21st Toronto Jewish Film Festival | May 1-11, 2014

Sidebar Series


ELLIE SKROW

CURATOR, SPECIAL PROGRAMMES

THE SOUND OF MOVIES: MASTERS OF THE FILM SCORE


“The motion picture score is a musical form equal to the opera or the symphony.”
—Erich Wolfgang Korngold

“A teapot is made for a purpose, but it can also be a work of art.”
—Max Steiner

“I have often felt that if you could perform a magical act of alchemy and combine some of the great Russian- Soviet composers, say Shostakovich or Prokoviev, with Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn, you might produce a wonder such as Alex North.”
—John Williams

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival celebrates the lives and work of Jewish composers who create the music for the movies, through the artistry of the film score. The 12-part series includes rarely-seen documentaries, feature films, and special guests.

The Sound of Movies marks another chapter in a fascinating story, as the Festival continues its exploration of the predominant and extraordinary role that Jewish composers have played in the popular culture.

Rhythm & Jews (TJFF 2006) focused on the connections between Jewish and Black music, and how this phenomenon resulted in “the American songbook”—from the vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley and Brill Building eras, through to Broadway and the heyday of jazz and blues. Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance (TJFF 2009) looked at the American Musical, through such luminaries as Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Rogers & Hart, Harold Arlen and so many more. The Three Lennys (TJFF 2011) showcased the musical genius of Leonard Bernstein and Leonard Cohen.

In the same way that Jewish songwriters and lyricists excelled in their respective genres, most of the “greats” in the world of the film score have been Jewish. Many of them are classically trained or jazz-oriented, and creators of orchestral works and popular songs, as well as movie scores. The first wave—the group who actually invented film music—were exiles from Nazi Germany, Europe and Russia, and they had a profound influence on those who followed.

Erich Korngold persuaded you that Errol Flynn was really Robin Hood. Max Steiner told you what it was like for a southern aristocrat to lose a war and a way of life, Miklos Rozsa let you know how Ray Milland felt on a lost weekend, and Bernard Herrmann terrified you as some weirdo butchered Janet Leigh in the shower … If your heart went out to Gary Cooper as he waited for those gunmen at high noon, you might give a thought to Dimitri Tiomkin … and Joan Fontaine was absolutely right when she felt Manderley was haunted, but it wasn’t the spirit of Rebecca—it was Franz Waxman’s music.”
—Tony Thomas, “Music for the Movies”

The musical soundtrack is an aspect of movie-making that is neglected in film discussions, and is often mistakenly regarded as an inferior art form. Yet the role of the film score— in creating mood and atmosphere, and serving as a key character—is profound. Movie music has the unique ability to reach an audience—at a very deep, unconscious level— through the powerful convergence of image and sound.

The lengthy list of exceptional Jewish movie composers (in addition to the roster above), includes: Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire), Elmer Bernstein (The Great Escape), Jerry Goldsmith (Chinatown), David Shire (The Conversation), Aaron Copland (The Heiress), as well as: Lalo Schifrin, Michael Nyman, David Raksin, Leonard Rosenman, Danny Elfman, Toronto-born Howard Shore, Laurence Rosenthal, Philip Glass, and the entire Newman dynasty (including Alfred, Lionel, David, Thomas and cousin Randy Newman).

Why so many Jews? Danny Elfman, composer of the music for most of Tim Burton’s movies, as well as the theme music for “The Simpsons”, told the Jewish Journal: “Anybody who spends time around orchestras will tell you Jews tend to have the musical gene. You see how hard it is to do an orchestra call on Passover … That’s not cultural. It’s genetic. It’s in your blood. It’s a part of our Jewish roots.”

The creativity involved—the mysterious process of writing music for motion pictures—is one of the themes of the series, which also poses the “bigger picture” questions: Where did movie music come from, where is it now, and where is it heading? How memorable should a film score be, and what makes it great?

There are several highlights of the series that need to be singled out. The Festival is honoured to welcome Grammy and Academy Award®-winning composer David Shire as a special guest. Mr. Shire (whose film credits include Saturday Night Fever, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Norma Rae, All the President’s Men, Farewell, My Lovely, and Zodiac) will introduce the screening of The Conversation (featuring his masterful score), as well as Evening Primrose (a teleplay he worked on with Stephen Sondheim), and will talk about his remarkable body of work in film, television, theatre and popular music, with film critic and author Kevin Courrier.

Alex North was the first composer to break from the European tradition—startling the world with his groundbreaking jazz score for A Streetcar Named Desire. Referred to by John Williams as “the father of modern film music … an inspiration, a role model, and a hero”, North’s masterworks (he was nominated for an Oscar® 15 times, and received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award® in 1986) include: Spartacus, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Death of a Salesman, The Misfits, Prizzi’s Honor, and the original, discarded score for 2001: A Space Odyssey). He also wrote for ballet, theatre and symphony orchestra. His song, “Unchained Melody”, was recorded over 500 times, most famously by The Righteous Brothers. North’s last score was for the film The Last Butterfly. This award-winning feature, which has been unavailable for many years, will have a rare screening at the TJFF. We are thrilled to welcome Steven North, Alex North’s son and Emmy Award-winning producer of The Last Butterfly, to talk about his film and his father’s life and illustrious career, with film music journalist Mark Hasan.

The Festival is also delighted to welcome celebrated Canadian film composer Mychael Danna (Moneyball, The Sweet Hereafter, Capote). Mr. Danna (who is currently working on the score for The Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee), will introduce a movie of his choice with a soundtrack by a Jewish composer: the original Planet of the Apes (1968, a rare, 35mm archival print). Mr. Danna will talk about the amazing score by Jerry Goldsmith, and answer audience questions about film music from a composer’s perspective.

There are additional surprises in the series, including a rare indie film with a score by Aaron Copland (Something Wild, 1961). Many of the documentaries include a wealth of entertaining film clips. There are too many interesting facts about the series’ guests and individual composers to relay in
this introduction—check out the bios and links on our website for additional background material: www.tjff.com

We hope that The Sound of Movies gives audiences a unique chance to experience movies in a whole different way; to come away with a new appreciation of the artistry involved in writing a truly great film score (as well as the crucial role it plays); and to have an opportunity to discover some of its outstanding Jewish creators.

THE SOUND OF MOVIES: MASTERS OF THE FILM SCORE

American Musical Theater: Elmer Bernstein
The Conversation
(score by David Shire)
Evening Primrose
(score by Stephen Sondheim, David Shire)
Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith
The Last Butterfly and The Gingerbread Revolution
(score by Alex North)
Michael Nyman in Progress
Movie Music Man: A Portrait of Lalo Schifrin
Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann
Music for the Movies: The Hollywood Sound
Notes & Frames: The Neglected Art of Film Music
(Kevin Courrier talk)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
(Composer’s Choice: Mychael Danna)
Something Wild (1961)
(score by Aaron Copland)

Plus excerpts from TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies
archives—interviews with Miklos Rozsa, David and
Thomas Newman,
and Laurence Rosenthal. Also: a short
film on Howard Shore, and excerpts of an interview with
Danny Elfmanand Tim Burton.

View the films

Sidebar Series  Guest Biographies   Composer Biographies   Alex North Tribute  

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