Film music for newcomers

The first of four film music documentaries released by Kultur is profiled in my latest online Music from the Movies (MFTM) column. Titled The Hollywood Sound, it’s actually the last doc in the Music for the Movies series (nope, no relation to our illustrious website), and forms an excellent intro to pioneering composers such as Alfred Newman (The Song of Bernadette), David Raksin (Laura), and Max Steiner (Gone with the Wind), who helped establish the sound and technical skills required to compose, record, and mix music to create a functional and supportive music score.

Coming shortly to MFTM will be the remaining docs in the series – individual profiles of Bernard Herrmann, Toru Takemitsu, and Georges Delerue.

Also added today at KQEK.com is a review of Andrzej Korzynski’s score for Szamanka / The Shaman (1995), one of the more recent films by cinema’s persistent enfant terrible, Andrzej Zulawski, best known for his bizarro horror film Possession (1981). Korzynski’s seriously retro soundtrack is available from Poland’s online label Soundtracks.PL in both MP3 and APE formats.


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A lack of ambiance

We’ll have the next set of reviews up shortly, but in the midst of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), some film fans may have noticed a certain lack of ‘free’ coverage on TV – specifically, the extensive round-the-clock airings of press conferences & industry lectures and Q&As that for years were broadcast by Rogers on Toronto’s community Channel 10.

During TIFF’s prior runs, anyone could check out the bulk of panel interviews for big and small films, plus some intriguing industry sessions that had producers talking about foreign sales, emerging technologies, documentary filmmaking, or financing – admittedly a bit dry, but sometimes pretty revealing about some of the less sexy but vital aspects to getting a film made, distributed, and seen.

Even better were some ‘master classes’ or ‘maverick’ sets which had major directors or producers or composers engage in singular or group discussions with a moderator, plus some audience Q&As – better sessions included hour-long sets with directors Ivan Reitman, Brian De Palma, and Paul Schrader, and composer Mychael Danna. Not every press conference was interesting, not every film deserved a Q&A with its tired and jet-lagged stars, and not every industry session managed to excite the average film fan, but the wealth of topical, ephemeral information was part of the ambiance that made a week of movie overload fun.

Even those less inclined to attend a mere handful of films, or none at all, could vicariously participate by tuning into Channel 10, which repeated a fair number of conferences in case the first or second airings were missed (though usually some of the very first press conferences tended to disappear from Channel 10's rotation within the first 3 days of the festival - a common problem you had to be prepared for).

Rogers also included two original 30 min. programs that aired back-to-back: Rushes, basically a fluffy recap of the stars, who said what, and who went where; and Reel to Reel, which had regular Rogers critics Richard Crouse and Christopher Heard co-host a recap of the day’s screenings, with their own brief critiques of select films, and original interviews with actors and directors that were later edited into later episodes of Reel to Reel when the premiering films went into general theatrical release, or popped up on DVD. (On one rare occasion, their lengthy interview with directors Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky was archived among the extras on the 2-disc DVD set of Horns and Halos.)

Basically, for a whole week, anyone could see what all the fuss was about, and check out favourite stars or filmmakers engaged in 25-50 min. discussions in an environment TIFF organizes usually kept candid, maybe semi-formal, but fun - with smart and sometimes totally dopey questions posed by addle-brained media (or media poseurs).

Those too po' to buy the increasingly pricey TIFF tickets (now cresting above $20) could still mingle when friends and colleagues had a break in their tense schedules, and partake in some energetic, egocentric conversations about weird, foreign, bloated, disastrous, or sexy films that moved or disgusted.

I'm not sure if other major film festivals allow such windows into their inner workings to be broadcast locally, but in T.O., it ensured the festival was a fair gathering for the general public, and industry wheelers, dealers, elitists, and snobs. The press were privy to the industry conferences, and some were accessible to anyone with a TV set; for years, only the most apocryphal industry sessions were passed over by Channel 10’s fairly well-oiled machine.

So what happened to Rogers’ TIFF coverage? Interestingly, little has popped up media-wise, though in an online Q&A, The Globe and Mail’s Andrew Gorham did shed some light on what’s more than a curiosity:

“Rogers community channel is not carrying TIFF. As I understand it, CTV has the rights to the press conference broadcasts and Rogers and CTV could not work out a mutually acceptable deal. Rogers also said they are launching new programs in the fall and, after realizing they would not have extensive coverage of the fest, decided to focus on the new programming. CTV are media sponsors (CTV is part of Bellglobemedia, which partially owns the Globe) so that would be your best bet for TV coverage. Or (shameless plug) right here at globeandmail.com/tiff2007

With Bell/CTV and basically Rogers industry rivals in TV, satellite, internet, and phone service media, perhaps it seemed improbable the two companies could reach some fair agreement, since either side would’ve wanted some higher level of exclusivity and eclipse the other’s profile. Maybe Rogers wanted to offer the complete conferences, and CTV wasn’t happy with mere sound bites; or perhaps the Bell/CTV conglomerate realized that having full rights would’ve given them a prime opportunity to be publicly associated as the de facto supporter of the festival, since Bell is prominently involved in the Bell Lightbox building that’s destined to house TIFF central.

A sign of the shift in programming style and content was evident in last Friday’s Festival Schmooze broadcast: once the domain of City TV and CHUM’s own branded Star! media hosts, the Queen Street location and nighttime event was fused with elements of CTV’s own pop media team, and the resulting programming on CTV’s e Talk is a sad offering of fashionable, vapid sound bites by the program’s glossy hosts who address viewers in bizarre sing-song modulations.

Via e Talk, TIFF coverage on TV is basically repackaged in the show’s standard montages of tabloid idiocies: stars walking their dogs, holding babies, signing autographs, or ‘caught’ on the red carpet uttering some offside remark about love life, the best Toronto eateries, or their chic clothes to a dolled-up, caffeinated reporter.

Ben Mulroney’s current ‘exclusive’ conversation with George Clooney, for example, replaces the semi-formal and largely unedited 25-50 min. TIFF panel discussion and Q&As with real journalists that were standard to Rogers’ prior coverage. The ‘exclusive’ interview between Clooney and the polyurethane Mulroney (weirdly resembling a bronzed Max Headroom) has been chopped over several nights for viewers incapable of handling more than 3 replies by a big name star, and to make room for CTV’s incessant and orgiastic Canadian Idol reports.

Of course, the edited interview is laughable, and e Talk’s presentation is condescending to anyone’s intelligence: Clooney’s “only on e Talk” reply to Mulroney about his role in the schlocky B-film, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, is replayed yet again in Mulroney’s Part 2 segment the next evening, enhanced with video clips; with e Talk, it’s not the content that’s important, but watching it replayed with twittering images and junk techno loops for what the show’s producers seem to think every segment needs.

Rogers’ Rushes was less vapid, but both shows obsessed on tabloid ephemera and fashion, although Rogers at least counterbalanced their disposable offering with the Reel to Reel show.

At present , it seems anything truly newsworthy has been reduced to print and online outlets via reviews and columns, and while CTV apparently owns the broadcast rights to the conferences, via Bell’s Sympatico/MSN website, they’re offering mere minutes of highlights as streaming video – which hardly fills the need of fans wanting a whole conference, thereby simulating the experience of being in the press rooms.

TIFF’s own website apparently offers additional streaming video from the press conferences in a large online archive, but at present it seems the site is taxed by too many visitors, causing StutterVision clips that fail to load beyond the opening credits. It probably was a great idea to make the material available online – given its ephemeral nature – but in its clunky, chunky delivery state, it sure was easier to just tape material off Channel 10, or catch it during a late night/early morning repeat.

Rogers reached its zenith around 2002 when it offered a substantive amount of press and industry programming, and by 2005 and particularly in 2006, less conferences were broadcast, singular handfuls were too often repeated, and old conferences from prior years were slated as filler material for lack of anything new. Some conferences were chopped down to 30 mins., and by 2006, industry programming was relegated to Pitch This! – perhaps deemed by someone to be the most audience-friendly and least dry of the lot.

It’s also possible fewer film fans and the general public were watching the raw conferences, the round-the-clock coverage was disruptive to Rogers’ own broadcast schedule, and viewer interests changed, but what’s left is just pitiful. Alongside higher ticket prices, TIFF, as a film festival for film fans, is slowly evolving into something its founders must find a bit disheartening.


Imaginative Music

Ron Mann’s first feature-length documentary, Imagine the Sound (1981), makes its DVD debut on Morningstar’s bare bones but memorable release, and it’s probably the most accessible and unpretentious intro to free jazz - that loose, rule-breaking jazz offshoot in which melody, structure, tempo, and the usual round of solos by every band member are set aside in place of more cerebral and sometimes nutty concepts of improvisation and performance art.

Mann’s film features rare interviews with Paul Bley, Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, and Kenny Werner, plus some lengthy performances that punctuate some of the marvelously entertaining and illuminating articulations by these marginalized artists.

Also reviewed are two excellent CDs:

- Daleko od okna / Far from the Window (2000), Michal Lorenc’s beautifully moving score for Jan Jakub Kolski's film adaptation of Hanna Krall's WWII writings, released by Poland’s Soundtracks.PL
- Expressing the Inexpressible, an excellent compilation CD featuring scores to various short films scored by newcomer Douglas Romayne. Beautiful orchestrations, and some fine orchestral writing.


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