September 2, 2014
The Big Picture: Hitchcock! at the Hollywood Bowl
David Newman conducts Herrmann, Rózsa, Waxman, Tiomkin live-to-picture by Marilee Bradford
HOLLYWOOD—Approximately 10,000 movie and music fans attended Sunday night's annual "Big Picture" installment at the Hollywood Bowl, celebrating the music of movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
With David Newman conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint hosting, the unusually warm end-of-summer evening proved just right for a night of chilling – and occasionally amusing – clips of Hitchcock suspense and murder classics.
The concert opened on an especially clever note: The voice of the Master of Suspense himself (borrowed from his 1958 record album, Music to Be Murdered By) introduced the evening's fare, leading into fast-paced, seven-minute montage of clips from 41 Hitchcock films, brilliantly produced by editor Laura Gibson, set to Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette (better known as the theme for TV's Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and Bernard Herrmann scores for North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie and The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Ms. Saint, now 90, proved to be a witty and winning host, regaling the crowd with anecdotes from her experiences with "Hitch" as she delivered Jon Burlingame's eloquent script filled with fascinating histories of the films and their composers.
Dimitri Tiomkin's score for Strangers on a Train (1951) was the first substantial excerpt, including the opening title sequence and the initial meeting of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Antony (Robert Walker). Ms. Saint then introduced a trio of clips played back-to-back: The Lodger (1927), scored by anonymous library music; a chase scene from The 39 Steps (1935) scored by Louis Levy; and a driving scene from Saboteur (1942) featuring Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane with music by Frank Skinner.
One of the fascinating aspects of experiencing this music live is the opportunity to hear musical details sometimes lost on the movie soundtrack itself. Heard during Franz Waxman's gorgeous, Oscar-nominated theme for Rebecca (1940) was a sampled but entirely authentic sounding Novachord, an early polyphonic synthesizer which the composer used to add an eerie tone to a scene in which Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) intimidates the new Mrs. deWinter (Joan Fontaine).
Conductor David Newman then premiered a newly reconstructed piece from his father Alfred Newman's score for Foreign Correspondent (1940), starring Joel McCrea as a witness to an assassination who chases the murderer cross-country. Newman wound up the first act with end scenes from Psycho (1960) for which Ms. Saint relayed, "Herrmann wanted a black-and-white sound to complement the film's black-and-white cinematography," hence an all-strings ensemble.
The second half opened with music from another Hitchcock-Herrmann masterpiece, Vertigo (1958) starring James Stewart and Kim Novak; Newman led the hypnotic opening title sequence and then advanced to the tragic finale. This was followed by Tiomkin's music for the frightening break-in murder attempt sequence from Dial M for Murder (1954) with Ray Milland and Grace Kelly.
Two back-to-back clips of romance offered a brief respite from Hitchcock's "music to be murdered by": Miklós Rózsa's Academy Award-winning music for Spellbound (1945), with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman (the only Hitchcock film to win an Oscar for music); and Lyn Murray's sharp, witty score for a bejeweled seduction scene played in the foreground of the French Riviera fireworks from To Catch a Thief (1955) starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.
The finale was Ms. Saint's own North by Northwest (1959), with Herrmann's legendary fandango theme and variations which underscored the climactic chase across Mount Rushmore. The host called it "Hitchcock's signature combination: exciting, romantic, and even funny, a perfect way to end our evening." The orchestra's energy, and Newman's dynamic conducting, were praised by veteran Bowl-goers as among the best movie nights in recent Bowl history. They gave Newman and Ms. Saint a standing ovation.
For an encore, Newman offered the classic shower scene from Psycho, with Herrmann's stabbing, shrieking violins (followed by another sound bite from The Master of Suspense drawn from that 1958 LP).
Among guests spotted in the audience: Tiomkin's widow Olivia Tiomkin Douglas, Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith, and film composers Michael Giacchino, Randy Newman, Charles Fox and Lee Holdridge.
On Wednesday the Bowl will feature another film night, this time sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, devoted to the Black Movie Soundtrack, including music by Quincy Jones, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Public Enemy, among others.
©2014 Marilee Bradford