Movies from the Trenches: SF Symphony’s “Vertigo”

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On February 12, 2016, the San Francisco Symphony screened Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) at Davies Symphony Hall with live orchestral accompaniment.  Live accompaniment is a popular trend in vintage movie presentation: in similar fashion, a national tour of The Wizard of Oz with live orchestra made the rounds in the summer of 2015, and the San Francisco Symphony plans to perform the ET soundtrack in March of 2016.  It seems to me that Vertigo is probably one of the most desirable films to see and hear in this way.  Its astonishing score by Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock’s frequent collaborator, is a symphonic landmark and Herrmann’s personal favorite of his many compositions.  Given the high quality of the music (let alone of the film itself, which was ranked number one on Sight and Sound’s 2015 poll of the greatest movies ever made), this seemed the perfect opportunity for me to explore the phenomenon of live soundtrack recreation.

Live accompaniment in the … Read the rest

42nd Street (1933)

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42nd Street (1933).  89 minutes.  Directed by Lloyd Bacon.  Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley.  Starring Ruby Keeler (as Peggy Sawyer), Warner Baxter (as Julian Marsh), Bebe Daniels (as Dorothy Brock), George Brent (as Pat Denning), Guy Kibbee (as Abner Dillon), Ginger Rogers (as Ann Lowell), and Dick Powell (as Billy Lawler).  Music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

42nd Street is the first of four movies whose musical sequences Busby Berkeley directed for Warner Bros. from 1933 to 1934.  Prior to 42nd Street, Berkeley had directed theatrical productions and short sequences for Eddie Cantor musicals, but 42nd Street was a different sort of vehicle, both for Berkeley and for Hollywood.  According to Leonard Maltin, by 1933 movie-going audiences, which had been inundated with musicals since the birth of sound film technology a few years earlier, had grown tired of song-and-dance productions.  As a musical that was also a backstage story, 42nd Street offered a fresh … Read the rest