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If the Movie's Music Doesn't Fit, Then Please Let's Just Omit

December 28, 1998

Thank you for printing Ross Duffin's bright and articulate commentary about the lack of music and dance research in period film ("Early Music Gets Short Shrift in 'Elizabeth,' " Dec. 21).

As a choreographer with a real interest in historical settings, Duffin has my utter and complete sympathy. It makes one squirm in one's theater seat when rich opportunities are missed to do something marvelous with period-accurate music and/or movement--and Duffin's remark that it isn't just about being "historically correct" is succinct. It's about transporting a modern audience into the world views of vastly different periods and cultures. Why do so many filmmakers fail to make the journey complete?

ANNE DE'ATH

Los Angeles

*

Ross Duffin's tirade against inappropriate music in historical dramas misses one point. All films, even documentaries, are fiction. No matter how "based on fact" any film is, it is still a fantasy concocted by the filmmakers. If the fantasy is convincing, we in the audience enter into the fantasy with the filmmakers.

Duffin complains that all the visual elements in the recent film "Elizabeth" are correct but that the music isn't. Well, sorry, Mr. Duffin, but the costumes aren't accurate either, and the film's director and costumer knew they weren't accurate. They studied Elizabethan court dress and decided that sticking too literally with the truth would not give today's audience the correct feel for the characters.

This has always been true about historical films. Along with science-fiction films, they always reveal more about the period in which they are made than the period they depict. The ultimate example of this is that primer on 1960s pop sensibility "Barbarella."

What I find much more distressing about period film music today is the insistence of studios to paste on a pop song during the credits. I enjoyed "Titanic," but it was extremely jarring to me to have to listen to Celine Dion warbling during the closing credits. And think how much more dramatic DreamWorks' "The Prince of Egypt" might be with a score that suggests the historical period, rather than a Whitney Houston pop album!

This happens regularly now--I suppose due to the fact that the same company that owns the film studio owns the record label. This practice to me is much more artistically offensive than the dramatic license Duffin is complaining of.

RAY IVEY

Los Angeles

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I heartily concur with Duffin's assessment of the music used in many period films--especially the dreadful "pop ballads" that are often tacked onto the end, probably to satisfy some tie-in to the music publisher, owned by the same conglomerate as the film studio. Having recently rented 1998's "The Mask of Zorro," set in 19th century Spanish California, I could only burst out laughing when some syrupy James Horner-penned soul-pop number whinedunder the end credits.

KATHRIN KING SEGAL

Encino

*

I am reminded of the power of "Amadeus" because Milos Forman chose to use the real stuff. If the director of "Elizabeth" had chosen to use Tallis, as Duffin suggests, as well as Susato, Praetorius, Byrd, et. al., the audiences would have been delighted and touched.

PATTI LAURSEN

Los Angeles

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