Remembering Leonard Rosenman, Film and Concert Composer

Leonard Rosenman, conducting.

James Dean was already dead before I was born, but nev­er­the­less, I could­n’t help but mar­vel at his per­for­mances in the movies Rebel With­out a Cause and East of Eden. In fact, I admit it: I’m a big James Dean fan, even if there are only 3 movies. I vivid­ly remem­ber see­ing those movies when I was a teenag­er at a reper­to­ry cin­e­ma (now there’s some­thing that has gone away, a vic­tim of DVD rentals and plas­ma screens), with Cyn­thia Nikitin, a friend who I still keep in touch with and is hope­ful­ly going to be vis­it­ing us here in Van­cou­ver lat­er this spring.

Dean’s movies, espe­cial­ly East of Eden, made a great impact on me. The emo­tions and moods that made up Cal’s world did­n’t seem all that far from my own ado­les­cent thoughts and feel­ings. I also remem­ber that I imme­di­ate­ly loved the sound­track, which was as rich and com­pli­cat­ed as the film’s plot, direc­tion and act­ing, filled with angst and con­flict. In that incred­i­ble scene where Cal’s father rejects his gift (mon­ey to pay him back what he’d lost in his refrig­er­at­ed veg­etable deba­cle — it’s no good because it was an ill-got­ten gain from the war econ­o­my), I remem­ber how Elia Kazan’s cam­era shift­ed to a strange tilt (mir­ror­ing the off-cen­tre rela­tion­ship between Cal and his father). I also remem­bered the bru­tal, stab­bing music accom­pa­ny­ing the trip that Cal takes his broth­er Aron to see his moth­er (now a Madame at a broth­el in Sali­nas instead of being dead, as he had been told), an act of des­per­a­tion and lash­ing out at his father and broth­er. It’s strong, angu­lar, and very dis­so­nant music, sound­ing far more like the works of Arnold Schoen­berg than Hollywood.

There’s a rea­son that East of Eden’s music is clos­er to The Sec­ond Vien­nese School than Sun­set Boule­vard: the com­pos­er of the score was Dean’s piano teacher, New York room­mate and friend Leonard Rosen­man. Rosen­man died yes­ter­day at the age of 83.

When Dean got his first act­ing break, he intro­duced Elia Kazan to Rosen­man, and that’s how Rosen­man got his first break as a film com­pos­er. He had actu­al­ly already stud­ied with Schoen­berg, and also with the Ital­ian com­pos­er, Lui­gi Dal­lapic­co­la at Tan­gle­wood on a fel­low­ship (a place I attend­ed as well). He had all the cre­den­tials of a New York Intel­lec­tu­al 1950s com­pos­er, and if things had gone the usu­al way, he would have prob­a­bly become a pro­fes­sor at some col­lege, teach­ing Music The­o­ry and Com­po­si­tion, and writ­ing an oeu­vre of cham­ber music with the occa­sion­al orches­tral com­mis­sion, if he was lucky. (This is a career that for me as well, is the road not tak­en). That all changed after the film work. Rosen­man despaired that his East Coast col­leagues felt he had ‘sold out’ and would­n’t even look at his seri­ous pieces (much less per­form them) after he left New York and the New Music scene. He even­tu­al­ly got some per­for­mances, but the move to LA meant that he had to chan­nel his craft into film. By doing so, I think that Rosen­man stands as one of the few bridges between Expres­sion­ist con­cert music (Schoen­berg, et al), and cin­e­ma in the 1950s and 60s.

Both Schoen­berg and Dal­lapic­co­la were ser­i­al com­posers, and it’s still dif­fi­cult to say assess just what kind of an affect they had on music, even though it’s been a cen­tu­ry (!) since Schoen­berg wrote the first of his works that aban­doned tonal­i­ty. If Schoen­berg’s tech­niques, or at least the sound world he gave birth to, were to hit the main­stream, East of Eden is one of those films where one of his pupils actu­al­ly got through to the mass­es. The Expres­sion­ist aes­thet­ic of that movie’s sound­track is as close as Schoen­berg’s sound as you ever hear in film from that era. It’s not just East of Eden, either. Rosen­man also wrote the score to Fan­tas­tic Voy­age in 1966, and that score is a dead ringer for Schoen­berg’s ‘Five Pieces for Orches­tra’ of 1909. It still strikes me as amaz­ing that the sci­ence fic­tion movie music accom­pa­ny­ing minia­tur­ized scu­ba divers and a nuclear sub­ma­rine repair­ing the body of a sci­en­tist real­ly had its roots in music writ­ten for the con­cert hall some 57 years earlier!

In some ways, Jer­ry Gold­smith (who also died recent­ly in 2004) rep­re­sent­ed the bridge between Stravin­sky and per­haps Bar­tok and cin­e­ma, but Rosen­man is, I think, tru­ly the heir to Schoenberg.

Rosen­man had a long an fruit­ful career in Hol­ly­wood. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, In recent years he’d suc­cumbed to fron­totem­po­ral demen­tia. I hope that some of his con­cert and film music gets played. I dis­cov­ered that the iTunes store indeed had a won­der­ful record­ing (far bet­ter than the orig­i­nal sound­track orches­tra) by San Fran­cis­co com­pos­er John Adams con­duct­ing the Lon­don Sin­foni­et­ta in the music from East of Eden and Rebel With­out a Cause. It’s def­i­nite­ly worth getting.

Rosenman Cover Art

A Movie to Look Forward To

There are many movies that I look for­ward catch­ing this com­ing sea­son. I can’t wait to see the screen ver­sion of The Gold­en Com­pass, after hav­ing loved the book of the same name by Phillip Pull­man. The oth­er book that is now a film is I Am Leg­end and it also looks inter­est­ing. Get Smart, a TV com­e­dy series that I loved as a kid, looks won­der­ful­ly sil­ly with Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart. Today I found out about one that I had­n’t expect­ed at all, and prob­a­bly because it’s a musi­cal.

I’m not usu­al­ly a fan of musi­cals. The gee-whiz corn-fed whole­some­ness of Okla­homa, Carousel or South Pacif­ic is just not my cup of tea. I can do with­out the Dis­ney tourist attrac­tions like The Lion King, and Beau­ty and Beast, and can’t stand any­thing by the sug­ary yet taste­less Andrew Lloyd Web­ber. There are prob­a­bly only about 3 musi­cals I real­ly do like: Bern­stein’s West Side Sto­ry (which is cel­e­brat­ing its 50th anniver­sary this year and is Pam’s favourite music of all time), Sond­heim’s Sun­day in the Park with George and also his Swee­ny Todd.

I pret­ty much go for any­thing Tim Bur­ton does. To me, he is the mor­bid genius who puts the cough in Kafkaesque, so it’s his adap­ta­tion of Swee­ny Todd that I’m sur­prised to find­ing myself antic­i­pat­ing. If it weren’t enough that it’s a Tim Bur­ton pro­duc­tion, the cast includes John­ny Depp, Hele­na Bohnam Carter, Alan Rick­man and Sacha Baron Cohen. With a cast like that, I can’t imag­ine it being any­thing less than fas­ci­nat­ing. I thought Bur­ton’s Night­mare Before Christ­mas (and yes, I know that he did­n’t actu­al­ly direct that, but was a pro­duc­er) suc­cess­ful­ly linked an Edward Gorey sen­si­bil­i­ty to a score by Dan­ny Elf­man that sound­ed at times like Kurt Weil­l’s The Three Pen­ny Opera, so this lat­est project, which cov­ers some of the same ter­ri­to­ry and tone, sounds real­ly promis­ing. It will cer­tain­ly be in my movie-going plans in Decem­ber, when it’s due out. Can­ni­bal­ism, Self-Destruc­tive Obses­sions with Revenge, and Grungy 19th Cen­tu­ry Lon­don are all good Christ­mas Sea­son fare.

The PNE and Labour Day Weekend

Last week­end, we paid anoth­er vis­it to the PNE, which is the ‘State Fair’ that is held year­ly at the fair­grounds at the cor­ner of East Hast­ings and Bound­ary Road. It was our third time, so we knew most­ly what we want­ed to see and do. The new addi­tion of the Peking Acro­bats were a great new attrac­tion; you can’t but be impressed by some of their feats of strength and bal­ance, like the woman who did a per­fect hand­stand on top of 7 chairs stacked on top of each oth­er, with the bot­tom chair perched on 4 Coke bot­tles. This year we arrived just as a calf had been born, and got to see the moth­er cow lick­ing the new­born. We did­n’t stay long enough to see it take its first steps, but I’m told they always do with­in an hour or two. I always like tak­ing pic­tures of the ani­mals, even if the most exot­ic thing you typ­i­cal­ly see is a Lla­ma or Alpaca (and you can spy those along many roads in BC). We did see a Sow nurs­ing a lit­ter of piglets, but for­tu­nate­ly none of them squealed. That nee­dle-sharp pierc­ing cry is my first mem­o­ry, from the West Vir­ginia State Fair when I was per­haps 3 or 4 year’s old, and it has remained a sound that both­ers me to this day. We also saw the impres­sive Sand Sculp­ture con­test and the Card Stack­ing cham­pi­on, and even a ‘Human Foun­tain’ pow­ered by a bicy­cle ped­al pump.

It was nice to have an extra week­end day, which is how this par­tic­u­lar hol­i­day often works out to be. On Sat­ur­day, Pam and I took a trip down to Cres­cent Beach in Sur­rey, and then the town of White Rock, and had a look at this charm­ing and colour­ful sea­side vil­lage. If this is where peo­ple are buy­ing up real estate like mad for retire­ment, I can see the attrac­tion. We had a tasty lunch (steamed mus­sels and sal­ad for me, a Salmon burg­er and sal­ad for Pam) and walked up and down the board­walk, tak­ing in the sun and sea. We went out to the pier and back, and gen­er­al­ly just hung around peo­ple and place-watch­ing. Pam posed for a pho­to by the ‘White Rock’ (a Glacial deposit) that is now paint­ed white (but is is very big, to be sure). It was nice not to be on a sched­ule for a change.

Lat­er, we drove to Point Roberts, which we had also heard of but not seen until now. I have to say that it was a lit­tle depress­ing. Maybe even a lit­tle creepy. Point Roberts, for those who are not famil­iar, is a strange result of the Tsawwassen penin­su­la of British Colum­bia extend­ing south, beyond the 49th par­al­lel, cre­at­ing a small, iso­lat­ed piece of the USA that you can only reach from Cana­da. Accord­ing to the Web­site:

Point Roberts is locat­ed on the extreme south­ern tip of the penin­su­la that defines Bound­ary Bay’s west­ern shore­line. Vis­i­tors must cross the Cana­da-US bor­der on Point Roberts Road in Tsawwassen to enter or leave the tiny enclave. Except for a steep hill south of Maple Beach, explor­ing Point Roberts makes for a most­ly lev­el, 2‑hour tour by bike. The roads blend into one anoth­er in a sim­ple rec­tan­gu­lar grid and are easy to fol­low. What­com Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton, of which Point Roberts is a part, main­tains Light­house Park, a delight­ful and often over­looked park at the extreme south­west­ern point of the main­land. From this windswept point, cyclists are reward­ed with some of the best views on the entire Fras­er Estu­ary: Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca as well as the Strait of Geor­gia open up on three sides.

I don’t know about delight­ful and over­looked, but we did ven­ture into Light­house Park, and found it pret­ty grim and des­o­late, with tum­ble­down wood build­ings from the 1970s and a tru­ly awful pub­lic toi­let. There were a few peo­ple there, but it was a big con­trast com­pared with the sun­ny, pop­u­lat­ed world of White Rock. The views (a least to the south) were nice, although it had begun to get a bit over­cast by the time we got there.

Sun­day and today have been far less adven­tur­ous. We relaxed and did some errands yes­ter­day, before I made a Risot­to with our beloved local Chanterelles, which are at their peak, as well as some amaz­ing Japan­ese mush­rooms from Granville Island includ­ing a big (expen­sive), aro­mat­ic Mat­su­take mush­room, which is like a truf­fle in its com­plex­i­ty and rar­i­ty. Also made a Pump­kin cake, which we brought to Matt and Oana’s ‘movie night’ , where we had some of Mat­t’s excel­lent fish chow­der and saw Sta­lag 17, an old Bil­ly Wilder WWII clas­sic that actu­al­ly came out after the war was over in 1953.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Sep­tem­ber has always been my favourite month of the year, and not only because it is the month of my birth. When I lived in the North­east, it was always the time of lots of blue skies, crisp, cool air, and that spec­tac­u­lar fall foliage. It was always a seri­ous month, deal­ing with the end of things, and per­haps even thoughts of mor­tal­i­ty. My moth­er has always vehe­ment­ly been a Spring per­son, asso­ci­at­ing her birth month with rebirth, new blooms, the end of win­ter, more com­fort­able weath­er (although often not quite yet), and longer days. Nope, not for me. I’ll take a Fall walk in Ver­mont with the smell of wood fires over a mud­dy trek through a gar­den that’s maybe get­ting ready to get going.

These days, I can’t say that I love Sep­tem­ber quite as much. Van­cou­ver doesn’t get those flash­es of col­or in the trees and the air isn’t all that dif­fer­ent, although you do have to start wear­ing a coat again. Instead, what’s in evi­dence is the switch back to the city of the mind from the city of the body. I’ve talked about Vancouver’s year­ly pen­du­lum swing between the hedo­nism of the spring and sum­mer months and intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic pur­suits of the fall and win­ter months. This is not unique to Van­cou­ver; my par­ents, who spend a lot of time in Paris, talk about ‘la rentrée’ (From the web site

For the French, the year does not begin Jan­u­ary 1st! It begins in Sep­tem­ber and the begin­ning of the year is so unpleas­ant that it ruins the Sum­mer vaca­tions (no won­der the French need so much vaca­tion dur­ing the rest of the year). It is called “la rentrée”, like in schools. Just imag­ine : in Sep­tem­ber, you receive the tax bill, kids start school and it is the peri­od of the year where, tra­di­tion­al­ly, many strikes take place, par­tic­u­lar­ly trans­port strikes (train, metro, etc.). It takes a few months to recov­er, then Christ­mas comes (noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar) then the “sol­des” (sales, more inter­est­ing), then Feb­ru­ary vaca­tion (very appre­ci­at­ed), then East­er vaca­tion and the won­der­ful month of May, with its “bridges”. Then it is time to plan Sum­mer vacation.

I’d say for Van­cou­ver, it’s more like ‘le réveil’ (the reawak­en­ing); a time when you no longer spend the long after­noons that stretch into the evening at the beach or sit­ting in the park (or hik­ing up Grouse). Even though the sum­mer did have some the­atre, includ­ing the suc­cess­ful ‘Bard on the Beach’, there are now sev­er­al fes­ti­vals and con­cert sea­sons that are all set to begin. This past week­end, we made anoth­er short vis­it to the PNE (hard­ly big brain food, but after all, we were just get­ting start­ed). I think I’ll always think of the PNE as a sort of farewell, to sum­mer. After that, The Van­cou­ver Fringe Fes­ti­val, which includes 10 days of enter­tain­ing and some­times chal­leng­ing evenings of the­atre, most­ly on Granville Island stages, starts in 3 days. Just 11 days after that, the 25th Annu­al Van­cou­ver Inter­na­tion­al Film fes­ti­val, includ­ing some 300 shorts and fea­tures from over fifty coun­tries (and a quar­ter of the films this year are non-fic­tion — which I guess means Doc­u­men­taries in most cas­es). At the end of the month, the Van­cou­ver Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra opens their sea­son with Strauss’s Ein Helden­leben. So as you can see, every­thing starts up, and not quite in the way that the French do it.

I’m a big cul­ture vul­ture, so I’m thrilled that this is all hap­pen­ing, and if it is in part because it’s not going to be so nice out and the sun is going to set ear­li­er and ear­li­er, then, so be it. My mind is tired of being on vacation.

Sick Days, Childhood TV and the New Apple Cube

On Thurs­day morn­ing I noticed that I had a sore throat. By noon, I was weak, a lit­tle nau­seous and sun­light was giv­ing me a headache. At that point, it was obvi­ous that I was run­ning a tem­per­a­ture, so I went home ear­ly and went to bed. By night­fall it had turned into a pret­ty bad fever and chills, along with the usu­al cold symp­toms. This morn­ing I was still a bit fever­ish, but a bit bet­ter, and tonight I feel 100% bet­ter. Hope­ful­ly this recov­ery will con­tin­ue and I’ll be back to work on Tuesday.

Tues­day? Yes, this week­end is a three day week­end that I would not be enjoy­ing if I was still liv­ing in Boston. It’s Vic­to­ria Day, the first Mon­day before May 25th, in hon­our of Queen Vic­to­ri­a’s Birth­day and the cur­rent reign­ing Cana­di­an Sov­er­eign, Queen Eliz­a­beth II. Cel­e­brat­ing a British hol­i­day is not all that new to me; I remem­ber cel­e­brat­ing Box­ing Day and Guy Fawkes Day (and isn’t it fun­ny that Guy Fawkes has made a come­back in V for Vendet­ta ? ) but it does feel a lit­tle odd, giv­en that we fled an ‘Impe­r­i­al Pres­i­den­cy’, to be cel­e­brat­ing the birth­days of British Mon­archs. Hey, it’s only a week before Memo­r­i­al Day back in the US, so at least it makes up for that.

The Future with Strings Attached
With a day at home, I spent some time on email and phone, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the office, but I did have a lit­tle qui­et time to myself. I indulged my inner 5‑year old. I watched some videos that I have got­ten over the Inter­net of what was prob­a­bly the first tele­vi­sion show I was ever a fan of: Fire­ball XL5.

Fireballxl5 Takeoff SequenceFire­ball XL5, cre­at­ed by Ger­ry Ander­son and his wife Sylvia, was a new genre of sci­ence fic­tion and action tele­vi­sion that used mar­i­onettes on strings, bril­liant­ly exe­cut­ed mod­els, and clever cin­e­mat­ic tech­niques, along with an inno­v­a­tive use of an audio trig­ger­ing mech­a­nism attached to the jaws of each pup­pet’s face, so that the pup­pets auto­mat­i­cal­ly syn­chro­nized their speech move­ments to spo­ken dia­logue. The show’s ini­tial run was from 1962 to 1963, which means that by the time I saw it, the series was already over and in reruns. Nev­er­the­less, I adored it, par­tic­u­lar­ly the open­ing sequence (some frame grabs shown above) where the Fire­ball space­craft took off through the means of an accel­er­a­tion ‘sled’ on rails, gain­ing speed on it’s ver­ti­cal run until the track tipped up at the end like a ski-jump and as the the rock­et leapt sky­ward. As a kid, I missed all of the goofi­ness, ignored the obvi­ous strings and wires and black and white (the TV was black and white any­way), the fact that the voice of Pro­fes­sor “Matt” Mat­ic was obvi­ous­ly an imi­ta­tion of Wal­ter Bren­nan, and the accent that Venus (Colonel Steve Zodi­ac’s side­kick and ‘roman­tic inter­est’) had was clear­ly not French, or any oth­er lan­guage, for that mat­ter. Com­man­der Zero and Lieu­tenant Nine­ty at Space City (Fire­ball XL5’s home base) were hys­ter­i­cal­ly wood­en (well, let’s not be so tough on them; they were pup­pets, after all). Robert the Robot, a trans­par­ent robot copi­lot, had a fas­ci­nat­ing com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed sound­ing voice that eeri­ly fore­shad­owed what syn­the­sized speech would sound like in the com­ing decades, albeit in that monot­o­ne that every­one assumed robots would speak. Still, it’s a won­der­ful and strange sen­sa­tion to relive some of my ear­li­est child­hood mem­o­ries of cin­e­mat­ic sto­ry­telling inside the Quick­time play­er win­dow. I put this up there along with get­ting an MP3 of the obscure col­lab­o­ra­tion between Dr. Seus and the Great Gilder­sleeve, Ger­ald McBo­ing­bo­ing, which I also loved as a child. (I’ve recent­ly learned that in ani­ma­tion his­to­ri­an Jer­ry Beck­’s 1994 poll of ani­ma­tors, film his­to­ri­ans and direc­tors, the car­toon made from this sto­ry was rat­ed the ninth great­est car­toon of all time, so maybe it isn’t entire­ly forgotten.)

Mean­while, in Manhattan
This week Apple Com­put­er opened a new store on Fifth Avenue, between 58th and 59th Street in New York City. Besides the fact that it’s one of the most exclu­sive address­es in the world, and the fact that it will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the entrance to this sub­ter­ranean retail estab­lish­ment beneath 5th Avenue is a stun­ning 5‑story glass cube, which was appar­ent­ly designed by Steve Jobs him­self. Here’s a pho­to from a cou­ple of days ago:
Newapplestore2006I’m bett­ting that Steve Jobs nev­er saw the film ‘Thir13en Ghosts’, in which Arthur Kriti­cos (played by Tony Shal­houb of TV Show Monk fame) and his fam­i­ly are ter­ror­ized by an intri­cate mech­a­nized glass house (pow­ered by the ghosts trapped with­in it) that they are told they have inher­it­ed from their eccen­tric col­lec­tor Uncle, Cyrus Kriti­cos (played by F. Mur­ray Abraham).

Glass House 13 GhostsOK, it was more than just a cube, and much of the glass had extra­or­di­nary cal­lig­ra­phy writ­ten on it, and there were cogs and hinges and oth­er weird mech­a­nisms, but even if he had just seen one or two scenes from that movie, I’ll bet Steve J. might have been put off from hav­ing cus­tomers enter and decend from such a creation.