Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Charles Gerhardt Conducts (Classic Hollywood Film Scores on Freegal/Spotify)

Good morning!

I hope you had a good Monday. It's quiet as the grave this morning at the library-- a welcome change of pace from the clattering and clamouring of yesterday's shift on the nonfiction desk. Renovation waits for no man! Or woman, hoping to squeeze by on a non-eventful hour in the library. Too bad! Speaking of sound though, I made the best discovery online while trying to redeem my seven free downloads from the library's subscription to Freegal, a legal music download site. Folks, have you heard the good word about Charles Gerhardt's Hollywood film score records?

Nothing to get your heart pumping first thing in the morning like an Errol Flynn movie poster! (source)
Trying to recover from the disappointment of finding that Cameo's "Word Up" was only available in a weird, aftermarket 1990's re-recording of the song, I searched Freegal this weekend "Hollywood" to see if I could pull up any oddball stars-who-sing recordings (more on that later, because THE THINGS I FOUND, PEOPLE). In doing so, I came across a series of records with "Charles Gerhardt" listed as the artist, and with a few of my favorite movie titles splashed across the covers. Captain Blood (above) was the first that caught my eye, but twelve more entries in total appeared under Gerhardt's listings. People! I had struck Freegal paydirt. Bette Davis! Errol Flynn! Humphrey Bogart! Many names that are writ bold across my movie collection and my little movie loving heart, were definitely present and accounted for in Gerhardt's movie score collections, and danged if I didn't spend the rest of a productive/unproductive evening to the sounds and scores of some of my favorite movies.

Turns out, I actually had borrowed the album on the left (reissued as the album on the right) from the library in high school, having duped it on a cassette which was played when I got ready in the morning. You try choosing an outfit to the strains of the theme from Now, Voyager, and see if you don't go for an ensemble a little more dramatic than mere silence or early morning radio would encourage. It was checked out and never returned by a later patron (booooo, hisssss), and I would have just figured I'd never see it again were it not for this chance run-in with it on the Freegal site. Thanks, Freegal! Along with the aforementioned title track, there are themes on that record from Oscar winning films like Jezebel and All About Eve, as well as less well-known pictures like In This Our Life (a favorite of mine) and even the noir flop Beyond the Forest (which provided Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of the Virgina Woolf and drag impersonators everywhere the classic Bette line "What a dump..."). And Iiiiiiiiii love it. Expect me to be pinning up my hair tomorrow for work and adopting a cer-TAIN diction whilst I do so, in a fit of love for the divine Miss D. Nostalgia! It floods over me!

One of my all time favorite Bette coiffures from Now, Voyager (wikipedia)
Scanning Wikipedia, I was able to find out that Charles Gerhardt was a record producer for RCA and Reader's Digest in the sixties' and seventies'. Yep, he's the one responsible for those multi-record set Treasury of Music album folders you often find at estate sales (because everyone's grandmother had a copy of one of the other of these). Between 1972 and 1976, Gerhardt directed the National Philharmonic Orchestra through a popular series of twelve movie score albums, aimed at forties' nostalgia audiences and cinephiles alike. Those titles include:
  • The Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold 
  • Now Voyager: The Classic Film Scores of Max Steiner
  • Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis 
  • Captain from Castile: The Classic Film Scores of Alfred Newman
  • Elizabeth and Essex: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • Casablanca: Classic Film Scores for Humphrey Bogart
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Citizen Kane: The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Hermann
  • Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman
  • Spellbound: The Classic Film Scores of Miklós Rózsa
  • Captain Blood: Classic Film Scores for Errol Flynn
  • Lost Horizon: The Classic Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin
And guess what? Each and every one of those is on Freegal and Spotify! I die. The film composers listed on these records represent some of thethe most influential movie score makers of the 20th century. Hermann, Steiner, and Tiomkin in particular are responsible for themes that will not leave your head after watching a movie-- Adventures of Don Juan and Spellbound stick out to me as ones I could hum on command. The music is as much a part of the movie as the stars in most of these cases! 

This card is from Bogart's fourth and last picture with wife Lauren Bacall, Key Largo (1948). The score is, as you would imagine, wonderful. source
I thought of something while I was listening to this film scores at home-- Matthew and I watched the movie Escape from Tomorrowland  in the last of our Netflix subscription days. I'd been excited to see the independent movie mainly based on the publicity surrounding its production-- the movie is set and largely filmed on location at Walt Disney World, shot guerilla-style on hand held digital cameras without the permission of the park itself. Fascinating, right? What really stayed with me after watching the movie, besides how surprisingly well done it was for a movie largely marketed on that anarchic quirk of its filming, was the jarring and evocative use of traditional, non-diegetic film scoring throughout the movie. You don't realize how much you miss a tender scene in a classic movie being scored to the "Love Theme From..." version of the movie theme until you see what a difference it can make in even a simple exchange on screen. 

source, source
There's a scene where the main character, a dad losing his grip on reality on the last day at the theme park's resort, is talking to a buxom parent on a park bench. The scene uses rear projection, an old Hollywood way of shooting on set but making it (kind of/sort of/not really) look like it was shot on location, and a swelling string score...and while it's not Hitchcock in the slightest, it immediately reminded me of a similar scene in Notorious, where Cary Grant talks to Ingrid Bergman on a park bench, among swelling strings, in a rear-projected setting of Rio de Janiero. The surrealness of the music, and suspension of disbelief that they are where the movie is telegraphing they are, are the same in either scene, and the music builds the tension in each way more than the actual acting could do. And reminded me of what we lose in movie magic when all movie are scored with these limp, unprepossessing ambient tracks. A bold, classic Hollywood score does a lot of the dramaturgical heavy lifting for the movie narrative! And adds, again, to the "magic" of old Hollywood studio films.

More rear projection, non-digetic sound, and Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound (source)

But I digress! You should hie thee hither and check out the recordings either through your local library's Freegal, if they have it (Nashvillians, here's ours), or Spotify if they don't! Most of these cds are available on Amazon as well. I'll get you started with Bette Davis's film scores here, but be sure to check out the rest, I promise it will make you want to watch or rewatch the pictures they represent. Also, you can read more about Gerhardt and his movie score series here.


Anyway, I've ranted and railed long enough, what do you think? What are your favorite movie scores? Do you have a soft spot for the movies of any particular classic Hollywood star (aHEM, why am I not seeing more Joan Crawford representation on this movie music series)? Have you seen any modern movies lately with aspects of classic movies that made you pine for the silver screen of old? Let's talk!

Well, I'm off to go raid the dvd collection downstairs for a few Bogart movies I need to see again. That's all for today, but I'll see you back here tomorrow (possibly with more old movie talk? You know once I get on a tear, I stay on a tear). Have a great Tuesday! Til then. :)


  1. What a fascinating post! Heh, am I crazy, or do I remember that weird 90's cover of 'Word Up' being recorded by a member of the Spice Girls for one of the Austin Powers movies?

    And you're reminding me that I need to watch Escape from Tomorrowland! I remember being SUPER interested when I first read a blurb about it months ago, but it fell off my radar. Now I know I simply HAVE to check it out! :)


    1. I just looked up and confirmed the Spice Girl connection-- that is CRAZY! Have you seen the original's video with Levar Burton? "CameooOOOoooo!"

      And yes, do watch Escape from Tomorrowland! It's not perfect but it's one of those rare movies that's actually better than the hype surrounding it (which, like you said, is what made me want to watch it in the first place!). I still can't believe someone guerilla-filmed something that turned out not looking like public access in the 80s.



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