Monday, June 16, 2014

A Lesson in Film Music from Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman, in one of those true stories that has become the stuff of legend and notoriety, composed music for the film Something Wild (1961) that was rejected by the director Jack Garfein and replaced by a new score commissioned from Aaron Copland. Feldman's score was said to have been rejected because of the use of a very gentle celesta in the (very disturbing) rape scene which is central to the film's plot.  Chris Villar's Morton Feldman pages (the most important source for Feldmaniana online) now has a video of the scene in question with the Copland score as used in the released and, for comparison, a mock-up, with the Feldman score in its place.  (See this page, and scroll down to Something Wild.) The result is a real lesson for anyone interested in the potential of background music to affect the entire experience.  Copland's music is rather innocuous, though oddly off-balanced as scoring given the registral limitations of the sound recording technique then available and it is —probably intentionally — most effective when it cuts out altogether, letting the silence with only intermittent environmental sounds on-screen take over.  The Feldman, on the other hand, continues throughout and has an overpowering psychological effect; personally, I found this version almost impossible to watch because of this unrelenting, if gentle, continuity.  It really holds the viewers focus on the victim, with whom the music is associated. (The mock-up eliminates the background noises and Foley work and, although it's not possible to know if they would have been included had Feldman's music been used, their absence makes the Feldman a much more vivid component of the drama, while doing nothing in the way of Mickey Mouse accompaniment of the imagery or motion.) Strongly recommended.

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