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February 27, 2015

Song of the Day #1233

Song of the Day: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Leonard Rosenman who was nominated for Best Original Score for this 1986 film. This theme takes its first cue from the original television theme, as provided by composer Alexander Courage, and then takes us back to old civilizations (1980s America) in search of the extinct species of humpback whales, whose calls will reply to an alien signal that threatens life as we know it. I don't think there is a more joyous, more enduring "Star Trek" film in the whole film franchise, and some of the credit rests on the great shoulders of Leonard Nimoy, whose Mr. Spock has become an institution of Americana. Sadly, Nimoy passed away today, but Spock will go on and on: Live Long and Prosper, indeed.

February 22, 2015

The Legacy of Nathaniel Branden: Memorial and a JARS Call for Papers

Today, the Atlas Society, John and Danis Fickewirth, and the family of Nathaniel Branden are sponsoring a memorial gathering to honor Branden's life and achievements. Having passed away in December 2014, Nathaniel Branden will be honored at Ebell of Los Angeles (743 S Lucerne Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90005) from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM (PST). Through an arrangement with my friend, Duncan Scott, a wonderful film and television writer, director, and producer, the memorial will be streamed live here. After the streaming, a video of the service will be provided for viewing some days later. I will provide a postscript to this blog entry as soon as the video link is made available.

Today, I would like to announce that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has issued a Call for Papers for a forthcoming symposium that will assess the legacy and work of Nathaniel Branden.

I would like to mention that this symposium has been long-planned; it was, in fact, in the planning stages while Nathaniel was still with us, and he was aware that the journal was working toward a discussion of his legacy. I know that he and his wife, Leigh, were enthusiastic about our proposal. We already have several internationally known scholars on board. I look forward to seeing a discussion that will honor the journal's commitment to fostering scholarly dialogue through a respectful interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, drawn from a variety of interpretive and critical perspectives.

Anyone who would like to submit proposals for contributions to the symposium, should write to me at chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu. Further details will be provided in my introduction to the next issue of the journal, which will be in the hands of subscribers in July 2015 (Volume 15, No. 1).

Unable to attend today's memorial, I am there in spirit, and express my sympathies to all of those who grieve the passing of this path-breaking father of the self-esteem movement in psychology, and who celebrate his many accomplishments. Among these accomplishments, he was the first person to systematize Ayn Rand's philosophy, and to point toward those benefits and hazards of orthodoxy, to which he himself had contributed in the early days of the Objectivist movement. In my view, his post-Randian years include writings that are an astonishing monument to the theoretical and practical tasks required to honor the self and to live the good life.

More than this, and quite apart from the forthcoming JARS symposium, I just wish to say that Nathaniel was a loyal and dear friend to the end, and I remain deeply saddened by his passing. Fortunately, we have a solid body of scholarship left behind with which to grapple. I look forward to the work that emerges from this scholarly adventure.

Postscript (5 March 2015): The video of the Memorial Service for Nathaniel Branden can now be viewed in its entirety at this link. Thank you to Leigh Branden for providing me with this link.

Song of the Day #1232

Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("Taxi") [YouTube link], composed by Peter Nero, is another jazzy cue from the 1963 film, from whose soundtrack we began this year's February Film Music Tribute. We close this year's film music salute, and look forward to seeing this evening who will join the ranks of winners in Oscar music history. So on this "Sunday in New York," our eyes (and ears) turn toward Hollywood. Till next year...

February 21, 2015

Song of the Day #1231

Song of the Day: The Charge of the Light Brigade ("The Charge") [Screen Archives Entertainment mp3 link], written by the legendary Golden Age film score composer Max Steiner, captures the excitement of the climactic scene in this 1936 film, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. This is one of the great Oscar-nominated soundtracks in cinema history. Check it out as well on YouTube (as conducted by William Stromberg).

February 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1230

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ("Mischief Managed!") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is a grand suite from the 2004 third installment of the eight films that make up the most successful film franchise in cinema history.

February 19, 2015

Song of the Day #1229

Song of the Day: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ("Harry's Wondrous World") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, is a truly wondrous exploration of the main themes that are heard in this 2002 film, second in the brilliant fantasy series based on the books of J. K. Rowling.

February 18, 2015

Song of the Day #1228

Song of the Day: Dante's Peak ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by James Newton Howard, opens this exciting 1997 Man versus Nature film. The film stars Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton and some truly explosive special effects. And any film that carries the name "Dante" (the name of our cat) has something special indeed.

February 17, 2015

Song of the Day #1227

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("Overture") [YouTube link] composed by Master Maestro Miklos Rozsa, encapsulates all the main thematic content of my favorite soundtrack (and film) of all time. It's become a tradition on my birthday to pick a cue from this 11-Academy Award-winning 1959 film (a total equaled by "Titanic" and the third installment of "Lord of the Rings," but never surpassed, and neither of those films received Oscars in any of the acting categories). For TCM fans, the film airs tonight from 8 pm to midnight (EST, followed by "Psycho"). Coincidence? Divine inspiration? All I know is that I turn 55 today; my loving Dad passed away in 1972, three months short of his 56th birthday. So I figure if I beat that, I'm good for another 55. Right now, I count my blessings that my eyes open every morning. I count my blessings for the passion of my work and for the love and support of my family and my friends. Cheers to a life worth living. For that reason alone, indeed, I shall "row well, and live." Even if I do get a little "Psycho" now and then; it keeps life interesting!

February 16, 2015

Song of the Day #1226

Song of the Day: Some Like It Hot ("I'm Through with Love") is a 1931 gem with music by Matty Malnek (a long-time family friend back in the day) and Joseph "Fud" Livingston, lyrics by Gus Kahn, but it was popularized by Marilyn Monroe, who was terrific in this Billy Wilder 1959 classic comedy. The film featured Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon running around in drag, to escape the Mob, for having witnessed the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre (speaking of Valentine's Day!). The mobster, "Spats" Colombo, is played to the hilt by George Raft. It is just one of the funniest comedies to have ever been committed to celluloid (#1 on the AFI list). This song is delivered with memorable heartbreak by Marilyn [YouTube film link].

February 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1225

Song of the Day: Help! ("Ticket to Ride"), music and lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was recorded 50 years ago on this date. It was released in April of that year, and is actually the first single from the Beatles's comic odyssey, "Help!." The Golden Anniversary of the film and the music in it gives us an opportunity to celebrate, once again, the impact of the Beatles on pop music. Check out the #1 Billboard hit on YouTube (and check out a live version of the title track from the film). I know the wonderful "A Hard Day's Night" (1964), is considered the greater artistic achievement, but "Help!" was, in my view, just a more fun film to watch (with little nods to the cultural phenomena of the day, including Bond, James Bond).

February 14, 2015

Song of the Day #1224

Song of the Day: The Caddy ("That's Amore"), music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Jack Brooks, is the Oscar-nominated song from this 1953 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy. The song is a Dean Martin signature tune. Here is the scene from the film and the classic Dean Martin recording [YouTube links]. And what better way to say "Happy Valentine's Day," than with "That's Amore."

February 13, 2015

Song of the Day #1223

Song of the Day: Random Harvest ("Opening Title") [Screen Archives Entertainment link], composed by Herbert Stothart, opens a gorgeously romantic love story, perfect on the eve of Valentine's Day. The 1942 film starred Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. Stothart won an Oscar for his Original Score for "The Wizard of Oz," and received an Oscar nomination for this score. If the ending of this film doesn't leave you with a lump in your throat, you've lost that lovin' feelin'.

February 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1222

Song of the Day: Hello, Frisco, Hello ("You'll Never Know"), music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, was introduced in the 1943 film by Alice Faye, but it has had many memorable renditions, including those of Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes, Rosemary Clooney with the great trumpeter Harry James, Shirley Bassey, and was the first song ever recorded by Babs [YouTube links]. This standard from the Great American SongbName

February 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1221

Song of the Day: The Best Years of Our Lives ("Main Title") [YouTube link] is featured in the Oscar-winning Score (of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) composed by Hugo Friedhofer. The 1946 "Best Picture" showed us some of the horrific, lingering physical and psychological effects of war (even so-called "good wars") on those who survive it. Best Director William Wyler took home one of seven competitive gold statuettes won by this superb film (the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, also won the Irving Thalberg award and another individual also received an honorary award---more on that in a moment). A deserved Oscar went to Best Actor Frederic March (though Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, and Teresa Wright are all equally wonderful in their roles). The Best Supporting Actor, Harold Russell, also received an honorary award for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell had lost both hands in World War II, and got along just fine with two hooks. One philosopher from whose work I have learned much, apparently despised this film and "It's a Wonderful Life" (for shame!), because it had subliminal pink propaganda (like references to bankers "with a heart," etc.). I could write a few articles about how far she missed the mark (like I did for "A Christmas Carol" and "Ben-Hur"), but, suffice it to say, sometimes you can appreciate works of art on many different levels, even if some mixed premises ooze into the script. This film came out a year after the end of the most horrific war in human history, one that this particular philosopher opposed. But there's a reason the American public responded to the film. The struggles of its survivng veterans were palpable and resonated with its war weary audience. One of the aspects of this film that got well deserved recognition was Friedhofer's soundtrack. And for that, Bravo, Maestro!

February 10, 2015

Song of the Day #1220

Song of the Day: Notorious ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Roy Webb, opens this 1946 suspense film with a lovely romantic theme with ominous undertones. This was the second collaboration of two cinematic giants: Director Alfred Hitchcock and Actor Cary Grant, who share the distinction of never having won an Oscar in a competitive category. They did receive honorary Oscars at the end of their careers (for which Hitchcock said at the podium, "Thank you"). It is said that Grant swore never to make another film with Hitchcock after "Suspicion" (1941), but this second collaboration, which co-starred the wonderful Ingrid Bergman, is a classic stomach churner. Bergman starred previously in Hitchcock's "Spellbound" (1945) and with her other "Notorious" co-star, Claude Rains, in "Casablanca" back in 1942. Like "Casablanca," this film has its share of villainous Nazis. Grant and Hitchcock would go on to make two additional films together: "To Catch a Thief," and my favorite one of all: "North by Northwest." "Charade" could be mistaken for a Grant-Hitchcock collaboration, but alas, it wasn't (though it's often referenced as "the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made").

February 09, 2015

Song of the Day #1219

Song of the Day: Anatomy of a Murder ("Flirtibird") [YouTube link], composed by jazz legend Duke Ellington, captures the salacious, scandalous themes explored in this superb 1959 courtroom drama, starring a wonderful cast that included Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. Seductive and sexually charged, this track was also recorded by the great Duke, featuring his cornet player Ray Nance (who could also play a mean jazz violin). Check it out on YouTube.

February 08, 2015

Song of the Day #1218

Song of the Day: Rocky ("Gonna Fly Now") was composed by Bill Conti, with lyrics by Carol Collins and Ayn Robbins, and was performed on the soundtrack album with vocalists DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford. The song defined a series of films tracing the boxing adventures of Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) and in American popular culture, it has become a song celebrating the champion character of the underdog. Indeed, it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 2, 1977, a virtual theme signifying the victory of the American underdog against the British Empire, which culminated in a Declaration of Independence on July 4th (Stallone himself was born on July 6th). Indeed, "Rocky" became the little "underdog" picture that could: It was 1977's Best Picture of the Year, though Conti lost in the Best Original Song Oscar category (he also lost in the Scoring ctegory to "Star Wars" composer John Williams, at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards). Check out the Grammy Awards tonight, and check out the Conti single [YouTube link] as well as a terrific rendition by the big band of Maynard Ferguson [YouTube link], a trumpeter whose high notes have sometimes challenged the superior hearing of dogs. But this human thinks the Rocky track Rocks!

February 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1217

Song of the Day: My Cousin Vinny ("Bible Belt") was written and performed by Travis Tritt over the end credits to this utterly hilarious 1992 film, with wonderful performances by Joe Pesci, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner MarisaTomei, who nailed it perfectly: she is the quintessential cinematic cuginette. Maybe only genuine Brooklynites can truly appreciate all the in-jokes and hilarity of the Brooklynese on display in this comedic classic. The original version of this song appeared on Tritt's 1991 album, "It's All About to Change," with different lyrics; check out the original here (featuring Little Feat) [YouTube link]. But Tritt actually re-wrote the lyrics specifically for this film and those lyrics fully encapsulate the film's plot and theme. Check it out on YouTube.

February 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1216

Song of the Day: Hotel ("Jeanne and Pete") [YouTube link], composed by Johnny Keating, is a lush trombone-led instrumental ballad from one of the finest jazz-influenced scores of the 1960s (I've already highlighted two other tunes in previous years from the 1967 film).

February 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1215

Song of the Day: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ("It's On Again") was composed by Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar, with a little help from Pharrell Williams, all in collaboration with Hans Zimmer, who scored this second film, released in 2014, in the Andrew Garfield reboot of one of my favorite superheroes. I mean he's not from Gotham City or Metropolis, pale copies of the real New York! He's from Forest Hills, Queens! Check it out on YouTube.

February 04, 2015

Song of the Day #1214

Song of the Day: Blues in the Night ("Blues in the Night"), music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, earned its place in the Great American Songbook. The title track of the 1941 film (the film's working title was actually "Hot Nocturne"), it was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, but lost to "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (from "Lady Be Good"). The song was delivered on film by William Gillespie (YouTube link), but there have been so many superb versions of this trailblazing American song; check out renditions by Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Jimmie Lunceford, Artie Shaw (with Hot Lips Page on vocals), Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford, Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, an ambitious Mel Torme-Buddy Rich collaboration, Quincy Jones (whose version is heard in the 2001 film version of "Ocean's Eleven"), and there's even a take on the song by jazz-rock fusion band Chicago [all YouTube links]. Talk about a cross-generational impact. This one's a keeper.

February 03, 2015

Song of the Day #1213

Song of the Day: Erin Brockovich ("Useless") [YouTube link] is a composition by Thomas Newman of the very famous Newman Dynasty. He is the youngest son of the immortal Alfred Newman, one of the greatest film score composers from the Golden Age of Hollywood. That dynasty also ncludes brrother David, uncles Lionel and Emil, cousin Randy, and nephew Joey. Despite 12 Oscar nominations, Thomas Newman has yet to win a golden statuette; but his minimalist score for the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich" is one of his best. The film features a superb Best Actress Oscar-winning performance by the irrepressible Julia Roberts in the title role.
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February 02, 2015

Song of the Day #1212

Song of the Day: Ocean's Eleven ("Title Sequence") [YouTube link], composed by Nelson Riddle and designed by Saul Bass, is a swinging affair for the chicest of chic Rat Pack films, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, and so many other wonderful performers who hit the Vegas Strip for the ultimate scam. But the real question is if those Groundhogs are scamming us, because it looks like it's going to be a long winter up here in the Northern hemisphere. Thank goodness we're kept warm by this hot and fiery Nelson Riddle chart from the original (and best) 1960 version of the film.

February 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1211

Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("On Frantic Fifth") [YouTube link], music by the very jazzy Brooklyn-born Peter Nero, gets Our Annual Film Music February Off To A Flying Start. Nero even appears in the 1963 film showing off his piano chops. This cue captures some of the frenzy one might find even on a beautiful "Sunday in New York." I featured the title track to this film back in 2005, the year I kicked off my tribute to cinema music (though not with a link to the Mel Torme-performed song that can be heard in the opening credits or Joe Pass on 12-string guitar [YouTube links]). So stay with us right up to 22 February 2015, the night that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards achievement in scoring and song. And if you're anywhere near the greatest city on earth, enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday in New York.