December 2011, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Film Music and Music Film


What significance does music have in film and what functions does it perform? How does the image behave in relation to music and the music to the film as a whole? It is these questions that we are exploring in this month's Magical History Tour. Film music is a great deal more than just the simple background to a plot, capable of establishing or intensifying atmospheres or feelings of confusion, providing clues and creating emphasis, drawing the viewer into the narrative space or simply overwhelming them. We take in the whole spectrum of film music, starting with the classic period (with Hollywood film music and Hans Eisler's film work forming to some extent the two opposing poles here), moving on to examples of innovative film music and how music can be staged in film. Whether in the concert films STOP MAKING SENSE about the band Talking Heads and BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE WIDE BLUE SEA about the electronic music scene or A HARD DAY'S NIGHT'S ironic assessment of Beatlemania, pop music and film have always been closely linked.

ONE PLUS ONE (Jean-Luc Godard, United Kingdom 1968, December 1 & 7) contains many different elements but is much more than just the sum of its parts. The film is about the Rolling Stones, showing them at the studio concentrating on writing the song "Sympathy For The Devil". Gradually a song begins to emerge from an initial idea, a chord on Mick Jagger’s guitar and further playing around and reworkings. But it's also a film about the Black Panthers giving a speech at a waste yard, about a woman that sprays political slogans on to the walls of buildings and a porno shop where snippets from Hitler's Mein Kampfare read out in a declamatory tone. Stories about creation and destruction, the relationship between culture and the revolution, the contrasting of a musical and a political discourse.

CHRONICLE OF ANNA MAGDALENA BACH (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, West Germany/Italy 1967/68, December 2 & 4) shows music as an everyday exertion and form of daily work which must be protected from all kinds of resistance. Based on the (fictitious) diary of Bach's second wife Anna Magdalena, which Huillet/Straub put together from various different documents, it is the story of a marriage under working conditions that forms the focus of the film. "The starting point for our CHRONICLE was the idea of trying to make a film in which the music is not used as an accompaniment, nor as a commentary but rather as an aesthetic material. One of the film's attractions is that we show people making music, people who are actually carrying out work in front of the camera." (Jean-Marie Straub)

Jazz-lover Clint Eastwood approaches one of the true greats in the history of jazz in associative manner in BIRD(USA 1988 | December 3 & 12): saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker (Forest Whitaker), a legend in his own lifetime who shaped the Bebop like no one else. Episodes from a life dominated by alcoholism and drug addition, self-doubt, personal disappointments and creative geniality held together by the feverish rhythm of the music.  Parker may be a tragic, ambivalent hero, but when he's onstage it's only the music that matters.

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE WIDE BLUE SEA (Romuald Karmakar, Germany 2005, December 9 & 21) is a panorama of the German electronic music scene. Live performances from bands such as Tarwater, T. Raumschmiere, Rechenzentrum and Cobra Killer are captured in long tracking shots in a calm, focused manner. The raw, hardly processed material transmits an exuberant energy and vibrating intensity that goes beyond a mere fascination for the subject itself, arriving directly at the body of the viewer via sound and image. A concentrated look at the production and presentation of music.

Bernard Herrmann was one of the most influential film composers in Hollywood whose first film work was the music for Citizen Kane. He became best known for his collaborations with Hitchcock, for whom he provided seven film soundtracks. For PSYCHO(Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1960, December 14 & 16), he wrote an insistent, portentous score, which seems to make a direct attack on the ear and nerves of the viewer, making a significant contribution to the suspenseful nature of the film. Psychopathic murderer Norman Bates' insanity is conveyed in direct fashion by a set of penetrating staccato violins. The shower scene with the dissonant, screaming violin tones made film history.

The concert film STOP MAKING SENSE (Jonathan Demme, USA 1984, December 17 & 27) opens with David Byrne playing the song "Psycho Killer" solo on an acoustic guitar. Song by song and musician by musician, the band gradually takes to the stage until the Talking Heads are complete. Jonathan Demme filmed the band during a performance at the Pantage Theater in Los Angeles and merges music and image into a dense, exciting whole, allowing the rhythm of the concert and the passion and ideas of the musicians to become directly tangible.

A double bill with music from Hanns Eisler and Ernst Busch: KUHLE WAMPE ODER WEM GEHÖRT DIE WELT? (Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns the World? Slatan Dudow, Germany 1932) & BUSCH SINGT TEIL 3: 1935 ODER DAS FASS DER PANDORA (Konrad Wolf, East Germany 1981, December 20)

KUHLE WAMPE ODER WEM GEHÖRT DIE WELT? is one of the few Communist films made in the Weimar Republic, focusing on a worker's family forced to deal with unemployment and poverty in a range of different, often dramatic ways. The script was written by Bertolt Brecht and Ernst Ottwald. Eisler's score for KUHLE WAMPE, with its unforgettable solidarity song sung in a Berlin S-Bahn Tunnel, is regarded as a perfect example of his contrasting approach to classic film music practice in Hollywood. Eisler didn’t just want use his music to gain the audience's sympathies for the protagonists, but also sought to convey an attitude of protest against social injustices. Ernst Busch, who is inextricably linked to the 20th century workers' movement, played one of the leading roles. He always saw his work as a singer and in the theatre as political, whether in Germany or in exile. BUSCH SINGT TEIL 3: 1935 ODER DAS FASS DER PANDORAis one part of a six-part film, which follows Ernst Busch's plans to chronicle his century with song. A collage of song, image and documentary material throws light on the year 1935.

WEST SIDE STORY (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, USA 1961, December 22 & 25) is the film adaptation of a 1957 musical with music by Leonard Bernstein. Romeo and Juliet in the poor districts of New York and before the backdrop of a gang war between two youth gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the American Jets. Bernstein’s music, which combines elements of jazz, opera and popular music, characterizes the two gangs with typical musical motifs: the Sharks with Latin American dance music and the Jets with progressive jazz. 

Louis Malle's ASCENSEUR POUR L'ÉCHAFAUD (Elevator to the Gallows, Louis Malle, France 1957, December 23 & 28) is a cool thriller about crime and punishment, love and mistrust, coincidence and fate. A woman  (Jeanne Moreau) and her lover plan to murder her husband. But after the lover gets stuck in the elevator after the deed, she is left to wander the streets and bistros of Paris in desperate search of him. The outstanding film music by Miles Davis was created during a session with Davis and a group of French accompanists. The film scenes were shown to them on a screen in the studio for them to improvise to.

Richard Lester's A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (GB 1964, December 26 & 29) was made at the very height of Beatlemania. In the style of a self-depreciating slapstick comedy, this mockumentary shows a typical day in the life of the Beatles, who are assailed by young girls, break free from their manager’s restrictions and get into difficulties with Paul’s grandfather, who is selling fake autographs and orders Ringo to leave the band. All of this is, of course, interspersed with Beatles hits and documentary live concert footage. 

JALSAGHAR(The Music Room, Satyajit Ray, India 1958, December 27 & 29) is an homage to Bengali music but also a swansong to the decadence of the Indian aristocracy. A lonely and destitute old aristocrat lives in a magnificent palace. His love for music has led to his ruin, as he wastes his last remaining assets on expensive house concerts and dance presentations. "The proud old aristocrat is already too out of touch with the world, too fossilized to become an object of critical demontage for Ray, relaxing and sinking into the music instead, whose tender, elegiac Melos plays a decisive role in the unique suggestiveness of the film." (Urs Jenny) The music is by Vilayat Khan, one of Indian's most well known sitar players.

Opulently staged song and dance numbers, preferably in front of an exotic backdrop, are an indispensable part of every Bollywood film. In KABHI KHUSHI KABHIE GHAM... (Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad, Karan Johar, India 2001, December 28 & 30), a family is torn between rigid traditions and the need for freedom. The eldest son (Shah Ruhk Khan) of the Raichand family refuses to enter into an arranged marriage as he is in love with Anjali, who is not befitting of his status. When his father throws him out as a result, the son begins a new life with Anjali in London. Years later, the younger son sets out to bring the family back together. This “emotionally high-powered dramatic, visual and musical pop pourri”(Achim Wetter) broke all records in Bollywood: the most expensive Indian film production at the time brought together the six most well-known Bollywood actors from three generations, with the whole enterprise staged with a breathtaking sense of luxury.