2014 January 06 • Monday
The first Soundtrack of the Week for the new year will also be #300! Which score should receive this double honor?
It must be one of the greatest works by my favorite composer and, by coincidence, the soundtrack to the first film I watched in 2014: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by Bernard Herrmann.
There might not be a lot I can say about this score. You should really just listen to it and you should watch the movie to see how exquisitely Herrmann, who must have been really in tune with the movie, crafted it to the demands of the picture. ( He ended up using the most powerful themes in his opera of Wuthering Heights, which was probably the work he cared about the most.)
There are a few themes that are deployed and altered as needed. While Herrmann had a whole orchestra at his disposal you don't hear the whole orchestra very much, only in those few spots where that much power is needed. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a crash course in using different combinations of instruments to create different sound "colors".
The prelude, a sweeping, unbearably romantic piece of music, is the main theme. Then there are cues to suggest the bustle of London, the life of the sailor and the loneliness of the widow.
These appear and reappear. You might say that they haunt the movie.
I don't think anybody has ever connected Philip K. Dick to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but a very Dickian plot development kicks off the third act. One of the characters is brainwashed into believing that her experiences of the last year were a dream, that they never actually happened. So she believes, until the day this artificial reality is jolted when her "dreams" are remembered by her daughter.
This shocking moment, which causes this character to question her reality, is powerfully enhanced by Herrmann, who creates a unique cue just for this scene, the devastating "Andante Cantabile". It sounds like nothing else in the score. The scene could not be as effective without it.
Most films with Herrmann scores are difficult to imagine as scored by another composer. In the case of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, it's impossible.