JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Maurice Jarre Tribute to David Lean (Director: L.A. Johnson) - January 25, 2008
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Maurice Jarre Tribute to David Lean

4 4
90 min.

First rate tribute needs to be seen and heard

With the passing of epic-meister David Lean in 1991, numerous accolades and retrospective looks at his body of work became both needed and necessary. But none could have been more heartfelt than Maurice Jarre’s tribute at the Barbican in 1992. Now, thanks to Editions Milan, the world can share those very special performances in a nicely packaged DVD/CD set.

In 1962, wily producer Sam Spiegel approached Jarre to undertake a miracle of composing: in the space of 6 short weeks, write two hours of music for David Lean’s latest, Lawrence of Arabia. After a marathon view of over 40 hours of rushes, the French composer took up his pen and produced the first-ever Oscar-winning score for a foreigner. Naturally, Jarre was both excited and nervous about the project. On one hand he had to respond to the dictatorial edicts of Spiegel (but fully realizing that Lean always had the final say); on the other, what would the much-admired director think of the music? Reminiscing in French in an extensive interview with Christian Lauliac (also on the DVD), Jarre recalls, “After hearing what I’d written, he put his hand on my shoulder and said to Spiegel, ‘This young man should write all the music.’” And so a magical partnership was born.

The interview also delves into the reality of tax credits and hiring at home. To remain eligible for subsidy from the British government, a “local” would have to conduct the sessions. Since the London Philharmonic had already been engaged (ah, for more big-budget, top-of-the-line, full-orchestras for present-day productions) its regular music director, Sir Adrian Boult was engaged. But according to Jarre, it turned out that the famed maestro had no idea how time-code, projection and score markings worked—it fell to the far more experienced composer to put the project together. This is why Boult gets the credit for the film—Jarre for the separately released soundtrack—even though both came from the same source. This could be a dangerous confession in our austere times, perhaps the UK film office will want a refund.

Still, as the seven generous tracks on the DVD reveal, Jarre is an especially gifted composer/orchestrator but comes across as a bit “light” in the conducting department. Many changes in tempo make the music a tad untogether (notably the relaxation in Dr. Zhivago after the sleigh ride) or more exciting than intended (the brass in the early going of “Remembrance”); Jarre’s jerky style doesn’t match his legato lines so frequently relies on the band (particularly on quiet endings) to finish the phrase for him. No worries, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and its intrepid leader, David Towse are more than up to the task.

As is director/editor L.A. Johnson. Not surprisingly, some of the finest moments occur when the screen is filled with Lean’s images—frequently visible to the live audience as well—and the orchestra supports rather than leads the art. Anyone watching will come away with a much better understanding of how music is added to a film and the split-second timing that is required to synchronize what has already been unchangeably shot with what can ebb and flow at the drop of a beat. For some, these tastings will demand a trip to the DVD/video store to feast on the whole meal.

Quibbles aside, here’s a “special edition” that truly lives up to its name and a “thank you” of an especially appropriate kind for such a creative, uncompromising talent as Lean’s. The edited-in clips of the director-at-work reveal his passion and joy just as readily as every bar of Jarre’s music. JWR

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