The next time you sit down to watch a film, whether it's at home on video or on a large screen at your local theater, try to imagine, for just a minute or two, what the experience would be like if there were no musical score.
While an image or a scene may possess a certain power on its own, chances are it is more so the underlying music that seeps into the unconscious and vibrates the tines of our ancient emotional tuning fork. It is those rhythmic patterns of tones and silence, chosen and arranged so carefully, that evoke in us our deepest feelings. Think back to silent films. Would we have felt the heroine's terror of being tied to the tracks without the tension-filled chords from the nearby piano? Films without scores would possess no heart, no soul.
For nearly fifty years, in over two hundred films, Elmer Bernstein has provided that indispensable emotional connection between image and music to movie audiences the world over. With one Oscar (for Thoroughly Modern Mille in 1967), thirteen Motion Picture Academy nominations, and numerous other awards, Mr. Bernstein has proved to be one of the most versatile and prolific film music composers in the history of cinema. Multi-talented as pianist, actor, dancer, and painter, Bernstein began his musical career at age twelve under the tutelage of Israel Citkowitz. After graduating from the Walden School and studying music education at NYU, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he composed his first music score for an Air Corps radio program. His first film score came soon after that with Saturday's Hero (1950), followed by Boots Malone (1951), and Sudden Fear (1952) with Joan Crawford and Jack Palance.
The diversity of styles in Bernstein's work is truly astonishing. His hard-driving music, with its unforgettable theme, for The Magnificent Seven (1960) redefined film scores for westerns and did much the same for comedies with the music for Animal House (1976). But it was with The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) that Bernstein made his most significant and historic contribution to film music. In a daring move never before attempted, he used jazz, not just as punctuation or incidental music, but as a sustained story-telling device, proving that the emotional tone of a film could be raised to powerful new heights with this uniquely American art form. But that he was right should not be surprising. For Elmer Bernstein is one of film's most powerful and uniquely American artists.
Don't miss the Closing Night Tribute to Mr. Bernstein, where we will screen The Man With the Golden Arm. Cinequest will also screen To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grifters, and The Magnificent Seven. - Pete Crane