from its opening indications of fragmentation and dislocation — to embrace a style and manner that could quite easily accompany a big-city detective mystery thriller with passionate ‘femme fatale’ aspects. In short, the ‘madness’ and ‘disorder’ are mostly confined within the realms of the visual and the verbal — with the trailer’s musical ‘thread’ largely tasked with keeping us in touch with the level of presumed ’emotional normality’ and ‘comprehensible realism’ maintained by the voice-over as it addresses the audience. And there — right at the very end! — is the ultimate symbol of order and stability … in the form of a big, powerful C major chord: not ‘the return of the repressed’, but the restoration of the ultimate in reassurance.

Now consider what that trailer’s original audiences were then confronted with when they turned out to see the actual film…

Yes, the title music that was produced by Jerry Goldsmith (in 1962 still in his early thirties and a relative newcomer to film scoring) was considerably more strange than the pieces heard in the trailer: more ‘modern’, more dissonant, more concerned with apparent disunity and dislocation than anything that the statistically average movie-goer would have considered ‘normal’ for a film whose setting is a Central-European medical-intellectual milieu of the period 1885-90. Or, to put it aphoristically, Goldsmith’s score declares right from the start that it is siding very much more with the film’s madness than with its sanity, with its disorder more than its order. Had the studio’s music editor used something of this kind in the trailer — and by 1962 there were countless examples available in the world of ‘avant-garde’ concert music! — I imagine the result would have provoked a proper smacking from ‘on high’: the one thing a trailer cannot afford to do is risk scaring away a film’s potential audience.

The sound quality in that extract was, unfortunately, pretty poor. So let me present a portion of that title music again, without the picture. For a reason that will become clear, I want every reader to have these sounds very firmly in their ears…

Why am I so keen that everyone should have heard this bit of music as clearly as possible? The reason, quite simply, is that I’m prepared to bet you’ve heard it somewhere else

The story goes that Freud‘s title music was re-used here because, having employed it on the so-called ‘temp track’ while they worked on assembling the sequence,  the modern film-makers then found they didn’t want to replace it with the piece that Goldsmith — yes, the very same composer! — went on to provide. It’s the kind of thing that happens a lot in the mad, mad world of film music — and it’s not even the only example found in this film (which, you will no doubt have realised, is Ridley Scott’s Alien from 1979).

Here’s another section of the Freud film (I’ve included the entire scene: the movie is not particularly well known, and its care and its seriousness seem to me to be insufficiently appreciated):

And now here is another part of Alien whose soundtrack you may wish to listen to with equal care…

If you pause to think about all the ways in which the plot and on-screen realisation of Alien have been described as ‘Freudian’ and analysed in Freudian terms since the time of its release, it’s actually quite amusing to find that scattered through its soundtrack are fragments of a score originally written to accompany the first psychoanalyst’s explorations of the ‘dynamic unconscious’. In fact, as a teenaged ‘first generation’ viewer of Alien, back in late 1979, I myself found some of the ‘Freudian symbolism’ obvious to the point of actual obtrusiveness. I was watching it on one of my first-ever dates with my first-ever girlfriend — and I remember very clearly that, at one particular point, I was so astounded by the blatancy of what was on the screen that I shot a glance sideways at her to see if she was as stunned as I was. (And, in case you’re wondering: innocent lamb that she was, she hadn’t noticed a thing.)

For the rest, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that Goldsmith’s score for Alien was ultimately butchered as casually and as comprehensively as were the crew members of that unfortunate spaceship. But then, to paraphrase a famous filmic motto, ‘In film music no-one can hear the composer scream‘. Anyone who wishes to gain a more detailed insight into what happened in the production of the Alien soundtrack as finally heard is referred to this detailed analysis by an enthusiast.

It’s all pretty grim — as film music’s ‘backstage’ revelations tend to be. But on this single, solitary occasion there is a laugh to be had for Freudians everywhere, if you keep listening…

MD

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