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January 31-February 6, 2007

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'Hitchcock's Music'

Hitchcock's Music
(By Jack Sullivan; Yale University Press; 354 pages; $38 cloth)

The sumptuous romantic angst of Vertigo and the violins in Psycho that stab as violently as Norman Bates' cleaver remain the two most powerful musical scores in movie history. But Alfred Hitchcock's belief in the power of music (and sound) to integrate with images and dialogue to achieve "pure cinema" can be found in all of his films. "One cannot fully understand Hitchcock's movies without facing his music," argues Jack Sullivan in his detailed study of the master of suspense's soundtracks. Sullivan's film-by-film analysis starts with an image of a jazz dancer in 1926's The Pleasure Garden, moves through the comedy-thrillers of the 1930s, in which Hitchcock pioneered the melding of pop, symphonic and burlesque tunes, to the productive and stormy relationship between Hitchcock and his greatest collaborator, Bernard Herrmann. After the final break between the two testy geniuses, Hitchcock worked with Maurice Jarre (Topaz) and John Williams (Family Plot), but perhaps like Scottie in Vertigo, forever searching for a woman to make over into Madeleine, Hitchcock really wanted another Herrmann. And Herrmann, in turn, in his scores for Brian DePalma's Vertigo pastiche Obsession and for Scorsese's Taxi Driver, wanted another director as driven and creative as Hitchcock. The book also provides some fascinating trivia: dissatisfied with the early cut of Psycho, Hitchcock was ready to make it for TV instead, until Herrmann, working on his own, came up with the indelible shower scene music—a unique case, Sullivan writes, "of music literally saving a film."

Review by Michael S. Gant


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