ALEX NORTH: ALL FALL DOWN (1962)
38'24'. THE OUTRAGE (1964). 14'29". Silver Age Classics. FSM Vol. 6, #6. FILM SCORE MONTHLY. www.filmscoremonthy.com
The Fifties and Sixties have become codified in U.S. cultural history as decades of repression, and rebellion. Yet these labels ignore certain salient facts. Brando, Clift, and Dean bucked the studio system in the Fifties by re-inventing screen acting. They turned their backs on the conventions of the well-made play in which no one ever interrupted anyone, as in life, and rejected big, melodramatic gestures, which was Hollywood's version of stage acting pitched to the cheaper seats. Pollock and DeKooning turned painting upside down, and composers like John Cage, Earle Brown, and Morton Feldman threw the rule book out the window. And though Alex North never went quite that far, his musical approach certainly raised some hackles. " They asked me why are you using only eight or ten musicians or a chamber style when we have fifty musicians under contract? I said I only need two guitars, or a flute, or whatever. Wall-to-wall music doesn't pinpoint the contribution music can make. " North's approach was quietly revolutionary, and all the best composers now writing for the screen, like Alexandre Desplat - SYRIANA (2005), and THE QUEEN (2006) - and Mychael Danna - CAPOTE (2005), seem to have taken North's approach to heart.
North bucked the Hollywood studio system by composing a handful of themes per picture, some closely interrelated, with many functioning as character portraits. His score for STREETCAR (1951) is easily the most famous example, though his for Huston's THE MISFITS (1961), is centered on a developing series of portraits of Monroe's character, Roslyn, for which he felt great empathy. John Frankenheimer's version of James Leo Herlihy's novel ALL FALL DOWN paired "repressed" stage veterans Karl Malden and Angela Lansbury with "rebellious" newcomers Warren Beatty and Brandon de Wilde, and North's score seems to mirror these opposing aspects with suave writing sometimes tinged with intimations of violence. His main title, however, which outlines de Wilde's character, Clinton Willart, with subtly interweaving lines is innocence itself. Deft, lyric effusions like Clinton's theme-- an ambling walk -- and North's for him and his brother, Berry-Berry, and their mutual love interest, Echo (Eva Marie Saint), one of his most charming waltzes, are heard in varying instrumental combinations throughout, most strikingly in "The Past", with its plangent violin solo, and North's trademark blues-tinged lower brass combined with lower strings, and lots of chromatics. "Trouble / Shut Up ", though not used in the final cut, is a pull out the stops showpiece, while the second half of " Revenge" is full of the serpentine counterpoint which North will elaborate further in CLEOPATRA (1963), DRAGONSLAYER (1981), and other complex scores.
Paul Newman has usually seen himself as a bad boy ala Brando. And so you'd think that North's score for Martin Ritt's big screen production of THE OUTRAGE, which originally appeared on Broadway in 1958 as a set in the American Southwest version of RASHOMON, would be both rebellious and revisionist. But being the true rebel he was, North surprised with a clear as glass chamber score, which though a model of tact, is never superficial. And, as in THE MISFITS, North's heart is with the outsider, played here by Claire Bloom. A smooth as silk legato (itals) line for oboe characterizes her in "The Wife", while ghostly string harmonics outline the main tune in "Struggle" - a pun perhaps on its Carl Ruggles-like "struggle" counterpoint - which with the equally dramatic, "Deep / And Deeper ", functions as a sort of 2-part dance episode in this continuously haunting score. North's approach here and in ALL FALL DOWN is a marvel of concision and compositional grace - he never wastes a note - and his emotional shadings are as precise as ever. Receptive composers should be able to learn lots by just listening to them, and not with a view to imitating how North achieved his considerable effects / affects, but with how this musico-psychological master was able to do much with what on the surface seems very little.