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November 1991


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Nov 1991 23:05:44 EST
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>On not being able to improve on the original score for CAPE FEAR.  Is it
>impertinent to wonder whether one can "improve" on favorite films?  I almost
>said "classics" but one person's classic may be another person's poison.  Do
>you suppose we can look forward to a new improved version of CITIZEN KANE or
>CASABLANCA.  After all, they were both in grungy black-and-white.  And we
>know so much more about movies after fifty years.
>Cal Pryluck
>Dept of Radio-Television-Film
>Temple University
To my mind there is more than one issue at hand here.  With regard to
"Improving" films:  We all know that Hitchcock didn't like to see his
films once he finished with him because he claimed that he concentrated too
much on the mistakes.  I don't think it's impertinent, but rather it's a
different issue.
To explain the different issue, let's take the example of the Laocoon statue.
When found in the Italy of the Renaissance, it was felt that the missing
pieces should be replaced, so it was done.  Later a few fragments of the
missing parts were found, and it turned out that these showed that the Italian
"restoration" was faulty and not the original intention.  But art historians
still regard the "restoration" as representative of the Renaissance.
In a similar way, Scorsese and the makers of CAPE FEAR (1991) apparently see
their creation as an "improvement" -- but it isn't exactly.  It is a separate
work entirely.  They may THINK that they are improving the earlier film, but
they are really creating an entirely new work.  So it seems to me that
however much they admire Herrmann's score for the 1962 CAPE FEAR (and there is
much to admire), it seems to me that they somehow negate their own creative
work by thinking that it can't be improved upon.  That's not the issue.  For the
1962 CAPE FEAR it may not be able to be improved upon, but theirs is a new
work, so that a discussion of "improvement" is not the issue.
OK, I can think of a good cinematic example, FANTASIA.
Remember the release of FANTASIA with a newly recorded soundtrack
from the mid 1980s?  The Disney's studio's idea was that the original soundtrack
was no longer able to elict decent sound (a lie, based on the 1991 release).
So based on the technology of the day, they created a new work, that was
aimed at consumers who (they thought) would demand this kind of sound treatment,
as was (and is) customary for most contemporary films.
(Yes, you can see that I have read my Barthes.)  So in my opinion, the use of
Herrmann's score for the new CAPE FEAR is not an acceptance of the quality of
the score, but rather a desire to achieve an affinity with the earlier film.
(And I still think the score is more effective in the earlier film.)
Bob Kosovsky
Graduate Center -- Ph.D. Program in Music / City University of New York
New York Public Library -- Music Division
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Disclaimer:  My opinions do not necessarily represent those of my institutions.