TSO – tiff Vertigo: so old, so new

I saw precisely one film at tiff this year, a movie conceived when I was a toddler. While you might know it as “Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo”, I would be more inclined to call it “Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo”, especially when given the chance (as I was today), to hear Herrmann’s score played live by The Toronto Symphony from the stage of Roy Thomson Hall in accompaniment to the 1958 film.

This old film might be the beginning of something new. The TSO will be offering more live performances of film-scores in accompaniment of beloved old films. Back to the Future with score by Alan Silvestri will be screened Oct 16 & 17, then Psycho –Hitch & Herrmann again—will be the TSO’s Halloween-night offering.

It’s a totally different perspective even if you’re not a film-music buff. Watching Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, you couldn’t help noticing the way the film music works, cued by something in the film. I wondered if they would manage to synchronize with the film. Oh yes! 

Sometimes it was so subtle as to be barely noticeable, other times the swelling score almost drowned out the dialogue. The music heard by the characters on the screen in the film (for instance, the Mozart record on Scotty’s pal Midge’s record player when she visits him in his psych ward) was left as before.  If you could only watch one film done this way, Vertigo would be the one, an amazing collaboration between Hitchcock and Herrmann.  There are big sequences that make no sense without a gifted composer. Without Herrrmann? A good film but not nearly the great masterpiece we saw today. 

Although Roy Thomson Hall wasn’t completely full, the audience raised the roof a couple of times. There was a loud welcome for Kim Novak who said hello before and did a brief Q & A after. But the biggest applause was at the end of the film, a huge powerful ovation. I have to think many of these people will be back for the October screenings. I know I will.

We were reminded by tiff CEO Piers Handling that the British Film Institute had installed Vertigo in place of Citizen Kane as the new best film of all time in their 2012 poll.  What he didn’t mention is the rather curious thing those two films have in common. Kane and Vertigo may not be similar, but they both have scores by Herrmann, a composer who has four of the BFI top 50.  Taxi Driver (his last film) tied for #31 and Psycho (not long after Vertigo) tied for #35. 

I hope the TSO gets a big response for their upcoming films and makes this a regular feature. The real classics of the past century are the film scores by Rozsa, Korngold, Steiner, Elfman, Herrmann, Williams, and Bernstein, to name just a few. I can’t help noticing that the last popular opera (Puccini’s Turandot premiered in 1926) appeared just before the advent of talkies (The Jazz Singer premiered in 1927). If we look simply at popularity, we can notice that for example

  • Herrmann wrote one unsuccessful opera (Wuthering Heights) and a huge body of work in cinema (not just the 4 films mentioned in the BFI top 50, but several more wonderful films)
  • Erich Korngold had success in both media, but is known both for his operas and his films
  • Philip Glass has had success in both media

It may take awhile for the word to get out on this amazing way to see film & hear music.  What I experienced today was something thrilling, a new perspective on a favourite film. Psycho is another favourite that I’m eager to see done with a live orchestral performance. I could name a dozen films the TSO could undertake, beginning with such extraordinary scores as Star Wars and Jaws by John Williams, Beetlejuice and Batman by Danny Elfman (who did a Halloween concert with Hollywood Symphony Orchestra back in 2013 celebrating his collaborations with Tim Burton)…

click for some of the answers

…or Magnificent Seven and The Ten Commandments by Elmer Bernstein.

I can’t wait to see what they program next.

This entry was posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Music and musicology, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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