Time Capsule

This records my personal memories, thoughts, and other miscellany.

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Location: Colorado, United States

My wife Sue and I are retired and have lived in the same house for over 30 years. Our local family consists of son Mason, daughter Katrina, son-in-law Dan, granddaughter Natalia, and grandson Joel, all living in the same metropolitan area where we live.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Movie Music


I am a fan and collector of movies and a music-lover. It’s a natural combination, because a movie without music is difficult for me to imagine. Movie music includes not only songs that may be sung as part of the movie, but also background or theme music.

Without question, my favorite movie music composer was Henry Mancini (1924-1994). Mancini had a wonderful knack for creating music that matched the theme of the movie -- the tone, the emotions, the action, the “feeling” of a movie. Many of his more famous movie pieces became great favorites of mine. Hearing one of those pieces can still evoke a specific memory or a strong emotion within me.

Often, a certain movie music piece will remind me of the movie for which it was written (or in which it played a key role). Even more often, a specific Mancini piece will bring back emotions and memories not related to the movie. Perhaps the best example of this is “Moon River.” This composition was the theme of the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I recall only a little about that movie, but the music – well that’s a different story.

“Moon River” was written in 1961, the year I graduated from high school. It was written specifically for the movie and more specifically for Audrey Hepburn, who starred in the movie and sang the song in it. She was struck by Mancini’s music, too, as witnessed by this letter she wrote to Mancini:

Dear Henry,

I have just seen our picture - BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S - this time with your score. A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats - and the most sensitive of composers!

Thank you, dear Hank.

Lots of love, Audrey

[See
this site for more info.]

Two years after the song and movie were introduced to the world, I was in college, and that summer, I took a class at a geology camp near Canon City, Colorado. When our field work was completed each day, we returned to a café/bar in town to relax. The café jukebox naturally had the popular music of the day available, and “Moon River” was one of the choices. In fact, we played it every day, usually several times each day, for the four weeks we were there. Even today, I cannot hear even the opening bars of that song without remembering that café, geology camp, and the emotions I felt at that time of my life. Since I was seriously missing my girlfriend Sue back in Oklahoma (whom I married six months later), I certainly had some strong emotions when listening to “Moon River.” When I hear that music, I feel an odd combination of emotions: calm, peace, anticipation, excitement, sadness, and happiness. Now, how do a few musical tones evoke such a wide variety of feelings inside my brain? It is a most interesting mystery.

On the Internet Movie Database website (IMDB), Mancini is listed with music credits of 493 instances, for movies, TV shows, and cartoons. His credits are dated 1953 through 2006. A large number of these are for the famous Pink Panther theme. Is there hardly anyone in the world who doesn’t recognize the Pink Panther Theme? Some of the credits really surprise me: Abbott and Costello movies; music in the “Glenn Miller Story” and the “Benny Goodman Story” movies; Ma and Pa Kettle movies; a Francis the Talking Mule movie; and several science fiction and thriller movies. Of course, I knew he wrote the theme for the Peter Gunn TV series, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Hatari!,” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” I did not realize he wrote the music for “Operation Petticoat,” “Charade,” “The Great Race,” the Colombo TV series, The Thornbirds TV miniseries, the Hotel TV series, “Santa Claus: The Movie,” “Blind Date,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “Victor/Victoria,” and “Switch.”

One of the above-listed movies – “Hatari!” – is a favorite of mine, a John Wayne movie set in Africa. It included Mancini’s famous Baby Elephant Walk. I watch that movie a couple of times a year, at least, and I know that Mancini’s music is one of the key reasons I continue to enjoy it.

Some other movie music composers who always attract my attention: John Williams (the Star Wars movies; Harry Potter movies; Indiana Jones movies; Jurassic Park movies; Jaws movies; Superman movies; “E. T.;” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind;” “The Cowboys;” “Midway;” and a wide variety of TV show themes from 1952 through 2004); Danny Elfman (movies and TV from 1980 through 2006, including: “Beetle Juice;” “Ghostbusters;” the Tales from the Crypt TV series; “Batman;” The Simpsons TV cartoon series; “Mission: Impossible” movies; “Men in Black” movies; “Spiderman” movie; “Chicago” movie; “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” movie; and Desperate Housewives TV series); and John Barry (“Dances With Wolves;” “Out of Africa;” “High Road to China;” “Somewhere in Time;” and many James Bond movies). These are just a few examples of their fantastic contributions.

Even in the days before “talkies,” movies were usually accompanied by music played live in the theater, to heighten the excitement, add a romantic mood, or highlight the slapstick comedy. I cannot imagine truly enjoying a movie without accompanying music. For me, some of the best movies ever made were the musicals and musical-comedies, primarily in the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s, because of the fabulous music frequently written specifically for those movies.

This, of course, is a topic about which much has been written and much more will be written, by better writers than me. I just wanted to document some of my thoughts about the subject.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Tom Vasel said...

What are your thoughts on Horner and Silvestri (my two other favorites besides the ones you've listed)?

I also think that the Lord of the Rings soundtrack is quite evocative and fun.

It's nice to see a shoutout for Mancini!

06 March, 2006 03:16  
Blogger Gerald McD said...

Tom -- I was not familiar with either Horner or Silvstri, so had to look them up. Both have composed for some excellent movies. I would prefer Silvestri's work to Horner's, but I really can't consider either of them at the same level as Mancini, Williams, Elfman, and Barry. While I recognize many movies the two of them have worked with, and have very much enjoyed several of those movies, I would be hard pressed to recognize the theme from any of them. It probably has something to do with my age and the type of movies I prefer, plus the fact that I have watched repeatedly many movies that had themes written by the composers I mentioned. Repetition probably has a lot to do with recognition.

I have to agree that the music for the Lord of the Rings movies was excellent. It was an amazing piece of work.

09 March, 2006 16:46  

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