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November 1991


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 17 Nov 1991 18:25:21 EST
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In anticipation of seeing Scorsese┘'s CAPE FEAR, I saw the 1962 version last
night, followed by today┘'s viewing at the local 4-plex (only $3.50 for the
first screening!).
Perhaps I do not see enough current films, or maybe not enough of Scorsese'┘s
work.  But I was pleasantly amazed at the abundance of expressionist
imagery.  Of course the most blatant use of the varied kinds of optical
printing came forward during sequences related to dreams, but it was
possible to see this influence in different ways, such as quick-shots (as in
one of the nearly all the visuals edited Even the titles (welcome back, Saul
Bass!) anticipated this inventive use of visuals.
Actually I was anxious to see CAPE FEAR because I┘m writing my dissertation
on Bernard Herrmann, whose score for the 1962 film was arranged by Elmer
Bernstein for Scoresese┘'s version.  I came away disappointed--but I should
have expected such a reaction.  First of all, why would Scorsese want to use
a score for another film?  No doubt, for the same reasons as he used Robert
Mitchum, Gregory Peck and Martin Balsam.  But each of these actors were cast
in new roles so that the relation between the two CAPE FEARs becomes an
extra-cinematic device (or, as some see it, a kind of sequel, or replay of
the original, in which the clarity of issues has been purposely mixed and
made more complex--to benefit of this new version).  Had Bernard Herrmann
been alive today, and had he accepted the assignment, I am sure that his
score would have been very different from his 1962 effort.  He was creating
a score for a film with its own characteristics.  Once those characteristics
have been removed, then the corresponding score is bereft of its own
effectiveness, leaving its cliches and idiosyncracies to stand on their own.
Essentially, Bernstein and the sound staff are acting in the same way as
music editors on a television program, selecting pre-composed music to fit
sequences in the film.
To be sure, some sequences worked well.  (On the other hand, anybody who has
substituted the sound of their televisions with random sounds, such as that
which comes over the radio or other recording, will always notice that
certain moments seem to mesh very well, no matter the randomness of the
choice of music or sound.)  But much of the shock value, tension, or
idiosyncratic sounds that Herrmann achieved in the first film have been
muted and adulterated in this version, mostly by means of their use in
placed not intended by the original composer.
I know that Herrmann would agree that each score for a particular film is an
integral part of that film.  Once this organic relaltionship is violated, it
is often to the detriment of both.  I think Scorsese┘s CAPE FEAR would have
benefitted from an entirely new score, one that is attunted to the
developments in sound in the past 30 years.
Nevertheless, I look forward to purchasing the soundtrack, if only to remind
me of the sounds of the 1962 film.  I'm glad I did see this new CAPE FEAR,
for it is certainly a better film in nearly every way.