At the core of the documentary is John Mauceri, who, in addition to walking us through the various interviews, conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a revival of some of Hollywood's best known movie themes, including selections from "Gone with the Wind," "Casablanca," "Bride of Frankenstein," and, opening and closing the feature, "Laura." Throughout this, we are given brief biographies of essential composers such as Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, and Erich Korngold.
David Raksin, who composed the haunting "Laura" score, sits down for a lengthy interview, reminiscing about the challenges that went into writing music for the classic noir. (Raksin, it seems, is to credit for a key scene remaining in the final cut.) The composer then walks us through the ins and outs of conducting an orchestra in order to time the cues to the film - a complicated method of "streamers" and "punches" mark the film visually, allowing the conductor to keep an exact rhythm with the action on screen.
This system, we learn, is what makes movie music so different than anything else. Unlike symphonic movements, which follow their own tempos and flow into each other, film scores work in bite-sized cues written to the rhythms of the film editing, complimenting action and dialogue. It's this reason why movie music was (and, in some cases, still is) viewed as "lesser," even though it's an impressive art form all its own.
The most memorable moments of "The Hollywood Sound" come when the filmmakers discuss the power of film scoring as a major force in cinematic storytelling. We're shown the tricks composers use to bring the audience deeper into the world of the movie. For example, linking a certain theme to a character or a specific image can create a sense memory in the viewer - recalling the same themes later on will allow the audience to connect later scenes with earlier ones.
"The Hollywood Sound" was produced in 1995, and there are some bits that haven't aged well. Raksin discusses a possible "Laura" update, a project long since abandoned. Meanwhile, the technology has advanced so drastically all around that the tricks of the trade are at times outdated.
And yet the core of the documentary remains: a genuine love for movie music. "The Hollywood Sound" will be well received by any fan of film scores, and its discussions on the early evolution of the art form proves invaluable.
Video & Audio
"The Hollywood Sound" mixes 1995 interviews with older film footage. The new (for its time) interviews and symphony performances are very solid. The archival footage ranges from iffy to ragged. Presented in the program's original 1.33:1 format.
The Dolby stereo soundtrack makes nice use of the music on display. No subtitles are offered.
Recommended to anyone with an interest in film music. "The Hollywood Sound" is a treasure trove of information, sure to please any fan.