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"Doug's Corner"

10/4/14

The woes of being a film score... the joys of being a clarinet.

In the extras section of The Amazing Spider-man 2 Blu-ray, one will find a featurette on the music. Director Marc Webb talks about the importance of film music and gives generous attention to how it was used in his movie. Standing out amidst his commentary was the description of one particular sequence in the score utilizing a clarinet. He then made an observation that caused me to cringe. He mentioned just how rare it is today that you hear a clarinet in a film score. It was the kind of comment that would surely have made Bernard Herrmann roll over in his grave, true that it may have been. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the presentation focuses almost singularly on the rock/pop aspects of the music and not the full orchestra so only a couple of brief shots of the full group are shown. There's little focus on Hans Zimmer as well, industry leader that he is, amplifying the lack of importance original film scoring seems to be experiencing. In the closing frames of the featurette, observant viewers may spot principal violinist Belinda Broughton, serving as an ironic reminder that our dear friend Bruce Broughton represents that world where a clarinet in a film score is anything but rare. Alas.

Related. Just saw this letter to the editor in today's early Sunday edition of The Chronicle. A concertgoer is complaining about a recent San Francisco Symphony concert ad linking the popularity of Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and further whines that the dumbing down of classical music and the "narrow appeal" it has to moviegoers is all going to waste. He even concludes most moviegoers don't even go to symphony concerts. Say what??? I discovered the Strauss piece - just like most of us - while watching the Kubrick classic, and I don't think of myself as musically illiterate nor do I take insult with the SF Symphony paying gesture to the movie. As many informed people know, the 1968 movie classic put Strauss on the Billboard charts that year. So take that, Mr. letter writer.

It's just sad to think about how ignorant music lovers like this are. It reminded me of a verbal confrontation I once had in college with an instructor raving in a large lecture class about the brilliant Vaughn Williams "Sinfonia Antartica" while in the same phrase dismissing film music as nothing but "John Wayne bouncing across the plains junk". All his words. I sort of quietly spoke out loud in front of everyone about how this very 1952 symphony the instructor so revered was in fact based on a film score written by Vaughan Williams for a movie made in 1947. The lecture hall suddenly became dead silent. Soon some words between little me and big him were exchanged. The discussion never even got to the movie Scott Of The Antartic because I was immediately kicked out of the class. By the way, I checked the name of the Chronicle letter writer and, nope, it wasn't that same instructor. Sounded like him, though.

Too bad this snobbism still exists today. It shouldn't. If I could get these folks together at a table I would point out to them that the clarinet happily features in all of the above, including the music of Bernard Herrmann, Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra", Broughton's film scores, Zimmer's music for Amazing Spider-man 2, the Vaughan Williams symphony and the film score for Scott Of The Antartic. When it comes to film music and classical music, the instrument peacefully co-exists between both without prejudice. Sure hope one day concertgoers will, too.



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