I finally went to see one of these film-with-live-music shows on Saturday night, when (to co-incide with Halloween) the Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho on a giant screen at Roy Thomson Hall, with a live performance of Herrmann’s score.
I should perhaps explain that this sort of thing can be done because Hermann’s music and the actors’ dialogue were originally recorded on separated soundtracks. This makes it possible to completely suppress the studio orchestra that originally recorded the music, so that another orchestra (such as the TSO) can play along with the film in a live concert, while the film’s dialogue is heard through loudspeakers.
I’m not such a film buff that I can say with complete authority that every cue came in exactly when it should have, with millisecond precision – but Kitsopoulos’ efforts to co-ordinate the score with the film sounded good to me.
What was not always so good, unfortunately, was the balance between the live orchestra and the electronically reproduced soundtrack. The TSO sounded weak at times – even though the players were miced, and could have been boosted to a more prominent level. This was especially disappointing in the famous shower scene, when the orchestra was nearly drowned out by the sound of running water (not to mention all that screaming Janet Leigh does as she is being murdered).
In the end, I came away from the screening with mixed feelings.
It is a fine thing that Herrmann is being recognized as the excellent composer he was, with live concert performances of his music. And when, at the beginning of the evening, TSO CEO Jeff Melanson asked the audience how many people had never been to a TSO concert before and a third of the attendees raised their hands, it was clear that this sort of presentation is a good way for an orchestra to attract new audiences.
But it seems to me that if an orchestra is going to go to all the expense and effort of presenting a movie with a live film score, there should be some kind of value-added payoff to the experience. And I didn’t hear any. For me, the concert/screening was (at its best) not much different from watching the movie with the original studio orchestra, and (at its worst) sometimes less effective than watching the movie with the original studio orchestra.
Psycho is a great film, with great film-music, and I enjoyed the evening. However, from a strictly artistic point of view, I just don’t get the point of reverse-engineering a movie score.
© Colin Eatock 2015