Can movie music be effective without any visual stimuli? At the Los Angeles Philharmonic's salute to the flicks at Hollywood Bowl before a combined 35,000 at two weekend concerts, that burning question was taken quite seriously by planners of the event. Perhaps too seriously.
Judging by the wildly uneven multimedia program led by John Williams on Saturday, it would have been better to let the music stand alone, minus such garish gimmickry as lighting effects and slides projected on screens flanking the stage and on the shell itself. Aside from the almost laughably inept presentation (missed cues, burning slides and indecipherable images projected over the speaker system), Ron Hays' heavy-handed "visual presentation" failed to capture the spirit of the music.
Do we need slides of Gene Kelly splashing in the gutter as accompaniment to "Singin' in the Rain"? Who among us cannot conjure that scene in the mind's eye? Is it necessary to project images of stars and planets to accompany "E.T."? Are there not, after all, plenty of real ones already on view?
Such misguided motives all but destroyed post-intermission tributes to Walt Disney, "Gone With the Wind" (represented by a baffling panorama of clouds) and MGM, despite Williams' earnest proddings and some spirited playing by the Philharmonic.
This visual overkill seemed even more superfluous following some inspired first-half magic, courtesy of Williams, Burgess Meredith and William Faulkner. Meredith provided a riveting reading from Faulkner's "The Reivers," with Williams' music for the film forming the perfect backdrop. The score was so evocative, the recitation so convincing that the images of our sneaky young hero's turn-of-the-century escapade to Memphis in Grandpa's yellow touring car seemed as vivid as the actual movie. A memorable collaboration.
Also effective in the opening half was the conductor's nod toward two of his favorite film composers--Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Sir William Walton. In generous samplings from Korngold's "The Sea Hawk" and Walton's "The First of the Few," one could almost taste the salt air in the former and the dangerous excitement of World War II air combat in the latter. Even Williams' own rousing march from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" stood quite strongly without any visual crutches.
Sometimes the mind shoots the best movies.