Friday, February 4, 2011

Film Music with a French Flavour

Maurice JARRE: an appreciation

Editor’s Note: Film composer Maurice Jarre, three-time Academy Award winner, died March 28, 2009, aged 84. His 50-year career began with the French New Wave cinema of the Fifties and Sixties and ended in Hollywood in 2000.

The fascination started with Lawrence of Arabia. Not the 1962 movie by David Lean, but the music, by a young Frenchman, Maurice Jarre. I borrowed the soundtrack LP from a friend, a film buff. The music captivated me, even if I didn’t see the film until much later. Using for a conventional, large symphony orchestra that often reached unabashedly into the usual grand flourishes, this music nevertheless had a modernity and an intimacy then unheard of in a big Hollywood score.
Like most teenagers at the time (1965), my ears, when not blasted by rock ’n roll, had, in the movie house or watching reruns on television, bathed in the stream of typical mid 20th century American film music, the romanticism of Max Steiner, Franz Waxman and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. These masters, all Jewish émigrés from Vienna, had built Hollywood music from the ground up on foundations of Chopin, Liszt, Wagner and Richard Strauss. They combined a largish symphony orchestra, conventional orchestrations, and late 19th century harmony, to convey the sweetness and melodrama that typically defined a golden age of film music.
But this was the sixties, and Hollywood music had just broken out of this mould. Elmer Bernstein with his jazz, Jerry Goldsmith and electronics, Lalo Schifrin with an exotic Latin beat, and even jazz bands and rock groups were leading the way into novelty and informality. Maurice Jarre joined this scene, and brought an individuality that blended modernist instrumentation with the intimacy of French popular chanson. But he had come to Hollywood almost by accident.
For Lawrence of Arabia, (1962) director David Lean had failed to book either Matthew Arnold or William Walton, both landmarks in 20th century serious music. His producer, Sam Spiegel, however, had heard Jarre’s score for Sundays and Cybele, and recommended the 32-year-old composer on the strength of ten minutes of music he wrote for four instruments, worlds away from the sweeping grandeur needed for his own film.
Jarre and his assistant, Schurman, had six weeks to write, orchestrate and record, two hours of music for a 100-piece orchestra. Writing at deadline speed, he achieved a sound as shimmering and expansive as the crested dunes, and as spare and intimate as a campfire in a cool desert night. Lawrence received several Academy Awards, of which one was for Jarre’s music.
Maurice Jarre’s next Oscar-winning score was for Doctor Zhivago, (1966) also directed by David Lean. For this film, based on Boris Pasternak’s novel, Jarre employed one of the largest musical forces assembled in a studio – a men’s chorus, 24 balalaikas, and a host of folk, oriental and electronic instruments that included accordions, shamisen, and novachord – beyond the occasional mandatory grand orchestral sweep borrowing heavily from Glinka opera tunes, the score has lightness of texture and intimacy inspired more by chamber music and popular song.
The centerpiece of the music is “Lara’s Theme”, a tune that evolved into a hit popular song. Repeated, but not developed, and perhaps played a bit too much throughout the film, the theme highlights the prime romantic interest of the film. There is also a lot of “found music” in the soundtrack: a revolutionary song, and parlor waltzes for piano trio. The rest of the score, which is softly mixed into the film sound, is unorthdox in style and instrumentation, modern-sounding but not disturbing.
Immediately after Doctor Zhivago, Jarre set to work on the score for The Collector, directed by William Wyler, a tale of a butterfly enthusiast loner who, on winning a soccer pool, kidnaps a young woman to share his winnings and love. Here, Jarre pares down his forces to ten instruments, to produce a score influenced by jazz and baroque music, among other things, and constructs a musical narrative that is Japanese in flavour.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Obama: He's Got What It Takes to Take What You've Got

Hello European Union, goodbye United States.

Goodbye market capitalism, prosperity and freedom, hello socialism.

So, the Obamessiah and his brains trust of People Who Are Smarter Than You Are, are out to flood the market with "stimulus" money, interfere with the running of business -- look what they've done to GM, firing its CEO and leading it into a "bankruptcy" that will not cut out the rot.

These are a bunch of people who are out to increase government share of GDP from 35% under the spendthrift Bush administration to a European 50%. In fast, Obama is using the current crisis as an opportunity to create a level of government intervention never seen before, with interventions in health care, energy and the environment.

Here's my crystal ball, for what it's worth:

Inflation: The U.S. money supply is expanding furiously, what with the stimulus effort. The government seeks to borrow heavily at low interest rates to finance both stimulus and its socialist agenda. But these won't remain low for long: once the economy picks up, inflation is going to roar with levels equal to the 1970's. There will be a collapse of the dollar, with China the big loser, and an effort to remove the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency. Gold will skyrocket.

Energy and Environment: Here comes gas lineups, rationing and $200 oil. Obama will make matters worse with a "cap and trade" CO2 scam, by banning Canadian "dirty" oil from its largest, most secure trading partner, and by attempting to create so-called "green" jobs.

Friday, January 9, 2009

R.I.P. Father Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2008)

Father Richard John Neuhaus, American journalist and author, a Roman Catholic priest, died yesterday, January 8, 2009, suffering from cancer. Fr. Neuhaus contributed actively to American public life: He was a close, unofficial, but influential advisor to President George W. Bush, and promoted conservative and traditional Christian positions against abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and human cloning. He supported a “Defense of [monogamous, heterosexual] Marriage Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.

Fr. Neuhaus was born in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, a lumber town in the Ottawa Valley 80 miles northwest of Ottawa, and into a family of eight children whose father was an ordained Lutheran minister. In 1960, he also became a Lutheran minister and, having settled in New York and become a U.S. Citizen, became involved in liberal politics. He was active in the civil right movement and had close ties with the Reverend Martin Luther King.

He later abandoned liberal politics, disagreeing with Roe v. Wade.

Fr. Neuhaus converted to Catholicism in 1990, and a year later was ordained a priest within the Archdiocese of New York.

In 1990, he founded FIRST THINGS, “a journal of religion and public policy” which is published ten times a year. The magazine has taken conservative positions on family life and morality, held a strict-constructionist line on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, endorsed free-market capitalism, and encouraged religious dialogue between Catholic, Protestants and Jews.

His books include The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984), The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987), and Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (2006).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brawling it Out at the Red Dog Saloon--oops!, the Canadian Parliament

With catcalls and shouting providing a deafening backdrop, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Conservative) battled it out against opposition Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion for the second day running, in a House of Commons brouhaha that could end Harper's second Conservative minorty government.

The occasion: a putsch by leaders of the three opposition parties aiming at voting down Harper's Conservatives and and see the accession of a Liberal, Socialist and Secessionist coalition.

Here's how the story unfolded:

Last week, Harper introduced into his budget plans to cut off state funding to Canada's political parties. The subsidy is the lifeblood for the Liberal, New Democratic and Bloc Québecois parties, and its cut would starve them. All three parties would gang up to outnumber the Conservative votes and vote out the government in a "no-confidence" motion.

The three opposition parties then concocted an agreement between them to form a coalition and ask the nation's Head of State, the Governor General for permission to form the next government.

Alarmed, Harper withdrew the party subsidy cut, but this only encouraged the revolt.
Harper's team is producing advertising to the effect that Canada would be hostage to an unelected government, and one including a party of those wishing to break up Canada and exit Québec.

There are three possible outcomes from the crisis:

One, Harper could allow the no-confidence vote and the opposition coalition, headed by Dion and containing six Socialist cabinet members, could form the next government.

Two, Harper could prorogue (suspend) Parliament and govern without a vote, allowing all heads to cool down.

Third, the Governor General could simply refuse Harper's resignation, keep the Conservatives in power and force the opposition parties to work with the government to create a moderate way out of the crisis.

We'll wait and see. Governor General Michaelle Jean, a pretty ex-broadcaster with a well-spoken voice and manner, is currently in Europe on a tour. She's rushing back to Canada to sort this thing out. Whether she'll be in over her head on this issue remains to be seen .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not a Garden in a City, but a City in a Garden

In the centre of the island of Montreal there's a most congenial residential area, a "garden city" of fine homes, leafy streets and well-maintained parks, an oasis surrounded by an ocean of the typical three-storey apartment blocks that uniquely identify the City of Montreal. The Town of Mount Royal (TMR), or "The Town", occupies no more than two-and-a-half square miles and holds just over eighteen thousand residents,yet it has its place in the Quebec political landscape, particularly during the early years of the province's separatist government.

Created in 1912, TMR began as the gleam in a railroad land developer's eye.
Two years previously, The Canadian Northern Railway discreetly purchased some 4,800 acres of farmland north of Montreal's Mount Royal with the intention of building a "model city". Its streets were to be patterned after those of Washington D.C.-- essentially two main boulevards crossing through a central park--the brain-child, if not of the Capital's L'Enfant, then that of the Canadian Northern's chief engineer Henry K. Wicksteed.

Although no more than a hamlet surrounded by vegetable gardens, the community grew once the Canadian Northern finished its three-mile-long tunnel linking it with downtown Montreal. In its infancy, The Town was noted more for its melons--the celebrated "Montreal Melon" exported to New York, Chicago, and New England--than for its executive and professional residents.

It was in the 1950s that The Town reached its heyday, filling up with cottages, split-levels and semi-detached houses, its streets bustling with children, playing baseball in the summer and street-hockey and snowball fights in the winter. The men from this largely Anglophone and Protestant place took the train under the mountain to jobs in manufacturing, banking or insurance firm downtown, the women stayed at home and the newly-erected schools housed the children. The place had the air of a small town, with life revolving around school, church and recreational centre. French-speaking Montreal seemed a universe away.

"Is the fence there to keep the English in or the French

By the mid-Seventies, The Town's demographic had evolved into 40% Anglophone, 40% Francophone and 12% Jewish. However, it was perceived by the more unreflective elements in the media to be an Anglo bastion. At the time of the accession of the separatist Parti Quebecois provincial government, attention was paid to the fence and shrubbery on the Town's eastern border with working-class park extension, whose presence, it was averred, was to isolate (English) TMR from (French) Park Extension.

I remember being cross-examined on the matter by a young sepratist three weeks into my first job as a reporter for Bell Canada.

Tennis Court in Center of Town

Lawn Bowling Club, Center of Town

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama - The Day After

It was great sex.

At the bar, he talked up a fine deal, promising me he'd banish bad memories of my ex of eight years (what a drip he was, involving me with a fight with an Arab, then draining my wallet in a stock scam. The moment I saw him, I knew there would be great fireworks.

He's gone now. I have a headache that throbs like a jackhammer - God, I can't believe I drank half a bottle of Jack Daniels. And I think I'm pregnant.

Well, Obama's done it. Evading campaign minefields, beating Hilary Clinton, and getting a clear majority for his successful run at the presidency.

Now, the party's over and we'll see what he really brings.

Monday, October 6, 2008

This House is Looking at You

A house with a human face. You can see it eyes looking at you, a mustache and an upper lip. It's even wearing a hat.

Found on Spadina Avenue south of Bloor facing west.