"Let's conduct a thought experiment," suggests Dan Callahan, setting the mood at Alt Screen for Film Forum's two-week, 22-film celebration of the Bernard Herrmann centennial: "what do you hear when you see the name Bernard Herrmann? The low, sleeping-beast woodwinds that signal the eminent death of Charles Foster Kane? The Irish horn-fiddle-cymbal flourishes that slice through The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)? The otherworldly, quivering theremin that hovers over The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)? You might need to struggle to piece together more than bits of those scores, but I'm guessing that you could probably notate almost all of Herrmann's black-and-white strings for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) or the sprightly anxiety of his score for North by Northwest (1959). Even the disturbingly sexy opening theme of Marnie (1964), with its straight-ahead male horn thrust (Yes, Marnie, yes!) and its ascending-descending female squeal of strings (No, Mark, no!). The romantic maximalism of Herrmann's style was too grand for realist dramas or comedies. He is most at home in subjective psychological states and non-naturalistic dreamscapes where he liked to find a certain groove or melody or rhythm, repeat it, then repeat it with a slight variation."
Nick Pinkerton for the Voice: "Part erudite gentleman, part obstreperous loudmouth, per Steven C Smith's 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 Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1952) a notable precursor to his 11-year collaboration with Hitchcock, beginning on 1955's The Trouble With Harry…. Among Herrmann's less-known submersions in morbid psychology, especially recommended is John Brahm's 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 Herrmann's 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."
Alt Screen posts a roundup on The Magnificent Ambersons (1946): "Although we can always summon some prerequisite enthusiasm for Citizen Kane screenings, we are most hotly anticipating Welles's followup, horribly mutilated by the studio but still — by hell or high water — a masterpiece."
Update, 10/22: In a longish appreciation for Time, Richard Corliss notes that Vertigo, "in which Hitchcock placed Herrmann's name just before his own in the opening credits, to acknowledge his importance, has a superb section early on: a symphony of paranoia, as Leigh drives through the rainy night away from pursuing police and toward the Bates Motel. There's also the edgy motif for Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the boyish voyeur, in which Herrmann creates what we might call the sound of watching. But Vertigo is, at least for the composer, the richer achievement. Detective Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart), whose acrophobia forced his retirement from the San Francisco Police Department, takes a case — following a friend's moony, perhaps suicidal wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) — that festers into obsession. Scotty tracks Madeleine to a church, a graveyard, a museum, a shabby hotel, and for more than 10 minutes there's not a word spoken, only Herrmann's ominous music, channeling Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The notes are hypnotic, rising and falling, up-down up-down, like a staircase exercise for a man afraid of heights, or the mathematics of dread. The story and the music lead inevitably to a church bell tower, and as Scotty and Madeleine ascend the steps, Herrmann's music descends. For Scotty is plumbing Madeleine's secret, even as he dives deeper to find the key to his love for a dead woman."
Update, 10/25: An Alt Screen roundup on Psycho.
Update, 10/26: "Where a simple 'This film is dedicated to' usually suffices, the last frame of Taxi Driver's closing credits reads: 'Our gratitude and respect, Bernard Herrmann, June 29, 1911 - December 24, 1975.'" Justin Stewart for the L: "The composer died days after finishing the film's iconic slow-jazz score, and every word of that dedication is crucial. Though 'our' may have specifically referred to Taxi Driver's director, writer, crew, and cast, it more broadly applies to all film lovers appreciative of the composer's masterly, boldly co-authorial contributions to the art of film scoring. The 'our' is also a generation of cineaste directors like Truffaut, De Palma, and Scorsese. So many of the films that shaped them were scored by Herrmann, and they were lucky enough to show their respect and repay the workaholic composer with scoring jobs on their own films."
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