Culture Notes: Jarre, Soundtracking, Obama Burana

If you love movies, you know that movie music can take on its own life outside the film, following you around and joining the soundtrack going on inside your head. Maurice Jarre, who died on March 29, was a composer whose melodies inhabit my own cranial orchestra hall. Not my favorite composer, more than a little fond of largeness and corn, Jarre nevertheless created some indelible examples of melody merging with image — most famously in the movie that made his career, Lawrence of Arabia, where David Lean’s decision to go with Jarre’s monumentally sweeping desert themes indicates Lean’s strategy of our total immersion in Lawrence’s experience.

Jarre certainly responded to Lean’s approach in those four big projects they worked on together. I think Doctor Zhivago is seriously flawed for a variety of reasons, and absurd at times, but Jarre’s music sort of makes it for me, confirming the suspicion that Zhivago is a warm bath into which we can somewhat guiltily sink. (And not just the inescapable “Lara’s Theme,” but the other stuff, too — the opening credits music is a deft arrangement of the various themes, and in the small shiver of chimes it locates the poet’s vision within the epic story.) Jarre’s score for Rene Clement’s Is Paris Burning? is another inescapable soundtrack for me, a vigorous scoring of a not-very-good movie; Jarre’s melody, “The Paris Waltz,” has become something of an unofficial retroactive anthem of the French Resistance. I know it’s unabashedly cheesy, indeed full of fromage, and I fight it. But I can’t help it; music is a powerful drug.

omen2The over-use of music in otherwise good documentaries is a current pet peeve. And these thoughts lead to the most visible, or audible, manipulation of music in recent days, the drenching of more than one Republican-produced anti-Obama piece with music from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana — the “O Fortuna” section, where the frenzied choirs are chanting with alarming urgency. This first came through on a Sean Hannity montage counting down Obama’s first 100 days in office (quickly ridiculed on The Daily Show). The average viewer might not know from Orff, but they recognize something that sounds like the music from The Omen, and the connection is clear: Obama is the devil’s spawn, sent to assert his dominion. (That kid in The Omen had some controversy surrounding his birth circumstances, too; his mother was a something-or-other.)

As with everything else in the world, some people hear music with a critical ear; some don’t. That the Hannity video might not be entirely laughable to every single person who sees it is evidence of the latter. I love music and images together, but it’s too powerful a combination not to see, or listen to, carefully. Including when it’s in your favorite movies.

Incidentally, as some religious expert explained on Fox News a while back, Obama can’t actually be the anti-Christ, because of various technicalities detailed in the book of Revelation. He’s merely a sign of the end times. So let’s all calm down.

A piece on David Lean here; I talk about Jarre here. Sean Hannity’s invocation of the demon, here.