September 7, 2011
The Big Picture: AFI's Great American Movie Quiz
Alex Trebek, David Newman and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra by Marilee Bradford
Film music performed by a symphony orchestra in a game-show format came together high in the hills above L.A. when the American Film Institute teamed up with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for The Big Picture: AFI's Great American Movie Quiz last Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl.
Jeopardy host Alex Trebek (still on crutches after his highly publicized injury) and frequent guest conductor David Newman put an audience of nearly 9000 through their paces to test their knowledge of great film music and classic movie trivia.
Trebek posed questions about famous films in specific genres, and then a list of three multiple-choice answers would appear in blue, green and red, respectively, on a giant screen above the orchestra. Audience members were given three colored lightsticks and held a stick in the air in the color corresponding to their pick for the right answer.
Finally, Trebek would reveal the correct answer as a clip of the film was projected on the big screen and the underscore was performed live-to-picture in perfect synchronization by Newman and the Bowl Orchestra.
The results were often striking as lightsticks lit up the Bowl in a sea of glowing blue, green or red. But when the questions were tough, the venue luminated in a rainbow of all three colors. (Perhaps it was appropriate that just prior to the downbeat, there appeared two vivid rainbows in the sky above the Bowl.)
The program opened in grand style with a fast-paced montage of 206 clips from some of Hollywood's most famous movies, produced by veteran editor Laura Gibson and accompanied live by Newman and the Bowl Orchestra in a medley of themes comprised of Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven, Alex North's A Streetcar Named Desire, Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo, John Barry's Out of Africa and John Williams' ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
Trebek delivered the witty and informative script (written by AFI President Bob Gazzale and film-music journalist Jon Burlingame) with the panache he's so noted for, and the first of 20 questions was a perfect beginning to the evening: Trebek gave a series of facts about a certain film starring Errol Flynn featuring a "richly orchestrated, wildly romantic symphonic score" by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (who had scored seven Flynn films).
The multiple choices appeared on the screen: Captain Blood in red, The Adventures of Robin Hood in blue and The Sea Hawk in green. Most of the audience of film lovers raised a sea of blue lightsticks, and they were correct. The Robin Hood main title image burst onto the screen, Newman counted off, and the orchestra played Korngold's thrilling underscore while one of the most exciting swashbuckling scenes ever made was projected overhead.
Among the other memorable film scores and clips featured throughout the evening were Dimitri Tiomkin's Dial M for Murder, Michael Giacchino's Up, Franz Waxman's The Bride of Frankenstein, Tiomkin's High Noon and Alan Silvestri's Back to the Future. (Silvestri was present in the audience.)
A few of the quiz questions required the audience to "name that tune" by shouting out the film title as the Bowl Orchestra played snippets of familiar themes, the likes of John Williams' Jaws, Jerome Moross' The Big Country, Henry Mancini's The Pink Panther, Elmer Bernstein's To Kill a Mockingbird and Max Steiner's Casablanca.
The evening was also peppered with clever trivia questions, some of which had the audience stumped. For the final question of the night, they were asked to guess which M-G-M movie was crowned by the AFI as the greatest movie musical ever made: The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain or The Sound of Music? The answer: Singin' in the Rain, as the Bowl Orchestra accompanied an all-singing, all-dancing Gene Kelly in his puddle-splashing screen performance of the title song.
Newman and the orchestra returned for an encore with what Trebek referred to as "an overlooked gem – it is one without words, and yet, the music does all the talking." Suddenly crowd-pleaser Jerry Lewis appeared on the screen in an incomparable clip from The Errand Boy in which Lewis sits at the head of a conference room table and pantomimes a big-boss soliloquy to Count Basie's "Chairman of the Board."
The Big Picture is an annual concert event at the Bowl, presented each Labor Day weekend. Past concerts have included tributes to such studios as Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox as well as countdowns for Hollywood's top movie scores and songs.
©2011 Marilee Bradford