In this Reel Talk, Hey Sholay's Laurie Allport talks us through 'Death In Venue' - and the perfect soundtrack to a film about a misunderstood composer.
To name a particularly resonant soundtrack that works in such unison with a film is a relatively simple task. Cinematic history has produced countless iconic pieces - from Superman's brass-punch stirrings of gung ho, to Powell and Pressberger's Red Shoes. However, in my opinion, there can only be one true example of how an audience is so accurately steered towards compassion and distress through music, whilst concurrently conveying a partially fictional biography of the soundtrack's composer; this film is Death in Venice.
Lucio Visconti's 1971 cinematic masterpiece stars Dirk Bogarde as the deteriorating protagonist 'Gustav von Aschenbach' - essentially based on Gustav Mahler (though not overtly noted, a surefire personification nonetheless). The film regards two emotional distresses, one present and one in hindsight, as the ill Mahler travels to Venice, and towards tragedy, to recover physically. The first and most immediate narrative is that of falling in love with a young, iconographical sexless boy (think Da Vinci). An almost aesthetical obsession compells Mahler to follow the boy and develop an infatuation - and towards the end, a traumatising care.
The second distress, and perhaps most interesting to musicians (it certainly denotes a potential underlying purpose here), is the flashback to his peers ruining his reputation and career. The plot, and historical truth, was that the latter works of Mahler were ridiculed for being 'too mathematical', devoid of feeling and lacking depth. The distress of this slander haunts Mahler, and may denote that his initial illness is a physical manifestation of this upset. To me, as a musician, this almost dwarfs the primary plot line, and suggests that his search for affection and gravitation towards perfection in the boy is some form of reconciliation for his musical 'transgressions' - which leads me onwards.
It becomes clear that throughout the film Visconti and cinematographer Pasquale de Santis (you should see the Turner-esque opening barge boat scene. It is a painting made animate) use the music as not only an instrument, but an instigator and vehicle for the visual dialogue. The theme - a section of symphony no.5 in C sharp minor - flows throughout, channelling distress directly into the viewer. Melancholy, tragedy and melodrama are all present in the tensions of every bowed forearm of the string section, whirring in and out of horror as the film climaxes. Calmer moments in the piece are greeted by a regression in tension, but only as a relief - something unsettling but beautiful is omnipresent without retreat. It becomes, through developing affection and sympathy for our character, subversly ironic that Mahler's hauntings are caused by the very musical tools that carry the audience throughout a full spectrum of charged emotions.
Since first seeing this film, I have asked many classical players about Mahler. Many agree with the notion of his works being void of feeling, although some, like me (a non classical player) obsess over their wonder and dynamic. And it seems ever more relevant perhaps that in an era of 'pop' that utilises particular chord progressions, key changes and familiar repetition, that the performer need not be the composer anymore. Maybe true subjectivity in music is achieved only with the gift of hindsight? Perhaps, out of context and press, in a hundred years, even strategic contemporary pop music can be listened to and appreciated for the passion of it's performers and it's subject, rather than an obvious application of psychology. For me, Mahler's work is charged with expression. Please see it.
The deluxe edition of Hey Sholay's recently released, debut album ((O)) is now available for human consumption.
Releasing the album in September and coming back to it so soon in November is sure to baffle a few heads, but the band have summed up on their blog the exact reasons for this. It's not because they think they are Rod Stewart, or anything like that - just a simple case of battling pirates.
The deluxe edition of the album features ((O)) with an extra CD of 5 're-dreamt' versions of popular album tracks, along with a lovely lyric book and it's all wrapped up in tie-dyed, hand-stitched fabric.
You can purchase this directly from their website, and for those eager beavers that have already got their copy of ((O)), you can buy the extra CD separately here.