Jan 22, 2010

MARNIE music composed by Bernard Herrmann

The working relationship between iconic director, Alfred Hitchcock and composer, Bernard Herrmann was a match made in heaven. Together they worked on a number of classic films (nine to be exact), beginning with Shirley MacLaine's 1955 film debut, The Trouble With Harry and then followed with a variety of humorously macabre thriller projects, including Psycho, Vertigo and North By Northwest. Herrmann wasn't only involved with Hitchcock's films, but composed magnificent scores for other cinematic classics, such as Taxi Driver, Twisted Nerve, Fahrenheit 451, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Journey To The Center Of The Earth and some little film called Citizen Kane.
With such an impressive resume, you would assume Herrmann's shelf would have been littered with statues of that little gold man, Oscar. Sadly, he received only one Oscar and that was for German director, William Dieterle's slightly strange drama, The Devil and Daniel Webster in 1941. However that didn't stop the AFI from ranking both Psycho and Vertigo as #4 & #12 on the Top 25 Film scores in American cinema.
Herrmann had a very strict rule, when working on a film: it's his own way or he's out (something Danny Elfman learned from him). This interesting philosophy is a rarity in the film business, which is never usually accepted and it inevitably destroyed his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock. While working on Torn Curtain, Hitchcock insisted Herrmann compose a jazzy pop score...Herrmann disagreed and wanted a traditional score. Neither could come to a compromise and Herrmann walked out, never to work with Hitchcock again.
Before parting ways on Torn Curtain, Herrmann composed the score for Hitchcock's sexually driven psychological thriller, Marnie in 1964.
Marnie, starring 'Tippi' Hedren and Sean Connery, was a critical and box office failure. It was lambasted for being too outdated, unconvincing, riddled with flat storytelling and Hedren turning in a poor performance (partially due to some behind the camera drama going on between her and Hitchcock). The Fat Man took this to heart and was probably one of the main reasons why he was so concerned with having Torn Curtain being more of a modern Hollywood film.
If anything, it was Herrmann's score that helped push the story of Marnie forward and elevated the character of Marnie into someone sympathetic and interesting. Herrmann's knack for pushing not so obvious character traits to the forefront, pratically lifted Marnie's head out of the water in a way.
While, the music itself is one of Herrmann's weaker scores, it still manages to create a fairly bold identity for itself in the context of the film.
The "Main Title" wastes no time letting the viewer know dramatic tension is upon them. With a blaring French horn section that unsettles within the first few notes heard, it quickly sweeps into a lush string section accompanied by a harp, foreshadowing the twisted romantic side of the story. After that, Herrmann lets the violins hop up and down the frets in a frantic manner, mirroring that of something that would have been comfortable (or uncomfortable) in Norman Bates' head.
Herrmann is at some of his best Golden Age composing, with the "Hotel Room" cue. It serves as Marnie's character theme with a sweeping string section and some wonderful subtle woodwind solos, it is perhaps the only thing in the film that immediately makes the viewer like Marnie as a person, while we watch her steal and sneak her way out of town.
"The Hunt" cue is perhaps the highlight of the entire score, as it positively bounces up and down with the French horns happily bugling throughout the first six bars or so. All is not well though, as the mood slows down quite quickly, the strings slowly beginning to growl, then accompanied by the sudden bursts of horns blaring like internal screams. The cue turns back to the upbeat hunting march again, only this time it's noticeably more frantic, matching the images on screen of Marnie riding away on her horse in a panic. It finishes in a tragic tone, mourning for Forio the horse (which is quite frankly the most disturbing scene in the film for me).
"Obsessions" is another one of my favorite cues on the album. It begins with a muted string section, playing the once lush, sweeping main theme, now more sinister and intimate, almost as if it's burrowing it's way into your head just to simply confuse your emotions and thoughts.
The "Finale" is a wonderful way to wrap things up, playing like a requiem to a life that never really existed and is now replaced with something completely different and uncomfortable. It manages to squirm and mourn at the same time, leaving a delightfully bitter taste in the mouth. Herrmann knew exactly what the story needed, as Hedren's performance at this moment was so horribly wooden, the only thing that could save the final scene was his music...and he succeeded.
Normally a complete score release would be ideal, but in most cases with Bernard Herrmann's music it is quite the opposite, unless of course you're the archiving type. Herrmann doesn't ever really let his themes develop or change up in any sort of instrumental variation for the separate performances of the same theme, as he writes the themes for usually only the main protagonist and what their actions are, not necessarily for their emotions which tend to develop quite a bit. So with this, his scores become quite repetitive and I find you would be better off with a shorter album presentation or an extended suite, for a more emjoyable listening experience.
While the "collector" would be more inclined to purchase the Varese Sarabande Joel McNeely re-recording of the complete score, I would highly recommend the Tsunami release instead as it was overseen and conducted by Herrmann himself. The downside to the going with the original Herrmann recording is the sound quality, which is quite obviously dated. However, it can be argued that the McNeely conducted edition's sound quality is a little muddled up, due to the overuse of reverb played into the mix.
I can't speak for anybody but myself, when it comes to album preference, so it is worth looking into which one better suits you.
In the end, I found Bernard Herrmann's Marnie to be a mediocre listen on album and a superior storyteller on film.

Music on Album - ***

Music as Heard In Film - ****1/2


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
budarc said...

Ha ha! What was the comment?