Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Classical Gas

So over the weekend, my local PBS affiliate (Channel 13 in NYC) showed Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983), which is one of the most magical movies ever made, IMHO, and they showed it cropped.

Which is to say, from what must have been an ancient made-for-VHS video master, and how dare PBS foist that kind of crap on their audience while trying to raise money?

That said -- and don't get me started -- I had forgotten about the sheer level of gorgeousness of Mark Knopfler's score.

Seriously -- f**k Dire Straits. If for nothing else than the closing credit music -- "Going Home: The Song of the Local Hero" -- Knopfler deserves to be be an immortal.

Please -- take five minutes and listen to it, in case you've never heard it before.

Okay, here's my two cents.

That happens to be classical music, and it deserves to be treated as such, i.e. it should be played at Philharmonic concerts just like any other great opera overture/prelude/intermezzo you could mention.

In fact, as far as I'm concerned, what Knopfler did there is akin to what George Gershwin (yes him) did some decades earlier, which is to say, he took pop/folk/vernacular music -- in this case, Celtic airs and the rock/r&b urban street-corner romanticism of Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen records -- and made something utterly sui generis and grand and universal from them.

I have one cavil, however; the drum and synth sounds on the Local Hero soundtrack album are a little dated; if there's a brilliant young orchestral composer out there, please score this for traditional symphonic ensemble (plus guitar) and soon.

Arthur Fiedler really should have lived to conduct this, is what I'm saying.


Amd just to illustrate my point, here are two five minute classical pieces (and by five minutes, I'm talking about the length of all sorts of great pop records) that I think are in the same ballpark melodically and harmonically.

From 1597(!) and arranged by Leopold Stokowski, who knew something about pop stardom, here's Renaissance proto-rocker Giovanni Gabrielli's all horn "Sonata Pian e Forte." You may notice that Gabrielli is doing the whole soft/loud thing that people thought was totally innovative when Kurt Cobain did it several centuries later.

And closer to the idiom that Knopfler was working in, here's unjustly obscure Austrian late Romantic Franz Schmidt's 1914 intermezzo from his opera Notre Dame.

As in The Hunchback of...).

Both of those are gorgeous, but no less so than the Local Hero music, I think. In any case, you get my meaning.


Dave said...

Good call, Steve. "Local Hero" is on my all-time Top 10 list of films and this is in my Top 10 soundtracks, too. Peter Riegert and Bill Forsyth shine here beyond belief. Knopfler's "Cal" soundtrack is just as good, even if the movie isn't up to "Local Hero" standards.

cthulhu said...

If Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man can achieve classical icon status, then there's nothing keeping Knopfler's Local Hero work from the same stature except for sheer snobbery.

portly neighbor said...

Wow, my favorite movie and soundtrack . . . today's a good day to watch it(yet)again. Thanks.

steve simels said...

I should add that Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" belongs in the same company.

One of the most brilliant short pieces of music written in the 20th century.

BIlly B said...

Cool. I'll have to check it out. I like solo Knopfler much more than Dire Straits.

Alex said...


And as for PBS cropping the movie... fuck those guys.

TMink said...

I cannot fuck Dire Straits. I remember 1977 outside of NYC. TOnight's The Night, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, and Torn Between Two Lovers.


I was too far from the big city to get into punk and New Wave, I had not heard it. But then I heard Sultans of Swing. And I bought the album. And I had something wonderful that rocked to listen to.

So while I can agree that Knopfler's solo and screen work are magnificent, I feel some thankfullness and loyalty to Dire Straits for giving me something to listen to in 1978.