Fahrenheit 451 -The Complete Bernard Herrmann Motion Picture Score Soundtrack Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review
Fahrenheit 451 -The Complete Bernard Herrmann Motion Picture Score Soundtrack Review
Francois Truffaut's English-speaking debut was an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic science-fiction tale, the futuristic fable Fahrenheit 451. However, even electing to film such a highly thought of and popular genre novel as this didn't stop him from allying it with the then-current French New Wave of cinema. Part art-house, part surrealism, part character study, the story of a dystopian society that sees literature as the root cause of evil and employs squads of “Firemen” to hunt out books and burn them and arrest anyone caught reading or harbouring them, is approached from such an oblique angle that alienating American and British audiences was almost inevitable. Even the iconic Julie Christie, in no less than two roles in the film - the wife and the liberator of the hero, Fireman Guy Montag (played glacially by Oskar Werner) - couldn't ensure it anything more than intellectual acclaim and the film is still regarded as something of an oddity even now in these revisionist times.

One aspect of the production that is beyond reproach, though, is the score from Bernard Herrmann, that is quite magnificent and supplies the heart and soul that Truffaut's cold style seems to lack. Presented here in its complete form for the first time, with William Stromberg leading the esteemed Moscow Symphony Orchestra for the exciting new Tribute Film Classics label - see also Mysterious Island review - Herrmann's music is amongst his most heartfelt and affecting. You won't find any of that rolling menace and thunderous percussion that he made his name with in all those Harryhausen pictures, but the atmosphere of a tragic world that has lost its passion and the aching hunger of rebellious minds that are desperately seeking something other, something more than what the state provides is highly emotional and beautifully protracted. The score, in its entirety, is very similar to the tense, agitated music that Herrmann would craft for his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock - particularly Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho - but he twins this slow-burn menace and foreboding with a quiet, sinuous sense of fragility and almost pensive, half-remembered melancholy that really gets under the skin and stays there. As a viewing experience, the film actually struggles to keep up with the music, Truffaut's expressionistic imagery failing to ignite the empathy that Herrmann's score so diligently seeks to procure.

Standout cues are too numerous to list, but Track 22 The Reading is so lilting and sinuous that it seems as though Alan Silvestri improvised and adapted it in a slightly speeded-up variation for his All Hallow's Eve Ball piece for CG-fest Van Helsing. Track 28, The Nightmare, is a wild heathen brew of schizoid delight, and there is terrific, rich lyricism to be found in both The Garden (Track 15) and The Bridge (Track 16), whilst there is playful suspense in The Lamp (Track 3) and a brilliant romantic confessional coursing through The Book (David Copperfield) - Track 14. Thus, as is customary for a Bernard Herrmann score, many of the cues act out lengthy set-pieces dramas that are a joy to listen to even when divorced from their visual narrative, managing to tell their own stories equally effectively on their own musical feet. The whole alarming 4-cue situation (tracks 22-25) that chronicles Bee Duffell's Book Lady's final act of fiery defiance is urgent, tense and counter-pointed by a tinkling harp that elevates the tragedy with pathos and dignity. Montag's eventual revolt and escape is detailed expertly in the 5-cue sequence (tracks 39-43) that, again, brings in the harp, violins, violas and glockenspiel to create stylised haste and agitation. Herrmann's final three tracks become the ultimate haunting eulogy for the entire score - nostalgic, reflective and forlorn. Throughout the entire composition, the strings have kept everything hovering in the half-light, that shivery mysterioso touch that has you looking over your shoulder and the hairs beginning to prickle on the back of your neck. Herrmann was a master at this spectral sort of unease and with this, Vertigo and Cape Fear, he created timeless excursions into the haunted limbo-land between dreams and wakefulness.

For his excellent Hitchcockian thriller The Machinist, starring the living-skeleton of Christian Bale, director Brad Anderson turned to composer Roque Banos for that essential mood enhancing score. And I think that Banos was probably influenced more by Herrmann's music here for Truffaut than anything he actually crafted for the Master Of Suspense. Fahrenheit's unholy mixture of unease and vulnerability, tenderness and tension being exactly the tone to describe the collapsing mind of machinist Trevor Reznik, as well as the closed one of Guy Montag slowly opening up to, and then embracing a much wider world.

Track 45, entitled The Road, is a wonderfully wistful piece that is often held in the same regard as Barber's Adagio For Strings in terms of its emotional impact, but, if I'm totally honest, Herrmann's cue, as painfully nostalgic as it is, is nowhere near as heartbreaking or as poignant. Yet, the composer does reach precisely those soul-searing heights of acute despair during the exquisite bonus score to be found on this disc. Boasting the complete soundtrack for one of his Twilight Zones outings - a fondly recalled episode called Walking Distance - TFC have played a blinder in combining it with Fahrenheit 451, as the two bodies of work contain essentially the same rhythmic tone and yearning mood of nostalgia, melancholy and the whimsical search for the unattainable. All 8 tracks are presented here and the 13.01-minute collection is one of the most sensitive and thoroughly delightful that I have ever come across.

The story revolves a man making the mile-and-a-half walk from the gas station to his old hometown, a journey that will take Martin Sloan (Gig Young) back to meet his younger self and the memories that he has of childhood, a journey that - you guessed it - will take him through the Twilight Zone. The breathless sense of tragedy, hope and of the wistful need to meet again the parents you remember as a child, is the tremulous theme running through this small, but powerful score. Herrmann had worked on several episodes for Rod Serling's show, as well as other TV shows during the fifties. In this respect, the composer once again found himself in a unique position. Most other Hollywood composers and classical purists would never sink to the level of such work, yet Herrmann was always drawn to the story, first and foremost. And, if stirred or moved by it, he would back it one hundred and ten per cent, wholly committed to delivering a score for it that came, not only from the heart he perceived for the characters within it, but from his own, as well. Walking Distance is a truly wonderful score that reaches deep within you and clasps your heart with the undeniable conviction to shake all those memories back to the surface that you've kept buried away. Achingly beautiful, it beggars belief that a simple half-hour show could elicit such ethereal and poignant melodies. The cues here are ghostly and full of trepidation and remorse, they are pregnant with memories not of pain or bad things, but of a cherished time of wonder and peace long missed and now yearned for. Herrmann could stir the senses with bold percussive action, driving suspense and unearthly dread ... but he was just as powerful at wringing the juice out of even the hardest heart. Awesome stuff, folks.

Once again, TFC provides a lavish 32-page booklet of notes and essays, thoughts and reminiscences that make for a very informative and, at times, quite technical look at the score, Herrmann's intentions for it and how he approached its recording. With numerous illustrations from the film itself and of the great man, too, the booklet is rounded off with the comprehensive cue-by-cue examination for both Fahrenheit 451 and Walking Distance from composer/conductor Kevin Scott, who also supplies a wealth of background into Herrmann's style, opinions and the influences and personalities that helped inspire him. There is even a little tribute paid to the composer from Ray Bradbury, written in July 2007.

Full Track Listing is as follows -

1. Prelude (1.34)*

2. Fire Station (0.53)*

3. The Lamp (3.29)*

4. Clarisse (1.06)*

5. Happiness (0.43)

6. TV Signals (1.28)*

7.Bedtime (2.02)*

8. The Boys (1.51)

9. Home (0.50)

10. Pink and Gold Pills (1.37)*

11. Recovery (0.51)

12. The Bedroom (1.44)

13. The Monorail (1.01)

14. The Novel (David Copperfield) (3.03)*

15. The Garden (1.22)++

The Bridge (1.23)

17. The Café (0.46)

18. The Box (0.57)

19. The Corridor (1.23)++

20. Montag's Books (1.16)

21. The Pole (1.08)

22. Fire Alarm (1.40)*

23. The Books (1.28)

24. The Hose (1.34)*

25. Flames (1.30)*

26. The Basket (1.21)

27. The Reading (1.33)

28. The Nightmare (2.13)*

29. The Skylight (1.28)*

30. The Windows (0.37)

31. TV Aerials (0.27)

32.The Photos (1.08)

33. The File (0.50)

34. Vertigo (1.06)

35. Information (0.52)

36. The Vase (2.02)

37. The Mirror (0.35)

38. Fire Engine (1.11)

39. Farewell (0.17)

40. Flame Thrower (0.33)

41. Flowers Of Fire (1.16)

42. The Captain's Death (0.53)

43. Freedom (1.56)*

44. The Railway (1.52)*

45. The Road (1.57)

46. First Snows Of Winter (0.32)

47. Finale (2.01)

Track Listing For Walking Distance as follows -

48. Prelude (0.30)

49. Memories (2.33)

50. The Park (1.44)

51. The House (1.47)

52. The Parents (1.47)

53. Martin's Summer (1.07)

54. Elegy (3.59)

55. Finale (1.14)

* includes music cut from the film

++ entire cue cut from filmA difficult and troubling movie, Fahrenheit 451 still has the overwhelming benefit of Bernard Herrmann's sublime and moving score. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra, once again, prove their power, dexterity and dedication to producing a gem of musical work that stands marvellously as an album on its own. Truffaut's film was enhanced no end by a score that raised its admittedly odd atmosphere to one of lyrical tragedy and ambiguous, yet sincere salvation. The score, as represented here, was one of Herrmann's best, yet also one of his most sidelined. At last, fans can savour the incredibly rich and textured atmosphere that he strived to perfect in a superb reappraisal, unique instrumental distinction and super smooth and scintillating clarity. And, although Herrmann's scores for his visits to The Twilight Zone are available in separate compilations, it is tremendous to hear Walking Distance performed so marvellously here under the direction of William Stromberg, and surprising to discover just how well the two works complement one another.

TFC have made a terrific start with the complete scores for Fahrenheit 451 and Mysterious Island, and I wish them every success in their quest to bring further fabulous and iconic music to the arena in such gorgeous presentations as these. I, for one, can't wait to see what they produce next.

Very highly recommended indeed.






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