For the past three years, the New York Philharmonic has teased the beginning of their season by accompanying classic films. The Art of the Score is a sublime way to rediscover the magic of the cinema, and Friday's screening of On The Waterfront was no exception. But there's just one quibble I have with the Philharmonic's two-night engagement of The Godfather: it should have been played using instruments made with the remains of slain gangsters.
— ABFoundation (@ABFalecbaldwin) September 22, 2015
Over at The New Yorker.com, David Denby hints at what could have been. After noting that "spiritually, [the evening] was a triumph," we get some of the serious criticism we've come to expect from him.
But in many ways, the evening was awkward. The orchestra sat on the stage, the screen behind and above. But there was an obvious problem, and it should have been avoided. The lamps over the scores of the hundred or so musicians literally blanched out the bottom quarter of the screen. The up-from-black opening (“I believe in America”) didn’t have its usual effect, because the screen was never black.
Denby waits a couple of beats before wielding his famed garrote against the neck of mediocrity (film critiquing-wise):
As a visual experience, the digital transfer, reconstructed, apparently, with great effort, is simply not equal to the film in a fresh print. The image had that tense, flattened, edged quality that digital still has—the slight outlining, the slight shallowness. Sorry, this is not nostalgia for a vanquished technology; it’s true, and anyone who has seen “The Godfather” film will say the same.
Yes. I'd also add that anyone who has heard Nino Rota's haunting score performed on instruments fashioned out of the bones of murdered capos will agree: it just sounds better. There, I said it.
I first saw The Godfather projected onto a bedsheet in a cobblestone alleyway next to an olive oil distributor on Mott Street in 1972. Sure, there was no orchestra to accompany it, no Alec Baldwin to curate and introduce it. But the score seemed richer, louder, bolder. Maybe it was the fresh olives my friend Niko and I snuck from the barrel we were both sitting on, or maybe it was because I imagined that the music was being played on these weird, bone-violins that had ghosts inside them. Either way, the film was just a whole lot better to watch back then.
Rota, who wrote music for Fellini, Pietrangeli, and Castellani (to name just a few) famously told director Francis Ford Coppola that he would not begin writing the score until the film was finished, and refused to even travel to America to oversee its completion.
Sitting in opulent Avery Fisher Hall last night as the lights dimmed, one wondered how this master craftsman and slave to detail would have reacted had he known that the mandolin charged with imbuing the love scene between Michael Corleone and his new bride Apollonia with earthy authenticity wasn't made out of various femurs and jawbones meticulously and discreetly salvaged from the dead bodies gunned down in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. He probably would have walked out at intermission.
As the new Don Corleone and his underlings closed the door on Kay forever, I noticed that the woman seated to my right was dead asleep, her snoring in almost perfect cadence with the rolling credits. Would The Godfather have been so stunningly soporific if the accordion onstage was just a bunch of 50-year-old rib cages glued together with some pipes and stuff? Probably not.
The New York Philharmonic begins its season this weekend with Strauss and Salonen. This Friday is also the beginning of Free Fridays: 100 free tickets to the 15 subscription shows in the season will be given to New Yorkers between the ages of 13 and 26; the online sign-up opens at noon on the Monday before a given Friday concert.