Tag Archives: old movies

For the Love of Korngold

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When I was in Cow College at Iowa State University I spent most of my study time listening to KLYF Radio in Des Moines.  They would eventually transform into an easy-listening music station, but the time I truly lived a K-LYFe was when they played classical music.  And it was there that I first fell deeply in love with the Saturday Matinee stylings of  Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the first incarnation of John Williams of Star Wars fame.  Yes, movie music.  Classical movie music.  And it seemed, mostly movie music for Errol Flynn movies.

 

 

 

My sister was always a lover of Errol Flynn movies, and when KGLO TV Channel 3 would play one on the Saturday Movie Matinee in the early afternoon, we would have to watch it, the whole thing, no matter how many times we were repeating the same four movies.  Nancy would memorize the lines from the Olivia deHavilland love scenes.  I would memorize the sword fight scenes with Errol and Evil Basil Rathbone (Good Basil was Sherlock Holmes, and we had to watch those too.)  Early evenings on those Saturdays were all about playing pirate and Captain Blood adventures.  Or better yet, Robin Hood.

 

 

 

But the music of adventure was by the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  He did the sound tracks for Captain Blood, Robin Hood, and the Sea Hawk.

I sincerely love the corny old movie matinee music because it was not only genius-level mood music and story-telling in a classical music instrumental masterpiece, but because even now it takes me back to the boy I was at twelve years old, playing pirate on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm.   Making Robin Hood bows out of thin tree branches and arrows out of dried ragweed stalks.  Sword fighting to the death with sticks with my cousin Bob, who was always Basil Rathbone in my mind. while I’m sure I was Basil Rathbone in his mind.

To be honest, there is much more to Korngold than I have relentlessly gushed about here like a hopeless nerdling fan-boy in the throws of a geeky movie passion.  He was a musical child prodigy like Mozart.  He wrote a ballet called Der Schneemann (the Snow Man) when he was only eleven, and became the talk of the town in Vienna, Austria in 1908.  He became the conductor of the Hamburg Opera by 1921.  He wrote some very fine classical music in the 20’s that still rings through orchestra halls to this day before coming to America in the early 30’s with film director Max Reinhardt.  He scored his first film in 1935, adding music to Reinhardt’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  He was fortunate to escape Europe just as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, and also at the right time to team up with new movie star sensation, Errol Flynn.  He won his first Oscar for the musical score of the movie Anthony Adverse in 1936 and he won his second for The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938.  He died in 1957, a year after I was born.  But I promise, I didn’t kill him.  I was in college in the 1970’s when his music underwent a revival, complete with renewed popularity.

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His music was pure gold to listen to in the fields of corn in Iowa in the 1970’s.  It was just as good as that last pun was terrible.  So, in other words, really, really, spectacularly good.  It was the music that scored my childhood fantasy adventures.

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Filed under artists I admire, autobiography, classical music, heroes, humor, review of music, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Just In Case You Haven’t Seen It…

My sisters and I as kids loved old movie musicals with dancing in them probably as much as any genre.  This video making the rounds on Facebook is something I have seen posted and re-posted and have personally watched at least five times already.  I have shared it twice on Facebook, and it continually gets re-shared, especially by friends my age or older.  Why does something like this go viral?  Well, Bruno Mars is a popular young Michael Jackson clone with an amazing musicality that appeals to all ages.  And the video is beautifully edited so that all the dancers from old movie musicals are actually in sync and appear to be dancing to the beat.  But the game-breaker for me is the fact that the dancers are all the old stars that used to fascinate me with their dance moves on PBS back in the 1970’s when old movie musicals got played on Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday evenings.  I recognize Fred Astair, Gene Kelly, Buddy Ebsen, Donald O’Connor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Mickey Rooney, Groucho Marx, the Ritz Brothers, and many more from the movies I loved like Anchors Away, Singing in the Rain, New York New York, and so many others I can’t even begin to name them all.  This mash-up brings back a whole lost world for me and gives me joy.  It connects the past with the energy of the present.  It gives me something to long for, to sigh for, and to fondly recall.  I want to see all those movies again.  But it wouldn’t be the same without my sisters there.

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One has to wonder if all the time we spent on entertainment during our lifetime was a lost cause or not.  I have a rich tapestry of memories of other people’s lives, gained through movies, television, and books.  But has that enhanced my life?  Or has it taken away from my life’s work?  I know work puts food on the table and makes continued life possible.  But it also has to define the value of our lives.  I have never, though, lived a moment as a teacher when something I learned from movies or a book has actually interfered with delivering instruction.  And I can name innumerable times, looking back, when being able to recall entertainment experiences led to a unique teachable moment.  Those things can actually be the most important things we teach.  And what an entertainer in any medium manages to communicate to me validates their life’s work.

This flash mob concert makes me weep for joy every time I watch it.  It makes me realize what marvelous fulfillment there is in the act of committing a work of art.  How must poor demented and deaf Beethoven be soaring in spirit to have his work take so many people by surprise like this?  It gives me chills to think about that kind of immortality even though the composer is long since dead.  He is still giving astonishing gifts to little girls who put a coin in a hat.

You don’t even have to be Beethoven-levels of famous to create moments that will live forever in the memory of the universe.  I have watched this video of street performers across the world so many times I have it memorized and can sing along.  I have shared this video so many times that I expect others to tell me, “Just stop it already!”  But they never do.  We learn the value of art by being an audience… by being consumers of art.  And it gives me hope as well for my own artistic endeavors.  Making money is not the point.  Sharing my work with others… even long after my own personal time on earth is up… is the precious thing.  I am reminded of the culmination of the long and glorious career of Charlie Chaplin.  And the movie clip that gets circulated so often now after another tragedy like the one in Paris.  I dare you to listen to this speech and not be moved… to hear it out and not learn something important.

Thank you for letting me waste your time today.  I intended to commit no further evil in the world today, than to let you share a few of the things that everybody seems to be finding beautiful and worth the effort of sharing.

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Allegro Non Troppo

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Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain from Disney’s Fantasia

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The old faun

In musical terms, Allegro Non Troppo means fast tempo, but not too fast.  So, I recently discovered that Allegro Non Troppo is one of many rare and obscure old movies which I am passionate about that can be found in its entirety on YouTube.  I will include the YouTube link at the end of this post, and I sincerely recommend that if you have never seen this movie, you watch the whole thing at least once.  No matter how many cringes or winces or blushes it causes, this is a movie of many bizarre parts that you really need to take in as a whole.  It ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, the atrociously ugly to the lyrically beautiful, from the brilliant classical score being played by a mistreated band of old ladies with orchestral instruments to a gorilla running amok,   from Debussy to Ravel, from an artist released from his cage to single-handedly draw the animation, to a satire rich with baudy humor making fun of no less a work of animation than Prisney’s… I mean Disney’s Fantasia.  The dark elements are there.  The light-hearted, lilting comedy is there.  The fairy tale delicacy and technicolor dreaming is all there.

And why should this be important to me?  Especially now that I am retired from a long and fruitful teaching career?  Well, I have history with this movie.  I saw it first in college.  I was an English major, but I took every film as literature class I could fit into my silly schedule.  As an undergrad, I was determined to be a cartoonist for a career.  I took classes seriously and aced most of them, but I was at college to intellectually play around.  I didn’t take the prescribed courses to be an English teacher.  That had to wait for the more responsible me to come along in grad school for that.  I saw both Fantasia and Allegro Non Troppo during one of the play-time years.  Much as the old satyr in Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, I was enamored with sensory experience.  I took my first girlfriend to see Disney’s Fantasia, and she later turned down the opportunity to see Allegro Non Troppo with me.   Good sense on her part, but the beginning of the end of our relationship.155154089_640  Just as Fantasia has the part in it where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring describes evolution from the beginning of the Earth to the end of the dinosaurs, Allegro Non Troppo uses Ravel’s Bolero to describe the evolution of life on a weird planet from germs in a discarded Coke bottle to the inevitable coming of the malevolent monkey who is ultimately us.  And, of course, the satire would not be complete without some off-set for Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Allegro-Non-Troppo As near as I can figure it out, the apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse, becomes the snake from the Garden of Eden in Allegro Non Troppo.  When the snake is unable to get Adam and Eve to eat the apple, he makes the mistake of eating the apple himself.  He learns the hard way that, no matter how clever, even diabolically clever, you think you are, you are not really in control of anything in life.  Every would-be wizard in the world has to understand that he is powerless without hard experience.  And what a boring world full of naked people this would be if there were never any apprentices in it foolish enough to actually become wizards. 200_s  Of coufantasia_august2012_blogpromorse, I haven’t really talked about the most heart-twisting part of Allegro Non Troppo… the sad cat wandering the ruins of his former home, or the most laugh-aloud part with the super-tidy little lady-bee trying to eat a blossom, but being interrupted by a couple of picnickers.

allegronontroppo2 03  But the thing is, this movie is a timely subject for me.  Not only did I, just yesterday, rediscover it, but it still has the same meaning for me now as it did when I first saw it.  Then I was an aspiring young artist who loved this movie because it approached ideas non-consecutively, just as I approached my learning years… rambling here and there, finding first a bitter-sweet something, and then a sad beauty behind everything in life.  And it is where I am again now, in a poor-health enforced retirement… divorced from teacher’s schedules and time itself.  Able to do as I please, and aspiring once again to commit great acts of art.

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