Score! Film Forum Reminds Us Who Put More Psycho in Psycho
"My feelings and yearnings are those of a composer of the 19th century, wrote self-identified neo-romantic composer Bernard Herrmann in 1948. I am completely out of step with the present.
Herrmanns heart at the time was with his in-progress opera, based on Emily Brontës Wuthering Heights, but he made his nameand sealed his immortalityin distinctly modern media. The greatest American-born film composer, Herrmann was just done scoring The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), which accompanied the romance between a widow living on the English seaside and the ghost of a sea captain. The beyond-the-grave affairs of Brontë and Mrs. Muir typify Herrmanns greatest work, interpreting through music a romantic yearning inextricably linked to or forbidden by death. Its certainly present in two films irresistibly double-featured in Film Forums two-week, 22-film Herrmann retrospective, Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo (1958), submerged in Herrmanns voluptuous chromaticism, and Brian De Palmas Hitch-takeoff Obsession (1976), both among Herrmanns highest, dizziest achievements.
New York Cityborn Herrmann, educated between NYU and Juilliard, began his broadcast career at CBS Radio, where he eventually climbed the ranks to chief conductor. From this post, Herrmann introduced a listening public to programs representative of his catholic tastes and encyclopedic knowledge, and met his first great film collaborator, Orson Welles, whose Mercury Theater broadcasts he scored. Welless Hollywood debut would be Herrmannshe was hired to create the innovative music for Citizen Kane, complete with radio-style interlude pieces and Susan Alexanders disastrous debut opera, Salammbô. Not bad for a first outingbut Welles and Herrmann would both fight to recapture this level of independence ever-after.
Part erudite gentleman, part obstreperous loudmouth, per Steven C. Smiths superb Herrmann biography, Herrmann did not suffer fools (nor, often, the well-meaning) lightly, gradually isolating himself through a refusal to compromise, and flourishing best under the patronage of sympathetic collaborators. He is most remembered for his thriller scores, with Nicholas Rays On Dangerous Ground (1952) a notable precursor to his 11-year collaboration with Hitchcock, beginning on 1955s The Trouble With Harry. (Most famously, its Herrmanns violins that vivisected Janet Leigh in Psycho.)
Among Herrmanns less-known submersions in morbid psychology, especially recommended is John Brahms Hangover Square (1945), whose protagonist, George Harvey Bone, is a tormented composer of the late Victorian period, his murderous episodes triggered by the sound of discord. Bone (Laird Cregar) is composing Herrmanns frenzied Concerto Macabre throughout the film, and the piece finally premiers in a bravura climax, ending with Cregar pounding his keyboard, undeterred, in a room engulfed in flame, an image of passionate self-destruction in which who knows how much Herrmann saw of himself.
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