The final film of the 2014 TCMFF for me was The Lodger. I have made it a point to see at least one silent film each festival and this was mine for this year. Now I may be making an unfair comparison but I found it … well… so-so. The unfair comparison comes in when I think back two years to the final screening of my 2012 TCMFF experience, The Thief of Bagdad. Douglas Fairbanks is a tough act to compete with and when you throw in the exuberant music that went with the movie the combo brought out in the audience a laughing, whistling, joyousness. No, The Lodger is neither a comedy nor an adventure but I do not think my ho hum reaction was the fault of the movie. I think it was the score, the music that was written to go with the movie failed to fill the need. Don’t get me wrong; it was a lovely piece of music. But for me it just didn’t do the job of tying the audience to the film. And that is a must for any composition.
Think Korngold or John Williams if you want an instant reminder of what the right music can do for a film. Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Captain Blood, Kings Row) lifted a good film, 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (another film I saw at this year’s TCMFF) to the rousing, unforgettable classic level. His music is as important as good casting for the many films for which he wrote. Korngold found the seconds of trepidation, the hint of humor, the feel of the setting and provided themes for the characters. Another obvious example is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Without the now iconic theme music it just wouldn’t have been the same movie. Likewise, The Longest Day had a great theme, as did The Magnificent Seven. Fans of those films can instantly recall and hum the melodies of both. The point being is that when one is sitting in a darkened theater the music makes a significant difference and the music for The Lodger was only nice, with no humor, no identifiable themes, let alone enough lightness to set off the musical expression of threat or fear that cause us to hold our breath or send tingles up our spines.
I believe my disappointment may be in part because, in my opinion, the music did not suit the era of the film. It was too new and sounded like it. My opinion of course may be marred by the fact that I knew that going in. However, I suspect my enjoyment of the film would have been enhanced by a bit of tinkly piano or a swelling organ accompaniment, the kind the movie would have had when it was a first run feature. I think in this case I would have preferred music original to the film’s distribution period rather than music original only because it was newly written for the film. I know we have the ability to write new scores for these new presentations. I just wonder if that means we always should.