Savant Column

Tuesday October 3, 2017


First up —
Dick Dinman has a new webcast up, an interview with William Wellman, Jr. about Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of William Wellman’s favorite of his silent films Beggars of Life, with Louise Brooks as a train-hopping hobo who dresses like a boy to escape the law and the lecherous Wallace Beery and his ‘rambunctious band of hobos.’

The CineSavant review of Beggars is here. On his ‘Dick’s Picks’ feature, Dinman takes on Flicker Alley’s still-hot Blu-ray restoration of The Lost World which also stars Wallace Beery, as the prehistoric monster-hunter Professor Challenger.

About a week ago (September 27) correspondent Gary Teetzel attended a ballet. . . which has relevance here because the ballet was an adaptation by Matthew Bourne of The Red Shoes, with music by Bernard Herrmann. The Center Theater Group publicity states that this ” American premiere is set to a new score arranged by Terry Davies using the mesmerizing music of golden-age Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann (most famous for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Martin Scorsese), whose work ranges from the witty and playfully robust to the achingly romantic and bittersweet.” Knowing how many Herrmann fans read Savant, I asked Gary for a report, which I belatedly print now:

“Last night I saw a performance of The Red Shoes ballet–based upon the movie — at the Ahmanson. I am unqualified to comment on it as a ballet but I can say that I was able to follow the story well enough. It did have have some very creative visual design with the sets, costumes and lighting. (Although I will say that The Devil in the ballet-within-the-ballet of The Red Shoes, with his slick hair, mustache and striped suit, tended to remind of Gomez Addams!)

My main interest was the use of the music of Bernard Herrmann. The music was derived chiefly from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Fahrenheit 451, Citizen Kane and Hangover Square. There were a couple pieces I did not recognize that did not sound Herrmannesque; I suspect they came from the classical repertoire. The music was pre-recorded for playback, not live. The orchestrations were sometimes altered slightly to make them easier to perform for a small orchestra, and also to make some of the pieces more ‘dance friendly,’ one might say.

One can imagine Herrmann fuming over this, but something else would have made him positively apoplectic: among the Citizen Kane pieces used was the End Title music, based around the “Oh Mr. Kane!” song — which Herrmann did not write. It was adapted from a Mexican pop song called “A Poco No” by Pepe Guizar, who also composed the standard “Guadalajara”. Conrad Salinger arranged the song, without credit, for the Kane end titles. One can picture the ghost of Herrmann flying into a rage and demanding his name be removed from the credits.

I took note of the way Herrmann’s music was used: Fahrenheit 451 became the Red Shoes ballet-within-the ballet. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was used for the love story. The Citizen Kane music was used primarily for scenes of the entire ballet company busily preparing, celebrating, etc. (Herrmann’s arrangements for the “Welles Raises Kane” suite were purposed for most of these selections); Hangover Square was associated with the fiery passions of the composer.

How did the music work? Surprisingly well — or perhaps it would be more fair to say far better than I had anticipated. Herrmann, after all, is not a composer one typically associates with dance music. Choreographer Michael Bourne makes it work, although devoted Herrmannphiles won’t be able to entirely separate the music from its prior associations. (“Oh, look, people are dancing to the Fahrenheit Fire Truck music to suggest a bustling city street.”) Still, worth seeing for fans of Herrmann’s music and/or the Powell/Pressburger film. — Gary”

Unfamiliar with the catchy song “A Poco No”? Gary forwarded YouTube links to a Spanish-language version by Aída Cuevas (1990), and a low-res clip from the 1938 Mexican film Noches de gloria with a version of the same song by Esperanza Iris that sounds even more like what’s heard in Citizen Kane. You know what they say — The things that you learn, if you live long enough.

And because I haven’t linked to the wonderful Greenbriar Picture Shows page as often as I should, here’s a link to a terrific John McElwee article from October 2, with more facts about the upcoming (October 10) Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of a reconstituted full-length The Sea Wolf. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson