Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A HEART AT FIRE'S CENTER


A HEART AT FIRE'S CENTER: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann. Steven C. Smith. University of California Press. 2002.

Even when I was a child, the music of Bernard Herrmann that I heard during such films as Mysterious Island, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Psycho and Vertigo reverberated in my memory. This is a superb, highly-recommended biography of the late, great film and concert/opera composer that is scrupulously researched and highly detailed while always remaining immensely readable. Herrmann, who was actually of Russian descent and not German, is depicted as an essentially decent, very talented composer who became increasingly irrational and bitter as he got older; a difficult person to deal with even if his emotional heart was sound. Smith looks at his early life and compositions; his work on Citizen Kane with Welles; his association with Alfred Hitchcock, which led to some of his greatest scores and an unfortunate break-up; his three somewhat volatile marriages; and his increasing disenchantment as he attempted to get his beautiful opera Wuthering Heights mounted in a venue he felt worthy of it. Smith examines Herrmann's musicianship and style as well as his “comeback” of sorts with Brian de Palma's Sisters and other thrillers, leading to his work on his final score for Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver. Herrmann may not always have been an easy man to take, but he had convictions and he stuck to them, no matter whose feathers got ruffled. A fascinating book of a fascinating figure. Herrmann always felt that film music should work with and bolster the visuals and never call attention to itself; ironically, Herrmann's music riveted the attention because of its sheer excellence.

Verdict: Great Biography. ****

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