DEATH AND RESURRECTION: ALEX NORTH'S LAST "LOST" SCORE
"...the probable need not necessarily be the truth, and the truth not always probable..."
Freud, MOSES AND MONTHEISM (1937)
Everybody loves a good story, and the one behind Alex North's "lost" score for Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) has become the stuff of legend. But what are the facts? Kubrick called North in New York and asked him to come to London to score his picture. North's dear late widow, Anna, told me that director "said he didn't have trust in any other composer and could Alex please help him out." North was thrilled at the prospect of working with Kubrick again. They'd done SPARTACUS (1960), on which he'd had a record 13 months, and though Kubrick disowned it - he replaced Anthony Mann - he gave North a pretty free hand, and even cut the gladiator training schoool scene to temp music North had written for 2 pianos and percussion and later for full orchestra. And so he agreed to go to London to discuss 2001 with Kubrick. North wrote that he found him "direct and honest" about his desire to keep some of the "temp music" he'd been using which included made to order pieces by Brit film composers Frank Cordell and John Addison, as well as classical pieces by Mahler, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss II, György Ligeti, and Aram Khachiturian. Though North opposed the use of these composers he felt he could "write music that had the ingredients of what Kubrick wanted," and give it a contemporary feel. This he did in 30 plus minutes of music which he wrote, orchestrated, and recorded in 2 weeks. He went back to Los Angeles, ready, willing, and able to score the rest of 2001. But all Kubrick told him was that he planned to use "breathing effects" for the balance of the film. Although North found that a little strange - who wouldn't? - he and Anna duly attended the New York premiere, and there, big as life, were the "breathing effects", some of the "temp music", but no Cordell, Addison, and absolutely no North. And thereby hangs the tale of the most famous "lost" score in film music history, until Jerry Goldsmith resurrected this astonishing music in a stunning 1993 Varese Sarabande CD. And now we have North's equally stunning score for Larry Buchanan's THE COPPER SCROLL OF MARY MAGDALENE (1972- 2005), which executive producer and sound man extraordinaire Ken Kreisel has lovingly resurrected. North's powerful meditation on space and time had gone the way of all flesh, or in Kubrick's case a very big ego, and his for Buchanan's on Jesus could have been lost for all time too.
Though 2001 and COPPER SCROLL are entirely different, they do resemble each other in one significant way - both are nearly silent films. But given the reams of material written about the Jesus story, perhaps this approach was the way to go. Buchanan's film, at any rate, is full of beautifully composed images shot by Richard Jessup. North must have had a field day with mostly not having to write under dialog. His score could therefore make the images speak a deeper language, which is, of course, the language of music. Buchanan certainly thought so. "ALEX," he said in a 1997 memo to Kreisel, "HAS MADE EVEN THE LONGEST GOODBYES HERE RICHLY TIMED & MOVING THRU THE DISSOLVE."
Composers are used to being treated indifferently or worse, and North was no exception.Yet his working relationship with Buchanan was clearly not the trial by fire or trial without the knowledge that there even was a fire, that he'd endured with Kubrick, and his relationship with Buchanan spanned decades. They met by accident at a 1951 screening of his short THE COWBOY in New York, which shared the bill with Laslo Benedek's film of Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN, for which North had written the score for Kazan's groundbreaking Broadway production, and amplified for the screen version. They met again on the set of Kazan's VIVA ZAPATA! (1951), on which Buchanan was working as a location assistant. "Alex was an introspective and gentle artist," Buchanan wrote in his 1996 autobio, IT CAME FROM HUNGER! "He was never at ease with the chaos of a film crew at work and was totally bewildered by the simplicity of the laidback natives." Buchanan watched his genius at work. "Tony (Anthony Quinn) did a thing with rocks" - by hitting them together in a percussive rhythm - the director told me on the phone - "Kazan kept the cameras rolling and Alex walked out of that scene with a score in his head." Buchanan also told me he found North "kind of a loner", and I don't think it's a stretch to say that both were joined in their mutual attraction to too hot to handle material.
Consider the unconventional, even outré (itals) subject matter that attracted North - A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), Huston's THE MISFITS (1961), and Michael Campus' startling look at the Jesus story, THE PASSOVER PLOT (1976), or in Buchanan's case, his "conspiracy theory" pics on Lee Harvey Oswald and Marilyn Monroe. And what could be the biggest conspiracy theory than the one that was drummed into him as a child in Southern Baptist Texas? That if you don't do God's bidding as a "The Lord will punish you" Christian, then you've conspired against God?
The truth of a God of vengeance or, if you will, a vengeful God, was sometimes literally beaten into Buchanan, who could never forget the horrors of his days at the Buckner Academy orphanage in South Texas. But how could he, when as he recalled in 2003, that "any challenge by any male teenager - (he was 13) … to scripture, or the divinity of Jesus, the miracles… meant in addition to the salts and castor oil ………. No supper (only Sunday noon was the word "dinner" used) ...and God help you, a trip to the attic with the Tuetonic (sic) Mrs. Kirschner!" which entailed "a whip cut from a mule's harness, restraining ropes on wrists, & constant bellowing of 'order, discipline, etc, ' (as) she left all who crossed her … sobbing & crumpled on a cold floor, in a large dark attic until morning." A true trial by fire like this visited upon a sensitive young artist couldn't help but leave scars, as well as a deep longing for another kind of God, and Buchanan's experience provoked both responses. As he writes in his autbio - "I had developed an abiding, even obsessive interest in the historicity of the man from the ancient Roman province of Galilee, and that interest has continued to this day…. I believe that 2000 yars ago, in Judea, there lived a man who knew God. I do not believe his was a virgin birth, nor that he struck water from wine, nor that he experienced an embodied resurrection after his death."
Buchanan wasn't interested in the Jesus of myth, but in a real flesh and blood man who lived in the contested back water of Palestine, occupied off on, for hundreds of years, in the first century of the Common Era. His search for the Jesus of history is one on which many artists, from Voltaire's time to ours, have embarked upon. But the quest for a figure answerable more to fact than faith can be traced to the pioneering work of the Protestant German theologian David Friedrich Strauss (1808 - 1874), whose book DAS LEBEN JESU (1835), doubted the Gospels'Jesus, and which George Eliot translated into English. Buchanan also studied Jesus through the eyes of those who continued this work - moderns like Schweitzer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, G.B. Shaw, H.G.Wells, Malcolm Muggeridge, and, among the ancients, Philo, and Josephus, who lived in or around his probable time. Buchanan came to the conclusion that Jesus was an Essene rabbi. This would account for the near total silence of the Canonical Four Gospels on Jesus' "lost years." These accounts appear to be but aren't straightforward biographies of a life lived, for how can any (itals) real biography start with its hero's "miraculous" birth, then fast forward 3o yearsto his public life and death? Well, the Gospels do just that. Something obviously happened in the interim, but what? Buchanan believes that the time spent between Jesus' Bar Mitzvah, at say, age 13, and time of his ministry, 2o years later, was spent in sustained study with his fellow Essenes at Qumran, as well as travel to distant places like Cathage, Persepolis, and India, where he got the occult knowledge which flashes out in the far from reliable and definitely not entirely historical Gospel record. And Buchanan would addeven more to the mix., especially the Essene angle.
But what was this group from which Buchanan believes Jesus sprang? The Essenes were a dissident Jewish sect, who according to the historian Josephus [ Joseph ben Matthias - 37- 96 CE ], in his monumental THE JEWISH WAR (BELLUM JUDAICUM, Aramaic, Greek translation c. 75 CE) "do not possess one city, but everywhere have large colonies." Though their number was small - 4000 - their influence wasn't, and their ideas seem to have permeated Jewish religious-domestic life to an extraordinary degree, and some scholars, like Ahmad Osman, think that some Essene religious practice derived from that of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhnaten (c. 1394/1385-1357 BCE), whose cult "of the one God," the Aten,. may have transmuted to theirs. Josephus, at any rate, reports that "they show devotion to the Deity in a way all their own. Before the sun rises they do not offer a word on secular affairs, but offer to Him some traditional prayers as if beseeching Him to appear. After this their supervisors send every man to the craft he understands best." Their most famous craft was, of course, the writing out of the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the prophetic books of Isaiah, Habakkuk and Nahum, which they saw according to their own lights, in pesharim (itals), or commentaries, in their Qumran scriptorium (itals) . The Essenes also had their own sacred books - The Damascus Document, The War Scroll, Thanksgiving Hymns, The Book of the Mysteries, The Community Rule, and many others. These were found in Qumran above the Dead Sea - though there's evidence they had monasteries in Galilee - by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls lit up the mursky landscape of Old and New Testament scholarship like a thunderbolt, and Buchanan sat up and took notice. Here was a religio-politico context the Gospels denied, or just hinted at, and here was a powerful apocalyptic sect probably born around the time of the Maccabee revolt in 165 BCE, in which the Jews cast out their brutal Seleucid overlord, the Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes, who had captured Jerusalem, and defiled the Second Temple by, according to 1 Maccabees : 54 "the appalling abomination (of a pagan idolatrous altar) on top of the altar of burnt offering," and refused to let the Jews practice their faith. This must have triggered a racial memory of Nebuchadnezzar's sack of Solomon's Temple in 586 BCE, and the resultant Babylonian Exile. And if that wasn't enough the corrupt Maccabee priest -king Alexander Jannaeus (103 - 76 BCE) wasn't much better. In fact he wreaked such havoc on his kingdom that Josephus reports that "when he (Jannaeus) asked them (the Jews) in what way he could satisfy them" they replied: "By dying, even a dead man would be hard to forgive for such monstrous crimes."
Jannaeus' most heinous crime was, according to John C. Allegro's THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND THE CHRISTIAN MYTH (1972), the killing of the Essene Teacher of Righteousness at Besmelis (Qumran), by hanging him upon a tree - crucifixion - on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, c.88 BCE. Josephus says that some of Qumran's Essene "survivors", who had revolted against Jannaeus in Jerusalem and fled to their desert stronghold, were captured there and taken to the capital. " So unbridled was Alexander's rage that from brutality he proceeded to impiety. Eight hundred of the prisoners he crucified in the middle of the City, then butchered their wives and children before their eyes." The Essenes never recovered from this trauma - the Dead Sea Scrolls are full of their diatribes and the Wicked Priest - and neither did Jesus' followers who met a like fate.
Most recent scholarship on this turbulent period, especially First Century CE Palestine, leans towards just this sort of interpretation. The disciples were shellshocked when their teacher died an ignoble death, or seemed to, and Buchanan seizes on the dramatic juice in this angle. For hadn't Jesus promised to save his people from their Roman bondage like a new Moses, and hadn't he brought a new Torah (Law) to supersede his, and promised a new kingdom too? And didn't Palestinian revolutionaries cum Messiahs like the Pharisee Judas the Galilean promise similar solutions to their problems? But look what happened - 3,000 of his rebels were crucified in the year of his revolt, 6 CE, -- which co-incided with Judaea's formal annexation as a Roman province. Rome didn't look kindly at rebels - Buchanan's film was originally called THE REBEL JESUS - and you could see why: the Empire was maintained at a price, and sedition, for which Jesus was crucified, was, as S.G.F.Brandon says in JESUS AND THE ZEALOTS (1967), a crime against Rome and therefore punishable by death.
But how did and Essene rabbi get strung up by the Romans, for weren't the Essenes peaceful? Well not exactly if one reads their texts closely. They believed in a violent showdown between the forces of darkness and light. They also opposed any collusion with the false appointed Roman-Herodian priests at Herod's Jerusalem Temple, or any accommodation with goyim (itals) / Gentiles, who had different dietary laws, and were uncircumcised. Robert Eisenman documents these aspects of doctrinaire Essenism thoroughly in his startling revisionist look at early Christianity, JAMES, THE BROTHER OF JESUS (1997). Buchanan's film is a kind of revisioning too, and a daring one given the worldwide hegemony of orthodox Christianity, which believes that the Four Gospels, and Mel Gibson's fevered fantasy on them, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004), are God's truth. But closer study shows that they're literary works - how could they not be - packed with symbols, allusions, gaps. These gaps are most glaring in the conflicting accounts of the passion. And there are hints that Jesus must have been a rebel of a violent sort, the "malefactor" the centurion Quintar pursues throughout COPPER SCROLL, even though the script presnts Jesus as a pacifist Essene.
The accounts of the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane have these clues . Luke 22:49 - "His followers, seeing what was about to happen, said, 'Lord, shall we use our swords? '" Mark 14:47 - "Then one of the bystanders drew his sword…" Matthew 26:51 - " And suddenly one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it. " John 18:10 - " Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear." And though Jesus in each version counsels against violence, the implication is that his followers are armed. The Zealots and Sicarii - named after their daggers which they used in political assassinations - were certainly armed, as were the Essenes. Eisenman substantiates this view. " After the death of Herod in 4 BC, we get an endless succession of revolts until the final Uprising (sic) in 66 CE. This last certainly has to be considered 'popular', as all groups, except the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the High Priests, even the so-called 'Essenes', and one must assume, the 'Jewish Christians' participated." Josephus recounts this dissension and armed resistance, especially the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by Titus in 70 CE, from reliable sources, or in the case of the siege, with his own eyes. His account reads like a report of what's going on in Israel and the West Bank today - we're in Uprising or Intifdah 2 2000-2005 - raids, targeted assassinations, plots, counterplots, sieges, demolitions, with suicidal politics on all sides. Buchanan ratchets up the implications of this violence. " In my name," his Jesus says, "the crowded planet runs red with blood. "
His script mines further contradictions and gaps in the Synoptics and John. What is the careful reader to make of things like Mk 15:43 - " and he (Joseph of Arimathea) went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pliate, astonished that he should have died so soon, summoned the centurion and enquired if he had been dead for some time . " [ Baignet, Leigh, and Lincoln, point out in HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL (1982) that Mark's original Greek has "soma" meaning live body, as opposed to corpse ]. Or Mk 15:36 - "Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it to him (Jesus) to drink saying 'Wait! And see if Elijah will come and take him down.' But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. " The same incident is repeated with slight variations in Matthew and Luke, and in both cases it's implied that Jesus doesn't take the vinegar / sour wine which the Romans gave the crucified to revive them because he had to accomplish his mission by the sacrificial act of dying. But in Jn 19:28-30 we get - "Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and so that the scripture should be completely fulfilled (itals from "so " 2 "fulfilled"), he said ' I am thirsty'. Ajar full of sour wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stick, they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the wine he said, 'It is fulfilled"; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit." What are we to make of these competing accounts? Did Jesus not die on the cross - most victims survived for several days - and if not was he drugged so as to appear dead? The Gospel accounts are obviously at odds, and the one attributed to John, which may have eyewitness elements, later reworked to line up with doctrine, adds further clues by placing the crucifixion in, of all places, a garden. " At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. " Jn 19:41. This suggests a quick death and an even quicker burial were planned to chime with Old Testament "prophecies", or even perhaps that the crucifixion was part of a mystery school ritual, of which there were many in Palestine, the Middle East, and the Empire in the first century CE . But would anyone as sure of his mission as the Jesus of the Gospels have left anything to chance? Certainly not the way to and the means of his death, and his subsequent apotheosis as a resurrected god.
Clearly Jesus had a plan, and in Buchanan's version of his story that plan is not (itals) to die on the cross. He therefore follows the account attributed to John. The centurion Quintar offers Jesus " a sponge soaked in the wine", but only after, unbeknownst to him, the Essene elder, or Teacher of Righteousness Shammai, and his disciples, have emptied a drug into it. Though this will obviously shock people who take the Gospels at face value, Buchanan's take on this tiny, but monumentally significant incident in the passion narrative, is both plausible and historically valid? Why? Because the Essenes were widely known as healers and apothecaries, and it's not inconceivable that a drug like belladonna or opium, widely used in the Middle East at the time, could have made Jesus appear to be dead. Or, as Jn 19:30 has it - Jesus says " It is fulfilled, " implying that the plan to follow his interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies about the Suffering Servant, or more probably the Gospel redactors' interpretations of these, has been completed, and all the symbols have clicked like a key in a lock.
Buchanan's Jesus has of course been taken down and laid in a tomb. But what happens before he's laid to rest? The Synoptics say that that he's wrapped in linen shroud, and that the women, headed by Mary Magdalene, come to anoint his body according to Jewish burial customs, several days later, on the day of his fabled resurrection from the dead. But Jn19:39-40 has - " and Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesu and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, following the Jewish burial customs." John's the kicker because these customs specified elaborate rituals for washing and anointing the body immediately after death. The corpse would be anointed with myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and most significantly aloes. Why aloes? Because you can get aloe vera in any Walgreens to do what? Heal cuts and wounds. Buchanan takes the ball and runs with it by having Shammai and company go to the tomb at dawn on Easter morning, or as his "CHRONODUB" LIST OF THE STEREO MUSIC CUES" puts it - " Essenes try to revive him (Jesus) / are chased away from the tomb by Roman guards" - but not before Shammai sees that the ointment - it's called to this day the ointment of Jesus, and was used to heal battle wounds in Alexander's time - has begun to work its magic. Jesus get up, hobbles back to Jerusalem, where Mary Magdalene, alone in her hovel, is haunted by the horror she's seen at Golgotha.
Buchanan's Mary is a highly plausible character. But for a woman who was probably Jesus' lover - his "consort" as he says in the film - the 4 Gospels give us precious little to go on, other than most famously Lk 8:2 - " Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had been cast out, " and of course tradition equates her with the unnamed fallen woman / sinner who anoints Jesus' head with oil, like a king, and washes his feet with her tears. Clearly she was an important person, but why the sketchy accounts, and why does she have to be a prostitute who needs saving? Her demotion, which began in the fourth century CE, is explained this way in Karen L. King's THE GOSPEL OF MARY OF MAGDALA : JESUS AND THE FIRST WOMAN APOSTLE (2003) - " The portrait of Mary as a prostitute and adulteress explained not only why she was unworthy to touch Jesus' resurrected body, it also reinforced the view that women were to be seen primarily in terms of their sexuality not their spiritual character", and Christianity, which emerged from Judaism, gave women a status far lower than their Roman counterparts, who in the patrician class at least, could and did wield considerable power. Jewish women, on the other hand, may have been smart and gifted, but you'd never find them on an equal footing with men. Josephus describes their social position in THE JEWISH WAR - " from the Temple women were excluded during their monthly periods, and even when clean could not go beyond the barrier already described … for women were neither admitted through the others (gates) nor allowed to go past the dividing wall via their own gate." Paul's letters show what he thought of women - not much - and how they had to be kept in their place. And so the Gospel redactors seem to have been determined to lessen Mary's central role in the nascent church. She's characterized as a typical woman of First Century CE Palestine, and so the myth and legend which has issued from her name, finds her caught in the Madonna / whore complex, which has haunted the Western male imagination ever since. She's marginalized and not capable of being the central figure Buchanan re-imagines in his film - " a woman's testament of a man's knowledge."
A similar fate befell James, the brother of Jesus, the true head of the Jerusalem Church, who was almost completely written out of ecclesiastical history, and replaced by the arch accomodationist Paul, who watered down Judaism and its offshoot Christianity, and added mystery cult elements prevalent in the Middle East then (blood sacrifice and such), to make it saleable to the Gentiles in the Empire. Paul virtually invented Christianity - its essential doctrinal character hasn't changed since Constantine ordered the destruction of writings deemed wrong, and convened the Council of Nicea in 325 CE to right this situation, and Bishop Athanasius drew up a list of approved (itlals) New Testament texts in 367 CE - with Paul even going so far as to make Jesus and his purported resurrection an article of faith in 1 Corinthians 15: 13-14 " If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised either, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without substance and so is your faith." Paul was the propagandist for the new religion and dead set against women having anything but a subservient role in it. Buchanan takes both a traditional -- Mary is forced to work in the brothel below Fortress Antonia, named for Mark Antony, and built above Herod's Temple to control any distrurbance therein, and these were frequent - and non-traditional approach to Mary. His film, after all, was made before Elaine Pagel's groundbreaking book, THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS (1979), and subsequent speculation has altered our view of who the Magdalene may have been, not least of course Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE (2 ). The Gnostic Gospels - from the Greek "gnosis " meaning inner knowledge -- are special, indeed essential in determining her position and importance in early Christianity, and the gospel attributed to the marginalized Magdalene, which was found in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, along with many others - hers was extremely popular and exists in different versions - presents her as a powerful spiritual force. She was so close to Jesus that his disciples, especially the always headstrong Peter, were jealous of her.
"Peter responded, bringing up similar concerns. He questioned them (the disciples) about the Savior. ' Did he, then speak with a woman in private without our knowing about it? Are we to turn around and listen to her? Did he choose her over us? ' " (THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALA 10: 3-4). Clearly, they're jealous and though Buchanan's disciples never talk about Mary, they'd probably trade spiteful words if he'd written a scene for them about their feelings towards her. Buchanan also posits a physical relationship between Mary and Jesus, which disturbs his nemesis, Quintar, no end.. He spits out " Whore!" at one point and shouts " Where is he? " when he breaks into the room where Mary's been caring for Jesus - he's just gone back to Qumran - and she replies " My Lord and (itals) Master Jesus, a man who knew God, who came to tell all men the good news, even me, a sinner, who bedded with the instrument of his death. I bask in his love. I live by his truth. " Truth? That's truth!" Quintar screams as he takes his sword and smashes the box Jesus had so lovingly made for her.
Love and Quintar's lack of it drive Buchanan's story. His script, moves from real time events, to memories / hallucinations / dreams. " Going back and forth was to help tell the story. The message is so powerful that you can't obliterate parts of the story " he told me over the phone, and that message, which is contained in Jesus' 13 words which he speaks to Shammai upon his return to Qumran - " There is one God, all men are brothers, love the worst of them " is the heart of the piece. And Buchanan aims to distill that as the " revolution of the spirit " that this Essene rabbi preached.
North's score is a powerful ally in achieving that goal. Music is, after all, a universal language, and at its best the language of the heart, and North's helped Buchanan simplify his approach. " AS I PUT THE CUES AGAINST THE ACTION ON THE TUBE, " he wrote in the aforementioned memo to Kreisel, " I REALIZED HOW FAR I HAVE STRAYED IN THE OVERWRITING OF THE NEW MATERIAL [ Jesus' voiceover narration ] NOW THAT I AM SATURATED WITH THE MUSIC, I AM RELOOKING AT ALL THE NEW MATERIAL. & I FIND THE TAIL WAGGING THE DOG. ALL THE ANIMATION IN THE WORLD IS NOT AS POWERFUL AS THE SIMPLE IMAGES NOW COME 2 LIFE THROUGH STEREO. "
How did North do this? By writing music that's as "simple" and direct as the film it goes with and expands. Though North was a master at writing complex contrapuntal passages, which he did in ZAPATA!, CLEOPATRA (1963), and SPARTACUS (1960) that approach would have worked against the simple truth of Buchanan's images, as well as his picture's deeply interior, even probing tone. And he and North were certainly blessed in making a small indie with no studio heads breathing down their necks.
The picture may be small, but the orchestra isn't . There are 70 pieces here. The winds include piccolo, flute, alto flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon; the brass - trumpet, French horn, trombone, bass trombone; percussion - chimes, celeste, harpsichord, Tam Tam, tympani, snare drum, dumbeck (hand held drum), zills (finger cymbals), cymbals (free-standing, mounted), glockenspiel, triangle, tambourine, harp, vibra slap; strings - violins 1 and 2, cellos, double basses, plus mixed women's chorus. It's a big orchestra alright, but North, as usual, wrote few tutti (itals) passages, choosing instead to write for varied configurations, which he exploited for their tone color and expressivity. Yet he wasn't averse to going big and grand when the occasion called for it, and his main title is certainly grand. It's also, at 69 seconds. one of the shortest and tighest, ever. He gets a lot of mileage out of this fanfare-like sequence of diatonic intervals, of which only the first is the tonic, or key note. The shifting phrase lengths - 3 notes, 7, 3,6,6,6, 9 (with a half rest), 1 - all variously accented and always sostenuto (itlals), or sustained, make it dynamic and capable of further elaboration. The scoring, though superficially Hollywood, is very distinctive - the brass are divided into 2 choirs - trombones on top, other horns beneath, and these punctuate and provide a harmonic anchor - in 5ths - as almost-motifs, the strings being played without vibrato (itals) - a sound North frequently favored for its clarity - with percussion marking the rhythm. This is the Jesus and Mary Magdalene theme from which much of North's melodic material grows, and the Mary theme proper, which flowers from the 5th phrase -cell, is first heard here. North endeavored to make his Caesar and Cleopatra theme in CLEOPATRA as non-sentimental as possible, while his for Jesus and Mary shows them to be melodically related, even co-dependent on each other, the massive orchestration perhaps mirroring the male principle, with the female to be elaborated later, with smaller forces.
The score has 23 other cues, which Buchanan named, though this DVD presents them in an altered order. They are 2. THE LAST WATCH; 3. THE FUGITIVE; 4. HEALING HANDS; 5. WINGS OF A DOVE ( "It is in your hands "); 6. CARAVAN @ AT AN OASIS (THE TUTOR AND THE PUPIL); 7. GIRLS OF OOM TALEEM ("Have you no interest?); 8. A BAPTISM ("No, cousin, the waters … "); 9. REPRISE HEALING HANDS OR THE RECOVERY ; 10. RECALLING THE AGONY OF THE CROSS ; 11. RECOVERY; 12. GHOST OF JUDAS; 13. WORKING WITH WOOD; 14. IN THE GHETTO; 15.SEDUCTION; 16. GOODBYE 2 MARY MAGDALENE OR GOODBYE TO MARY; 17. WALK 2 QUMRAN; 18. WELCUM 2 THE MONASTERY OR WELCUM 2 QUMRAN; 19. MONASTERY GDN; 20. REUNION @ GALILEE; 21. "I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS"; 22. THE ULTIMATE REVOLUTION; 23. THE FINAL PURSUIT; 24. "HE IS LET LOOSE UPON THE WORLD". The score, though broken into these discrete parts is thematically, melodically, and harmonically unified, ultra tight, the scoring imaginative and varied. The music has the character of a continuously developing suite, each piece seeming to grow from, and to contrast with the one before. One could even say that COPPER SCROLL is a kind of variation-set, in contrast to say, SPARTACUS, where North placed more emphasis on rhythm and massed sonorities. This music seems simpler, at least on the surface, though THE LAST WATCH is complex and full of symbols.
And how could it not be when Buchanan plunges us into an unorthodox view of the Jesus story? It's dawn as the Essene elder Shammai and his disciples come to the tomb to see if Jesus has survived the cross as planned. North takes full advantage of the dramatic and symbolic juice in this scene by using tritones - the diabolus in musica (itals) - an augmented 4th, or diminished, flatted 5th -" mi contra fa is the devil in music ", which medieval theory forbade. North's use of this interval does 2 things - it makes the scene, which questions the resurrection myth, even more subversive, and it establishes a mysterious, even alien harmonic world. The tritones - in f minor - begin immediately in the chimes, with string harmonics as the camera closes in on Jesus' linen-wrapped body, then spread to all the other choirs - muted horns, winds, harpsichord, percussion, cellos, double basses, even women's chorus. The writing is clear, transparent, open, yet saturated with this forbidden, but frequently used harmonic gesture. Bruckner's 8th Symphony (1884-87) is awash in it, and modern harmonic practice, especially that of Schoenberg's 12-note school, is centered on the tritone. It's the harmonic language of Philip Glass' 5th Symphony (1999), and it makes pungent appearances in his 6th (2000). North had used it too - it brazenly announces itself as the main theme in STREETCAR and it would prove equally provocative in DRAGONSLAYER. THE LAST WATCH ends with the Jesus tune, fragmented, in women's chorus, with pile-driving brass chords and percussion. The crucified gets up and crawls out of the tomb. The sound image matches the psychological weight of this moment - he's broken, and wants to piece himself together. Buchanan's Jesus is clearly ambivalent. He struggles to come back into the world of men and North's thrilling discords help him on his way.
THE FUGITIVE couldn't be more different. North's setting of the Jesus theme for alto flute - it's wood, an unusual sound specific choice as normal flutes are made of platinum - with drumroll underneath, presents the simple, unadulterated truth - this Jesus is alone, completely alone as he returns to the world he's left. The scene recalls a similar one in D.H. Lawrence's version of the resurrection story in his novella, THE MAN WHO DIED [ THE ESCAPED COCK ] (1927-28). " He went on, on scarred feet, neither of this world nor of the next. Neither here nor there, neither seeing nor yet sightless, he passed dimly on, away from the city and its precincts, wondering why he should be traveling, yet driven by a dim deep nausea of disillusion and a resolution of which not even he was aware. "
This feeling intensifies in HEALING HANDS in which Jesus is seen emerging furtively, painfully, from the back of an alley, to a deeply resonant string tremolo, the lower strings playing the main tune, with flickering wind trills providing the middle line. Its layered sound, and the reversal of conventional scoring practice, where the theme is usually in the upper choirs, is pure North, and its expressive force comes from the shifting phrase lengths when the principal tune comes in - 2 notes, then 4, 2, 6, 3, 4, 2 (rest), 7. The music becomes even more inward as the solo cello takes up the Jesus / Mary melody, the phrases 2, 4, 3, 3, 5, 5, 4 (as a cadence) - a steady, slowly evolving, intertwined dance for the most famous and contested couple in history, and North's writing augments that bond. It also sounds vaguely Hebraic modal, with exquisite writing for flute, harpsichord --in broken chords -- cello, strings, women's chorus. Its move, from f minor to g minor, suggests the couple's shifting but infinitely felt inner lives, and North's music here and throughout is almost continuously modulating. He was a very sophisticated musician, and his use of the oboe also seems to hint at its appearance at the end of the "Liebestod" in Wagner's TRISTAN (1857-59), where it spells love as a mysterious, yet ultimately deadly force. It got the upper hand there, and does so here, but in both cases the music transforms and transfigures earthly desire into something celestial.
That celestial aspect is of course most readily heard in North's use of wordless chorus - a Hollywood convention in biblical scores as disparate as Rozsa's for Nicholas Ray's KING OF KINGS (1961), and Alfred Newman's for George Stevens' vastly underrated masterpiece - one of many I might add -- THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) - which a high school friend of mine dubbed "singing clouds." But what separates North's writing from theirs is its far more inward character, which seems to line up with John Williams' description of the composer - "His nature was tender, affectionate and somewhat introverted " in his foreward to Sanya Shoilevska Henderson's bio, ALEX NORTH, FILM COMPOSER (2003). And I think it's safe to say that his music for Jesus and Mary reflects, if not their estrangement, then at the very least their separateness from the world around them, a quality which also permeates North's portraits of Rhoda in LeRoy's THE BAD SEED (1956), and Frankie in Zinnemann's THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1952). It's certainly there in REPRISE HEALING HANDS, where Mary is once again seen as her Master's caretaker, though this time with a decided concentration on female chorus with a decorated flute line, and it's there in GOODBYE TO MARY, which follows the rhythm of her parting words to Jesus (GHOST OF JUDAS does the same with Judas') which is a sad, delicate reflection on her theme. This inward aspect even works its way into RECALLING THE AGONY OF THE CROSS where a tender, folklike variant of Mary's theme is heard as Jesus drinks from the drug-soaked sponge held to his lips by his nemesis Quintar.
North evokes the Magdalene's wordly character by decorating the chord sequence of her theme in THE GHETTO and SEDUCTION, with asymmetrical counts in the zills (finger cymbals) which accompany the belly dance -- the instrumentation also includes English horn, the goblet shaped hand drum dumbeck, the vibra slap, a wooden box with a metal ball which vibrates, much used in Latin dance music and very evocatively in Jerry Goldsmith's score for PLANET OF THE APES (1968) as well as castanets, and tambourine. It's a slow, steady carnal dance of desire and North's use of a closed albeit circular form here precludes any sense of finality, much less erotic release.
A sense of limitation also informs WALK TO QUMRAN, which with its steady drumroll, harkens back to the crucified's sense of separateness in THE FUGITIVE, but may also perhaps be seen as questioning whether his reception by the Essenes will be as fatal, or at least as failed, as that accorded his mission on earth. Which brings us of course to the central question of who Buchanan believed Jesus to be - an Essene monk, who travelled the world seeking knowledge -- and in this pivotal scene he comes home to visit his fellow monks and their Teacher Of Righteousness, Shammai. "What has it all meant to you - Persepolis, India, Carthage, the anguish, the privation, the whip, the cross? What is the sum of it? " he asks, and Jesus responds " You closet the truth " and " shout it from the highest mountaintop " which is the classic dichotomy, or conflict., if you will, between living a truly spiritual life "divorced" from the world and its snares, or living fully, daily in the belly of this beast. North's "answer" is an a capella transformation of his Magdalene material - this time for contraltos, with cello drone - which can perhaps be seen as his imagined version of the ritual choral music the Essenes used. John M. Allegro's paraphrase of Philo of Alexandria's description of the Egyptian branch of the Essenes in THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND THE CHRISTIAN MYTH puts it this way -- "Each of the choirs began by singing and dancing apart, partly in unison, partly in antiphonal measures of various metres. ' as if it were a Bacchic festival in which they had drunk deep of the pure wine of divine love. ' " And though North's setting isn't antiphonal -- it's homophonic with a single held pitch in the cellos - it does seem to effect a union with the divine, or with, at the very least, something in the human approaching the divine, and that's a way of getting close to the truth, which for Buchanan, is simultaneously personal, and transpersonal.
His sense of who Yeshu Bar Joseph may have been is the product of his deep, protracted, and utterly brilliant questioning of received Christian tradition. His Jesus goes to his final earthly death stabbed in the heart by Quintar - " I am a soldier and you are a false god " but not before Jesus responds " I am as you are ", and, prior, to a crowd at a ruined temple - "The ultimate revolution is unseen", a Gnostic truth, if ever there was one. North's music for this last scene modulates through whole steps --- Gb major and b minor, with a 7th on Gb, indicating, for all the world, that Jesus' "triumph" is as difficult, and shadowed as every human person's. Plus it's the polar opposite of that in THE LAST WATCH where it modulates downward with a much effortful feeling. Jesus' struggle is pleasure mixed with pain - resolved, yet not resolved - and with a brief and very tender recall of the Magdalene theme to drive this truth home, Buchanan and North's Jesus is "let loose upon the world " as he escapes, like Lawrence's man who died, in a boat in bright of day. Buchanan's can be seen as paying homage to the inscrutability of "truth" - is it probable or not always probable ? - and the questions it raises will be, like North's harmonies, forever open and unresolved. Thank God he had an artist of North's abiding sensitivity on board. Any other would have preached to the choir in oh so expedient terms. And would the viewer have felt anything as fresh, and vital as this? END 1 Nov 2005