qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

The Burma Railway

The first entry in my LJ records the Great British Film Music Prom from 2003, and this year, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the formation of BAFTA, the BBC chose to title a Prom "Music from Great British Films". I think this turned out to be an accurate description; some of the music was great, some of it was, to be honest, a bit mediocre. Richard E Grant clearly hadn't rehearsed his lines and stumbled several times with the autocue - including mistaking Malcom Arnold for "Matthew" Arnold. Whoops! The arena was little more than half full, but for some reason the front seemed to be particularly crowded.

The BBC Concert Orchestra were at their best dealing with music from war films, such as Walton's Battle of Britain and Arnold's Bridge on the River Kwai. For those in the know, the track for the camera at the front of the arena is known as the "Burma Railway", so there was an amusing symmetry there as the Orchestra (and one or two in the audience) whistled along to the arrangement of Colonel Bogey. Other interesting excerpts in the first half included Constant Lambert's Anna Karenina, Larry Adler's Genevieve, with an extraordinary performance by Philip Achille on the harmonica. Less successful were Maurice Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia - which just didn't seem to be balanced properly in the Hall, though it sounds a bit better on Listen Again it's still not right somehow for me; and Brian Easdale's suite from The Red Shoes was included as it was the first British film score to win an Oscar - and though it was interesting to see and hear the ondes Martenot (a kind of souped-up Theremin), it does leave me thinking that 1948 must have been a rather unremarkable year music-wise at the academy. I imagine the use of two soloists already must be why Anton Karas' The Third Man was dropped from the programme - no room or budget for a zither-player.

The second half moved into more recent scores. The trouble with "greatness" is that it requires some time to establish exactly what is great, versus what is just popular at the moment. Eric Rogers' Carry On suite wasn't exactly remarkable, but whether you like them or loathe them, they are a major marker in comic British film oeuvre - but not for their music. It did, at least, give Richard E Grant the opportunity to deliver some single-entendres (and for the season-ticket holders to cry out "Infamy, Infamy, they've all got it Infamy!"), and we all sniggered as the big screen above the orchestra showed shots of Frankie Howerd, Hatti Jacques, Sid James, Barbara Windsor et al. in risqué poses. The music from Shakespeare in Love and Wilde was interesting, but did seem, like many items, to be filler. Chicken Run was perhaps a better choice, resonant of course with the war films. The choice of music from Harry Potter was a bit bland, but Coates' The Dam Busters - apparently a Blue-Peter job where he just fetched one from the shelf he'd done earlier - was guaranteed as a finale to bring the house down.

Timekeeping was a problem, and the concert finished half an hour late, perhaps in no small part due to a "guest appearance" by Richard Attenborough, who made an excruciatingly sentimental luvvie-speech towards the end of the programme. What with that and the standard grief on the Circle line it turned into a late return home.
Tags: music
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