Mark Kermode celebrates his 50th birthday with the CBSO
Film critic and broadcaster – Mark Kermode – to celebrate his 50th birthday with the CBSO as they perform music from films that have inspired him.
One of the UK’s best known and most authorative film critics and broadcasters - Mark Kermode - is to celebrate his 50th birthday with a top UK orchestra as they perform music from the films that have inspired him in a number of concerts across the UK. From Taxi Driver and the Exorcist to Mary Poppins, here he talks about some of the music that has been a part of his life.
As a child, there were only two things I wanted to do: watch movies and play music. Somehow, as I turn fifty, I discover that I’ve managed to wind up doing both; watching between ten and fifteen movies a week as a film critic, and playing double-bass in the skiffle-and-blues band The Dodge Brothers who recently recorded an album at Sun Studio in Memphis (the birth place of rock ‘n’ roll, where the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee first cut their teeth). Occasionally, the two passions dovetail, such as when The Dodge Brothers provide live musical accompaniment for silent films like the Louise Brooks gem Beggars of Life; or when – as in the case of this summer’s series of concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – I get to programme an evening of music from films which have meant so much to me over the years.
Anyone who heard me having a bash at the theme from Midnight Cowboy on the chromatic harmonica will be delighted to know that I won’t be playing with the CBSO. Instead, I’ll be joining conductor and co-conspirator Robert Ziegler in a guided tour through my very own celluloid jukebox. Because, as every film fan knows, music is the real third dimension of movies, the magical element which draws you into the drama, immerses you in the action, changes the experience from watching a movie to living it. And all without the aid of those stupid glasses!
In the days before video, the music of the movies was the only thing that you could play in your own home. Today, everyone has grown used to the idea that we can own movies on DVD and Blu-ray, amassing an impressive library of films to watch and rewatch at will. But before that, soundtrack albums were as close as anyone got to the ‘home cinema’ experience. I remember spending every penny I had on the soundtrack LP for Silent Running, gazing at the poster on the front of the 12” record sleeve, remembering each scene to the sound of the accompanying music whilst perusing the black and white stills on the back cover. I got a friend to make me a cassette tape of the theme from Planet of the Apes which I’d play whilst reading Pierre Boulle’s source novel ‘Monkey Planet’. And drove my family mad trying to work out how to play the songs from Mary Poppins on the piano, just about mastering Feed the Birds while failing horribly with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
In each case, hearing the music again would cause the film to replay in my head – a sort of virtual film projector, a process of watching with your ears. Years later, I spent a month driving around America listening to a tape of Angelo Badalamenti’s spine tingling score for David Lynch’s much maligned Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The film had flopped in cinemas but the score became a cult favourite, helping those who had missed the movie on its initial release to find it again years later, giving it a new lease of life, bringing about a long overdue critical rebirth.
Much of the music I loved was written specifically for the movies, but film also introduced me to a wealth of existing music about which I knew nothing. I remember buying the soundtrack album for Rollerball because of the film’s repeated use of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor which I had never heard before, but which has since become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of classical music ever written. Many people of my age own a copy of the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack album which introduced them to the work of Richard Strauss (and of course Ligeti) after Kubrick nixed the score which Alex North had composed. Similarly, William Friedkin commissioned a Lalo Schifrin score for The Exorcist which he ultimately threw out (literally) in favour of pieces by Penderecki and Hans Werner Henze, although it’s the barely heard opening bars of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells which have passed into pop history as the iconic theme from the film.
I first met Robert Ziegler when I introduced an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s 1927 silent The Lodger for which he was conducting Joby Talbot’s score. We immediately fell into conversation about our shared passion for movies, and soon discovered that we were both ardent fans of Ken Russell. Having been involved in the reconstruction of Russell’s often misunderstood fiery masterpiece The Devils (which was cut by studios and censors alike when first released in the early seventies) I was hugely impressed by Peter Maxwell Davies’s extraordinary experimental score which lent so much to the film’s demonic impact. To this day I remain convinced that much of the hysteria which greeted the initial release of The Devils was audiences responding not to what they had seen, but what they had heard. Robert and I agreed on the brilliantly disturbing power of that score, and we’re very pleased to be able to include it in the CBSO concerts, which will also feature some of the selections I’ve mentioned above. There’ll be a chance, too, to hear some of Jonny Greenwood’s music from Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, the original soundtrack recordings for which Robert had the privilege to conduct.
The key question, of course, is whether film music needs to work on its own, away from the images which it was designed to accompany. For an answer to that question, look no further than the work of Bernard Herrmann, whose film music can be listened to under any circumstances; in a cinema; in a concert hall; in the car – wherever. Transcending the medium for which they were originally intended, Herrmann’s scores hold their own against any contemporary popular music, reminding us that many of the world’s greatest directors (from Hitchcock to Scorsese) relied upon their composers as much as their actors and cinematographers to bring their vision to life on screen.
The CBSO concerts aren’t meant to be canonical – they are not an attempt to round up the ‘greatest’ screen music by the most celebrated composers. Rather, they are an enthusiastic romp through some very personal choices, blending the well-known with the more esoteric, the acclaimed with the ‘cult.’ We’ve attempted to have fun with the selections – we’re sure the audience will have fun hearing them.
For full details go to www.kermodefilmmusic.co.uk