Monday, April 25, 2016

Dulled by clichés, haunted by hacks, and compelled by debts, the first autobiography of legendary boxer Joe Louis, My Life Story, would seem to deserve its obscurity. Published in 1947 when the aging champ faced a waning career and mounting bills, My Life Story might be dismissed as a facile attempt to exploit his fame in order to raise sorely needed cash. Louis also received "editorial aid" from Chester Washington and Haskell Cohen, two sportswriters whose involvement might cast the value of the boxer's official story into doubt, insofar as they compromise the authenticity of the narrative. Moreover, the book resulting from this collaboration hews closely to the banal conventions of celebrity autobiography, portraying Louis as ordinary and modest, hardworking but lucky. This up-by-the-jockstrap tale of the boxer's rise from poverty to prominence disappointed reviewers in both the mainstream [white] and black press who expected something "that would reveal a little more of the man" (Dulles 36). One reviewer grumbled, "there is hardly a passage that couldn't have been written by a well-informed sports writer assigned to ghost the story of Joe Louis" (My Life Story 99); another complained that My Life Story neglected the boxer's "early years—a portion of Joe's life which might make fresh and interesting reading" (Fay B14); another regretted that the book "falls short of giving an adequate picture of the man who did this fighting" (Martin 15); and yet another panned the book as "trite and unrevealing to the point of inanity" (Lardner 235).

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The God of Movie Music 

An undated picture of Richard Wagner, holding movie music prisoner in his left hand   Re-posted by Nicholas Stix   Wagner's Influence on Movie Music By McDuff December 13, 2013 Wagner Tripping Every man or woman in charge of the music of moving picture theater is, consciously or unconsciously, a disciple or follower of Richard Wagner – Stephen Bush, film critic, 1911

Please write music like Wagner, only louder

– Sam Goldwyn to a film composer

If my grandfather were alive today, he would undoubtedly be working in Hollywood

—Wolfgang Wagner (Note: When I mention a film composer in this post, the film listed next to his name is the one–or more–he wrote that is listed among the 25 best film scores of all time, according to a survey by the American Film Institute. More on that below.) There is no area in which Wagner’s musical influence is felt more broadly and deeply than in film music. It was very clear to the early Hollywood moguls, and their film composers, that Wagner’s music was the perfect model for the newly created industry. He is widely credited for developing the musical language that was self-consciously adopted from his works for the movies. For example, the man who is often called “the father of movie music,” Max Steiner1 (King Kong, Gone with the Wind), denied he was the “inventor” and deflected that title to Wagner: “Nonsense. The idea originated with Richard Wagner. Listen to the incidental scoring behind the recitatives in his operas. If Wagner had lived in this century, he would have been the No. 1 film composer.”2  
Max Steiner
  The influential 20th century composer, and teacher of several film composers, Arnold Schoenberg, said that Wagner “bequeathed to us three things: first, rich harmony; second, the short motive with its possibility of adapting the phrase as quickly and often as required to the smallest details of the mood; and third, at the same time, the art of building large-scale structures and the prospect of developing this art still further.”3 All three of these bequests were adopted by film composers, though at the base was usually “the short motive,” a.k.a. leitmotifs – what Wagner called “motifs of memory” – whose purpose is “to represent or symbolize a person, object, place, idea, state of mind, supernatural force or any other ingredient in a dramatic work.”4

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