Monday, August 04, 2008

A minor detail

Last night I watched Billion Dollar Brain[^]. Not a great movie but not a bad one either. I have to admit I'm a sucker for a Michael Caine movie, particularly his earlier work and, having noticed in 'the guide' that this movie was directed by Ken Russell that was it; decision made.

Ken Russell is well known for his musical films, starting in the 60's with biographies of composers of the Romantic and Post Romantic era, people such as Elgar, Bax and Delius. I haven't managed to catch most of those earlier works; they just don't seem to be shown any more and perhaps no longer exist. The BBC, for whom most of these earlier films were made, seemed to make a practice of destroying material in the early 70's.

Just as well, then, that Ken made his transition to 'real' film at the end of the 60's; thus his 'versions' of the life of Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Liszt; not forgetting Tommy! I'll be the first to admit that The Music Lovers[^] is probably far more fantasy than fact but I don't let that minor detail get in the way of enjoying a visual and musical feast. Such a pity it's not available on DVD and I haven't managed to see it in 20 years!

In Mahler[^] he really went all out; images of Nazis goosestepping on Gustavs coffin anyone? Brunhilde feeding Gustav pork after he slays the dragon and following it with a glass of milk! Bad taste from the decade of bad taste. I do have that one on DVD.

I may not recognise the music of some minor artist of the 1980s when it crops up but the moment they play three bars of a major composers symphony I know it! Thus to the scene in Billion Dollar Brain where Harry Palmer (Caine) is being cleaned up before being led into the concert. Masterful piece of misdirection there; the scene has all the indicators that he's about to be tortured. Come to think of it, many folk might consider being dragged into a Symphony Concert as torture!

Colonel Stok comes into view, a tear running down his cheek as the symphony crashes to a close. He imparts the information that Shostakovich wrote the symphony in Leningrad in 1941 during the siege. In other words, it's supposed to be the 7th Symphony.

Uh huh. The music we actually hear at this point is the end of the 11th Symphony, written in 1957.

Just a minor detail but one that surprised me given Ken Russell's pedigree.

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