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TV REVIEW : ‘Hollywood Sound’ Tracks Effectiveness of Movie Music

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Music of the Movies: The Hollywood Sound,” a film by Joshua Waletzky on PBS tonight, may well become the classic introduction to the field. It raises all the right questions and, despite some special pleading and rewriting of music history, makes a strong case for the sophistication and effectiveness of movie music, at least during the 20-year “Golden Age,” lasting up to about 1945.

There are plenty of terrific film clips--yes, “Gone With the Wind,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Casablanca” but also “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Song of Bernadette,” among others--with their haunting scores by, respectively, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Steiner again, and the last two by Alfred Newman.

Central to the narration is David Raksin, who is on hand to explain and supervise the restoration of his score for the 1944 movie “Laura.” Playing movie music today, it turns out, requires diligent retrieval of it from the archives. The technical process of editing and matching performance of the music to the screen image is itself a fascinating story.

But there are also telling anecdotes and analyses by others such as studio cellist Eleanor Aller Slatkin and scholars David Neumeyer and Fred Steiner, plus historical footage of interest.

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Conductor John Mauceri serves as the enlightened advocate, overseeing rehearsals, taking instruction from Raksin, talking to the viewer.

He says that only in Hollywood can you get an orchestra to play the properly schmaltzy film way today, but ironically the orchestra he’s leading here is the BBC Orchestra of Wales, not his Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

*

“There is a visual image or a story of some kind implied by all Western music,” Mauceri says. “The difference here is that . . . [the music] is specifically wedded to a visual image that is fixed.”

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And there’s the rub (apart from that dubious proposition about all Western music). The program demonstrates conclusively that this music--rich in sentiment and evocation--tugs at the heart irresistibly, but almost only when seen with the specific image.

When the camera cuts away to the musicians, the musical interest level falls. Mauceri, of course, would disagree.

And he makes about the best case here for his side that one can imagine.

* “Music of the Movies: The Hollywood Sound” airs tonight at 9:30 on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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