Today in the Frye Diaries, 16 September


1942: Frye’s other extra-curricular pre-occupation of the time: movie music. [Above, the kind of thing that Frye is presumably talking about — the closing sequence from Citizen Kane. Spoiler Alert! “Rosebud” is revealed.]

[117] Ideas for article on movie music. Orson Welles’ incessant woo-woo noises, a full series of drum rolls & trombones slithering from solemn burp to gloomy blop. Most incidental music is just ‘flourish,’ ‘sennet,’ ‘exeunt with a dead march’ stuff, a bag of tricks ‘sound effects,’ in short. Oscar Levant describes the sweep (Aug. 29) & feels that the producer always wants tutti, like the parvenu who wouldn’t have any second violins in his orchestra. He quotes a Russian film (Shostakovich) opening with a lone piccolo, followed by a flute. This indicates a lack of enterprise in experimenting with timbre. Hollywood can’t use woodwinds: they can’t shiver their timbers: only brass. The piano’s very effective percussive tone they leave out: they overdo harps & leave out tom-toms & gongs ever for horror films. Conventional orchestra background for everything: no regrouping. Motto from Ecclesiasticus. Nobody listens, so no leitmotif, an obvious point, one would think. Quotation, of course, and plagiarism. Uniformly heaving scoring: all harmonic tricks & general air of having found the lost chord, mostly the dominant discords. Why not long stretches of scenery & music for real drama, towards an operatic movie? Because nobody listens. This all the more essential as real music has dropped behind. There’s no amusing popular song: just bawling & nasal honks. Swing is stuck on a treadmill of rhythm, even Duke Ellington. Might recall ‘motion picture moods’ of Rapee as showing plagiarism bias. Often more effective. Farmyard Symphony vs. Fantasia, use of Beethoven’s Pastoral. Even good tricks, high pedal-point on Snow White, 19th c. What I mean by vocal music is that musical comedies can’t last. Songs are painful to photograph, singers even more so, & the camera is too relentless in its pursuit: musical comedy plots are pretty fragile…Need more Gershwins? Might explain about ‘syncopation’ of jazz. If chromatic harmony is played out the movie is the place for new experiments, not the concert hall. Of course there is a good deal going on, the train-boat sequence of The Reluctant Dragon. Oh, we’re getting there: that should be enough for a necessarily rather vague & ill-informed article. After all, I don’t know anything about montages or pan shots or fadeins or the rest of the patter.

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